Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 23 - Evidence, February 9, 1999

OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 9, 1999

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 11:04 a.m. to consider the dimensions of social cohesion in Canada in the context of globalization and other economic and structural forces that influence trust and reciprocity among Canadians.

Senator Lowell Murray (Chairman) in the Chair.


The Chairman: Colleagues, this morning in our continuing study of social cohesion in Canada we will begin our exploration of the changing nature of citizen-state relationships. Our witnesses are Ms Rhonda Ferderber, who is Manager of the Society We Want at the Family Network of the Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc; and Mr. David Shulman of the Democracy Education Network. The Society We Want is a public dialogue and partnership process under the aegis of the Canadian Policy Research Networks that is intended to help Canadians work through important social policy issues and clarify their core values.

Ms Ferderber is trying to broaden the reach of the public dialogue process by offering more inclusive and accessible materials and processes, and to expand the project's participation base to ensure that The Society We Want reflects the social and cultural diversity of Canada.

Mr. Shulman is a social studies teacher and member of the Democracy Education Network, a national network of educators devoted to developing the skills of community participation. He has been a consultant and advisor to governments, foundations and school boards in the planning and delivery and valuation of citizen participation programs for youth and adults. His recent work has included directing a nationwide consultation on the future of immigration for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, coordinating a series of workshops on advocacy for adults in the life skills programs, and co-authoring a report on citizen engagement in the newly amalgamated City of Toronto.

One question that occurs almost immediately to those of us -- and there are some of us still -- who are here because of our political background, is to wonder where the political parties have gone wrong as a vital part of representative parliamentary democracy, but I am getting ahead of myself and ahead of our witnesses. I am not necessarily expecting them to address that question in their opening statement, although we may want to explore it with them later.

Both Ms Ferderber and Mr. Shulman have brief opening statements, following which we will open the floor for a dialogue with the senators.

Ms Rhonda Ferderber, Manager, The Society We Want, Family Network, Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc.: I appreciate the opportunity to join you this morning for the discussion on the new citizen-state relationships and for the opportunity to contribute to the work you are doing on the dimensions of social cohesion. I understand my role today is to share with you my experience in the arena, some would even say the "minefield" of public consultation, to reflect a little on the experiences of a practitioner, if you will.

For today's presentation, I will draw upon the experiences I had with the National Forum on Health and the experience I am gaining with my current involvement with the public dialogue project Senator Murray referred to earlier, The Society We Want.

In advance of the presentation, I did provide a few bits of materials for you to perhaps reflect upon. They were a case study on the National Forum on Health deliberations, project brochure, newsletter and some extracts from The Society We Want public dialogue tool kit. This morning I left with your committee clerk a few more documents that I think are pertinent to your deliberations and the work you are doing in the area of social cohesion. Those documents are the Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc., CPRN's, studies, "Securing the Social Union" by Kathy O'Hara and "Mapping Social Cohesion: the State of Canadian Research" by Jane Jenson. As a final document for you to consider, I did leave the newly released dialogue kit.

These two experiences that I will refer to are clear examples of how individuals thirst for the opportunity to come together to discuss the issues that matter to them and to have their contributions heard. They are strong evidence that there is much to be gained just from the sheer experience of participating in a public dialogue session.

There is a siren call now for improving the access of citizens to the public policy process. The former Clerk of the Privy Council Office, in remarks at a recent conference on citizen engagement, said:

Citizens want a direct, substantive and influential role in shaping policies and decisions that affect them. They want to be heard. And they want a commitment that leaders will take citizens' views into account when making decisions.

He went on to say that this means that:

...citizens are reclaiming their place in civil society. They want to work with their democratic institutions on those issues that will affect them.

In her presentation to this committee in October of last year, Jane Jenson discussed the five dimensions of social cohesion: belonging, inclusion in the market economy, participation, recognition and legitimacy.

Our topic today is participation which is relevant to legitimacy and belonging. Participation in the political process gives Canadians a sense that their voices will be heard, that someone will listen to their views. This in turn contributes to a sense of belonging to a wider community. Both the participation and the sense of belonging give the political process and political institutions greater legitimacy in the eyes of voters and citizens.

I will talk about two forms of participation: consultation, the more traditional form, and public dialogue. I have just a few brief comments on public dialogue. What is it and why do it? To me, public dialogue is finding new ways of engaging citizens, and it can take many forms, from constituent assemblies to citizen juries to kitchen table discussions, to public dialogue sessions such as those we hold through The Society We Want project.

The reasons we want to find the best way for citizens to participate in public dialogue are several. They include: an opportunity for us all to hear from citizens about key public policy issues and about good governance; to inform the policy and decision-making processes based on citizen perspectives and their values; to restore trust in and legitimacy of our public institutions; to mobilize energy and enthusiasm to react to and work on key social issues at their local levels; to provide a mechanism for communities to develop priorities; and to give citizens back a sense that their views do matter and their voices do make a difference.

How can we make this happen? When you look at the two issues of a traditional consultation process and contrast it with a public dialogue citizen-engagement process, you can see some clear differences. In a one-page hand-out provided this morning, I put forward a number of issues that contrast the two. I will touch on those briefly.

A traditional consultation process has often tended to be, although not always, about communications and public relations efforts to sell a favourite option. A public dialogue process tends to inform more by presenting balanced materials and facts.

Traditional consultation has often encouraged venting and advocacy. It can have the effect of defining difference rather than exploring accommodation. A public dialogue process, however, encourages reflection. It is an opportunity for more in-depth discussion of different perspectives and can often lead to learning about, and reconsideration of, positions.

A traditional consultation process has tended to treat interest groups one by one, creating a platform for them, and encouraging a "me first" dynamic. Public dialogue tends to bring interest groups into the room, forcing them to listen to citizens and to interact with others. It also allows for a search for common ground.

