Participatory Democracy

Local government is the sphere of government closest to the people. Many basic services are delivered by local municipalities, and local ward councillors are the politicians closest to communities.

Local government serves a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is the administrative purpose of supplying goods and services; the other purpose is to represent and involve citizens in determining specific local public needs and how these local needs can be met.

Participatory democracy is a necessary complement to representative democracy.

David Moscrop, Canadian author

International Observatory on Participatory Democracy

The International Observatory on Participatory Democracy (IOPD) is an international network open to all cities, organizations, and research centres interested in learning about, exchanging, and applying experiences of participatory democracy at the local level.

The IOPD recently held its annual Conference with a focus on sustainable cities/territories. It will also host three two-hour virtual sessions from November 29 to December 1, 2021, in collaboration with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG).

The virtual sessions on Zoom start at 10 A.M. Atlantic time with translation in English/French/Spanish.

To register for any of the three sessions, click here.

  1. Monday, November 29: Citizen Participation in Ecological Transformation
    Local governments must play a key and pioneering role in the ecological transformation of our societies, and citizens cannot be only spectators in this process. In this session we want to share experiences and the steps to follow in order to foster government-citizen dialogue and the co-creation of solutions for the ecological transition.
  2. Tuesday, November 30: Revisiting local democracy
    The impact of the pandemic on democratic institutions and procedures has added to the problems and crises already being felt by democracies. In this new session we want to think about ways to revitalise local democracy such as citizens’ assemblies or other forms of deliberation by lottery, online participation tools, and the debate around digital rights.
  3. Wednesday, December 1: Feminist municipalism and participatory democracy
    The global feminist municipalist movement is a key building block of a better normality towards a renewed local democracy. We want to open this space for dialogue where strategies for deploying feminism and participatory democracy in local politics converge.

More on this topic:

TED Talk: The Antidote to Apathy

A few years ago someone sent me the link to a TED Talk video that Dave Meslin, a local organizer based in Toronto, presented in 2010. It is still incredibly valid today.

“Apathy as we think we know it doesn’t actually exist,” said Meslin. “People do care, but we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacles and barriers in the way.”

Barriers such as the ones below:

At a short seven minutes, I encourage you to watch this video and to share it widely.

Comments are always welcome!

GUEST OPINION: Mayor of Charlottetown has too much influence, not enough leadership

Posted with author’s permission.
Originally published in The Guardian on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

At the municipal level, the buck stops at the mayor’s desk. He or she is expected to lead and provide wise direction, especially in a place like Charlottetown, our capital city, Birthplace of Confederation, and one of the finest and most beautiful cities anywhere. However, our current mayor seems missing in action on the leadership side.

Examples of his unacceptable leadership as mayor include the following:

It is unacceptable when a highly respected Charlottetown architect’s firm places first in the competition to design a third city fire station, but instead, the city awards the tender to a lower-placed firm. It is even more concerning when other leading architectural firms courageously speak out against the inappropriate City Hall decision and say they are losing faith in the city’s tendering process, and go on to say “it’s an embarrassment throughout the Atlantic region for our city hall.” And the Mayor’s pathetic response: “Anytime you do something and issue an RFP, you’ll get feedback.” If Mayor Brown is still around for the 2023 Canada Games, will he want to award the gold to the third-place finishers?

It is unacceptable recently when the city’s proposed 2021 budget seemed to be off by about $2.5 million in the calculations, that Mayor Brown proposed that council approve the budget anyway and hopefully find the missing money later. How can citizens/taxpayers have confidence in such judgment and leadership when he is so cavalier about millions of taxpayer’s dollars?

It is unacceptable that the mayor is a member of every city committee and has input and voting rights on every committee. He has far too much influence on every matter proceeding through committee stages, and he has shown no hesitation to use that influence to advance or thwart various matters involving the city. In a December 2019 City Remuneration Report, the authors (Gerard Mitchell, retired Supreme Court judge; George MacDonald, former Charlottetown mayor; and Stan MacPherson, accounting firm principal) expressed a number of concerns regarding city operations, and they suggested consideration of “revising the Municipal Government Act so that the mayor of Charlottetown is not a voting member of council committees. The mayor’s vote should be reserved for breaking ties at council meetings.” Needless to say, Mayor Brown has not advanced that proposal which would greatly roll back his powers.

It is unacceptable that the mayor does not excuse himself, at the committee and council level, from city development decisions, given that his bio states that he “works with the family business (EB Brown’s Transport and Crane Service) as a business accountant and public relations officer.” His firm is also a member of the Construction Association of P.E.I. and Philip Brown is listed there as the contact. We have seen in the examples above that Mayor Brown seems to play fast and loose with city tendering processes and city budgeting, but he is also in the construction business at a time when the city is allowing and enabling approval of some weakly scrutinized construction projects city-wide, sometimes with little or no regard for neighbourhood impacts or bylaw provisions.

It is unacceptable that the Mayor Brown administration frequently calls special meetings of council (which are for the purpose of dealing with urgent matters that cannot wait until the next regularly scheduled council meeting) and also frequently goes into closed sessions with no public access. For example, during the previous administration from 2015-2018, there was an average of six special meetings of council (urgent meetings) per year. With the Brown administration, there have been 38 in 2019, and a further 38 such meetings of council in 2020. Why?

Special Council Meetings 2019-2020 (source: City of Charlottetown)

Finally, it is unacceptable that since Mayor Brown came to power, almost every neighbourhood in the city has had to defend itself from questionable city hall decisions. The result has been IRAC appeals, neighbourhood campaigns like Save Simmons, Save Sherwood, Save Our Waterfront, and it gets worse by the day. There is little or no respect shown by the mayor for our bylaws, our neighbourhoods, our tendering processes, our tax money, and on and on. We are too good a city and a province to continue putting up with this nonsense. I hope Mayor Brown will either quickly get his act together or recognize that the position of mayor may be too much for him.

Doug MacArthur is co-ordinator of Future of Charlottetown.

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