Think Democracy aims to
increase citizen input
When a group of
forum organizers invited Vancouver area residents to think about
numbers that were prepared to do just that took them by surprise.
we'd have about 40 people show up," said Kennedy Stewart, an organizer
the Think Democracy Summer Series. Instead, some 200 people packed the
kick-off event June 11.
Democracy series is organized by Think City, an independent civic
that sponsored several forums last year on civic politics.
There are three
more forums over the next two months in the series aimed at enhancing
participation in neighbourhoods and encouraging citizens to explore the
possibilities of democracy, which is at a "low level" in Vancouver,
Stewart said the
lack of citizen input in Vancouver shocked the guest speakers at the
forum: Anne Latendresse, of the University of Quebec, speaking about
participatory budget making in Brazil, and Dimtri Roussopoulos, head of
Montreal's Task Force on Municipal Democracy.
them out to show just how bad our local democracy is here, just what
poor shape our rates of participation are; not just in elections, but
citizen participation between elections."
the centralized nature of Vancouver politics, citing in particular the
a ward system. "It makes it really tough for candidates to get their
message out to local voters."
contrast encourages citizen participation, Stewart claimed. In dealing
amalgamation of the metro area, "they had 27 summits with thousands and
thousands of participants." The result is that citizen participation
been guaranteed in the city charter.
just empty words. They're starting to experiment with something called
participatory budgeting. They have all the local neighbourhoods go out
decide what their needs are, and to prioritize their needs and come to
say, 'This is what we most need in our neighbourhood.'"
include "citizens' juries," which would examine incidents such as
police brutality and make public recommendations and pressure city
act, said Stewart, who wrote some 24 suggestions for civic democracy in
entitled, Think Democracy.
Larry Campbell attended the forum and promised his council would look
"electoral and non-electoral reform," said Stewart, an assistant
professor of political science at Simon Fraser University.
Voter apathy is
such that Vancouver considers it remarkable if more than 50 per cent of
electorate votes, as it did in last November's civic election that
Coalition of Progressive Electors into office. "But if they get a
of 50 per cent in Montreal, they can't believe it and start asking
happened to their participation rates." And many European countries
experience voter turnout in excess of 90 per cent, Stewart observed.
is like doing the dishes: it's something you have to do every day," he
There are three
more Think Democracy forums, on June 25, July 9 and July 23. All are
open to the public. For locations and further information, call 604
go on-line at www.thinkcity.ca.