Re­lated story,

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE -

The idea for this project orig­i­nated at a public dis­cus­sion about po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in New­found­land and Labrador.

The Les­lie Harris Cen­tre of Re­gional Pol­icy and De­vel­op­ment held a “Me­mo­rial Presents” ses­sion in June 2016 at Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity of New­found­land (MUN). The gath­er­ing was pred­i­cated on more than the prov­ince’s omi­nous fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, a con­se­quence of short-term think­ing, poor fi­nan­cial plan­ning, and lower rev­enues than pro­jected from off­shore oil roy­al­ties. In ad­di­tion to an un­wieldy deficit and bal­loon­ing public debt, there was a re­volv­ing door in the premier’s of­fice. There was con­sid­er­able civil un­rest even af­ter the elec­tion of a new gov­ern­ment.

The au­di­ence was ea­ger to blame politi­cians for the prov­ince’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity. The idea that the public bears any re­spon­si­bil­ity was anath­ema to their views. Com­ments that crit­i­cized politi­cians were cheered on; any­one run­ning up against that mood risked be­ing the tar­get of an an­gry mob.

It was ob­vi­ous that to get past blam­ing others, some­one would need to do some­thing. Aca­demics are granted ten­ure and hold dear the prin­ci­ple of aca­demic free­dom pre­cisely so that they can safely chal­lenge con­ven­tional wis­dom.

Un­for­tu­nately, few of them study lo­cal gov­er­nance, and in re­cent years Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity has not even of­fered New­found­land and Labrador pol­i­tics cour­ses.

This is con­sis­tent with a so-called “com­par­a­tive turn” whereby grow­ing num­bers of schol­ars and stu­dents are drawn to study­ing global phe­nom­ena.

As a public in­sti­tu­tion in a cash-strapped prov­ince, MUN could and should play a lead­er­ship role in help­ing to re­solve the lo­cal po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, pro­vided that thinkers and writ­ers could be en­cour­aged to do so.

Our ini­tial vi­sion was loosely mod­elled on the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia Press ope­nac­cess com­pi­la­tion Cana­dian Elec­tion Anal­y­sis 2015: Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Strat­egy and Democ­racy. That project pub­lished short, snappy pieces from over 60 po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists and jour­nal­ists from across Canada.

We de­cided that a sim­i­lar num­ber of con­trib­u­tors could be mo­bi­lized to write about ways to im­prove demo­cratic gov­er­nance in New­found­land and Labrador.

This would pro­vide a strong sup­port re­source and an en­er­getic foray into ex­plor­ing new ideas that might aid in the work of the prov­ince’s All-party Com­mit­tee on Demo­cratic Re­form.

It would be­come a ref­er­ence tool for lo­cal jour­nal­ists and a re­minder of the range of is­sues and sub­ject mat­ter con­fronting po­lit­i­cal thinkers and the public. The com­pi­la­tion would gen­er­ate aware­ness among con­trib­u­tors and others about the op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges as­so­ci­ated with demo­cratic re­form. It could be freely used in class­room set­tings and spur public con­ver­sa­tion. Fi­nally, it would con­nect the aca­demic com­mu­nity with broader so­ci­ety on a mat­ter of public con­cern.

A demo­cratic project should con­vey di­ver­sity of au­thor­ship in terms of both de­mo­graph­ics and po­lit­i­cal world views. Jac­ques Parizeau, Que­bec’s premier dur­ing the 1995 ref­er­en­dum on sovereignty-as­so­ci­a­tion, once said that prov­ince’s Quiet Revo­lu­tion in the 1960s “con­sisted of three or four min­is­ters, twenty civil ser­vants and con­sul­tants, and fifty chan­son­niers.” The im­pli­ca­tion was that po­lit­i­cal elites were not re­spon­si­ble for po­lit­i­cal change: it was the broader pop­u­lace, led by mu­si­cians who in­spired the public through song.

In New­found­land and Labrador, the artis­tic and cul­tural com­mu­nity is strong and vi­brant, but gen­er­ally speak­ing this com­mu­nity is dis­con­nected from the pol­icy wonks in­volved with gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion. A demo­cratic project would need to act as a bridge between these two soli­tudes.

