This blog post by Grahame Rivers details the various steps the Ontario government has taken over the past four years in the realm of participatory budgeting. From hesitant first steps to a pretty detailed method, they have come a long way and learnt from their experiences.
Participatory budgeting is a process where citizens/ residents are involved/ asked for inputs in the budgeting process. Where this is a typically opaque process that is mostly limited to bureaucrats and elected representatives, participatory budgeting allows for new/ different initiatives to be funded. Also, the bureaucrats and politicians get a clear sense of what is popular and what is not and can help guide budgetary allocations.
The participation in Participatory budgeting can of course vary significantly. A jurisdiction simply asking citizens/ residents/ voters whether more money should be spent on buying new buses for the public transit system allows for limited participation. A jurisdiction where citizens/ residents/ voters are asked how they would like to spend a particular amount of budgetary allocation can be said to participate much more freely and thoroughly. Of course, this also varies depending on when the consultations are held (day-time or after 6pm when most people return from work), where they are held (close to low-income areas and easily accessible, or in difficult to reach places), among other considerations.
I can’t help but make the observation that this gives a twist to the idea of ‘out of touch’ politicians. After all, if politicians are in touch with what citizens/ residents/ voters want, then they should be able to include their demands in the budget already. If not, then politicians are out of touch. One must also note that at the provincial level, undertaking this exercise takes away from the legitimacy of the legislature. After all, the 100+ elected Ontario MPPs are sent to deliberate and decide. For a government to ignore the inputs of the opposition MPPs and listening to citizens/ residents/ voters makes for a strange situation. If participatory budgeting is how budgets are to be deliberated upon, why even let the politicians have a hand in it? The citizens/ residents/ voters can decide among themselves!
There was this effort in Toronto, but I am not sure what they are up to now.
This piece provides details on participatory budgeting and the author’s take on how the process unfolds in the City of Mississauga.
Alexandra Flynn provides a good write-up on participatory budgeting here.