Traditional consultation seeks the views on a limited number of options, not paying all that much attention to the underlying values, whereas a citizen engagement process clearly explores values. Traditional consultation processes seek validation of governments' choices and tend to be tightly-controlled processes. Citizen engagement assumes citizens will add value and that new options will emerge. It uses an open process to encourage the emergence of new ideas.

There are certainly times when consultation is the right tool. Typically, that might be when governments need feedback on a fairly technical issue. However, when governments are looking for a deeper understanding of core values for guidance on priorities, they need a tool more like a public dialogue citizen engagement process which will provide the time and space for deeper reflection.

These more deliberative processes do take more time. They require listening, learning, working through, and building respect for others' views. However, in so doing, one can get closer to the dynamics of opinion, confront the biases, and sometimes promote a change in views by all involved in the process.

In their recent work on re-thinking citizen engagement, Ekos Research Associates Inc. found that Canadians care deeply about some issues, especially those with a values resonance such as children and social programs. Ekos found that Canadians will come out, will participate and, importantly, they will prepare. That last point is key because issues requiring a deliberative engagement process have to produce meaningful results.

My experience has been fairly mixed to date, but I would consider the two examples I will mention, that with the National Forum on Health and that with The Society We Want, to be more successful than some of the other work in which I have engaged. The case study by the National Forum on Health that I provided earlier details a number of unique features of how they went about their work. In essence, the forum combined both a traditional consultation approach and a more deliberative process. During a two-day conference, we brought together both citizens and stakeholders in the same room. The feedback was extraordinary as both sets of participants learned from one another things they had never had an opportunity to hear or discuss.

Another very interesting feature was our two-phased approach where we went out, collected views and perspectives, came back, produced another document, and went back out and tested our approach with our participants. We asked questions: Did the proposed recommendations square up with the directions that you hope we will go and that you hope will be followed? What needs to change? Have we heard you accurately?

In returning to participants in this way to test our approach, we sent a powerful message that we considered their views integral to the final outcomes of the forum's work. Yes, we had to make adjustments when we got the final input and we did have to account for taking up more time. The government's response to the recommendations of the National Forum on Health was that we got the content right. However, I know that our process worked. Canadians who received our report -- and it was just about everyone who had participated -- did not send one single letter challenging our recommendations or our findings. That is "buy-in."

My second example talks about something at CPRN that we sometimes refer to as our "experiment" with public dialogue. It began in 1995 with the publication of Suzanne Peter's Exploring Canadian Values and its offspring became The Society We Want. We hope this project will give us a way to grow a citizen-engagement capacity, a way to develop and promote participation.

The Society We Want is innovative. It is unique in Canada. As Senator Murray said, it is a public dialogue tool and partnership process that brings Canadians together and helps them to work through social policy choices and to identify core values.

CPRN launched this initiative as a way to move issues forward and, by allowing citizens to be part of the agenda, it placed a renewed emphasis on building the capacity of citizens to participate more fully in civic life.

Have we been successful? We have run a pilot project. We are going back out. Our best testimonials come from the participants. I would quote one participant in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts who said: "Most of those who participated in the discussions were invigorated by the level of input and exchange with their neighbours and discovered that, no matter how well they thought they knew each other, they had rarely explored the depths of their feelings about these topics."

Citizens need to deliberate the major issues we are facing as a nation. Communities can be a powerful force in shaping of the well-being of citizens. If you will permit me, I will quote my favourite text from the forum:

We now know that top-down approaches that lack public participation do not provide the expected results...The amazing thing is that, whatever the issue, community mobilization seems to lead to increased security, civicness and resiliency for the community. For individuals, it leads to increased self-esteem, an enhanced sense of control, a greater sense of belonging...

That takes us back to Jane Jenson's recipe for social cohesion. No question, it is hard work to create a new citizen-state relationship. It will take a lot of political will. It comes down to, in part, a sharing of power. Are we willing to exercise that power differently? How engageable are governments prepared to become? How seriously will they involve participation by citizens? How seriously will the input be taken?

Judith Maxwell has pointed out that trust and reciprocity are essential for a healthy democracy, healthy economy, and healthy citizens. Failing to grasp the opportunity to engage is a recipe for apathy, cynicism and exclusion.

I believe we now possess the know-how to restore confidence and trust in our public institutions and to promote an increased interest and participation in the practice of our democracy by Canadians.

Mr. David Shulman, Democracy Education Network: Good morning. Bonjour. It is an honour to appear before this committee and a particular honour to share the panel with Rhonda Ferderber who, from the examples that she has given you, personifies the kind of creativity in thinking that we need if we are to tackle the issue of social cohesion.

In looking over the list of witnesses who had appeared before this committee since October, I was trying to think of what I could possibly add to your deliberation. I am not a creative public servant and I am not a gifted policy analyst like Jane Jenson or Judith Maxwell. On the other hand, I am a teacher in an inner city high school, and I probably experience more challenges to social cohesion on a daily basis than many folks, so I will speak from that basis of experience.

I will focus on two challenges to social cohesion that have been talked about a great deal, one being the decline in civic literacy -- I am speaking now as a social studies teacher -- and other being the decline in public trust, particularly trust in government.

By now, most of you are familiar with the various studies that have shown an alarming decline in civil literacy, in the knowledge of Canadian institutions, among Canadian youth. Obviously, this is of particular concern to social studies educators. Probably the most graphic example of this was the Angus Reid study which looked at the levels of civic knowledge. It found that 61 per cent of those polled could not name the first Prime Minister; 55 per cent did not know the date of Confederation; 95 per cent knew nothing about the 1837 Rebellions; and 92 per cent could not name the year of the first Quebec referendum.

