Public Policy: Mystery or Playground?

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Friday, February 15, 2013 View Count = 1098

Public Policy: Mystery or Playground?

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:

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