When it comes to fiscal policy, there’s a pretty clear consensus among economists and academics about what needs to be done. But the general public is far more divided, and that has been one of the biggest impediments standing in the way of meaningful change. In order to overcome that, we need to invite the public into the conversation more fully — and encourage them to decide what does and doesn’t matter.
A citizens’ assembly is a body formed from randomly selected citizens to deliberate on important issues. Alberta has some experience with citizens’ assemblies and is fortunate to have expert designers and practitioners of the method based at some of our universities. By creating a citizens’ assembly on fiscal reform, Alberta can gather people from across the province and from a wide variety of backgrounds and livelihoods to become more informed and educated on the issues, consider the options, deliberate on how we want to manage the trade-offs and competing priorities, and ultimately determine a sense of our collective priorities – outside of the partisan political process.
While there is no guarantee of the citizens’ assembly’s ideas being implemented, political parties could be asked to commit to hearing them out. At the very least, they would be forced to explain very clearly why they are not choosing to pursue approaches derived through this kind of non-partisan methodology. More optimistically, a citizens’ assembly might give the political parties the cover they need to adopt and enact some of the measures they deem to be politically unpopular at the moment.