A democratic deficit in Ontario, has made it difficult to govern, lower voter turnout, citizen apathy and political disengagement. This briefing note offers possible remedies for the democratic deficit so as to help renew effective governance. After analyzing the issues, and offering alternative remedies to the problem, Minister, deliberative democracy and improved education offers the best means to renew civic commitment.
Minister, the Ontario Provincial Government is facing institutional overload, and citizens have become less engaged. To recap my earlier briefing to you, there is a deficit in the health of democracy in Ontario. Symptoms in a disengaged democracy include low voter turnout, low participation within politics, and a decline in trust in political leaders and democratic institutions. These symptoms arise when citizens feel dissatisfied with the government because they have undue expectations of public institutions. As a result, government branches are performing over capacity, leading to a “democracy overload” as citizens tend to have unrealistic expectations if they assume government can solve the class struggle. The deficit is also related to the disengagement of disaffected citizens from their civic duties—voting, jury duty and paying taxes. These longstanding issues continue to hinder governance. Addressing these symptoms of deficient citizenship will strengthen citizens commitment to performing civic duties, easing governance. The symptoms are not mainly the fault of government, but rather the attitude of citizens. Citizens have a duty to vote, should take an interest in their government and how it is run, and should be active within their community, yet Ontarian and Canadians have become disengaged socially, civically and politically.
It is in our government’s interest to renew citizens’ sense of responsibility. This approach requires us to reach out to the community at a grassroots level. Citizens lack readiness, reciprocity and political education. As we can see, the democratic deficit deals with citizens, and as we recognize that a democracy is only as strong as its represented citizens. Raymond Williams, claims such that our current democratic system is worse than a revolution, “ …he presents the idea that a withdrawal of interest is worse than armed revolts and protest.” As such, Minister, engaged citizens do not want to be governed but rather they want their voices heard. This is an opportunity for the government to provide the democratic renewal that citizens are seeking.
Another issue for government has been the type of consultation, referred to as “voice” that government should use to address stakeholders. There are three types of voice strategic, rule-led and communicative, out of the three, communicative is most beneficial. Communicative voice provides a dialog or open forum discussion and invites public input and innovation. I had a positive and enlightening experience with CCL&D’s new program—IWIP—which established dialog between stakeholders and CCL&D. Minister, to remedy the symptoms of the democratic deficit, we need a communicative voice, and the best attributes to fix the deficit of readiness, reciprocity, and political education by embracing deliberate democracy.
To recap, Minister, the main issue is a democratic deficit that stems from citizens being disengaged and ultimately lacking readiness, reciprocity and education within politics. Before exploring my recommendation, it is noteworthy to mention at least three alternatives and why they would ultimately fail. The alternatives include Asset-Based Community development (ABCD) model, e-democracy and social economy, by discussing the alternatives, I can highlight why deliberate democracy and improved education stand out as possible solutions.
ABCD, utilizes social assets, such as gifted or talented individuals as means to mobilize the community to lobby the government. Minister, although ABCD offers poor communities a means to engage with the government, ultimately I would discourage that model as I will explain the disadvantages that outweigh the advantages. ABCD, requires assets that are either recognized or unrecognized by the community to function. ABCD is a post-political stage, it is best suited towards enhancing co-governance, reciprocity, and civil society. ABCD functions by networking—where formal or informal institutions, local government, community based organizations and private sector are mobilized. Through networking, the community is able to use resources of individuals to build a powerful interest or lobby group that is able to effectively pressure government towards entitlements. ABCD requires the community to have a strong leadership specifically top-down, with a rule-led centralized voice. ABCD portrays its community as victims and by doing so they gain a leverage against the government to benefit their cause. Rule-led consultations tend to be aggressive in engaging with the government, as well as encourage uninvited advocacy to pressure the government. To recap, ABCD addresses readiness and reciprocity; however, it does little towards fixing the deficit in political education that poor communities suffer from. Worse, ABCD may impact education, readiness and reciprocity negatively over time, as integrity, values and the identity of the community diminish. This is evident as citizens begin to “hunker down”, they begin to accept the exaggeration presented by community leaders and, as a result the excessive victimization presented leaves the individual with a victim mentality. This victim mentality would lead to eroding individual autonomy, thus further isolating individuals within their communities leaders. This would further damage the concept of empowering citizens through readiness. Communities with newcomers tend to lack social cohesion, social trust and social capital, as they are not entrenched within the community values and norms; as a result, diverse communities with immigrants are an obstacle to ABCD. Regent Park, a poor community has 60% of its residents as immigrants who are not yet integrated, as such ABCD will have a hard time bridging and bonding diverse cultural communities quickly enough to mobilize. ABCD model does not address the issues of society directly such as lack of jobs, education or housing, but rather it simply advocates the class struggle in the community. The drawback with ABCD is that it pressures government to address social injustice; however, the government is unable to solve the class struggle. In a word, ABCD seeks a welfare state, where citizens demands and expectations on government will only make the citizens reliant on the state, creating a ‘democratic overload’ and ultimately harming individuals’ sense of responsibility towards the State. Minister, I would not advise the use of ABCD—aggressive rule-led consultations devalue citizens’ self-esteem and does not address the issues of society directly; instead, it lobbies government similar to an interest group.
