To consult or not to consult?

The Trudeau government came into power just over a year ago. A momentous occasion and the first time in history the third party was elected to power. Smitten by sunny ways and a desire for change, Canadians saw themselves in a leader that seemed to understand their struggles and their dreams for a better Canada.

The Liberals won on a platform that spoke to everyday Canadians and included giving them more say in the decisions that affect them; from “investing in the middle class” to “making government work for Canadians,” it signaled a greater voice and real change.

At the core of the Liberal promises was the concept of an open and transparent government; a government that engages with Canadians on policies that will affect them. A concept that was carried over from the Prime Minister’s speech on election night to the ministerial mandates sent to department and agency leaders.

They were tasked with a duty to consult. And consult they did. Making history no doubt by running more than 450 consultations over the course of a year. From the less contentious topics like food labeling to the more complex issues of legalizing cannabis. The approach seemed to garner the attention of Canadians – providing them with an opportunity to have a say on the policy decisions that mattered to them.

The government faced the difficult task of living up to their campaign promises head-on. Not to mention that engaging in a meaningful way means more than setting up an inbox – it was no small or easy task. Showing that you’re interested enough to listen and willing to make changes is key to ensuring a successful engagement process. But only a first step.

What’s even more difficult is being able to capture the essence of what was said – in its purest sense – and putting forward tangible recommendations that reflect what was heard. The weight and power behind engaging with Canadians is being able to demonstrate that you actually listened. The millions of words that were submitted, read and analyzed have resulted in: 1) Revisions to Canada’s food guide; 2) A step towards a new action plan for minority language communities; 3) Recommendations for legalizing cannabis; 4) Concrete ideas for a new National Housing Strategy; to highlight just a few.

So I ask, what’s next? The government will have some big decisions to make going forward, translating recommendations into policy. But equally important is what happens to us, newly engaged Canadians? Will the government keep consulting? Have they run out of things to consult on or the energy and resources to continue? Do they need to refine their consultation tools? Introduce more depth and breadth to the process?

Only time will tell. With my engagement hat on, I can only advocate for continued efforts to engage with Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Whether it’s required for legislative or policy reviews to running public awareness campaigns.

The Liberals set a new expectation that they must now maintain, not so dissimilar to community management. It may lead to more selfies and maybe even win a few blue hearts along the way. But one thing is for sure, they have empowered Canadians in the decisions that matter to them and given us back the right to hold our government accountable to make meaningful change.

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