Politics (featured)

Canadians Are Crowdsourcing Justin Trudeau’s Government

Well, Canada, you wasted no time.

Last Monday night the Liberals rode a “real change” agenda to victory. By Tuesday morning, Canadians took to the web to speak to their new prime minister. Twenty-three new petitions for him, on day one. 

Life in the public square is playing itself out online, only the Internet has made the square bigger, more diverse, and capable of operating in real time. With every decision our government makes (or must make), social media in particular allow us to quickly gather, share, discuss, debate, suggest and demand, effectively crowdsourcing solutions to the questions facing the nation.

And by the looks of things, Canadians will have suggestions for Justin Trudeau every step of the way.

First things first

One of the first thing a new prime minister must do, for instance, is choose a cabinet. Cue the spate of petitions about cabinet, including seven (!) different ones on the first day asking Mr. Trudeau to name Green Party leader Elizabeth May to the post of environment minister.

Perhaps sensing this was a long shot, many (including the organizers of the largest petition) began suggesting Trudeau could instead invite May to the forthcoming Paris climate talks. He’s now done so. Maybe he planned to anyway, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have tens of thousands of Canadians joining the conversation and making such a strong recommendation.

And they have other ideas: Stéphane Dion for environment minister (again). Neil Young for environment minister (first time, pretty sure). Stephen Harper for finance minister (for real…and it has more support than the others). Then there’s a personal favorite, Rick Mercer for Governor General. You never know.

And then, everything else

But there’s much to do after choosing a cabinet, and in days following the election, Justin Trudeau heard from many more Canadians on a host of issues.

Interestingly, many new petitions address specific commitments the Liberals made on the campaign trail: multiple petitions on pot and democratic reform, for instance. Also on refugees, aboriginal women, veterans, clean energy, and more. A huge swath of Canadians have already mobilized. They are watching, and they are saying, cordially but clearly: “Dear Mr. Trudeau, Make Good on your Promises.”

They’re looking for new commitments: on everything from tuition to transit; C-51 to F-35s; ISIS to income splitting; TFSAs to the TTP; and from a National Housing Strategy to the PM’s house. (There’s a petition to renovate 24 Sussex, another asking CBC to film it, and a third calling for Mike Holmes to do the job. Together, a reality TV producer’s dream.)

All told, we saw 87 petitions to the new prime minister in his first unofficial week on the job. Canadians, quite clearly, are eager to engage.

Who cares?

But what the heck makes these people think Justin Trudeau is listening?

Maybe it’s that they’ve gotten answers from him before. My number is eight, as ineight direct responses to petitions on our site from Justin Trudeau during the campaign. On aboriginal womenmail deliveryrefugees, even the Kitsilano Coast Guard base — these are commitments Mr. Trudeau made and communicated directly to the people asking for these specific changes. They won’t forget about it any time soon. They’ll want him to follow through on these things, and expect he’ll be ready to talk about others.

(Deserving a mention here are Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May, who with great enthusiasm also adopted the idea of communicating with petitioners, responding to 12 and 20 petitions respectively.)

After shunning social media in the early years, politicians now see the value in meeting voters where they are: posting, tweeting, and gathering around petitions about issues that matter to them.

The conversation is on, and leaders who embrace these chances to interact stand to benefit. We all do, because we all get to be in on it. And that’s true well beyond Canadian politics. New technologies offer people around the world — and their elected leaders — an opportunity to set a course towards more deliberative, participatory, citizen-made democracy.

Aside perhaps from Mr. Mercer as the Queen’s viceregal representative, that’s about as real as change can get.


Pascal Zamprelli is director of Change.org in Canada. This article also appeared on Huffington Post Canada.

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November 1, 2015 8:34 pm