Truly representational elected leaders are responsive leaders. They know they need to ask good questions and gather information, because it will help them gain insight into the thoughts, ideas, motives and values of the people they serve. Such insight is fundamental to direction-setting and decision-making for the responsive leader.

It’s my intention and desire to be a representational, responsive leader. I am a firm believer in the community capacity building model, in which people come together to discuss issues and challenges, develop innovative, organic responses, and implement those solutions. Communities where this process is practiced are resourceful and self-reliant. This process only works, though, when community leaders include  the people they represent in shared planning, open and ongoing dialogue, and ensure that the governance decisions made are a result of that inclusive effort.

Traditional leadership styles are often moderately – if not majorly – disconnected from such practices. Perhaps these leaders believe that since they’ve been mandated by the voter to govern, they have the green light to do so, and that the work of the voter is done until the next election. Or perhaps they believe that public participation in governing will paralyze leaders and grind progress to a halt. Or perhaps there is a less benign motive. Whatever the reason, it is my opinion that by avoiding including the public  in the decision-making process, they do themselves and the citizens who elected them a great disservice. But that’s another blog post…

Potentially the biggest issue with participatory democracy is, oddly, participation. Engaging citizens in any significant number or to any meaningful degree is difficult when they don’t get involved. It’s important, it matters, and it yields great and proven results; yet, in Alberta, the majority of people (60%!) aren’t engaged in even the most fundamental way: voting.

As I go forward with plans to represent the people of the Innisfail Sylvan Lake constituency, I really want to understand why people divorce themselves from politics and civic engagement, and I want to know what it will take to rejuvenate participatory democracy. I think if I can understand that, I can find ways to help people re-engage. learn to care again, and find their voices.

So, let me ask you:

If you or someone you know is a non-voter, why?

If you or someone you know is a non-voter, what would inspire you/them to vote?

If you knew that your thoughts and ideas would have a genuine impact on decisions and direction in Alberta, would that motivate you to become an active participant in politics and governance?

Tell me what you think – it really matters.