Democracies in the West are in trouble. Bombastic political discourse and deteriorating political norms are just the symptoms of much larger issues.

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In the United States, the very institutions of the republic are in jeopardy. As president Trump brags about illegal activity, his administration is also pursuing an agenda to weaken civic protections and grab power for the executive.

But the issue of Russian interference looms most large in the American civic imagination. Despite proof that Russian president Valdimir Putin ordered agents to influence American politics, the Trump administration refuses to punish the Russian government and oligarchy and, in fact, continues to praise them.

Canadians have watched in awe as the United States seems to unravel. Canada has a lot at stake too: it is economically reliant on the United States and the two countries share responsibility for the military defense of the entire continent.

Aggressive Trump administration policy is already starting to affect Canada. It is becoming more difficult for Canadians to cross into the United States, American border agents execute incursions into Canadian-claimed waters, and Trump's tariffs threaten to debilitate the Canadian economy.

But Canadians largely take comfort in the idea that, as America tumbles into autocracy, our country is safe from direct foreign meddling in democratic institutions.

But it turns out that that assurance is misguided.

Multiple news outlets are reporting that Putin is already executing plans to influence Canadian politics. The ultimate goal of Russian-controlled Canadian elections would be to further undermine the political alliance that makes foreign incursions into North America unthinkable.

Then, of course, there's NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the cornerstone of the strongest military alliance in the history of the world, established to counter Russian might. Russian attempts to weaken Canada-U.S. relations could threaten the integrity of the entire organization.

Putin's efforts to create a divide between the United States and Canada have already been successful. Trump has imposed crippling tariffs on Canadian imports to the U.S., questioned the validity of NAFTA, and berated his NATO allies.

Now, according to Global News, federal officials are already working on ways to improve the security of Canadian elections.

But perhaps more of a threat is the influence of Russian bots and agents online. During the 2015-2016 presidential election cycle in the United States, dozens of fake reports, memes, and photos circulate among right-wing groups. The open platforms of social media are nearly impossible for officials to monitor and secure.

Political dialogue in Canada has already achieved a heightened intensity surrounding the perceived migrant crisis and the election of a xenophobic provincial government in Ontario.

Old-school Russian spies are also a threat. Maria Butina, a young Russian spy operating in the U.S., was able to make contact with several Republicn governors and senators.

The best defense, of course, against foreign interference in elections is a vigilant populous. Canadians should learn to recognize 'fake news' and reject the language of the far-right.

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