Af­ter meet­ing each other for the first time in June 2016, we agreed to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion for a Public En­gage­ment Ac­cel­er­a­tor Fund grant through the MUN Of­fice of Public En­gage­ment. Part of our ap­pli­ca­tion stated: “Bring­ing to­gether a wide va­ri­ety of voices will con­sti­tute grass­roots mo­bi­liza­tion on the mat­ter of ‘fix­ing’ demo­cratic gov­er­nance in New­found­land and Labrador af­ter a pe­riod of acute po­lit­i­cal tur­moil. … This is timely as it has the po­ten­tial to in­form a so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment that is pre­oc­cu­pied with other pri­or­i­ties in a pe­riod of fis­cal re­straint, and will con­sti­tute in­for­ma­tion for the All-party Com­mit­tee on Demo­cratic Re­form promised by the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

We re­cruited a num­ber of ex­ter­nal part­ners and col­lab­o­ra­tors: Apa­thy is Bor­ing, a Mon­treal-based na­tional ad­vo­cacy group that urges cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion in demo­cratic gov­er­nance; The Tele­gram, the St. John’s-based news­pa­per; the Harris Cen­tre; and the In­sti­tute of So­cial and Eco­nomic Re­search (ISER Books).

How We Re­cruited Au­thors We fol­lowed a two-step ap­proach to re­cruit­ing au­thors. We be­gan with aca­demics, fol­lowed by mem­bers of the com­mu­nity at large. Po­ten­tial con­trib­u­tors were pro­vided with a back­ground doc­u­ment to out­line the na­ture of the project, es­tab­lish con­tri­bu­tion pa­ram­e­ters, and iden­tify some ex­am­ples of top­ics that they might write about.

Some mem­bers of Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity’s de­part­ment of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­vided opin­ions on a draft list of sug­gested top­ics.

We de­cided early on that we would strive for gen­der equal­ity among au­thors. We also sought to in­clude peo­ple of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties (par­tic­u­larly Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple), ages and ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion.

More­over, di­ver­sity of sub­ject mat­ter, po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy, and opin­ion were im­por­tant ed­i­to­rial val­ues. We would avoid re­cruit­ing con­tri­bu­tions from of­fice-hold­ers, public ser­vants and others whose in­volve­ment might in­hibit ob­jec­tiv­ity. This in­vokes a trade-off of sac­ri­fic­ing im­por­tant in­sider per­spec­tives.

We are thrilled with the broad par­tic­i­pa­tion of so many schol­ars from di­verse dis­ci­plines and in­sti­tu­tions. Even so, we hoped for stronger up­take. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the rea­sons for de­clin­ing cen­tred on schol­ars pri­or­i­tiz­ing other com­mit­ments and lack­ing suf­fi­cient fa­mil­iar­ity with the pol­i­tics and gov­er­nance of New­found­land and Labrador.

Re­cruit­ment of com­mu­nity con­trib­u­tors was more chal­leng­ing be­cause, un­like aca­demics, most pri­vate cit­i­zens do not have a public web­page with read­ily avail­able con­tact in­for­ma­tion. We sought sug­ges­tions and re­fer­rals from var­i­ous project con­trib­u­tors and from some of those who oth­er­wise de­clined to par­tic­i­pate.

How We Re­viewed Sub­mis­sions

Our ed­i­to­rial ap­proach was to en­sure that sub­mis­sions were of a rea­son­ably high stan­dard and gen­er­ally fol­lowed our con­trib­u­tor guide­lines. Draft sub­mis­sions were re­viewed in­de­pen­dently by each of us. Our com­ments were merged into a feed­back file that in­cluded a check­list of com­mon pa­ram­e­ters, such as word count lim­its. Some­times al­ter­nate sources were sug­gested for the au­thor to con­sult, as we did not want an ed­i­tor’s own pub­li­ca­tions to be un­duly em­pha­sized.

Au­thors then re­sub­mit­ted their work. All re­sub­mis­sions from aca­demics were ul­ti­mately ac­cepted for in­clu­sion in the draft man­u­script. One aca­demic did not re­sub­mit and thus that work is not in­cluded.

Com­mu­nity con­trib­u­tors needed a bit more guid­ance given that we were fol­low­ing aca­demic con­ven­tions in or­der to ready the work for ex­ter­nal peer re­view.

