Political Literacy Campaign: Understanding The Landscape
Why are Politics Important?
Politics are more important than we think.
They are the means in which citizens have their voices heard in order for broader decisions to be made by the government. The government, and our politicians are our lawmakers, therefore being aware of what they do, is indirectly choosing to be aware of how we live in Canada. Political literacy is important because it impacts our everyday life. If we don’t raise our concerns and issues to politicians, then either intentionally or unintentionally, our needs and voices won’t be considered in the decision-making process.
Understanding what different levels of government do, and what they are responsible for is also extremely important. Our political literacy course is designed to provide an understanding of the responsibilities of the government and how it affects us as citizens. We define politics as the process in which governments make decisions to represent and uphold the wants and needs reflected by their people. Being politically literate means Understanding and becoming aware of how the political landscape works and affects us
What is a Constitution?
A constitution can be defined as a backbone for the fundamental laws of countries. It is a social contract between the people and the government that rules them. Canada’s constitution was created in 1982 from Great Britain. It includes a few unique aspects including the charter of rights and freedoms. In most places it lays out guarantees for the people, meaning the rights that they hold. It Lays out the different levels of government and establishes what the executive, legislative and judiciary do, providing each section of the government with their jobs. Our constitution is important to us as it is in a way, a legal binding document that dictates how we live as citizens. Many people have gone on to study constitutional law, and to try and analyze our constitution. It is something all citizens should know about, and should have a basic understanding of.
What is Wrong with our Constitution?
Since our constitution is such an important document, it must be perfect right? This is incorrect, since many constitutions were written so long ago, they do not uphold all the values of the people. Many groups were left out and therefore constitutions are inaccurate. These are a few examples of this: In American history, black people were not treated equally and were kept as slaves. They were not even considered to be as human as white landowners. Therefore, their constitution was created by white and slave owning males, and is baked in inequality because it did not prioritize everyone. Similarly, in Australia, the British declared Australia empty, and a wasteland that could be claimed without having to acknowledge the Australian natives that lived there, so their constitution does not uphold the values of those natives. Even in Canada, Indigenous people were treated harshly, and killed. This meant they were also not recognized in the constitution and this has long since impacted them. It is important to know that white males would benefit the most from the constitution. One way of looking at determining how good a constitution is, is to determine how flexible it is. Amending a constitution can often require a supermajority, and can be difficult to change. Canada’s constitution requires a supermajority along with the US, and Australia. What this means is that even while their foundations remain unequal, constitutions can be difficult to change and can remain unfair for long periods of time almost permanently. We must be aware of this and the effects of this in society for different groups of people. Politics can hold a different perspective for different people.
If you are a Muslim woman, a person of colour, or anything that is not a white male. The constitution has not been bred in your favour, and therefore it becomes doubly important for women and people of colour to succeed in the political landscape. This is why it is important to learn about these things.
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom
Did you know that there is a Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms?
This document highlights the individual rights of every Canadian as a citizen in our constitution. Not withstanding clause- This is section 33 of the charter of rights and freedoms and gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of the charter. The limitations cause- this clause is section one of the charter of rights and freedoms and it allows the government to impose a “reasonable limit” on the rights of the people. Section 2 of the Charter- Fundamental Freedoms- Canadians are able to follow the religion of their choice, and are guaranteed freedom of thought and expression as well as peaceful assembly. This means that members of religious groups, including Muslims are guaranteed the freedom to practice their faith. Knowing this helps you realize the wrongdoings that happen due to Islamophobia and how that is not AT all backed up by the Canadian Charter. Similarly, Section 15 of the charter lays out equality before the law and equal protection and benefit of law. It says that every individual regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sex, has the right to equal protection under the law. Knowing this is important especially in current times. When Islamophobia and discrimination are at high levels, knowing your rights and the way you should be treated is essential in being aware of these problems. The law can seem scary, but familiarizing yourself with your constitutional rights is one step closer to understanding the importance of your individual freedoms as a Muslim, or person of color.
The Levels of Government and What They Do
Municipal: This level of government is the bottom most level that is usually based in a city, town or district (a municipality). Municipal governments are responsible for things such as libraries, parks, community water systems, local police, roadways and parking. They receive authority for these areas from the provincial governments. This means that your local community issues go to the Municipal government and the Municipal elected officials. The local police you see, the maintenance of parks and graffiti, streetlights and development are a few of their roles. They also work on family and senior support through things such as daycare or senior homes. Airports, Ambulance, Animal Control and By-law Enforcement, Arts and Culture, Fire Services,Garbage Collection and Recycling, Electric Utilities, and Public Transit are a few others. They focus on the day to day of our living in communities, and for some, can be the most important government they deal with when it comes to their family.
Provincial: The provincial government is the second level of government. It works on things that are specifically given to them through the constitution. This level might be the most important for some as it includes things such as education, hospitals, and social services. Property and civil rights in Ontario also are a part of this. The courses in schools, the way schools are run, the teachers, homework and curriculum of all children in Ontario is through the provincial government.
Federal Government: The federal government is the head of government. They make laws for the “peace, order and good government of Canada”. They have power over things such as citizenship, criminal law, money and banking, the post office, foreign policy, employment insurance etc. They focus on the bigger things in the country that affect all people in the same way. To make it less confusing, the federal government is known as the government of Canada, the provincial government is known as the government of Ontario, and the municipal government is known as the government for community affairs. Remembering this helps to know what each level is responsible for. Each level has government officials that work to create and establish laws. If you are unsatisfied with any aspect of the government, you can look at who is responsible for it, and email elected officials. When you are unhappy with anything in the country, it is good to know who works on each part of it. That way you can pinpoint specific leaders and laws and work to fix them.
Canadian Political Parties
Definition: Political Parties are groups that hold different ideas and values on running the government. Canadian federal Elections consist of a leader from each party running to become prime minister. Each party has a leader, and party members. The leader establishes where the party stands on policies and the political issues of the day. The party members work to support and endorse that agenda.