This is particularly troubling given the fact that, across the country, there were no differences between responses from provinces which had mandatory history and social studies and provinces that did not. What was even more alarming was the ignorance of issues of cultural diversity, aboriginal issues and so forth, and this after almost 30 years of multiculturalism policy. One has to ask what has gone wrong. This has been the subject of works by Ken Osborne and Bob Davis, and most recently Jack Granatstein in his book, Who Killed Canadian History?

Looking at provincial curricula across the country, we see a striking congruence of what is being taught. We are teaching who was the first Prime Minister. We are teaching about political parties. We are teaching the country's history. Contrary to what you might think, the teaching is not radically different between Quebec and the rest of the country. The issue is not what we are teaching, but how we are teaching it.

The subject of the knowledge of issues of cultural diversity is particularly disturbing when one thinks of it in relation to social cohesion, because social cohesion, in large part, is the ability to be secure and confident in our diversity. You cannot have social cohesion unless you have confidence in diversity, and you cannot have confidence in it if you are ignorant about diversity.

The same problem applies to the issue of declining public trust. It is not for want of both Conservative and Liberal governments trying. It is estimated by the Privy Council Office that there are as many as 300 different consultation exercises going on among various government departments at any given time. We should also remember that governments, again Conservative and Liberal governments alike, invest very heavily in civic education. We only have to think of Youth Service Canada, Action 21, Experience Canada, the Forum for Young Canadians, and the Citizen Participation Initiative.

The question is not whether there is enough of an effort being made but, rather, is the effort properly targeted? It is not a lack of goodwill, and I am not sure it is a lack of resources. Perhaps we need to reframe the question. In other words, maybe we have to stop looking at the problem of declining civic literacy and the problem of declining public trust as two different problems. Maybe we need to think of it as two aspects of the same problem, that these are one and the same problem, and that we should address them with one and the same solution.

That brings me to one of the issues raised by my colleague: The issue of creative engagement. I will supplement Rhonda's comments relating to the experience of engaging students in the kind of processes she has been describing.

A great deal of the available research on civic education, in fact research from the last 20 years in Canada and other countries, shows that authentic performance activity is what engages young people in the process of citizenship. It encourages them to take their citizenship seriously and gives them the necessary skills to be part of a socially cohesive society; that is to say, the ability to collaborate, and to respect and recognize diversity, including diversity of opinions.

We find that this is true of people of all ages, and that people can learn through this method in every age group. Perhaps we need to think about engagement processes as a means not only of revitalizing public trust, but also as a means of revitalizing civic education.

How could we do that? If we have so much engagement going on, or we are at least moving from consultation to engagement, why not use the available means -- through School Net and the teachers and classrooms of this country -- to actually involve young people in authentic exercises that are currently taking place in every federal department? I know this has worked because I have done this, as has been mentioned by the chair, with the immigration process. I have done this with the Calgary Declaration, and I have watched social studies come to life when students know that they are participating in a real process, not a model Parliament, not a mock UN, not a make-believe, but a genuine process.

In conclusion, perhaps each of us, teachers and people in government, has a part of the solution to each other's problem. Our problem is trying to foster civic literacy. You have an issue of social cohesion and restoring public trust. The classrooms of the nation are there for you to use as a means of restoring public trust, and you, in turn, can furnish opportunities for teachers to provide an authentic engagement and a revitalization of social studies that are greater than we could ever get out of any textbook.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Shulman.

Senator Cohen: I thank you both for a very refreshing presentation, something that I think everyone around this table can relate to, because it is real, it is visionary, and it must happen. I just want to ask you in turn, because you mentioned the civic knowledge that many of us as citizens have today: Do you think Canadians are ready, in terms of their knowledge of how their government works, to face the challenge of citizen engagement? Do you think that we are ready in terms of the fact that we care? I think it was mentioned that you must care first.

Mr. Shulman: Let me answer that, in part, in terms of the amount of time that is devoted to civic preparation, if I can call it that, to citizenship preparation. I now mean this in the broadest sense, including social studies education, citizenship education for newcomers. One thing that we find is that there is a certain amount of cutting back in the exposure and the amount of time that students have to study Canada's history and its institutions. The difficulty with that is that at a time when all levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, are expecting citizens to assume increasing responsibility for their communities, they are in fact receiving less and less preparation. This is a phenomenon that exists across the country.

Having said that, I have to again emphasize that it is the quality of that time, as much as the quantity, that counts. I think there is a concern there in terms of preparation. The spirit is willing but the preparation time is not necessarily there.

Ms Ferderber: I will add to those comments, if I may. I certainly think that Canadians have the know-how, that the level of expertise or basic knowledge that we would call upon during any kind of a public dialogue process, exists within a group. When they come together, they have that opportunity for sharing with one another their combined knowledge and that helps advance the dialogue. Certainly we have learned a few hard lessons about organizing good public dialogue, and that is that you need some documentation, sent to participants in advance, that presents the material in not an overly technical fashion but in a balanced, factual manner. As the Ekos Research found, Canadians will prepare for participation in an exercise like that. They will review the documents.

The forum sees hundreds upon hundreds of responses to its workbook. Through The Society We Want, we have spoken to some 3,000 Canadians who have taken our materials, read them through, and come together and devoted two to three hours of their time to participate. It requires some preparation, so a consultation document in advance is one of the issues you need to think about very carefully.

Senator Cohen: I had not fully realized how important civic knowledge is in relation to social cohesion until you addressed that issue this morning. In my province of New Brunswick, the teaching of Canadian history is not compulsory. What can we do, as a government, to demand that Canadian history be a compulsory subject in every province in Canada, with national standards? I think that not teaching Canadian history is detrimental. If we are going to approach social cohesion properly, we must have citizens who understand where we came from and where we are before we know where we are going.