One con­trib­u­tor re­marked that the feed­back was com­mu­ni­cated in a man­ner that “very much em­bod­ied that bal­ance between rigour and sup­port.”

A com­mon frus­tra­tion for some mem­bers of the com­mu­nity was cit­ing ob­scure in­for­ma­tion. As one put it when re­sub­mit­ting, “I’ve been out of uni­ver­sity for a long time, so I’m not sure if I got the ci­ta­tion for­mat ex­actly right.”

Sub­mis­sions from eight com­mu­nity con­trib­u­tors were re­jected be­cause the work was deemed to be un­suit­able for this project or else the au­thor was un­will­ing to act on our sug­gested changes. In some cases there was a dis­tinct sim­i­lar­ity of sub­ject mat­ter, which ren­dered a few well-writ­ten pieces nev­er­the­less re­dun­dant.

The draft man­u­script was sent out by ISER Books for ex­ter­nal re­view to two anony­mous aca­demics lo­cated else­where in Canada. They pro­vided de­tailed feed­back on the work as a whole and com­ments on in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions.

All au­thors were given the op­por­tu­nity to re­vise their work and, if ap­pli­ca­ble, to make changes in re­sponse to the ex­ter­nal re­view­ers’ sug­ges­tions. The re­vised man­u­script is con­sid­er­ably stronger as a re­sult.

The peer re­view process meant that the time from sub­mis­sion to pub­li­ca­tion was much longer than with the Cana­dian Elec­tion Anal­y­sis 2015 project. In any event, po­lit­i­cal life in the prov­ince was pre­oc­cu­pied with an omi­nous bud­getary sit­u­a­tion. Few peo­ple were pub­licly dis­cussing demo­cratic re­form. One ex­cep­tion was chang­ing the rules sur­round­ing po­lit­i­cal fi­nanc­ing, a mat­ter that the gov­ern­ment House leader said would get un­der­way in 2018.

As we were ready­ing the man­u­script for pub­li­ca­tion, a staff mem­ber at MUN saw the book’s cover, and won­dered what kind of food recipes it con­tained. We de­cided to re­cruit some recipes for meals and desserts with a New­found­land and Labrador po­lit­i­cal theme. We con­tacted a num­ber of for­mer pre­miers, min­is­ters and MHAS by draw­ing on our own net­works, sug­ges­tions from con­trib­u­tors and by per­form­ing an on­line search.

We then con­tacted a va­ri­ety of restau­rants around the prov­ince drawn from a tourism con­tact list. Re­cruit­ment chal­lenges per­sisted, par­tic­u­larly among those af­fil­i­ated with po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

As with any edited col­lec­tion, the con­tent of this book is some­what dif­fer­ent from what we imag­ined. Some ideas and ap­proaches pleas­antly sur­prised us.

Con­versely, many of our ini­tial ques­tions sur­round­ing ways to im­prove gov­er­nance in New­found­land and Labrador went un­ad­dressed and war­rant at­ten­tion in another fo­rum.

Some au­thors were cap­ti­vated by top­i­cal is­sues, such as the Muskrat Falls hy­dro­elec­tric project on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador, which will gen­er­ate re­new­able en­ergy but is bil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get and has been the source of heated protests.

Much should also be read into what is not pre­sented in these pages. No­body we con­tacted was will­ing to put their name to an in­dict­ment of a so­ci­ety that his­tor­i­cally pushes for public fund­ing and protests gov­ern­ment cut­backs, for ex­am­ple.

We lack a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for some voices that are un­der­rep­re­sented in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, such as re­cent im­mi­grants.

What we com­piled is in­dica­tive of a di­ver­sity of opin­ion, but also of the lim­ited num­ber of public com­men­ta­tors who are in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the in­ner work­ings of gov­er­nance, who have train­ing in the study of public ad­min­is­tra­tion, or who are will­ing to push the bound­aries of what can be pub­licly ex­pressed in a small place.

Con­versely, new per­spec­tives and ideas are raised that rep­re­sent a mean­ing­ful ad­di­tion to the con­ver­sa­tion. All told, as ed­i­tors we share the opin­ion ex­pressed by one con­trib­u­tor and echoed by many others: that no mat­ter its strengths and short­com­ings, this rep­re­sents a “very worth­while project.”



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