Will Vancouver’s current mayor protect us all from fake consultation?
For the term 2018 to 2022 our mayor is Kennedy Stewart. Prior to this role, he was in the New Democratic Party caucus as the member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas (2011–2015) and Burnaby South (2015-2018).
As an opposition MP, he was a fierce critic of “fake consultation.” Here are two sample quotes from his time in the House of Commons (bold for emphasis):
Dec 9, 2016: On this side of the House, what we get is endless fake consultation. There is a wonderful article that was written in the late sixties about consultation. I remember a great mentor of mine, Professor Patrick Smith, was the first one to bring it to my attention. Really, there are different forms of consultation that can take place around bills or any kind of government business.
We can inform people about things. We can have a back-and-forth consultation. We can empower people. However, the worst thing the government can do is to manipulate people, to give them fake information, to make them think they are participating in something by having have them fill out little cards and mail them back in, or to complete cheesy online surveys, and then say that people have been consulted and then just go ahead with what it was planning to do anyway. The worst kind of participation is what the current government does; it is called therapy. What the Liberals are trying to do is to tell Canadians that they misunderstand, that their thinking is wrong and that it will cure them of their bad ideas. That is what is happening on their side of the House.
Dec 12, 2016: I would ask members to cast their minds back to last week. My speech in the House was with regard to the government’s general approach to public participation in the public policy-making process. In 2016, the government undertook many different kinds of public participation, including around this trade deal, to some extent. However, the question I raised during my speech concerned the disingenuousness of some of the consultation processes.
During my speech, I alluded to the fact that while genuine public participation was certainly welcome and, indeed, necessary for successful public policy, there were two courses of consultation that the government seemed to be undertaking. The first is what Sherry Arnstein would call manipulation. That is where the government has a policy path in mind, decides it needs to make it look like it is consulting with the public, so it twists its consultation processes to be manipulative, to trick the public into thinking it has input when it does not.
The other process that is disingenuous is something called therapy, where people have very strong views about issues or policies and the government uses the public consultation process to cure them of their ills. This is what is happening with the CETA deal.
It is clear that Mayor Stewart knows what is good consultation and what is bad consultation.
Citizens of Vancouver therefore are justified to expect that he as mayor will keep a watchful eye and do his utmost to ensure that the many forms of consultation in Vancouver are meaningful and done in good faith. The City is constantly in consultation in numerous forms, including open houses, information sessions, surveys (including online via TalkVancouver), and much more, regarding a Citywide Plan, Broadway Plan, rezoning and development applications, and many other topics.
As CityHallWatch has noted before, our municipal government has declared its adherence to the core values and code of conduct of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2, see below). So this is what we have the right to expect.
IAP2 Canada is an association of professionals in the field of public participation (P2), who seek to promote and improve the practice in relation to individuals, governments, institutions and other entities that affect the public interest in Canada and around the world.
IAP2 Code of Ethics (link)
- PURPOSE. We support public participation as a process to make better decisions that incorporate the interests and concerns of all affected stakeholders and meet the needs of the decision-making body.
- ROLE OF PRACTITIONER. We will enhance the public’s participation in the decision-making process and assist decision-makers in being responsive to the public’s concerns and suggestions.
- TRUST. We will undertake and encourage actions that build trust and credibility for the process among all the participants.
- DEFINING THE PUBLIC’S ROLE. We will carefully consider and accurately portray the public’s role in the decision-making process.
- OPENNESS. We will encourage the disclosure of all information relevant to the public’s understanding and evaluation of a decision.
- ACCESS TO THE PROCESS. We will ensure that stakeholders have fair and equal access to the public participation process and the opportunity to influence decisions.
- RESPECT FOR COMMUNITIES. We will avoid strategies that risk polarizing community interests or that appear to “divide and conquer.”
- ADVOCACY. We will advocate for the public participation process and will not advocate for interest, party, or project outcome.
- COMMITMENTS. We ensure that all commitments made to the public, including those by the decision-maker, are made in good faith.
- SUPPORT OF THE PRACTICE: We will mentor decision-makers and the public about the value and use of public participation.
IAP2 Core Values (link)
The Core Values define the expectations and aspirations of the public participation process.
1. Public participation is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
2. Public participation includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
3. Public participation promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
4. Public participation seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
5. Public participation seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
6. Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
7. Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.