Have you ever sat in a coffeeshop or a pub while debating all the things that government should or shouldn’t be doing?
Solving the world’s problems seems easy when it’s just you and a few friends. But what if you had the chance to actually have the government debate one of your laws?
That’s the intriguing new idea from Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire.
Faced with an opportunity to put forward a motion in the House of Commons, or to introduce a private member’s bill for consideration by all MPs, he’s decided to pass the opportunity along.
He’s asking any constituent to come up with a proposal and send it to him. Political science students at Brandon University will evaluate the ideas, and the top ones will be presented to the public at a town hall meeting in November. A panel of questioners will make a final selection. That idea will be crafted into an appropriate format, and Maguire promises to table the proposal early next year.
Of course, crowdsourcing is all the rage these days. From Kickstarter to Indiegogo, people are turning to their peers in their attempt to fund their ideas. Plenty of films, iPhone cases and even a Winnipeg mayoral poll have found success through the model. But to our knowledge, this is the first time that a sitting political representative has decided to crowdsource a motion or private member’s bill.
In a way, it’s like a reverse referendum. Rather than everyone voting on one idea, it’ll be everyone brainstorming ideas that get winnowed down to the supposed "best."
There are a few caveats. Firstly, the proposal actually has to be something the federal government can do. Things that are strictly the purview of provincial, municipal or other governments won’t (indeed can’t) be considered. So no passing a law requiring that your street always be plowed first. That’s a city hall thing.
Secondly, private member’s bills aren’t allowed to compel the government to spend any money. So no setting up a Canuck moon base.
Maguire also says that only Brandon-Souris constituents can submit ideas, although we’d be plenty happy if other MPs copied this idea and solicited.
Interestingly, however, Maguire says that constituents of any age can make a proposal. This seems like an excellent opportunity for every social studies teacher in Westman, but is also a laudable way to open up the political process to youth, who are sorely underrepresented at the ballot box.
Other than those boundaries, the submission guidelines have been left very loosely defined.
We’re told that was done deliberately. Suggestions don’t have to be necessarily something concrete that can definitely be accomplished in the next session. They could easily be ambitious or contentious ideas that are designed to raise an issue for public debate.
That’s precisely what Winnipeg Conservative MP Steven Fletcher did last year. By introducing bills on doctor-assisted suicides, he helped fling the right-to-die back into the spotlight. There are dozens of other social issues that are commonly thought to be "third rails" in Canadian politics — things like abortion that are deemed so divisive that they are politically fatal just to touch. That’s a shame, since these issues are generally the ones that need the most debate. Crowdsourcing an idea might give Maguire political cover to introduce a contentious idea and put it forth for public debate.
Some will say that, like Fletcher, Maguire should be coming up with his own ideas; things that mean something to him. After all, isn’t that what he was elected for? And no doubt, this initiative will garner him some quick PR just for how novel it is without any of the risk from putting it forward.
But we applaud Maguire for trying something new. We hope he’ll find the quality of ideas so high that he has plenty to share with other MPs.