Canada at 150 – a new way of conducting politics

Written by  //  April 5, 2010  //  Canada, Politics, Public Policy, Science & Technology  //  No comments

Pascal Zemprelli: The dawn of politics 2.0

Politics 2.0 is about a culture change in Ottawa. It is politics moving from a one-way spectacle, where politicians spew talking points at voters, to a more direct, unfiltered, two-way exchange between public servants and the public they serve.

MONTREAL-Last weekend, we saw the future of Canadian politics. Many substantive policy ideas emerged during Canada at 150: Rising to the Challenge, but the conference’s structure, an encouraging harbinger of things to come, merits special attention.
While the room at the Hyatt only accommodated some 300 people, there were in fact thousands of conference attendees. Likely the first of its kind in Canada, this is what gatherings devoted to policy or politics will look like from now on-an exciting new era of participatory politics is upon us.
The most important development is that these events are no longer limited to their physical location. Canadians everywhere, many of them Liberals, many of them not, joined in, by attending one of the many satellite events organized across the country, or by connecting to the conference from the comfort of their own homes.
At the Montreal Centre-West satellite event hosted by Westmount Liberal MP Marc Garneau at Concordia University, for instance, Politics 2.0 was on full display. The conference webcast, projected on the main screen, was flanked on either side by smaller screens displaying a steady stream of tweets, emails, comments, and questions.
Back at the Hyatt, panelists tackled questions from the floor, but also from cyberspace. All we know about the person who asked about energy efficiency, for instance, is that she had internet access. And that she got some answers.
Many had the opportunity to ask video questions via Skype, like the one I asked about a national housing policy. It prompted not only thoughts from panelists, but also tweets and comments from the Prairies to the Maritimes. Ten years ago, this could not have happened. Our “participation” in the conference would have been limited to passively watching it on television. The importance of this change cannot be overstated.
Liberal MPs were on hand at many of the satellite events, which some pundits have misinterpreted as a slight. They weren’t invited to the main conference, we are told. But they were as much a part of the conference as anyone at the
Hyatt, as were the local constituents they were able to meet with. Take the young man who spent a half hour talking carbon tax with Garneau, for example, or the woman who was finally able to ask Liberal MP Irwin Cotler if he was from the
same line of Cotlers who had owned a fruit store close to her childhood home. Both seemed to prefer this chance at directly engagement to the idea of watching their MP on television, talking in a hotel theatre.
The idea was to get more citizens involved. Mission accomplished.
Toward the end of Saturday, after our own panel discussion on environment, economy and energy with local experts, I made my way to another event organized by the Young Liberals of McGill, where a group of students sat in a basement
discussing everything from health care access in rural areas to aboriginal sovereignty, from child care to the cracks in our justice system. Now picture gatherings like this happening in basements, universities, homes, and auditoriums across the land. Consider that by Sunday morning, Canada at 150 had generated more than 45,000 web hits, over 17,000 online views, and, most importantly, over 5,000 online chats. The Canadian diaspora and curious others in over 30 countries connected to the conference over the weekend. These are not the characteristics of an elite
gabfest. Rather, this is Politics. 2.0. With the technological tools now at our disposal, broad, inclusive, pan-Canadian public policy discussions are possible. Direct, honest conversations between experts, decision-makers, and citizens are possible. Large-scale rational debate is possible. As a consequence, stemming and reversing the tide of political cynicism in this country is possible, particularly among youth, tech-savvy and averse to political spin as they are.
Politics 2.0 is about a culture change in Ottawa. It is politics moving from a one-way spectacle, where politicians spew talking points at voters, to a more direct, unfiltered, two-way exchange between public servants and the public they serve.
It is open, inviting, transparent political processes; it is an informed and engaged citizenry; it is policy driven by a mix of best evidence and broad consultation. And its time is now.
Pascal Zamprelli is a member of Canadians Advocating Political Participation and of the Liberal Party of Canada in the Montreal riding of Jeanne-Le Ber, Que.
[email protected]
The Hill Times

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