Mr. Shulman: In 1993, when this self-same committee looked at this question, one of the key recommendations that came out of the Social Affairs committee report was the preparation of a national civics framework that could be coordinated through the Council of Ministers of Education, what might be called a civic union framework document, that the provinces could implement in their own way, but which nevertheless could provide a common framework of standards and indicators.

Senator Wilson: I have two questions. David, you mentioned the vast number of consultation processes that government agencies have, and the fact that they do not seem to produce much is due more to a lack of know-how than anything else; it is not ill will. Rhonda, you used one phrase that bothered me a little; you said the citizens are willing to come out. Can you tell me to what extent you are using existing institutions? People only have so much time; they belong to so many organizations, and to suggest another situation where they have to come out seems to me to be a burden. What is being done in terms of needed preparation on the part of elected people, that is, government officials, not citizens?

My perception is that they need as much help as the citizens, or perhaps more. Ms Ferderber, what about using existing institutions so people are not removed from their base groups?

Ms Ferderber: I have a few thoughts on those two issues. During the two processes that I referred to earlier, and certainly in other exercises that I have been part of through my work at the Government of Canada, we have worked through the elected officials. By that, I mean basically in some of the standard ways. Our minister would, of course, inform the House of the activities to be undertaken, invite members' participation, and ensure that they were aware that this particular area of interest, whether it was Status of Women issues or indeed the National Forum on Health exercise, was well-known to elected representatives. Elected representatives participated quite extensively in the National Forum on Health.

In my observation of those sessions that I was able to attend, when there was an elected representative at the meeting, this sent a very meaningful message to the participants. It really signalled that here was government working together and in place, supporting the kind of activity that they were participating in.

As you suggest, Senator Wilson, there are definitely ways to involve elected officials and that can be very helpful. They give legitimacy to the process, all the while remembering that processes to date have generated a fair amount of skepticism about how the results are finally used and what indeed may have happened historically. We are on a bit of a learning curve, and a "proving-out" curve, if you like, in realizing that doing business a little bit differently can be trusted, and that participation in processes like this can indeed provide more positive, more obvious, more concrete results than expected.

With respect to using the existing organizations to which many, many Canadians belong, and working through those organizations so we are not pulling them out into yet another participatory exercise, The Society We Want is a particularly good example of how we use the existing infrastructures of any number of non-profit organizations. Our national advisers assist us in pulling groups together. We contact Canadians through their commitments to be part of an organization, to support an organization like the Community Foundations of Canada, the United Way, and the Democracy Education Network.

For your information, David is one of our advisers on the network.There are 15 of those national-level organizations with which we work and from which we seek advice, so that we are approaching Canadians where they are gathering. However, those are mainstream people, and it is tough when you are trying to reach out to a diversity of Canadians.

Part of our challenge is to try to reach Canadians who have not joined some of what I will call the more mainstream, established organizations. We have recently established a link with the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, once again to try to find ways where we can reach other Canadians, Canadians who have just come into our country, to ensure that their voices have a chance to be heard. It is a mixed challenge, and certainly a very important one, to continue to work with elected officials and the existing organizations.

Senator Wilson: Your response prompts a comment on a follow-up issue, which is, reaching or being involved with or engaged with people who do not belong to any organized groups, of which there are hundreds of thousands in Canada. I notice in one of the reports -- I think it is on the National Forum on Health -- you indicate that you had to get media interest in the consultation. It seems to me that the media is very seldom viewed as a participant in a process. They are always seen as behind the cameras and as observers doing this as reporters and interpreters but not as communicators.

I always thought that media was for the purpose of helping people communicate, but I think this is often lost in contemporary culture. I wondered what your experience had been there, particularly with involving or engaging people who do not belong to groups, people whose first language may not be English or French. I mean the use of open-line shows connected with a media presentation, with a TV presentation, with a discussion group, that kind of thing -- media as participant. That is what I am asking about.

Ms Ferderber: I have some experience, although not a lot. It is a very difficult challenge to involve media in process versus hard news. Most of these types of discussions to which I have been referring, of course, only get to the hard news at the end and not during. We like to think the discussions are rich fodder for very interesting programming, and very informative discussion by Canadians with Canadians. That is not always necessarily the view of our news editors.

That being said, at the National Forum on Health, we were given a fair amount of media attention. We did try to use other media to access Canadians but did not achieve the extension or reach that we had hoped for. There was a real challenge to reach other Canadians outside of the mainstream. There is a wonderful community newspapers network and cable television is extremely helpful to us. We certainly accessed those media to assist us in our efforts.

We applied one separate outreach strategy that had us out talking to youth, street kids, the homeless men. We visited several shelters. We went to visit homes for the elderly. We tried, in our own way, to connect to Canadians who are outside of the mainstream. If we could not use media, we would do it in a much more direct way.

Mr. Shulman: I would like to add very briefly to what Rhonda said. I think the senator and I share an interest in adult education. Adult education is very often neglected as a means of reaching people who are not affiliated with a particular community organization. We found that using the adult education programs and re-entry programs that exist in most jurisdictions is a very effective means, other than just the sort of standard media of drawing people into the process.

However, I think your question speaks to something that a number of municipalities are experimenting with at the moment, which is the question of how you create some kind of steady state infrastructure for public discussion and public dialogue that does not tax the already small resources of NGOs. There is a tendency, when governments consult, to say, "I will just throw it out to whatever, to whoever" in terms of the community, and those community members are already struggling to survive.

