Mark Dance is a graduate of the University of King’s College and an alumnus of the Parliamentary Internship Programme. Samara is pleased to introduce the first of three excerpts adapted from his final research paper for the programme, “Radical Digital Democracy in a Canadian Context: The Case for a Fourth Institution of Parliament.” Mark currently lives in New York City, where he works at Lapham's Quarterly.
Since 2008, Nathan Cullen (NDP Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley) has run a contest for children and youth called “Create Your Canada.” With the help of school teachers in his riding, the program encourages people from grades five to ten to research, write, discuss and submit legislative ideas that could make Canada a better place.
The proposals are then aggregated and evaluated by a panel of regional judges. Through MP Cullen, the winners of the contest have their legislation formalized by a legislative drafter and they then have the opportunity to visit Ottawa to see Cullen stand up in the House of Commons and present their original idea as a private member’s bill. From this point on, the bill is treated like any other. For Cullen, the idea at the root of the contest was:
"To allow young people to go through the process of contemplating change for the better. It is easy to have ideas but the process of thinking about them, researching them and bringing them to some sort of proposal is a thoughtful, critical process. To then validate that by making [their idea] into law raises the stakes enough so that some young folks get turned on by that, feel respected and then engage."
The contest has yielded more than a hundred submissions and four winners from Mr. Cullen’s riding. Although none of the bills made it through the whole legislative process, Cullen did follow through with his promise to introduce them in the House. From helmet laws on ski hills to the introduction of a new, voluntary humanitarian tax, the bills were diverse and creative.
Not surprisingly, Cullen’s project has inspired other Members of Parliament including Irene Matheson, Denise Savoie, Don Davies and Pat Martin. Cullen plans on continuing the successful project and he believes that it has much potential for growing and becoming more established as a viable way to create legislation.
So, what lessons does the “Create Your Canada” project have to teach us? First, Cullen’s project demonstrates that young people who are given a platform can have creative contributions and passionate involvement in the federal political process. Second, it shows that ordinary people without political or legal backgrounds can research and develop ideas for legislation. Finally, it proves that there is an openness amongst parliamentarians to the broadening of their institution and the democratization of the legislative process.
We are, however, left with the problem of how to accomplish this broadening of democratic input in an effective and systematic way. My next blog posts will try to articulate my proposal for an aggressive technological solution to that exact problem.
Stay tuned for Mark’s next instalment on the Samara blog, where he’ll make his case for the introduction of a "Digital House of Commons."