A Centre for Human Settlements Project for
Promoting Participatory Budgeting in Canada:
Building Community Capacity for Deliberative
Local Governance in the Greater Vancouver Region
What is Participatory Budgeting?
Participatory budgeting (PB) can be defined as a process of prioritization and conjoint decision making through which local community representatives and local governements actually decide on the final allocation of public investment in their cities on a yearly basis. The PB is a cyclical, intricate and transparent process of organization, public meetings, and debates in support of the preparation of the annual municipal budget. Community delegates--elected in community meetings held on a self-reliant basis per geographically defined districts and neighbourhoods of the city--together with representatives of local governments actually design an investment plan that is endorsed by the municipality and inserted into the final municipal budget proposal.
Why Participatory Budgeting in Canada?
Canada is facing a crisis in civic engagement. Voter turnout rates, typically at 30-40% in municipal elections, have been falling steadily in provincial elections, and are among the lowest in all Western democracies at the federal level. Trust in government and political leaders has reached alarmingly low levels. And while citizen groups have demanded more opportunities for participation in decision-making, most initiatives for public participation in local governance are often merely consultative, and have not allowed for real, deliberative decision-making. Such initiatives may only create unmet expectations, and could even lead to greater voter apathy and distrust of government. This democratic deficit creates difficulties in addressing social exclusion, economic dislocation and environmental degradation, and in fostering citizenship in a multicultural, multi-ethnic context like Canada. These challenges however are collective in nature, and can only be addressed through collective action, the normal vehicle for which is government.
The direct involvement of citizens in governmental budgeting or PB, can provide potential solutions to this crisis. PB as an example of deliberative processes, is already being implemented successfully in other countries, especially in the South, and has generated much academic interest. Perhaps the best known example is that of Porto Alegre, Brazil where PB has provided a vehicle for citizen education and brought improvements in vital infrastructure and services to disadvantaged communities, leading to increased trust in government.
Project Objective and Outcomes
The purpose of this project is to determine the possibilities and conditions under which PB can work in Canada to revitalise local democracy and help address communities' social, economic, and environmental problems. It will create avenues and opportunities for mutual learning between academics, students, political leaders, business and community organisations as they analyse existing knowledge and practice in PB, create new knowledge through experimentation, and develop models for PB that work in the Canadian context. These mutual learning processes are expected to
-- raise public awareness about budgets and the budgetary process,
-- promote citizenship,
-- build community capacity for public policy engagement,
-- enrich existing university curricula in participatory governance and planning practice, and
-- create local alliances and national networks that could support PB practices in the future.
Last modified on
January 22, 2010
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