A number of municipalities have experimented with the idea of community councils, citizen assemblies and so forth, which basically provide an infrastructure for NGOs to participate without draining their strength and resources. This provides an opportunity for citizens who are not necessarily affiliated to participate. To deal with the second part of your question, you must bring together not simply the elected official, municipal official, but often the provincial, state or federal representative as well. One of the most frustrating things for many citizens is the fact that for them, the government is the government, and they get pointed in a million different directions, especially when dealing with issues where there are multiple jurisdictions. The idea of having a common infrastructure, where in fact provincial, federal and municipal representatives can tap into and be part of the process, addresses the issues of how you involve elected officials and also how you take some of the burden off NGOs.

Senator Mahoney: I wanted to speak to Mr. Shulman because he mentioned Experience Canada. I do not know how much you have had to do with it or how much anybody knows about it, but I know that it involves the young people across Canada and they are very interested in the country and the government. I speak from first-hand knowledge because I have Angela sitting behind me, who is from Experience Canada and who has been a great asset in the office. She is keenly interested in what is going on, and what should go on, in this country.

I strongly recommend that any of you support Experience Canada because they are doing a fine job.

Senator Johnstone: I would like to join in welcoming our witnesses and thanking them for the strength of their presentations here this morning. I think that we can accept it as fact that there has been a steady decline in public trust, despite the fact, as you suggest here this morning, that governments have done a considerable amount to try to arrest it. I wonder if you can expand on what governments might do to correct this imbalance.

Mr. Shulman: We must be careful, when we use the phrase "citizen engagement," that we do not just mean governments engaging citizens as and when they feel like it. If there is anything that came out of the whole amalgamation struggle in Toronto, it was the legal decision by Justice Stephen Borins, which basically said that from the point of view of the law, involving citizens is a political prerogative, not a Charter right.

If we really want meaningful citizen engagement, we have to look at not only how governments engage citizens, in terms of the processes that Rhonda was talking about, but how you make governments and departments engageable so that it can go the other way, from citizen to government, not just from government to citizen. That is a huge topic, but I think that one of the things that we need to think about is the whole question of having a civic audit as part of every department's estimates, where they are accountable for describing how they made themselves engageable to communities and to citizens.

We have a great deal of existing government infrastructure in communities and we have the technology whereby citizens ought to be able to come in and opt into the policy-making loop at a given point on their own terms, and not just on a department's terms. The technology is there to do that and we have the infrastructure.

We are currently trying to figure out what to do with our HRCCs in communities. I cannot think of a better use of HRCCs than as community engagement centres whereby citizens can come and bring something, as opposed to just when government is going to citizens. Looking at it as a two-way street is one of the first important steps.

Ms Ferderber: David, as you know, I agree entirely, even though I am just 10 months out of having spent many years in the federal government and on that sort of other side, if you like. It was certainly evident in those years, working with Canadians in the processes that I was engaged with, that we were often coming out with our problems, looking for their ideas. However, we were not being highly receptive to hearing their problems and what ideas they might have to address them.

That sounds like a wonderful way to go about doing business differently. I applaud any energy and effort toward that end and would certainly want to put whatever energies I could into that.

As I ended my presentation this morning, I asked a few questions, and those are the tough ones. This whole idea about exercising power differently is before us, because that is what it would take. How receptive are our institutions to citizens coming in with those issues on which they wish to provide input?

I am excited about The Society We Want because it is one of those processes coming from outside of government that gives citizens the opportunity to participate. Number one, they like to participate. They get a charge out of just coming together and talking to their neighbours, families, friends, newcomers, et cetera. That is good for social cohesion and building civil society in our country. However, we learned in the pilot that good feeling is fine, but people want to know what is going to happen to what they have just provided.

There was this huge question before us, the "so what" factor, what I called, "So what that I gave you my good ideas? What can I expect will happen with these ideas?" We have worked very hard to reformulate the way the process will happen and provide some assurances to Canadians that at least the Canadian Policy Research Networks will use their input. They have access to many avenues of distribution for their inputs, reports, newsletters, and bulletins, and they come before committees such as this one, where they can provide a direct line into these corridors of power.

It is an important challenge before you, to make that real for Canadians, to help them understand that the time and energy they put into a public dialogue on the health care system, on some aspect of work, on children, will find its way into the process. However, we must find a way to take it back to them and show them how it did make a difference, what was done with that information. Perhaps one of the biggest issues for government is that feedback loop. Close the loop. You go out there however many times to Canadians. How many times do you go back and say, "This is what happened as a result of your input. It was not everything we wanted it to be, but we did make progress here; we did move in this direction."

Canadians will tolerate that kind of "baby step" approach, if you like. What they will no longer tolerate, if you look at the Ekos research, is the not knowing. They want to be assured of being listened to. That suggestion on David's part, of an audit, is worth considering. It always strikes me as one of those areas where the AG could move in and say, "You spent how much this year doing consultation? May I see the results? What did you do with it? What changed?" It is a question of what you spend your money on, what you get for it.

Mr. Shulman: It is also a question of honouring things that are citizen-initiated as well as government-initiated. We have a very accessible government and we should be very proud of that. We should be very proud in Canada of having an accessible government, but accessibility and engageability are not the same thing. To engage government is to do something over a stretch of time.

We have a marvellous system if I have a concern over my mother's pension and I need to go to my local MP of any political party. We have a great system for that. However, if I want to actually engage government over the long term on the public service policy-making on pensions, that is different. We have not quite gotten there yet. What we need to look at is not just how we can access government, but how we can engage it on a citizen-initiated as well as government-initiated basis.

The Chairman: Stop right there for a moment. I take your point. I think we do have a good system in terms of talking with people about the delivery of government services at every level, and thank goodness for that. The feedback is effective.

However, let us take some of the examples you have raised. I have not read the report of the health forum, I am ashamed to say, but I have read reports about it and I have no doubt that the exercise was a constructive and a useful one.