Minister, the advancement of technology and the Internet has impacted social, civil and political engagement. According to the World Bank, 86.8% of Canadians, had access to the Internet in 2012. Thus, the government has incentive to utilize technology as means to engage with its citizens. E-democracy utilizes information and communication technology (ICTs), such as the Internet to foster democracy. The benefits of e-democracy—engaging the Y-generation, overcoming distances, respecting new diversity, accessing information, and reducing lobbying costs. Most people already associate the Internet with enhancing social networking; however, the ability of social networking to enhance social cohesion and social capital is questionable. The Internet does not automatically lead to social capital, it would be unwise to assume that the Internet provides citizen the same quality of networking as face to face-to-face interaction. The Internet also has the potential to provide a meeting space for the community to develop common interests and, overcoming limitations of physical space and time. E-democracy allows for greater consultation or e-consultation, where the Internet can create a virtual space where citizens, NGO’s, stakeholders and government can interact—it has emphasis on input. E-democracy can be used to solve the issues with “democracy overload”, as it has been effective in easing the burden on government institutions. This is evident as ICTs have led to the creation of e-voting, e-services, e-governance, e-consultation and e-decision making. The public is capable of bringing in feedback on policy, allowing policymakers to ‘check’ how a policy would be perceived by the the public. Grassroots NGOs are slow to use the benefits of e-democracy, for instance CCL&D has a website, however; it is poorly managed. NGOs needs to use e-consultation to raise awareness about their programs, CCL&D can raise awareness for IWIP, which is relatively new program through social media. E-democracy has setbacks that declines its appeal as a solution towards renewing sense of civic duty. First, E-democracy is very complicated and difficult to predict how it functions and how it would impact the community. Second, e-democracy takes a while to indicate results. For instance the youth or the y-generation, will take decades for the youths to get a sense of civic duty. Third, not everyone in communities especially the poor have access to a computer or the Internet. Fourth, older generations may see e-democracy as an obstacle as they lack the know-how on how to operate a computer or the Internet. As a result, Minister, e-democracy is not realistic, it requires training citizens to use a computer and Internet. Citizens in poor areas simply do not have the luxury of time or the money to utilize the Internet, even if NGO’s provide the costs for the Internet and training.
The social economy refers to non-profit and non-government organizations, that deliver services that are similar to government and private sectors. The social economy relies heavily on, volunteerism, non-paid workers, encompassing nonprofits, charities, social enterprises, social movements, and other community—based organizations. This form of funding is known as the third sector, which emphasis on delivering social services, rather than profit seeking. In Canada, the social economy is a massive market, generating 90 billion dollars with 175,000 to 200,000 nonprofit organizations and 78,000 charitable organizations. The social economy, enhances co-governance and reciprocity. There are three main types of social economies: public-sector nonprofits, market-based social organizations, and civil society organizations. Public-sector nonprofit is independent from government; however, it receives a large amount of funding from government, donations and grants. Market-based social organizations are associations, their source of income is from the market place, they compete with other agencies or organizations to gain funding from the private sector or in some cases grants. Civil society organizations have a defined membership that only provides services for members; their main source of income is derived from member fees, donors and fund-raising. The private sector contributes finances towards the third sector, however; corporations have little obligations to the community and can withdraw at anytime, as they contribute financial resources as a means to brand their company. Social economy has many disadvantages that outdo its advantages thus making it unfavourable to implement. The social economy has the following benefits over government: it is flexible as it does not have a bureaucracy, its cause is appealing to citizens, more responsive than government and it is cost effective. Third sector do not partner with the government and it tends to have a strategic voice with ad hoc type of consultation; this would be problematic if government seeks to act as an equal partner in projects. The drawback to social economy includes: untrained helpers, dependency on volunteerism, deficiency in resources, self-appointed administration that lacks guidelines to prevent corruption or oversight, tends to be local, and has inconsistent or insufficient services. Without funding it is very difficult for an organization to keep or maintain, quality of its services to the community. For instance, CCL&D has cancelled many programs or where forced to make certain programs seasonal—the inconsistency is due to lack of funding/resources to keep the programs in operation all year round. Minister, I would reject implementing the social economy to address the deficit in citizenship, as the social economy does not promote readiness, but rather only address reciprocity and co-governance.
