EVENT: September 17th – Defending Democracy in a Global Pandemic: Options for Canadian Foreign and Development Policy Makers

EVENT: September 17th – Defending Democracy in a Global Pandemic: Options for Canadian Foreign and Development Policy Makers

The Parliamentary Centre, in collaboration with International IDEA, is organizing a conversation useful for Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and Canadian foreign and development policy thinkers to ensure support for women’s political voice, inclusive democratic institutions and human rights remain at the heart of Canada’s COVID-19 response.

The discussion will explore the importance of ensuring continued democracy support in light of the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19. Among other issues, the discussion will offer perspectives on these pressing questions:

  • What are the main areas of democratic governance affected by the COVID 19 crisis?
  • What are the most agile strategies to safeguard against democratic erosion during a crisis and in crisis recovery?
  • What have been the unique impacts of this crisis on women and what role do they play in the strategies identified to mitigate against democratic backsliding? Are there innovative ways to engage women and strengthen their leadership to build resilience and foster more effective development?
  • How can Canada add more value in supporting and defending democracy worldwide?
  • Should democracy support agencies and international partners develop more coordination to respond to emergencies? How?


  1. Colin Robertson, Senior Fellow Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI)
  2. Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General, International IDEA
  3. Elene Panchulidze (Georgian Institute of Politics and co-author of Global Democracy and COVID-19: Upgrading International Support)
  4. Anita Vandenbeld, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence, Member of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
  5. Kevin Deveaux, former MLA (Nova Scotia), International Parliamentary Development expert


  • Tom Cormier, CEO, Parliamentary Centre


Context and Rationale

The global COVID-19 pandemic is arguably the most important challenge our planet has faced in generations.  The pandemic calls us to change the way we do everything everywhere.  As Canada and other countries seek ways to respond to these unprecedented challenges with humanitarian, health and budget support interventions, it is crucial to ensure investments in inclusive governance, democracy and human rights are maintained and enhanced to preserve important gains and counter troubling tendencies.

‘Global Democracy and COVID-19: Upgrading International Support’ is a collaborative effort among leading international and regional democracy organizations to highlight how some governments are using the public health crisis to further curtail democratic activities.  It also addresses the dangers of increased corruption as government budgets swell in response to inadequate oversight by legislatures and independent institutions.

The report provides recommendations for governments, policymakers, and civil society to address the negative impacts of COVID-19 on democracy and to encourage resilience and innovative responses that safeguard democratic institutions and support democratic actors. The initiative was spearheaded by International IDEA and benefited from the contributions of leading international and regional democracy support organizations from across the globe, including the Parliamentary Centre.

2018 marked the 13th consecutive year, according to Freedom House, in which democracy has declined around the world. Authoritarian tendencies have emerged in many countries, while others have their progress toward democratic consolidation stalled or even reversed. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of these existing problems and compounded them with new threats.

Many governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity for power grabs, and malign foreign meddlers have leveraged the pandemic for disinformation campaigns. At the same time, years of progress on increasing the political inclusion of marginalized voices have been eroded as the pandemic disproportionately affects these groups worldwide.  There is a widening gap between the citizens and political elites as calls for justice, equality and inclusive representation grow across the globe.

The news is not all bad, however.  Civil society organizations are adapting advocacy to virtual spaces, MPs have explored new ways of engaging with constituents and many parliaments have changed the way they work and interact with citizens.  The global pandemic presents an opportunity to encourage more change of this nature and responses by development partners should seek ways of supporting these encouraging innovations.

Canada and Democracy Support

Canada’s foreign policy is rooted in the belief that “democracy, responsible governance, peaceful pluralism and human rights are crucially important to peace and development” Through its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada has placed improving the political and economic position of women at the center of all its development efforts.

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