Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Regulating Genetically Modified Crops and Foods in Canada and the United Kingdom: Democratizing Risk Regulation

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Regulating Genetically Modified Crops and Foods in Canada and the United Kingdom: Democratizing Risk Regulation

Article excerpt

Sommaire : Cet article examine les differentes utilisations de modeles de democratie representative, fonctionnelle et axee sur les citoyens dans la formulation de politiques destinees a reglementer les risques associes aux cultures et aliments genetiquement modifies au Royaume-Uni et au Canada. Il demontre que les democraties representatives, fonctionnelles et participatives ont toutes joue un role au RoyaumeUni; la democratie fonctionnelle a doming au Canada, tandis que la democratie representative y a joue un role secondaire. Ces differences transnationales proviennent du plus grand imperatif de legitimite de la reglementation au R.-U., et de la preoccupation canadienne de l'efficacite de la reglementation. Le resultat est un cadre de reglementation plus transparent au R.-U. qui represente un plus vaste eventail de valeurs et de preoccupations publiques qu'au Canada.

In search of effective and legitimate public policies, governments frequently turn to models of democracy that are alternatives to representative democracy. In place of its principle that the elected representatives of the people, not the people themselves, make binding decisions, these alternate models bring citizens directly into policy formulation and implementation. One such model is functional democracy, a term which captures the inclusion in policy-making processes of representatives of a constituency that performs economic or social functions linked closely to the policy issue or domain. (1) Agricultural groups, for example, are drawn into the design and implementation of agriculture and food policies on the grounds that the experiential knowledge and cooperation of these groups will increase the likely success of agricultural and food policies. Functional democracy also operates when non-state actors are brought into decision-making by virtue of their professional expertise, for example, on the risks of potentially dangerous technologies or substances. Another alternative to representative democracy is citizen-centred participatory democracy. (2) Here, governments extend their consultative or legislative efforts beyond the social groups prominent in functional democracy to engage a broader segment of the public, for example, via advisory committees or citizen juries. Mechanisms of direct democracy, like referenda, are a particular version of participatory democracy whereby all citizens have the collective opportunity to determine the fate of individual policy initiatives. As with functional democracy, governments adopt mechanisms of participatory democracy to improve policy-making, most notably to strengthen its legitimacy or social acceptability.

Support for functional and participatory models of democracy is linked to the recognition that representative democracies have some important limitations in terms of conforming to democratic norms of representation, public deliberation and transparency. Governments selected on the basis of territorial representation are unlikely to be able to represent the public in all its multiple identities and interests. This limitation is likely to be particularly acute in parliamentary democracies like Canada and the United Kingdom, where representatives are chosen by "first-past-the-post" electoral systems. Further, most representatives are amateurs who lack the specialized knowledge and expertise that is normally needed to influence policy debates. The opportunity for and likelihood of public deliberation--the public exchange of ideas, information, and reason-giving across individuals--are also weak in many representative democracies. Legislative chambers in parliamentary democracies are typically adversarial forums, dominated by loyalty to party positions. Even in the proceedings of parliamentary committees, where members of the public have the opportunity to appear and be heard, partisan politics is likely to trump outcomes, no matter how compelling counter-arguments. And finally, transparency, necessary for knowledge of which decisions are taken and why, can be weak in representative democracies such as the Westminster systems, that concentrate decision-making authority in executives. …

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