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Reality Check

RC-35: Do Manitoba and Canada Have Public Consultation Standards?

Date Posted: May 18, 2012

Governments often say that they have "consulted the public, community groups, and stakeholders" when introducing new policies or legislation. But what defines consultations?

AccountAbility, a leading global organisation that provides information on standards for corporate responsibility and sustainable development, has developed AccountAbility Principles Standard (AA1000APS). The standard provides a basic three-principle approach (inclusivity, materiality, responsiveness) to respond to sustainability challenges. This basic three-part approach informs other AccountAbility standards, like the Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES), which provides a principles-based, open-source framework for quality stakeholder engagement and supports the AA1000APS Principle of Inclusivity.

Since 2000 the United Kingdom (U.K.) has had a "Code of Practice for Consultation" in place to "improve the transparency, responsiveness and accessibility of consultations, and help in reducing the burden of engaging in Government policy development." The most recent, third edition, of the U.K. Consultation Code was released in 2008. It outlines seven consultation criterions:

  1. When to consult - Formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome.
  2. Duration of consultation exercises - Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible.
  3. Clarity of scope and impact - Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed, the scope to influence and the expected costs and benefits of the proposals.
  4. Accessibility of consultation exercises - Consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach.
  5. The burden of consultation - Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees' buy-in to the process is to be obtained.
  6. Responsiveness of consultation exercises - Consultation responses should be analysed carefully and clear feedback should be provided to participants following the consultation.
  7. Capacity to consult - Officials running consultations should seek guidance in how to run an effective consultation exercise and share what they have learned from the experience.

The implementation of the U.K. Consultation Code has resulted in local Councils also adopting similar Consultation Standards, such as the Leicestershire County Council 7 Consultation Standards:

  1. Consult and involve people widely when planning, developing and delivering our services
  2. Join with partners to share good practice and avoid duplication
  3. Ensure that all relevant sections of the community are heard
  4. Ensure that consultation is accessible to people who take part
  5. Provide clear and concise information before consulting
  6. Record all our consultation accurately
  7. Give clear and simple feedback to people and show how the consultation has been used to inform our services and policies

The European Commission also adopted consultation standards in 2002. The European standards are built upon five principles:

  1. Clear content of the consultation process
  2. Consultation target groups
  3. Publication
  4. Time limits for participation
  5. Acknowledgement and feedback

Neither the Government of Manitoba, nor the Government of Canada, appears to have similar public consultation standards. The only Canadian example Manitoba Wildlands could find was the Consultation Principles for the City of Surrey in British Columbia.

The National Round Table on the Environment and Economy (NTREE), which the Canadian Government recently chose cease to fund, has also had Consensus Guiding Principles in place since 1993, which were updated again in 1996.

"Governments in Manitoba and Canada need to recognize that simply requesting comments on a online discussion paper is not meaningful consultation. As the principles above demonstrate, in order for consultation to be effective they need to be: transparent, interactive, and the feedback/results of the consultation need to be shared with the participants and public alike. Manitoba and Canada should follow the lead of other jurisdictions and implement defined public consultation guidelines," said Manitoba Wildlands Director Gaile Whelan Enns.

Note: The discussion of "consultation" was not meant to refer to Government consultations with Aboriginal Peoples and First Nations, although many of these principles are also applicable to consultations with First Nations. Governments in Canada have an inherent common law duty to consult with First Nations that stems from the unique relationship between North America's first peoples, who have rights as the first inhabitants of the land. This duty to consult has been affirmed by the Royal Proclamation Act, 1763, s. 35 of the Canadian Constitution, 1983, and numerous Supreme Court of Canada decisions.

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