< retour à la liste

18 novembre 2010

Exceptional Governance in Exceptional Regions

The first time I’d ever heard the concept of Participatory Budgeting (PB), was from a very knowledgeable Public Administration professor I once had. His expertise is in Northern Public Admin, and my god, does he know what he’s talking about. He asked me to write an essay (which, of course was handed in late… like every single blog post I’ve ever done… sorry!) comparing the City of Porto Alegre, Brazil with my region in the north. Porto Alegre is the birthplace of the Participatory Budget, where in 1989 they undertook an unprecedented experiment in public governance, which turned out to be incredibly successful. Their blueprint is now being used in many other cities in South America, Africa, Europe, Canada and even the United States. I think, if people are informed enough on how it works, the population in Nunavik might warm up to it enough to give it a try.

The PB is a purely democratic system where citizens actually have tangible control over public budgets. There are four key elements in the PB process 1) diagnosis, citizens identify problems or issues that they feel need to be resolved. 2) Deliberation, they then discuss how these issues could be addressed 3) Decision making, decisions are made about how public monies will be spent, considering the two preceding steps and 4) follow up, the control mechanism, where the community ensures that there are tangible results from the PB.

When, in 1989 the city of Porto Alegre first implemented the participatory budget, the economic and social circumstances were very similar to the rest of the country. The large gap between rich and poor was maintained through superficial democratic institutions. The majority, that is… the poor, had very little access to health care, childcare, clean water and wastewater services among other things. Today, the residents of Porto Alegre boast some of the highest standards of living in Brazil and South America. I know people don’t like to hear this, but it’s true and must be acknowledged… Nunavik as a region has very, very similar characteristics to developing countries. There’s a large gap between higher and lower classes, education is not up to the same levels in the rest of Canada, low rates of literacy and lack of access to a lot of basic services. It’s true, ok. Let’s not hide from the issues here. And yes, there are some really great politicians who are making really great decisions, there’s a lot of innovation in the region. But then there are politicians who are not necessarily acting in the best interest of the people. This is also true and must also be acknowledged. Very few people in the region vote, which contributes significantly to the democratic deficit that we suffer from. This is at all levels, Federal, provincial, regional and organizational elections. This is especially true of young people. I think (and this is totally my own opinion here) that a lot of people continue to feel powerless when they vote. They continue to feel unheard, unheeded and unsupported.

A very small, elite group of people have access to the region’s money. That’s both public funds and personal salaries. I mean, that’s not to say the educational deficit is not a factor here, it certainly is. But that doesn’t make it fair. People have very little control or even say in how the local budget should be spent. I think the most control people have in most communities is the opportunity to call for the water truck if it doesn’t come. That’s not democracy.

The introduction of participatory budgeting in Nunavik has the potential to revitalize democracy. People could have ownership of the decisions made, because these decisions would no longer be made on behalf of them, but by them. Of course, it can become very overwhelming if people just come to the meetings with list, upon list of demands; different PB communities have handled this problem in a variety of ways, example, in one community in Brazil, citizens were all given surveys on what they think the priorities in the area are. In other places, people meet, discuss and negotiate together. In some places, it would be easier to identify immediate issues, for example, if a region does not have adequate access to clean water, water sanitation would unanimously be the top priority. No more waiting around for city officials stuck up in their offices to fix the problems.

For a Participatory Budget to really, really be effective, a lot of time and work needs to be put into it from all levels of civil and political society. There must be a time, or ‘season’ for budgetary meetings, involving everyone in the community (or, everyone who wishes to have a say in their local budget). So, at the beginning of each fiscal year, people meet periodically to diagnose, discuss, make decisions and ensure that it’s all being implemented. This could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Citizens need to form assemblies based on where in the city or community they reside in. For example, in Kuujjuaq, Downtown would have an assembly of citizens (everyone interested), Heli-Quebec would have an assembly, Nuvuk bay and so on. Then in turn, each of those assemblies would have a representative to the PB board of the city, or ‘The Council for Participatory Budget’.

There is the inevitability that people would not agree on how monies should be spent, but healthy debate is necessary in every society. Each person would have one vote, no one would be worth any more than the next, which is essentially democracy in its purest form.

There’s no such thing as perfection in any system where large groups of people involved. And Participatory Budget is not perfect, but it’s one of the most effective systems in public governance. Politicians need to have the will to sustain it, the people need absolutely to be present in meetings and debates. The first few years will be hard, there’s no doubt about it… but as long as there’s the political and social will to see it succeed, communities can get past that and the rest should be smooth and effective.

We live in an exceptional part of the world. Conventional solutions to issues that affect people across he globe –housing, healthcare, childcare, etc.- have not, and probably will not be effective in Nunavik.

Link for more information:





À cause de l'impossibilité de supporter les différentes polices de caractères en syllabiques, les commentaires doivent obligatoirement être rédigés en Anglais, en Français ou en Inuktitut romanisé. Nous sommes désolés de l'inconvénient.

Veuillez saisir le texte ci-dessous :