Democratic Illusion: Deliberative Democracy in Canadian Public Policy

Democratic Illusion: Deliberative Democracy in Canadian Public Policy

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By Genevieve Fuji Johnson
Studies in Comparative Political Economy and Public Policy
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2015
World Rights
200 Pages
ISBN 9781442611245
Published Apr 2015
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ISBN 9781442642270
Published Apr 2015
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The theory of deliberative democracy promotes the creation of systems of governance in which citizens actively exchange ideas, engage in debate, and create laws that are responsive to their interests and aspirations. While deliberative processes are being adopted in an increasing number of cases, decision-making power remains mostly in the hands of traditional elites.

In Democratic Illusion, Genevieve Fuji Johnson examines four representative examples: participatory budgeting in the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Deliberative Polling by Nova Scotia Power Incorporated, a national consultation process by the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and public consultations embedded in the development of official languages policies in Nunavut. In each case, measures that appeared to empower the public failed to challenge the status quo approach to either formulating or implementing policy.

Illuminating a critical gap between deliberative democratic theory and its applications, this timely and important study shows what needs to be done to ensure deliberative processes offer more than the illusion of democracy.

Genevieve Fuji Johnson is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.

1. The Hope for and Illusion of Deliberative Democracy

2. Participatory Budgeting and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation

3. Deliberative Polling and Nova Scotia Power Incorporated

4. National Consultations and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization

5. Embedded Policy Consultations and Nunavut’s Official Languages

6. Contextual Complexity and the Importance of Deliberative Democracy

Epilogue. Interpretive Case-Study Research, Its Challenges and Rewards

“Genevieve Fuji Johnson’s book stands out in a crowded field. Based on detailed empirical research in real-world political settings, this compact, succinct book catalogues the many challenges of organizing deliberative arrangements. It argues that, if we want to bring out the promise of democracy, we must be much more demanding in designing collaborative policymaking. The book is a must read for years to come for both political theorists and policy analysts.”

Hendrik Wagenaar, Professor of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield

“Deliberative scholarship is often blinkered by deliberative democratic norms. Genevieve Fuji Johnson takes the blinkers off in this rich and rewarding exploration of deliberative policymaking in Canada.  She shows how deliberative success depends on context that is rarely studied, taking a more systemic view. This should be required reading for those wary of the ‘hope bias,’ but hopeful nonetheless.”

John Parkinson, Professor of Politics, Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University

“Genevieve Fuji Johnson steps around the smouldering philosophical debates on deliberative democracy to examine best-case scenarios of actual implementation in government. Looking into four cases that meet a basic procedural definition of deliberation shows us how an inclusive, rigorous, and empowered process can still end up bolstering pre-existing power relations and serving elite interests. Johnson uses in-depth case analysis to show what underlies such subversions of democratic impulses, and in doing so, she helps deliberative critics and proponents pinpoint the key contextual factors too often ignored.”

John Gastil, Director, McCourtney Institute for Democracy, Pennsylvania State University

Democratic Illusion raises all sorts of important and interesting questions about how we understand the democratic potential of deliberation and the ways in which this potential can be derailed. Juxtaposing close-in evaluations of the deliberations with a wider focus on their context offers the reader an excellent view of the complexities involved in each case.”

Simone Chambers, Professor of Political Science, and Director, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

Weller Prize awarded by the British Columbia Political Studies Association (Canada) - Winner in 2016