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Power to the People

A greater public say in government

If you could walk right in to see a federal cabinet minister, what would you say about how to run the country? And would you expect to have any impact?

Now there’s a Web site for anyone wanting to influence Canada’s foreign policy, and researchers hope it will make a real difference. “No other country has ever asked its citizens to take part in consultation at the developmental stage of policy-making on foreign policy,” says Liss Jeffrey, adjunct professor at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology and director of the McLuhan Global Research Network. “Canada is doing something terribly special here.”

The site,, is an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development. Developed and maintained by Jeffrey’s byDesign eLab, its aim is to explore the Net’s potential to enhance citizen engagement in democracy.

There’s growing public demand for a greater say in government, says Jeffrey. “What we need are supportive instruments that will allow people to go in, get the information they want and have a chance to debate, deliberate and put in their own contributions to the shaping of government policy.”

Since the site went live in January, it has already recorded lively discussions on such topics as NAFTA, human rights, trade versus sovereignty, and softwood lumber. There was even a proposal to post Canadian observers in the U.S. Senate. “The next challenge is analysis,” says Jeffrey. “How do you put these views into the policy cycle so policy-makers can actually do something with them?” Her team is due to report back to Ottawa in May.

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