The Council of Albertans: A New Approach to Political Accountability

A strong democracy depends upon a strong sense that the elected Representatives are continuously accountable to their electorate:  not accountable only on election day.

In Alberta, public conversation is increasingly about the accountability – or perceived lack of accountability – of the provincial government.

How can we strengthen accountability, on an on-going basis, without putting obstacles in the way of the proper daily operations of government?

The conventional response to the challenge has been to have the entire Legislative Assembly appoint “Officers”, who are – nominally – accountable to the entire Legislative Assembly, including Members of the Opposition and Independent Members.  In this model, the Officers are not accountable to the Government, or the Cabinet.

The problem with the conventional response is that, when one Party has a dominant majority in the Legislative Assembly, and a long history of uninterrupted rule, it may use its position to:

•“shape” the job description and the role of the Officers;

•favour the appointment of people with a certain perspective or operating style;

•orchestrate the release of Reports, and

•blur the lines between “doers” and auditors.

What could be done?  How can we strengthen the monitoring, audit, and accountability aspects of democratic government?  Particularly, how can we make the monitoring, auditing, and accountability aspects of democratic government more continuous, rather than periodic, and more transparent, independent of government, and more informative for citizens?

The role of the Government is “to govern”.  Arguably, we need to create a formal on-going role for citizens, as a counterpoint to government.  The role should not be involved in government, but it should be involved in monitoring, auditing, and accountability

 

One way to do this would be to create an on-going “jury”, of 12 – 15 Albertans.  Let’s call it the “Council of Albertans”.  The Council would be innovative in two ways:  selection; and, mandate.

Imagine the possibilities if participation in the work of the Council was open to any Albertan who

–Is 18 years or older

–Has lived in Alberta for 3 years

–Is not in jail or in court ordered psychiatric treatment.

Imagine the possibilities if members are at random, to serve a 3-year term, and paid for their service, after which they would be ineligible to serve another term.

Random selection means that the Council would be broadly representative of all Albertans:

–The rich and poor

–Aboriginals, 4th generation Albertans, new Canadians

–Cloistered academics and people with a wealth of life’s experience

–A.P., Liberals, N.D., Tories, and W.A.

The role of the Council would be:

• to Represent all Albertans in assuring the independence of important public offices

•to have Oversight of monitoring, auditing, and accountability, to assure transparency

• to Highlight recommendations from Officers, for the consideration of the public.

The Council would not make laws or adopt budgets.  Members of the Council would not have to be “experts”.

Imagine the possibilities if public officers were to be appointed by, and reporting to, the Council, including –

–The Auditor-General

–The Ombudsman

–The Human Rights Commissioner

–The Freedom of Information & Privacy Comm.

–The Chief Electoral Officer

Improving our democracy requires much work.  Albertans should be participants, not merely spectators.  In order for this to happen, we need to think outside the box.

In Alberta — in any democratic community —  the man on the street or the woman in the field is up to the challenge or strengthening the role of our “watchers”.

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2 Responses to “The Council of Albertans: A New Approach to Political Accountability”

  1. susanonthesoapbox Says:

    Lately I’ve noticed that more and more Albertans are prepared to act as “watchers” and hold their government accountable. Special interest nonpartisan groups are springing up all over the place, hammering on the doors of their MLA’s trying to get the MLAs to address their concerns.

    The big challenge is to find a way to break through and impact policy. Voting for another party is very effective, but a lot of damage can be done by the ruling party until an election is called. The opposition parties try to fill this gap, however it’s extremely difficult to be effective when faced with a majority across the aisle. You’ve proposed an intriguing model which might fill this gap more effectively. I’d love to see whether the party in power would be willing to consider it.

  2. Leo Campos Aldunez Says:

    A noble idea amigo David; I recall proposing something along these lines a couple of years ago – when the DRP was just starting – I called “a council of Elders” … to honor the vast experience, knowledge and expertise within our seniors from various idealogical & political world views … LCA

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