Globally, we are in the midst of a democratic recession. We are no doubt lucky to live in Canada, but we should also strive to strengthen our democracy where possible, and to guard against decline.
At the end of March, I participated in a panel discussion hosted by the civic engagement NGO Samara Canada on the future of Canadian democracy. The panel talk coincided with the release of Samara’s Democracy 360 report, in which it surveyed the health of our democracy, and offered five recommendations for renewal.
Among the five recommendations: “Meaningful consultation of the public by MPs.” As Samara’s report notes, such consultation “pays dividends in connecting citizens to politics, and in solving Canada’s most complex problems.”
The question of meaningful consultation is one we are constantly working to tackle here in Beaches-East York. While communication between Canadians and political representatives has increased recently, only 32 per cent of Canadians reported contacting an elected official themselves.
So, how can political representatives more effectively engage with Canadians?
This is not a rhetorical question. I want your feedback, as we look for ways to better engage and consult.
As it stands, we have been active in hosting public meetings on specific issues. For example, we recently hosted a town hall on drug policy with a panel of experts, and a breakfast meeting to answer questions about our 2017 federal budget. In the past, we’ve covered topics from the environment, to electoral reform, to C-51, and more.
Since not everyone is inclined, or has time, to attend a town hall, we also send regular updates and ask for feedback by mail, through our monthly email newsletter, and online at facebook.com/beynatemp and twitter/com/beynate. Over the coming months, you can expect to receive a survey letter in your mailbox, with a postage-paid return envelope.
As the world continues to move online, the majority of the feedback we receive is by email (Nathaniel.Erskine-Smith@parl.gc.ca), and we are aiming to increase our social media engagement, which tends to reach a larger audience and allows for more interactive debate. To this end, we streamed our drug policy town hall on Facebook Live, and I will be hosting an online Facebook Q&A session on May 17 at 7 p.m.
Now, all of the above attempts to consult still require fairly active participation by constituents. They require attending a public meeting, filling out a survey and putting it in the mail, or adding one’s voice by posting a comment online or by sending an email.
To consult more broadly, we also seek out people who otherwise don’t seek out politics themselves.
You can often find me speaking at classrooms across our riding. I tell students that politics, as frustrating as it can be, remains one of the most significant ways of making a real difference in other people’s lives.
This year, I’ve challenged classes to read 150 pieces of Canadian literature by May 31, with an offer of certificates, pins, flags, and the potential to win a free bus trip to Parliament Hill.
Most importantly, I continue to attend events and to knock on doors. These doorstep conversations inform both our advocacy with Ministers and my voting record in the House. As but one example, based on concerns we heard about the Saudi arms sale, I voted to support a motion to create a parliamentary committee to review arms exports. More examples can be found on my “voting record” page online at beynate.ca.
When I first decided to get involved in politics, I committed to grassroots democracy and making our politics about ideas. As your Member of Parliament, I remain committed to those goals.
What else can and should I be doing as your voice in Ottawa? How can we improve our constituency office services? Are there ways we can more effectively engage and consult with the community? What should our democracy look like in 2017?
The more you provide me with your ideas and feedback, the better representative I will be.