Minister, after discussing and engaging with community issues through CCL&D, I come to the conclusion that the best remedy is deliberate democracy and to a lesser extend improved education. John Unr, describes deliberate democracy as “fair and open community deliberation about the merits of competing political arguments.” Deliberate democracy allows for input and feedback from citizens to the institution, thus empowering citizen. The core ideology behind deliberate democracy is to promote deliberate empowerment—this would address the challenges of readiness and reciprocity within the community. Deliberative empowerment focuses on both the individual and institution—citizens gain readiness while the institution becomes responsive to community needs. Deliberate democracy is most effective when citizens unconstrained feed back and analysis are utilized towards the consultation for policy making. Unfortunately, most institutions hesitate to give citizens policy making powers. It is essential for the discussions to be regulated by a mediator to maintain balance and order, otherwise; rule-led would occur when a group of people dictate the entire consultation creating chaos. The mediator is a person that is given power by the group to act for their best interest. A good model to follow was in 2006, the Provincial Government created a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The citizen’s electrical reform was created by the government to study citizens choice in maintaining the First Past the Post (FPTP) system, or remove it in favour of allowing a Mixed Member Proportional representation (MMP). The assembly sent experts to educate the citizens on the issues and possible remedies—by educating the citizens, they were able to create a rational decision (readiness), as well as base the decision on good governance and for the sake of the common good thus encouraging reciprocity.
Engaging stakeholders ( NGOs) through deliberative democracy provides three important benefits—first it provides input or ‘letting-in’, as NGOs tend to have built trust and a strong relationship with the community. Second, NGOs are up to date with community struggles, in this case it will save the government time and effort in searching and documenting community issues at hand. Third, government and stakeholders can share resources for cost-effectively programs management. Minister, there is an inherent incentive to invite stakeholders and actors, to build a relationship or partnership that would help address the deficit in citizens’ sense of duty. By doing so, we are able to build a relationship that not only address the symptoms of the community, but also make ready diagnosis of any symptoms that threaten the health of democracy or its citizens. Institutions are beginning to utilize deliberative democracy, as it provides a legitimacy for the institution and demands for good policy, as a result organizations are seeking consultations with local communities. Legitimate policy, has led to empowerment of both the individual and institution. Giving citizens a say on how their institutions are run, gives legitimacy and responsiveness to the institution. Deliberative democracy allows citizens to regain a sense of duty as members of the community, and have a common goal towards seeking effective policy. Institutions and NGO’s are increasingly leaning towards deliberate democracy, because ‘good policy’ is linked towards citizen’s legitimacy. Actor’s have always had a voice however, it had been traditionally strategic or rule-led that diminished the citizens vocal contributions. Deliberative democracy offers collective problem solving using communicative voice. Rule-led is centred on accomplishing its own mandate, while strategic has compromised policies for the sake of persuasion. On the other hand, deliberate democracy is centred on ‘truth seeking’ and problem solving. The success of deliberative democracy relies on citizens self autonomy, and being informed, if citizens lack informational awareness than the quality of the consultation decreases. I recognized, the importance of consultation from CCL&D as it recognized that immigrant women are a minority, they also recognized that a majority of new immigrants are not entrenched within their community considering it takes time to develop norms and networking as a member. The trainees (new immigrants) learn about their local councillors, institutions and services offered in their community, as their involvement allows them to be entrenched their community’s values and norms. Minister, deliberative democracy can renew and solve citizens apathy towards civic duty.
