Get Out of the House!

Changes to Amplify Citizens' Voices

So many contributors told us the same thing - in our highly educated, tech-savvy world Canadians want a chance to engage with politics beyond elections. Here are some great ideas from around the world on increasing the presence of citizen voices in decision making:

Blog Posts to Amplify the Citizens' Voices:

Get Out of the House!

by User Not Found | Feb 14, 2013

Throughout February, we’re posting an idea-a-day on the theme of  “Redesigning Parliament.” Today we've got Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative's BC Office.
This is the 7th post in our Redesigning Parliament series. To read the rest subscribe to our blog, and follow #fixparl.

Here’s the big dilemma: Whatever reforms are made to Parliamentary practice and conduct, the simple truth is that, for now, citizens have lost faith in politicians. However, they trust their fellow citizens, and just as they do with juries, are prepared to delegate important decisions to them.

One solution then is to more frequently deliberate on key issues outside Parliament. Trust the people. Put major policy questions to citizen assemblies, or some other large-scale public engagement process. We need more opportunities to have big and thoughtful conversations on fundamental matters.

A few good candidates for such conversations:

  • Taxes: what programs do we want to pay for together, and how do we want to raise the needed revenues?
  • Climate change: what would a fair and effective policy agenda look like to dramatically lower our emissions?
  • Electoral reform: how should we elect our legislative representatives?

The list could be long. Here in British Columbia, we have seen two such exercises in the past decade: The Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, and the Conversation on Health. Both captured the attention and imagination of the public. Both garnered significant respect from fellow citizens. Both modeled respectful engagement and participation. Neither was perfect; the former had some design flaws that ultimately undercut its success, while the latter was not given a true mandate and authority to make real decisions. But both offer useful models to build upon. 

"When people are forced to watch politics from the outside, they grumble and resist change; but when they are engaged in deliberative processes... their views change, their best community-oriented values find expression, and they find themselves willing to make trade-offs that enhance collective wellbeing."

Opinion research tells us that people want to be engaged and included in decision-making. Indeed, whether the issue is taxes, budgets, health care or the environment, there is ample evidence that participation is a game-changer. When people are forced to watch politics from the outside, they grumble and resist change; but when they are engaged in deliberative processes – given a chance to express their views and priorities, but also to hear those of fellow citizens – their views change, their best community-oriented values find expression, and they find themselves willing to make trade-offs that enhance collective wellbeing (this was, for example, one of the key findings out of the experience of participatory budgeting in Brazil).

Similarly, extensive opinion research the CCPA conducted on the views of British Columbians regarding taxes told us that people are hungry to be engaged, and that such participation fundamentally shifts the debate. While people aren’t interested in writing a blank cheque to government, they are prepared to entertain tax increases, —  under the right conditions. People want greater transparency and accountability from their governments. They want to know the money will be well spent on needed programs. But most importantly, they want to have a say in how decisions are made.

And so our key reform idea is a paradoxical one –– to restore public trust in Parliament, leave it much more often.

Seth Klein is the BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Shannon Daub is the CCPA-BC’s Communications Director.

More great ideas to Amplify the Citizens' Voices:

Debate e-petitions in the House of Commons and other ideas by Kennedy Stewart 

No "Us" and "Them" in Democracy by Mark Henschel

Needed: A radical redefinition of the secular by Robert Joustra

Thoughts on Redesigning Parliament by Sandeep Achar

Responses from Samarans:

"Committees which report on bills should reach out to the public more - committees should set up a facility online for the public to annotate bills that  they're considering before they start hearings on them." - Leon

"I think your efforts to re-engage Canadians in the political process are terrific. However, I am concerned that some parties may only want to listen to their "chosen few", not the broad base. To overcome this, I think we need to make voting mandatory at all levels of government like Australia. It's the only measure that will ensure broad response." - Drew Davison

"The Citizens Assembly Foundation has a proposal to redesign any democratically elected government. to find out more information and view a demonstration about how the redesign would work in practice." -Geoff Campbell

"Revisit Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples' recommendation regarding a "House of First Peoples".  The Commission suggested this as a third chamber, but might be better to replace Senate of have combined/hybrid upper chamber (i.e. ensuring legislation respects not only provincial rights and interests but also rights and interests enshrined in treaties with First Peoples, whether historic or modern)." -James Stauch

Create capability for voters to petition Parliament to change policies ... A threshold level of petition numbers should compel the petition matter be placed first on the order paper. - Brian boyd

"Honestly? I think Guy Fawkes had the right idea! Sometimes you have to burn the village to the ground to save it. Until that time, my Xbox is wayyy more interesting" - Troy