Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Campaign Update: Cam Broten

This is the first in a flurry of posts for today, given that all of the campaigns have been abuzz with activity recently. We'll start with Cam Broten.

Cam's campaign put out a release today calling for 'strengthening our democracy in the Legislature and the NDP' (LINK)

The release is an expansion on the ideas already brought forward from Cam's campaign with regards to enhancing the level of debate and ensuring more transparency and openness in government. Among the ideas put forward from the release include the introduction of brief question and answer sessions after speeches in the Legislature, increased roles for committees, modernizing the Hansard record, and pulling back some of the restrictions on recordings within the Legislature.

Cam's point of how currently backbench MLAs on the government side are rarely heard from is a point well taken; not to mention the truth in his acknowledgement that minimal debate and scrutiny on subjects in now commonplace in debates.

Also included in the release was a backgrounder, a nice little touch of expanding on the ideas contained within the release. (LINK)

So, we see from that that the question and answer session would be a ten minute period that allows people to pose questions or make comments to the speech given. Cam's quite right in pointing out that this would help make legislators more accountable for the things they say within the Legislature.

Enhancing committees is also detailed, in that Cam is calling for committees to have clear guidelines about when to seek testimony from witnesses (as opposed to allowing it to be on an ad-hoc basis controlled by government MLAs); as well, as proposing that committees be given greater time to study and scrutinize motions and bills brought before them. All of which would in turn allow the committees to provide better information to the Legislature and to the public. There is also a call for committees to hear more public input during the course of their deliberations.

The call for a Hansard update is pretty basic, given that it includes such ideas as ensuring that videos and text can be found on the same page, if only to make the record more easily searchable. Cam is also calling for the website to be made with considerations to mobile viewing in mind; and given the number of smart devices out there (phones, tablets, etc.) this is a very good time to get the ball rolling on that front.

And the call for relaxed recording is on par with making the Legislature more accountable; as right now cameras only focus on speaking members, but showing the whole session might encourage members to behave better knowing they're on camera. I'm not sure about the methodology behind that one; after all, politicians have often done things they shouldn't have when on camera or near a microphone...But I suppose it would certainly be worth a shot.

The release also takes the time to explore a new approach to internal politics within the NDP itself. Building on his experience as the policy renewal co-chair, Cam is proposing to continue with this means of getting involved directly with members to build better policy.

As mentioned before on Cam's site, this would involve the creation of policy commissions that would meet throughout the year and engage with the public and members to help craft party policy. Ultimately, these commissions would create a final report that would then go to caucus and provincial council and a final report would then be made to the party members at convention, where it could be adopted as policy or voted down by the members.

Cam's right in saying that the current convention process isn't as engaging as it could be; given that you only have a few days to discuss things and more often than not the same people tend to speak to every issue. I think a new approach behind the scenes would certainly streamline the process, and help get more voices added to the proposal.

I'd like to do some speculative things now that we've discussed the 'meat and potatoes' of the release itself. Cam's campaign has done some pretty wide brushstrokes with their policies, given that Cam launched his policies pretty early in the campaign, and we're now waiting for those policies to be given the 'backgrounders' to flesh them out more.

Some might wonder why Cam's first real move to better define his policies revolve around democratic renewal and to a degree decorum in the Legislature. Some might think that there are surely more important issues to talk about fresh out of the gate; especially when compared to the economic ideas brought forward by the Weir Campaign, or the call for fact-based decision making from the Meili Campaign, or the focus on education just brought forward from the Wotherspoon Campaign.

And it is true, this might not be an issue that registers large on the minds of a lot of people of Saskatchewan. But, I think, what it does do is call attention to the message of Cam's campaign. Effectively, I think, by bringing forward this kind of release as a first major staple, Cam's campaign is trying to position themselves as the camp that is most concerned with reinvigorating a stagnant democracy.

That it's not just about 'good ideas', but also about changing the approach used to make those ideas and also acknowledging the flaws in the system. Cam's right to call attention to the problems in the Legislature, as if people don't tend to watch the Sask. Legislature Channel, they might not really get an idea of the problems that exist there at the moment.

And by calling for reforms to enhance debate and enhance inclusion, Cam is setting himself up as the candidate who is most concerned with ensuring that the democratic process stays entirely democratic. He'll likely run into some of the other campaigns, especially Ryan's camp, on this issue; but for now, he's certainly making the argument that he's the candidate who is most willing to listen. Whether another campaign can seize that appearance, is another question for another time.

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