Every year we hear about low voter turnout rates, decreased trust of our politicians, and reduced participation in public engagement opportunities. I believe that this stems from a lack of transparency, accountability and from a lack of genuine opportunities to influence government decisions. This is especially true when it comes to the spending of tax dollars.
We’ve seen steps in the right direction through public engagement sessions and what-we-heard documents but, unfortunately, these have fallen short on establishing an accountable process that links residents’ input to budgetary commitments. As a candidate running for Councillor in Ward 4, I’m looking to change this.
Residents know their neighbourhoods. From corner stores and stop signs, to walking trails and speed bumps - they understand what makes their neighbourhood great and what is needed to make it better. So when the city is investing in your neighbourhood, it makes sense to ask you and your neighbours what should be prioritized. It makes sense to decide on improved safety, building a parkette, or adding trails based on what residents have to say.
Participatory budgeting represents a realistic approach to making this kind of citizen-led decision making possible. This goes beyond engagement and offers an entirely different way to involve communities and manage public money - one that is inclusive, fair and informed.
To test this approach, I propose we run a pilot by selecting a specific neighbourhood investment, in the range of $500,000 to $1 million, and allowing residents to decide on the details of the project. With the total investment amount known, residents in that neighbourhood would be supported by the city to engage in brainstorming, expert consultation, and neighbourhood town halls to arrive at a set of possible projects - at which point residents would vote. The winning project, chosen by residents, would then be completed in the neighbourhood.
This sounds simple, because it is. By introducing participatory budgeting as part of the city’s budgeting approach, we will increase transparency and ensure that decisions are driven by the people who are impacted the most. Our city is full of incredible leaders and every community offers a wealth of knowledge to help make it better. Inclusive and citizen-driven processes like participatory budgeting, ensures a thriving democracy and a council that is accountable to residents.
What are your thoughts on participatory budgeting? Whether you agree with this approach or have another idea, I’d really like to hear from you. Give me a call anytime at 709-771-4582.
This content was initially published as a Letter to the Editor with The Telegram on July 5th 2017.