Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Invalidating Public Input


This morning, I was led by Twitter to this...

I agree with everything it said, but there's more to the story.

I'm an Englishman, not a Canadian, but I live in Canada as a permanent resident.  This basically means I'm obligated to behave like a Canadian, pay my taxes, follow the laws, etc.  It also means that I can't vote - and my input on any election doesn't count.  

To me, this is fine.  If the only difference to Canada over whether I have one of their passports or not is the ability to vote here (think how many times they've prorogued parliament), then I'm quite happy to not bother.  People might get annoyed at my attitude over not wanting to vote in Canada, however, there's a flip side to this;  Compared to 99% of the voting public, my input into what goes on is orders of magnitudes higher.  

Those that know me well, know that if something is wrong, I will hunt down and find the person responsible for fixing it, and it will be fixed. I don't waste people's time - but I do make it very clear that not nipping things in the bud is the sensible solution.  In my nearly 15 years in Toronto, I've had many large companies held to task, fixed issues with municipal practices, altered the way city departments communicate with the public to increase clarity, got involved in emergency planning, public assistance programs, investigated the water infrastructure timebomb sitting under the city, advocated for the creation of (and used) the open data initiative, worked with the RCMP to help convict government employees, and I've helped on things I can't talk about at some of the most senior levels of government in this country.

But you'll notice there's a spectrum issue here:  I am effective at the very bottom, and very top of the chain.  The middle bit is, with few exceptions, a lock-out…  The reason is there appears to be people who don't want to listen to someone they've never heard of.  It's a bit like an old boys club.

Not surprisingly, the USA takes a different view of me. There, I'm not effective at local levels because I don't live there, and I'm not effective at the highest levels because they've more important things to worry about than some Brit up in Canada who has made some observation, but the really large middle bit is always very accommodating when I've something I want to say or contribute.  Over the years, I've spoken to many senior people in many different levels of federal government who genuinely want my input.

I have to question why this is:  Time and time again, the only thing I can think of is the attitude in the USA is to make progress for the country as a whole, whilst the attitude in Canada is something they inherited from the UK, and that's protecting the status quo for the individual.  Again, a bit like the old boys club/network.

The net result of this attitude is often the system (in the middle bit from lower provincial level to middle of the federal level) works hardest to invalid crowd-sourced input from the public, preferring to set up committees of people it already knows to look into things that it's already made up it's mind on.