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Thursday, November 12, 2009

what would an empowered alberta look like?

One of my favourite bloggers, David Eaves, has recently published a two-part series addressing a question raised by the Australian Government’s Web 2.0 Taskforce:

"...imagine for a moment it was your job to create the guidelines that will help public servants engage online. Although you have the examples from other organisations, you are given the rare luxury to start with a blank sheet of paper (at least for this exercise). What would you write? What issues would you include? Where would you start? Who would you talk to?"
This question made me think about many of the issues facing Albertans and the challenges facing our provincial government in engaging and interacting with citizens. The Government of Alberta holds frequent traditional style consultations on many issues, but are they generating the kind of discussions that our system of governance needs in order to create value for citizen participation? I would encourage all the readers of this blog who work in Alberta's public service to take a look at some of the innovative ideas for citizen engagement that are being implemented in other jurisdictions. I believe that creating value in citizen participation is key to re-engaging the millions of Albertans who have disengaged from our democratic institutions and the process governing them.

In 2007, the Government of New Zealand took an innovative step to engage citizens by creating a wiki to allow public input in the redrafting of their Police Act. More recently, the Government of New Zealand has launched a website to host government datasets. Similar decisions to open data to citizens have happened in Toronto and Vancouver. Open data was a hot topic at ChangeCamp Edmonton and Councillor Don Iveson has submitted a formal inquiry to the City Administration on the topic.

I have had conversations with many friends, family, and associates who have expressed a general feeling of disempowerment and distance from their elected officials and the decisions they make on our behalf. We elect our fellow Albertans to represent us in our democratic institutions, but as our society has changed in monumental ways, we have seen very little change in our democratic institutions.

Premier Peter Lougheed understood the need for our democratic institutions to evolve with mainstream society when in the early 1970s he created Alberta's Hansard and allowed for the televised recording of Assembly debates. Both Hansard and Video of the Assembly are now available online, but nearly forty years later, do our provincial democratic institutions reflect the needs our society? Is it important to preserve the current form of parliamentary democracy where the Executive Branch (the Premier and Cabinet) holds sway over the Legislative Branch (the elected Assembly) or is it time to rethink how we allow ourselves to be governed? Why? Is it possible bring the backrooms of the political establishment to the living rooms of Albertans?

With the New Zealand example in mind, I wonder what the outcomes would have been had citizens been empowered to play a real role in shaping legislation like Bill 44, Bill 19, or Bill 50. How different would our province be in twenty or fifty years if regular Albertans were allowed to play a sincere role in helping shape the future of our resource royalty structure, our health care system, or how our abundance of natural resources are developed?


DJ Kelly said...

Took the words right out of my mouth. Citizen engagement is a major problem in Canada (whether you look only at voting percentages or dig deeper). The time has come to stop lamenting this fact and get up off our asses and do something about it.

That is not something we can "expect" a government to do. It's something people need to demand.

Anonymous said...

We definitely would have seen a much stronger Bill 44 not this watered down version.

Gauntlet said...

Wow. It's kind of a big step from engaging citizens online to questioning the workings of the legislature, isn't it?

And I'm more interested in the latter. What exactly would you suggest rather than having a Premier and Cabinet with control of a majority of the legislature?

A division of powers ala the US?

daveberta said...

DJ: I completely agree. I doubt that we will see changes if we simply try and wait for changes to happen from the inside. There needs to be people working from the outside of government to change the traditional structure as well. I heard that there was some good discussion at CivicCamp Calgary a couple weeks ago.

daveberta said...

Gauntlet - yes, it is a big jump, but I believe that it is a big conversation that needs to be thought provoking and out-of-the-box. What needs to change?

I'm a fan of a system where the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government are separate. The way our system has evolved, there rarely many actual checks and balances between the two branches. The Executive exerts an disproportionate amount of power over MLAs because they hold the levers over who makes it into cabinet, who gets appointed to important committees, and who remains banished to the backbenches. I think that we would see a lot more robust discussion if the two were separated and insider baseball didn't overtake the importance of real debate in the Assembly.

Derrick Jacobson said...

"I think that we would see a lot more robust discussion if the two were separated and insider baseball didn't overtake the importance of real debate in the Assembly."

I second that one!

Gauntlet said...

The US system has independent executive and legislature, and therefore one has no say on who the other will be. The Canadian system has them integrated, and yet the legislature still has no say over who the Premier will be.

Rather than separating the executive from the legislature, what about giving more power to the backbenchers by having the parties give their caucus the ability to initiate leadership contests?

Wouldn't that re-balance the situation without requiring a re-writing of our unwritten constitution?

Hook said...

David Sands not doing it for you?

And Dave, what do you mean by "government" as your blog is only focused on politicians.

Anonymous said...

It's time to dump the monarchy for one. It's stupid.