Today we bring you part two of Mark Dance’s three-part blog series on his proposal for a fourth parliamentary institution, or “Digital Commons.” Dance, a former Parliamentary Intern who currently works at Lapham’s Quarterly in New York City, adapted the following excerpt from his research paper entitled “Radical Digital Democracy in a Canadian Context: The Case for a Fourth Institution of Parliament.”
The Canadian Parliament is at once a wise and formidable institution while also being woefully inadequate to the democratic and representative challenges that we face. But once we have appreciated that contradiction, what are we to do about it? How can we both retain the strengths of the parliament we have but also develop towards the parliament that we need?
The resolution that I propose is a fourth institution of parliament, a kind of “Digital House” in which all Canadians could participate. In this online environment, users would be offered different educational fora and participatory tools, but the most fundamental of them would be the capacity to post and vote on ideas for legislation.
Citizens would propose ideas for laws in non-legal language, just as private members of the House of Commons come forward with their ideas to be drafted by House of Commons staff. The propositions would be voted upon on the site using a modified “Digg” model and, if such a proposition reaches a certain high threshold of support amongst Members of the Digital House (that is, Canadians!), the person who proposed the bill would work with a legislative clerk of parliament to properly draft it.
At that point, the bill would be tabled in the House of Commons. The bill would then proceed (or not) through a modified legislative process.
My larger research paper, prepared for the Parliamentary Internship Programme, is primarily concerned with the structure of the process that I have just described. In it, I try to work out a number of logistical and procedural details that would make a fourth, participatory institution of parliament compatible with those that we already have—the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. At every point, my concern is to satisfy the logic of the House of Commons and parliament as a whole without diluting the potency of the participatory institution that could potentially feed into it.
As political scientist David Barney explains, “signalling individual preferences through voting for particular candidates or parties is a minimalist form of democratic expression. The hope for new technologies is precisely that they might facilitate progress beyond this minimum by mediating more deliberative, dialogic forms of participation on an ongoing basis”. What I propose in my research is just such a form of participation, and one that preserves the strengths of the parliament that we already have.
Next week, in his final post, Mark will offer a historical argument for why digital democracy "holds the greatest potential to create a more complete Parliament and a more democratic Canada." Stay tuned.