Engagement or Entertainment: How Social Media is Changing the Face of Canadian Policy Making

by Acotter on November 25, 2016 - 7:50pm

2016 and a Liberal swinging government have provided the political equivalent of a subtweet aimed at the archaic ways in which our government includes the public in policy making decisions regarding climate action. The purpose of this article is to question the Liberal governments creation of an online forum for engaging a large section of the Canadian population including industry members, NGO’s, environmental groups, the private sector and the public at large.  With Catherine McKenna, the Minister of the Environment, and the Liberal party leading the charge, the most significant actor here is the general public. The broader problem within the article is public engagement via environmental policy and the level of excitement and engagement the public takes in dealing with these issues. Thousands of Canadians have registered to use the site letstalkclimateaction.ca individually, or under company and initiative titles. The forum continues to grow and currently sits around 2,400 posts triggering 4,500 comments and has transcended into its own Twitter hashtag CANClimateAction. Conservative representatives critiqued the technique calling it a “consultation constipation” - the idea that too many ideas create an inability to get policy implemented. McKenna says that there is already evidence of diversity and “unusual suspects coming together” under a common concern. Topics tabled range from carbon tax strategies, to vegetation roof tops to the collective banning of Tim Horton’s drive-thrus; all strategies that aim to mitigate climate changes affect on local, national and global scales.

Since the new millennium, there has been a large push to paper-less click bait, gauging readers and supporters through slacktivist hashtags and this includes the way third parties are targeting the Policy Making Process. The problem with this forum is seeing its premise turn into tangible results. It is evident that this is a very modern form of Liberalism in the sense that governance rotates through a cycle of voter preference and media exposure to elected representatives and ideally, the policy agenda. In a sense, this is a form of parliamentary deputation, where ENGO’s and average Canadian citizens are allowed increased access to the political process through participating in ‘suit culture’ decisions. This decentralizes the government and theoretically reduces apathy throughout the attention cycle, keeping the audience engaged in Climate Change issues because they have a personal connection to the process and implementation.

Nature Deficit Disorder is the idea that millenials are starting to stray away from actual outdoor interaction, and are therefore less engaged with issues concerning the environment. Online forums are an efficient way of bringing environmental interaction to this demographic.  Education is a positive feed back loop: meaning that education, even through social media, eliminates a portion of ignorance and uncertainty so there is no gradual decline in public interest and an active encouragement to address youth and young adults. Having this online presence can also lead to enhanced community capacity and public participation.

In a time when change is so pivotal, there is an urgency to inspire people to become part of the way in which we tackle environmental management and etiquette. Therefore, as informal as it may be, this effort in engaging the public in discourse that aims at discussing policy making, implementation and efforts in creating change has the potential to be more effective than the exclusivity of traditional approaches.