The health forum was appointed in 1994. In the 1995 budget, the federal government began the process of withdrawing $6 billion or $7 billion out of transfers to provinces for health care, post-secondary education, and welfare. At the same time, the provinces began or continued to close hospital beds and reduce services, et cetera. Surely this was the preoccupation of just about everybody in the health care system at the time that your forum was conducting its business.

This preoccupation raises very fundamental questions: What is the priority of health care vis-à-vis the other priorities of the federal and provincial governments? What about the financing of health care? There are quite eminent people in the health care system who think that a two-tiered system will be just fine, to the extent that it would take pressure off the public system, and that that is the way to go and sooner or later we will have to face that.

How do we go about financing health care for the future? What is the relevance of the Canada Health Act? Is it really relevant to the kind of questions that were preoccupying people in the health care system during the very time that the health forum was conducting its business? That is one issue.

We had a social union agreement signed last week. I have heard the aboriginal organizations protesting that they were not at the table. This morning, on Radio-Canada, I heard, I think it was the Fédération des francophones hors Québec, protesting that the social union agreement was seriously flawed in that it did not provide guarantees for social services of various kinds in the minority language, that is, English in Quebec or French outside Quebec.

At about the time of the 1995 budget, or a bit later, some billions of dollars were taken out of the employment insurance system. These were fiscally driven decisions; we all know that. We all know the circumstances under which they were taken. How do you engage people in these more basic choices that have to be made? Do they believe that the budget had to be balanced? If so, do they believe that spending had to be cut? If so, where and what are the priorities that we should attach to health care vis-à-vis national defence or some other area?

Today, the big decision that everybody is talking about is shall we use our fiscal flexibility to reduce the debt, reduce taxes, or increase spending in important areas? This is very, very fundamental. How do you engage on that level with people, and can you engage effectively in terms of providing some guidance to governments?

Ms Ferderber: There is no question that both processes are expensive. When I contrasted the two this morning I attempted to point out where certainly one has some advantages over the other. I am concerned that you might have heard that there is only one process to be used. I think you have to make judgment calls about what you want to seek the views and perspectives of Canadians on before you choose a process. Certainly, your timing and your resources dictate in part what you will do.

To me, the idea of having an absolutely transparent objective speaks volumes. You asked a few questions about the relevance of the Health Act in our deliberations and whether or not Canadians felt they had a good opportunity to talk about the financing around health care. I would contend that over the course of our 18 months of work with Canadians we gave them that opportunity and we produced a report that provided advice. In the end, the government took some of that advice.

Public opinion polling has its merits. It is top-of-mind and fast. It gives a good snapshot of the day. Governments need that.

We are saying that governments also want to try to get at some of those more deeply held views that often do not have a chance to come out with top-of-mind questions in order to promote some understanding of both sides of the issues within your groups. If you were advising government based on a bit of time taken to confront the positions of others, would you not feel more comfortable and confident that the decisions that you were taking on this issue were well-grounded and would have the support of Canadians? Moreover, you might not have the kind of radio news bulletin that says "such and such is flawed because." We have attempted to show that a more deliberative process provides what we think of as perhaps more learned information for the public policy process.

Mr. Shulman: I should like to add a supplementary comment to that based on my experience in working with federal departments. I guess the way to address this is to tackle your point about how you blow $100,000. It seems to me that with deliberative processes you can often find real economies in reaching the public because your emphasis is not so much on phone banks as it is on preparing materials for deliberation, materials that basically put options in front of people. That process distinguishes deliberation from top-of-the-head polling.

Regarding the immigration review, we found in particular that the government was looking at polling data that was often very restrictive of its options. Basically, the polling data was top-of-the-head, shut the gates, send people back and all the rest of it. With a deliberative process, when people are allowed an opportunity not simply to talk about an issue but to talk through an issue and when they have done some preparation, you find that people are not so much opposed to immigration as critical of processes. In fact, the scope of options for government action were far greater than the polling data was suggesting. In other words, there was much more texture in there and much more room for policy-makers to manoeuvre.

Again, I believe there is no panacea. There is no ideal and perfect way, but there is no question that deliberation can achieve certain things.

The Chairman: You are talking about it as an educational tool now.

Mr. Shulman: Absolutely.

The Chairman: The terms in which you put the background of the question will have some effect on the answer you get. I do not disparage that for a moment, nor am I complaining about the cost of the process. I should not have raised that $100,000. I have spent plenty of government money and party money on polling in my day. I have no intention of being critical of that, providing the stuff is useful and valid.

Senator Johnstone: I have one short supplementary question relating to my original question. I was wondering, Mr. Shulman, if the key words are, as you suggest: "It is a two-way street."

Mr. Shulman: Yes. Exactly.


Senator Ferretti Barth: Don't you think people are helping each other already? We had social cohesion. The idea is merely to group all the movements together and to give that grouping a name: social cohesion. You need only think of the cultural communities.

Now, as regards your Society We Want project, have you met with people from the cultural communities? In the partnership, you have the Canadian Ethno-cultural Council. In Quebec, we have never heard of this Council or the project you are submitting. Are you concerned with the cultural communities in your project? Have you noted the efforts these people have made to help each other, to establish a specific form of social cohesion? You've consulted Canadians, but who are those Canadians? Are they of Canadian origin? Are they from Ontario? From Quebec?

I am preparing a talk -- a public dialogue, to use your expression -- that I will be giving to all the representatives of the seniors groups from the cultural communities on March 19 in order to talk about how they are experiencing the aging process in their community. No one has done this before.

If individuals are taking on this responsibility, which has always existed, that means that social cohesion has always existed. We have always had the church, schools and organizations such as Block Parents? Many things have been done without using the specific name social cohesion. What do we want to do with this social cohesion? Is this a repetition? In saying that social cohesion will become a reality, is the government opening its arms and consolidating all the efforts of the citizens of our Canadian mosaic, claiming that this is our social cohesion? But we have already experienced this. I do not completely agree with this.


