For one student who is new to Canada, the opportunity to observe a public forum discussing Canadians’ engagement in politics was “inspiring.”
On Sept. 11, UNBSJ students took part in a national public outreach program called Democracy Talks, a set of cross-country focus groups. This event is put on by Samara, a charitable organization working to improve political and civil engagement among Canadians.
Samara is investigating how Canadians view politics, the place of politics in public life, and whether the average Canadian feels engaged in the political climate of our nation. When selecting participants for this study, Samara is not looking for political enthusiasts, but rather individuals who would not normally be asked for their opinions when it comes to political issues.
Saint John is one of the first communities to host Democracy Talks, which will travel throughout the Maritimes in the coming weeks before moving west. The forum was organized with help from Dr. Elizabeth Weir of the Urban and Community Studies Institute at UNBSJ, which partnered with Samara to facilitate the talks in Saint John.
The focus of the Urban Institute mirrors the work of Samara; Dr. Weir describes the Urban Institute as an organization “looking forward” by facilitating “discussions of how we can improve our community… asking how do people relate to their city, how do they relate to their provincial government, how do they relate to their federal government, whether they think things are working well or not, what do they see as problems or opportunities.”
Through partnerships with community organizations such as the Urban Institute, Samara aims to link communities across Canada in a national discussion of what barriers are blocking Canadians’ greater political engagement, and to generate specific ideas of how Canadians can become more involved in running their country.
The forum was attended by several newcomers to Saint John, the students of the Pre-MBA program. The Pre-MBA program is an 8-month program designed for international students who are conditionally accepted into the MBA program at UNBSJ but must improve their English skills or gain work experience before beginning their MBA studies.
Chinese student Benjamin (Wang) Sirong was impressed by the democratic process he witnessed, “Here in Canada, in Saint John, everybody can sit with the politicians together and talk with the politician to do the right thing and get the right thing done… it was refreshing to me.” Despite only living in Canada since Aug. 31, he seems to have a good grasp on how Canada should run. Benjamin notes that engaging the public in a public forum platform such as the one used by Samara is “critical you know, especially in democracy.”