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SPECIAL MEETING OF THE OAS WITH CIVIL SOCIETY , WASHINGTON SEPTEMBER 19,2000

Remarks of John W. Graham, representing, in a consultant capacity, the

Federation of Canadian Municipalities

SUMMARY

The Condition of Democracy in the Region Comments on the Theme Paper. The theme paper is upbeat on the achievements of democracy over the past decade. There is a basis for optimism, not least in the remarkable elections in Mexico in July and the priority that was assigned to democracy at the recent regional summit in Brazil. (It is too soon to know whether the events in Peru presage a plus or a minus development.) However, on the whole I think the paper may be a little too upbeat. There is a sense among many citizens of the region that democracy has not lived up to the bright expectations of the 80s and early 90s. The formula that was marketed at that time was : greater personal freedom and choice equals greater prosperity and that in turn equals an improved quality of life. The equation is not working as intended and the result in many areas is frustration and cynicism about the democratic formula.

Local Government

This brings me to local government. If the democratic process is not relevant and meaningful at the local level , it is unlikely that it will be relevant and meaningful at the national level. In other words, if democracy needs strengthening or the culture of democracy needs e-igniting - and this is to be one of the central messages of the next summit - then it will be critical to give priority to reinforcing that process at the local level.

The municipality is the basic intersection where administration, elected representatives, citizens and civil society meet. The Summit’s democracy basket is an appropriate location for this item.

The proposal that civil society should have a place on the summit agenda is linked to other issues as well as democracy itself. One purpose is to ensure that the summit focuses realistically on a fundamental problem which is the quality of life for the majority of the population in the hemisphere. There is a crisis about equity and quality of life, especially in large urban areas. The escalation of this crisis has clear and dangerous implications for human security, the environment, and the democratic process.

This concern and the multiple challenges faced by local government were principle themes of the Sixth Inter-American Conference of Mayors in Miami at the end of June. Some 500 mayors and elected representatives discussed, modified and then unanimously endorsed the Declaration of Local Governments in Support of the Summit of the Americas. In Canada the Declaration has been endorsed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This is a well crafted, carefully balanced statement that seeks collaboration between local and central governments - not confrontation. The Declaration would be a useful centre-piece for the item on local government at the Summit and one which would take the issue well beyond the general wording on local government that emerged from the Santiago Summit To be more effective, the careful language of the Declaration should be reinforced by an Action Plan that focuses on key sectors:

  • poverty reduction
  • improved coherence of the decentralization process, including a stronger focus by the donor community
  • professionalization of municipal management
  • disaster preparedness
  • Citizens participation, consensus building
  • relationships between local governments and other levels of government, inter-municipal - agreements
  • improved connectivity between existing networks on municipal experience

Linkages between the Summit and Civil Society

The existence of an active process of consultation between civil society and the summit process is acknowledged and applauded. The meeting in Washington at the OAS is positive recognition of the importance of this dynamic. But what happens at the summit itself? Will there be an opportunity for constructive chemistry between serious members of civil society and government delegations. Security dilemmas face the Canadian Government with difficult choices. One option now on the table is the exclusion of all civil society representatives from the Summit and their relegation to a parallel event which is likely to be noisy and confrontational. Can a workable alternative mechanism be found?

 


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