Public Policy: Mystery or Playground?

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:

Public Policy: Mystery or Playground?

by User Not Found | Feb 15, 2013

Today's Redesigning Parliament post comes from Vasiliki Bednar, Action Canada fellow and Samara volunteer. Tell her what you think @VassB.

1.  What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Parliament in the 21st century?

I think that policy-making is too private [and mysterious], and even though it is for the public, it excludes the public.

When we introduced the concept of electing one person as a conduit for the voices of many, it made a lot of sense. But times have changed! Now, we are more educated than ever as a nation and hyper-diverse. Our governance institutions are out moded for the realities of the present. They just weren’t made for a hyper-connected, super-engaged, social-media savvy world. If anything, they were made to serve the public, but not to deeply engage with it. I believe that many Canadians have an appetite for deeper political engagement and that our system of Parliament has become inefficient due to its apparent immunity to the broader public’s potential to contribute good ideas.

In 1867, it absolutely was not a problem to concentrate the decision-making and design power in the hands of a few - to limit the policy players – it was efficient. Now, it’s exactly what limits us in terms of our ability to generate novel solutions.

2. What change would you propose to “redesign” Parliament, and the way it works, so it’s more relevant to Canadians?

I would like to see Parliament re-designed so that “the public” can be more proactive and less reactive to the policy-making process.

One idea: Could we become more transparent in terms of the menu of policy options and pros and cons, along with a rationale for decision-making that is released to the public? This could be similar to a private firm explaining major business decisions to investors.

Another idea: Policy and “Solution” “Labs” are popping up informally, taking cues from Finland and the UK. What if these came from within our government? What if we had a shop that was mandated to be more inclusive, experimental, and daring – to engage Canadians in developing and work-shopping solutions to our most urgent policy problems? What if these activities were part of government instead of in opposition or outside of it?

Ultimately, I think that “ordinary” people can help make our country extraordinary. I think that better and more creative inclusion of the public in the policy process could be a great source of civic pride. I think that the well-facilitated sharing of ideas would be productive for Parliament and exciting for policy-makers as well as a boost for the oft-negative public perception of politics and politicians.

Vasiliki Bednar holds her Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance (2010). She is an Action Canada Fellow 2012-2013 and Chair of the U.F.C. “Ultimate Fiction Club,” a book club for women in Toronto. She is designing a board game that simulates policy-making in the federation (called “WONX”) and blogs affectionately at:

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