Event examines other means to inform political decision-making
A public workshop held Sunday night in St. John’s encouraged attendees to consider new options for informing the decisions made by those elected to represent them in government.
Jon Parsons is one of the organizers of a Demo-X event that took place Sunday in St. John’s. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
Called “Demo-X,” the event was billed as an experiment in democracy, paying particular attention to elected representatives in Sweden who get citizens to take part in online polls that instruct them on how to approach an issue.
“I think that often we focus too much on specific issues and don’t look at the way decisions are made,” said Jon Parsons, one of the organizers for the event.
The event was organized by the pro-democracy People’s Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador and by The Social Justice Co-operative of Newfoundland and Labrador.
While people may blame individual politicians when they do not agree with government decisions, Parsons suggests it may prove more beneficial to examine the system as a whole.
In Sweden, constituents can set up an online account and take part in polls.
“The way the system works, it looks similar to some of the social media that people are familiar with,” said Parsons.
“There are big discussion threads, these sorts of things that anyone can participate in and contribute to the discussion, and then also the voting is what specifically directs the politician.
“This is how you will cast your ballot with the municipal council, for example.”
The use of this technology is a relatively new phenomenom, but direct democratic voting has been used in many places around the world without involving electronic devices, according to Parsons.
“Some communities, even now in Switzerland, people get together in big open squares and have votes by getting everyone to put up their hand to decide municipal issues,” he said.
The ultimate goal is to get governments to make decisions that are more intimately informed by the population it represents.
“You hear (politicians) say all the time, ‘Oh, we act on behalf of the people of the province,’ or the people of the city, or the people of the country, when it seems like there are a lot of people who don’t feel that way,” said Parsons. “Why wouldn’t you just ask them? We only get asked to vote for a particular party or politician every four years, but there’s certainly no reason that there couldn’t be more opportunities for people to be participating in the process.”
Sunday night’s event took place as interest continues to build for municipal elections taking place across the province. In St. John’s, public meetings are held on a regular basis to gain input on developments, changes to city bylaws and other matters.
Parsons does not dispute that such meetings are useful, but he also believes there is potential to enhance such forms of public engagement.
On a provincial government level, he said it is more difficult for elected representatives to truly represent the interests of their constituents givens they operates in a partisan, party-based system of government.
“How much can that individual politician actually draw on that feedback to make a decision if you’ve got a party whip who is telling you how to vote? In the municipal councils, I think that where they’re apparently non-partisan, there is more opportunity there for people to engage politicians directly and tell them, ‘This is what I think.’”
With that said, Parsons feels that democracy as it exists lacks a mechanism to bind politicians to the will of those they represent.
Sunday’s event was set to include participatory elements, including mock presentations from both sides on an issue. Attendees would then get the chance to vote on how they would like that issue to be addressed by their elected representative.
“It’s not a lecture,” said Parsons. “The idea is more that the event is a workshop where people can try out this model of voting.”