Canadian public policy requires a 21st-century upgrade

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Constantine PassarisThe first month of a new year was named January after the Roman god Janus, who was always depicted as having two faces: one looking backward and the other looking forward. This suggests the first month is a good time to take stock of the year just ended and to look to the future.

I believe 2020 is a good time to take stock of the Canadian public policy framework and, with the benefit of hindsight, embrace a 20-20 vision in charting a new course for the future.

The third decade of the 21st century will require a reorientation in the scope and substance of our public policy. This is a response to the profound structural changes in the recent past and the likelihood of a major economic recession in the near future.

Our focus on redefining the constructs and operational efficiency of public policy should always be good governance. Good governance is the contemporary gold standard for governments and their citizens. The definitive tool for achieving good governance is public policy. Good governance also requires an effective and efficient machinery that allows the implementation of government policy.

It has become abundantly clear that the public policy template that worked well for the 20th century is inadequate and ineffective for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. A new model for Canada’s public policy must embrace three dynamic and interactive elements: synthesis, transparency and accountability.

Canadian public policy must become adept, nimble, proactive and capable of multitasking. It should recognize the complementary relationship between the many arms of public policy, such as economic policy, social policy, environmental policy, cultural policy and demographic policy.

The formulation of public policies  in isolation is inappropriate. Developing separate economic, social, cultural and population growth policies is not effective. A new template for contemporary public policy must build bridges between these different areas, add an element of checks and balances, ensure they are complementary and create synergies.

The overarching objective should be to create an integrated, synthesized and complementary public policy ecosystem. A modern public policy ecosystem must be inclusive of economic, social, cultural, environmental and demographic goals. It requires a holistic approach that avoids not seeing the forest for the trees.

Contemporary civil society has raised the bar with respect to government transparency. Indeed, intense public scrutiny of government actions has become the new normal. Digital outreach and electronic connectivity has facilitated this process.

Canada must embrace the democratization of its public policy process. This requires engaging civil society as a partner in the development of public policy.

This means public policy can no longer be developed in secrecy. The formulation of public policy must emphasize public consultations, town halls and citizen forums. The 21st century also requires government to engage the cyber citizen through various electronic platforms.

For government, this may seem tedious, laborious and cumbersome. But if you believe as I do that a cacophony of ideas makes for better public policy, this is the right thing to do.

The third axiom for a new model of public policy speaks to desired outcomes and public accountability. Public policy must discard its traditional rhetorical and aspirational contents. It must acknowledge that policy is a journey with a starting point and an intended destination.

So public policy must embrace performance indicators, clearly designated mileposts, quantitative benchmarks, unambiguous targets and specific metrics. Only then can we evaluate the success or failure of a specific initiative and permit corrective action and fine-tuning to ensure the desired outcomes.

On the cusp of a new decade, a redesigned public policy model must embrace synthesis, transparency and accountability. This will empower Canada to confront the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities ahead.

At the end of the day, the litmus test of an effective public policy is its ability to initiate remedial action before a crisis develops and becomes insurmountable.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of economics at the University of New Brunswick.

Constantine is a Troy Media Thought Leader. Why aren’t you?

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Canadian public policy

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