Minister, while deliberative democracy can be used to improve civil duties, my experiences from CCL&D has shown how improving education can be a positive contribution to the community. The more educated a person is, the more likely they are to vote and perform civil duties. Ontarian’s lack adequate knowledge about our their own governance structure and political parties, the reason is the lack of education offered to teach citizens. In Ontario, the only mandatory class for grade 10, that teaches teenagers about their political system is a half-credit course titled “civics”; in 2009 a study shows that 74% of students who have taken it referred to it as a “waste of time”. According to the Canada Broadcasting Corporation survey, students and teachers want to change the curriculum to draw students towards learning about the political system. Introducing youth towards civic education has an incentive, as there is a correlation between political education and informed youth about their political parties, local councillors, thus allowing them to formulate their own opinions. Citizens aspire to be part of the process of the policy making regardless of its success, because the citizens value the experience of being actors. Even if citizens ‘input’ on policy does not materialize, they aspire to be part of the process; however, they want the energy and time spent to “matter” or be taken into consideration. The provincial government has an obligation towards consulting citizens on future projects and this is where consultations come to play in strengthening representative democracy and citizens sense of readiness. IWIP, at first empower women through education, there are classes that teach the English language and civics, and to apply their knowledge the trainees are asked to create reports on the demographics of their community. Newcomers need civic education to teach the importance of civic duties—voting, jury duty, and paying taxes. The more educated one is, the more likely they are to vote and more importantly be an informed voter, this is a major distinction as informed voters tend to vote for the common good. It is to our interest to promote educating citizens, be it the youth, New Canadians, or the general public, as informed citizenship will address the deficiency of reciprocity, readiness and reengage the y-generation towards politics. Minister, aside from deliberative democracy, well informed citizens are required for democracy thrives on informed citizens. Deliberative democracy and improved education provides an opportunity for citizens to be heard, it gives them a seat in decision making, as this gives strengthens citizens involvement in civic duties.
Minister, we must consider opportunities to address our state of disengagement through a reengaging civic duties that would strengthen the democratic governance. Deliberative democracy and improved education provides an opportunity for citizens to be heard, it gives them a seat on decision making, as such it gives citizens meaningful involvement.
Minister, deliberative democracy and improved education are the best means to improving readiness, reciprocity and educated citizens. No solution or solutions are ever risk free, this including deliberative democracy and improved education, however; the benefits of the recommendation outweigh the implications.
Deliberative democracy is expensive, it requires booking large venues to accommodate the community, it also has costs associated with promoting the event. Since deliberative democracy needs to provide access of information to the citizens costs of posting information via web or flying in experts can be very expensive. For instance Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), spent 10,000 dollars for a 1.8 day session, when they engaged in deliberative democracy. Despite the high costs associated, TCHC, embraced deliberative democracy, because it makes their policymaking legitimate in the eyes of the citizens. Good policy is what most institutions seek, deliberative democracy allows policymakers to gain feedback from citizens, empowering both the individual and state. Poor communities such as Regent Park, can lower the costs associated with deliberative democracy by engaging stakeholders to absorb the costs. For instance, universities or colleges can host large venues and tend to provide non-profit organizations low cost to use lecture halls. Other than costs associated with hosting events, providing expert analysis and advertising the event. A mediator for hosting deliberative democracy needs to be patient and able to be productive, especially on highly publicized or critical policy implementation, where citizens maybe distributive.
Improving education, allows citizens to be well-informed citizens, however; there are major issues that may lead to drawbacks, especially since education requires time. If you recall, Minister, NGOs provide services such as in-class training and internship opportunities, such as the IWIP provided by CCL&D. However; this requires the individual to come to these classes and at times choose between working or getting an education. Poor families or individuals, may find it difficult to choose an education, scarf icing time for education rather than income. Even so, Minister, communities like Regent Park are actively seeking education, especially immigrants. For instance IWIP—newcomer women, do not speak the language, have difficulty integrating, and as a result find it difficult to building relationships with community. IWIP trainees have been successful in getting jobs, volunteer, expand their social networks and have become model citizens.
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