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Democratic Values

“I am concerned that we in Canada are losing the ability to achieve the consensus, which is necessary for effective democratic government.”[1]

            The Right Honourable Robert L. Stanfield, 1977

Within Stanfield’s speeches and lectures, there are persistent and deep concerns with the state of democracy in Canada. For Stanfield, this was not a one-note issue, but rather an accumulation of problems impinging on the nation as a whole.[2] Within politics, there exists a focus on ideological confrontations and polarization, which intensify the tensions inherent across our country. Today, we continue to see these tensions arise as partisan values affect the efficiency of governance. Rather than work as a collective, politicians often would instead demean and challenge opposing parties. For Stanfield, these types of practices ran contrary to democratic values. Stanfield stated that “compromises are not demeaning, they are essential to democratic government”.[3] A government cannot be an all-pervasive force in decision-making while staying accountable to the values of a responsible and democratic parliamentary system; these ideas directly contradict one another.[4]

One of the core values of Stanfield’s leadership was his integrity and dedication to the ideals of democratic and responsible government. His career and platform wove priorities that ran across ideological lines, focusing on social justice while intertwining with private enterprise. Stanfield was malleable in his views, always seeking to balance economic growth with concerns about the quality of society. Similarly, he emphasized a balance between the need for an active government and the promotion of individual initiative.[5] Stanfield’s well-rounded character exemplified the model politician. He possessed the ability to see the positive features of opposition views and was humble enough to compromise on initiatives which would better all aspects of society.

Beyond the role of government in achieving democratic principles, Stanfield voiced concerns over the mechanisms that created gaps in responsible governance. From recognizing the regional inequalities produced by the first-past-the-post system to the negative societal influence that media produces during election campaigns, Stanfield noted various influences contributing to the deterioration of democratic values within Canada.[6] Though discussed more than forty years ago, many of these issues continue to permeate the political landscape today. Stanfield’s continued concerns with democratic values resonate in today’s society. While he discussed the various problems within democratic political systems many years ago, we have failed to mitigate many of the issues addressed. Instead, these problematic influences have only become more apparent; if anything, politics has become more divided and divisive in the current climate of governance.


  1. Stanfield, R. (1977, February 7). Notes for the Fifth Lecture in the George C. Nowlan Lectureship Series. Acadia University, Wolfville, NS.
  2. Stanfield, R. (1978, October 8). Notes for the Remarks: International Symposium on Human Development. St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS.
  3. Clippingdale, R. (2008). Robert Stanfield's Canada: Perspectives of the Best Prime Minister We Never Had. Montréal: School of Policy Studies, Queen's University by McGill-Queen's University Press.
  4. Murray, L. (2004). Robert Stanfield: A Nova Scotian and a Canadian remembered. Canadian Parliamentary Review, 27(1), 15-17. 
  5. Frank, J. (1988). Robert Stanfield: On Politics, Polls and Leadership. Canadian Business Review, 15(2), 8-15.
  6. Stanfield, R. (1978, February). Notes for the 1978 Josiah Wood Lectures. St. Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB.

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Democratic Values by Julia Rodgers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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