01 January 2009

Calgary School Meet Vancouver School

The Tyee is printing a series of articles introducing New Ideas for the New Year. Idea #9 rings hopeful for progressives like me.

[A]s conservative populism stalled outside the gates of 24 Sussex, a new progressive populism is stirring and may soon be poised to scramble our political allegiances and polarities.

Progressive populists believe in opening up elite institutions rather burying them. They believe in democratic innovation and experimentation and are as interested in democratizing workplaces, social life and policy-making as they are in the cut and thrust of partisan politics. Rather than accountability, they emphasize building trust and confidence in the public sector while reinventing its institutions...

And just as the conservative populists had the Calgary School, progressive populists can look further westward to Vancouver's Simon Fraser University's Centre for Dialogue and UBC's Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, where academics Mark Warren, Ken Carty and Amy Lang have been working to open up the debate with new books and conferences dedicated to examining a made-in-Canada approach to civic engagement.

Collectively, they're giving voice to the widely held view that democracy should be more deliberative and less partisan, and that representative government is in flux. For examples, they'll point to consensus-based governance in the Northwest Territories and the growing number of experiments with participatory budgeting in Brazil, Denmark and the U.K.

But they also have a gold standard close at hand: in 2004, British Columbia convened its first citizens' assembly to examine electoral reform...

Without a party, progressive populists are focusing their attention on the space between elections, devising new and better ways to work with citizens to build legitimacy for original solutions.

Despite declining voter turnout, progressive populists don't believe in civic apathy. The problem, they say, isn't that government asks too much of citizens, it's that it asks too little. They believe people want a say but are also willing to serve.

People pushed to the margins by the power elite have been demanding to be included in policy-making for a very long time. Conveniently, their voices have been deliberately ignored. For most people, including non-voters, it has never been about apathy. It has been about their disgust and aversion toward the use to which our government institutions have been made to serve the power elite in Canada and their international partners-in-crime.

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