I had the privilege of waving the Guelph banner today at the Centre for Civic Governance conference in BC — http://www.civicgovernance.ca/events. Guelph is often asked to share its best practices, and we seem to be making a lot of news lately as one of the pioneers in Canada of participatory budgeting. Thursday morning this past week, Kelly Guthrie in our Community Services dept. shared Guelph’s legacy of participatory budgeting on CBC Radio’s “The Current” — http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2012/03/29/participatory-budget/. Kelly spoke about Guelph’s unique approach along with Cezar Bussato of Porto Alegre, Brazil, where participatory budgeting was born in 1989. Guelph representatives are also presenting at the International Participatory Budgeting Conference in NYC City this weekend.
As with most conferences and professional development opportunities I attend, I always seem to take away more than I bring. The theme of this conference was “The Future is Local” and featured great examples of how municipalities are shaping the new economy and transforming democracy. Towns and cities are the incubators of innovation, developing the leaders of tomorrow and taking bold steps in changing how government works. Civic engagement is the future of democracy. Local decisions matter. The feds and province are lagging behind, and cities are not waiting for their leadership to start taking action on global issues.
Joel Baskan, keynote speaker and author of “The Corporation” encouraged local elected councils to cross jurisdictional boundaries. Stand up against CETA, demand electoral reform, pass Council resolutions on environmental protection — sure, they are not in our sphere of jurisdiction, but as the local voice of the people we represent, we still have a vital role to play in a functional democracy. Besides, the provinces and feds cross our jurisdictional boundaries all the time. They hold all the cards on the quarrying licence that puts our drinking water at risk at the former DoLime site. The OMB rules on local planning matters, even though zoning is a municipal authority. And cities collect taxes for provincially regulated services with no voice in policy or decision making at the council level.
It’s so important to step outside the boundaries of Guelph. We have so much to share and so much to learn. Sharing the participatory budgeting story from Guelph will have spin-offs — our model is being eyed for neighbourhood groups in Victoria and hopefully others. And I return with new ideas and energy that comes with stepping outside the Guelph bubble. We still have much to do.