Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
This week, the people of British Columbia will happily begin doing something they had to fight long and hard for the right to do: pay provincial sales tax.
Okay, so maybe not “happily.” But after an historic campaign to “Stop the HST” that included a massive petition effort and a provincial referendum, it’s worth marvelling at the power of the people to peacefully reverse deeply unpopular government policy.
Canada’s chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand says: “Democracy isn't something to be practised once every four years on election day.” He urges us to stay informed, share our views with others and engage our local government representatives, because “even though it doesn’t always appear so, he or she will pay attention to what you say.”
That scoff of disbelief you just uttered is symptomatic of Canadians’ skepticism that our governments listen to us when they’re not seeking our votes. So how do we get their attention?
This week’s question: How can average citizens influence government policy between elections?
Scott Hennig, vice-president of communications of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation
“Ideally every jurisdiction in Canada would have citizens’ initiative law or politician recall laws, where if enough signatures are collected, either a referendum or recall vote is triggered. In the meantime, citizens have the power to influence decisions if they all work together at the same time: thousands of people targeting the right politicians on one issue.”
Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute
“Create pressure on elected leaders without crossing the line into lawbreaking and violence, so that both your message and your tactics resonate with broader public sentiment. Social media campaigns, demonstrations and peaceful occupation of public spaces will tap into broader strains of public discontent or desire for change.”
Brett Bell, founder of Grassroots Online
“Thousands of Facebook likes for a cause or issue is helpful, but ultimately passive. Direct engagement with elected officials is key: Use technology to directly communicate to politicians – [through] e-mail, text, phone calls, tweets, comments – to influence policy outcomes.”
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