Ms Ferderber: Those are good questions and very important points to raise in view of the real cynicism out there. We need to continue our work developing good processes.

Let me zero in first on your specific questions about The Society We Want project. This has been piloted. We had targeted the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia specifically when we piloted this, although we ran groups and there were attempts to make it more national and to reach out across the country. We had some successes in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We had some groups in New Brunswick.

When we go back out, as we are now, we will include Quebec because it is clear that Quebec was not involved at even the most minimal level during the pilot. We hope very much that we will find ways to begin working with citizens and organizations in Quebec. We are hopeful that our current slate of national advisors who have organizations or chapters in Quebec can help us, but I would be pleased if any of you have advice on how we can better reach citizens in Quebec.

We hope also that as we continue to reach out through organizations and other means we will find a champion in a community, someone who can speak to this, who will talk to two more people who will talk to three more people. We are hoping that that will start to generate a real core of interest and perhaps result in public dialogue groups.

Regarding how many Canadians we talk to, our objectives are necessarily modest for now as we continue to develop this particular process, but you are right to ask the hard questions about how effective it will be.

For me, social cohesion is a better understanding of one another. Social cohesion gives us the ability to say that we have had an opportunity to hear from Canadians whose views on various issues we would not normally have a chance to hear. From that we gain a certain degree of appreciation. There is no question that those Canadians who have just come into this country have struggled far more than most Canadians and so their views about issues become extremely interesting and informative to those of us who are privileged enough to be born here.

We have a lot of work to do to get this particular process firmly established but it is coming along, and the early results of 3,000 Canadians in 200 groups are encouraging us to keep moving on this experiment.

Mr. Shulman: I think both of us addressed the issue of citizen-state relationships because in some respect that is what we were given to discuss today. However, you raised the point about churches and schools and so forth, which touches on the whole larger question of how those mediating institutions contribute to a cohesive society. In my view, as I said before, a cohesive society is a society where we are comfortable with our diversity. Just as I do not think that civil society can be a replacement for the state in terms of citizen participation in policy-making, I would hope that the state is never a substitute for those mediating institutions of church and school in creating the other aspects of social cohesion. They all have their roles to play.

Senator Butts: I would like to ask Ms Ferderber a very simple question to begin with. Have you found in all these studies a commonality of use among all Canadians?

Ms Ferderber: The short answer is yes. The heart-warming answer is yes. During the pilot we talked about five key issues: health, our children, our social safety net, work and the role of government. We found that there is still a very strong sense of compassion and caring for one another that permeated throughout those five major issues that Canadians discussed and about which they entered into dialogues. They demonstrated clearly that they expect government to play the roles that governments are there to play. The issue of the role of government was not one that was chosen frequently by groups but it came up in discussions about all of the other issues.

The newsletter provides an overview of the initial set of results. Those results are very confirming and affirming about where Canadians' values are placed. That is probably one of the more exciting elements of this particular process.

Again, another exciting benefit is that you get at what Canadians hold near and dear and what we ought to consider when we are making our decisions -- things you cannot get at through polls' top-of-mind answers. We like to think some of that groundbreaking work started with the forum as well.

Senator Butts: Just as an aside, I hope your compassion is not the same as compensation, which it has come to mean in the media and to some politicians in the last years. I think that is a big problem. I do not think that is what the Canadian people mean by it, but they are getting a fill of it.

I should like a short explanation of the methodology. How do you get your participants? Is it a random sample? Is it a scientific sample or are they self-chosen?

Ms Ferderber: They are largely self-chosen. We try to communicate the existence of the project through our national advisors and through our own outreach efforts. We speak to various community leaders and others to tell them about the project. People hear about it by word-of-mouth and they pull together a group around their own living room coffee table, and thus it is very much by self-selection at this time.

Senator Butts: I could assume then that if they choose themselves they are people who are already interested in this kind of thing. I am a little worried that it might become like the phone-in shows on the radio where everybody who has the same gripe will call and anybody satisfied does not bother to call.

Mr. Shulman: I would just add to what Rhonda has said though around some of the testing that was done on the materials from the second phase, which is what you have been given. Those were randomly done. They were not self-selected. We did the testing specifically making sure that there was a proper breadth and representation precisely so we would not have the Howard Stern phenomenon.

Senator Butts: The second group is then not the same as the first group.

Ms Ferderber: It is quite similar but we have made modifications. The process works the same way. It puts forward three difficult choices for Canadians to discuss about an issue.

Let us take the health care system. Using this choice model, we put forward three perspectives. We try to do it in a way that will not necessarily be provocative, but will provoke good thinking-through and talking-through what people may or may not want to see about the health care system.

In the current issue guide, we will ask Canadians to talk about what it means to have an affordable health care system. Are they prepared to pay more? What does it mean to have an accessible health care system? What do we mean about coverage: more coverage, less coverage, different coverage? With those three points on a triangle, if you like, we are asking Canadians to talk through and come through in feedback forms with their thinking.

We have a rather established research plan and an analysis framework that did not exist the first time around. We will receive inputs from all of the participants based on something known to sociologists as the Likert scale. Participants will answer 12 questions to give us a sense of how much they agree or disagree with various aspects of the issue they will have just discussed.

That analysis will be combined with other elements of the process where we ask them to give us an indicator of success: What in five years do you think would indicate that things are moving in the direction that you would like? That will provide some very interesting input to decision makers and policy-makers if they are told that across X number of groups, for this many Canadians, these three things are indicators of success. It is not a bad thing to reckon and to try to be accountable about. Therefore, the process is developing.

Senator Butts: After reading these documents, I should like to call The Society We Want "The Society About Which We Dream." I have a real problem with this use of the term "poverty line." What is your poverty line? Everybody has his or her own definition. What is the poverty line in this thing? That is a tremendous problem.

I had a discussion group of my own where I tried to get them to tell me what the poverty line is. Do you want me to tell you a bit about what they said? They had to decide whether it means you have money for recreation, whether you have a telephone, whether you have TV, whether you have cable, whether you have Internet. One participant even asked: "Would it pay for Viagra?"

What is your poverty line? It is mentioned here at least twice. It says 20 per cent of families in Canada and one in five children in Canada, which, I guess, is the same thing, 20 per cent.

Ms Ferderber: You are quoting from the newsletter. I personally do not have a definition of the poverty line. I am all too aware of the difficulties to try to establish one that is appropriate. We are just reporting the results from the groups and the way in which the information came through us.

Senator Butts: That is the problem. Everybody uses a poverty line but I do not know where the poverty line is. I think it began long ago when somebody in Statistics Canada tried to give the relative income of the top 5 per cent and the bottom 5 per cent, but it makes no sense if the top five per cent are getting richer all the time. Then you are absolutely sure that the poor are getting poorer. That is what the numbers will tell you. It just makes no sense. I have a real problem with finding out who are the poor.

Another group now talks about a market basket. What goes into the market basket decides what it means to be poor.

I think there is another whole problem regarding what government can do. There are millions of youngsters who are poor independent of how much the family income is, and that is where the difficulty comes in. The money is not reaching millions of children for whatever reason they are poor. They have parents who are alcoholics or gamblers or whatever, and there are many of them out there. It is very difficult to talk about curing children's poverty by sending more money to families. That is the problem with this kind of a finding of a group of self-chosen people.

Senator Cools: I think Senator Butts has raised two very important points. The first is one that I raise at all times, that privation is not necessarily an economic matter. There are thousands of children in this country who are deprived of the social assistance they need, and it does not matter how much money is put to them because the problem is not an economic one. There are deficits in their social background.

The second point is that these extended bureaucracies in and of themselves absorb a great amount of resources and the whole question is how many of those dollars actually ever get into people's hands. That was one of the reasons that Mackenzie King created the baby bonus so many years ago, although it is gone now. That baby bonus was a way of moving many dollars directly into the economy.

I will just roll my questions out. If they cannot be answered today, that is not a problem. We will have to deal with them at some point in the future. I have been very interested in your comments to us about dialogue, about representation, about the need for input from the public into the political process and the greater need for more representative dialogue.

I want to ask you about your view of the role of political parties in this process of public dialogue and in the process of the formation of public policy. When I was young we were told that the political party is the instrument by which public policy issues are formed and by which the public makes its representation known to her Queen's individuals. Yet we all know that that is not the case. If I could refer to the witnesses, Mr. Tom Kent recently produced material for one of those think tanks.

Recently, one of those think tanks, Caledon, I believe, produced material indicating that political parties in today's communities have become little more than advertising machines, that we are bringing in cabinets that are not rooted in public policy issues and that governments and parties are dependent on polls and pollsters and on government bureaucrats, with very little reliance, in fact, on caucus members.

Members of the House of Commons are the least supported individuals in the system. They are the least consulted and least influential individuals in the system. We see it all the time. It is the same for the Senate, for that matter, although it is a role that I defy.

As the House of Commons has become more and more the agent of the executive, it seems to be empty much of the time. For those of us giving these issues some serious thought, this is bothersome; it is very vexing, extremely troubling. We should all be concerned because policies are being made daily that it would be dishonest to suggest even for a moment came forward from any party or from the caucus at all.

It is my opinion that we must begin to address the issue of the role of the political party in social cohesion and to look at what supports that instrument needs. Mackenzie King used to say again and again that a political party is a special and unique instrument that needs care and support. The evidence is that in this country political parties are less capable of reconciling national opinion and regional interest.

I have put this to you very quickly in a summary, but I believe it is one of the pressing problems of the era. Have you given it any thought? Perhaps, if we do not have the time right now, you could communicate with me individually or send the information on.

Mr. Shulman: I will try in the little time that we have to give you an answer from the perspective of a history teacher reflecting on the history of political parties in this country. I try to convey to my students, many of whom experience many of the social deficits that you are talking about, a sense of the contribution that political parties have made to social cohesion in this country. One has only to look at what this country was like 100 years ago to see the real divisions in the social fabric. Political parties of all stripes have made an important contribution to countering that. I try to convey that to my students to combat much of that cynicism and so forth.

Parties have made and continue to make enormous contributions through their youth wings. There is not a party that does not have a wing to involve young people. Having said that, the issue that you raised about partisanship and a certain usurping of the legislative function in terms of the executive is one of the sources of that cynicism. I think it raises a number of interesting questions.

Right now in the country there are all kinds of places where you can go when you want to choose up sides on free trade or poverty or whatever. However, we have been trying to address the question of where people can have a space where they can look at things before, in fact, they have to choose sides, before they get to the point of deciding, "You know what? I am a Conservative" or "I am a Liberal."

I think your question suggests another point, and that is to flip it, to think not in terms of the House of Commons but of the Senate, because for some reason the Senate is perceived to be a less partisan body. I, for one, have always felt that there is a great deal of potential for the Senate to be seen in the political process as less dictated by the executive and having more legislative legitimacy.

Perhaps this committee should look at ways Senate-citizen interaction might be a model for the House of Commons. Rather than following the House of Commons, perhaps the Senate could in fact lead the way.

The Chairman: I am sure they would appreciate that.

Senator Cools: I am sure they would just love that. They would praise us greatly.

The Chairman: It remains only for me to thank Ms Ferderber and Mr. Shulman for giving us a very interesting morning.

The committee adjourned.