There is a general change occurring in politics and governance. Elites no longer control mass communications technology. There are higher expectations of government. There is public pressure for political, social and economic reforms. Across Canada, governments have initiated conversations about democratic reform. While there have been some successes, many have ended in failure, having been too narrowly focused on changing the electoral system.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s political system has experienced profound turmoil in recent years. Democratic reform was promised by a new government elected in 2015. However in cash-strapped circumstances, and with limited expertise, the government needs to leverage support from the Memorial University community and beyond.
The Democracy Cookbook: Recipes to Renew Governance in Newfoundland and Labrador is an innovative multi-disciplinary citizen engagement project. The 392 page book is a peer-reviewed collection of short and snappy, non-partisan opinion pieces authored by a cross-section of 89 academics, students, journalists, opinion leaders, and other citizens. It also features some politically-themed poetry and food recipes by creative writers, restaurateurs and former politicians. A unique form of grassroots mobilization, the book brings together a wide variety of voices to speak to the matter of “fixing” democratic governance in Newfoundland and Labrador after a period of acute political turmoil.
The 11 sections of the book organize an overview of politics and governance in Newfoundland and Labrador (Part 1); the importance of local politics (Part 2); examinations of political leadership (Part 3); discussion about communication and media (Part 4); civic engagement (Part 5); inclusion and diversity (Part 6); the legislative branch (Part 7); government scrutiny and accountability (Part 8); public finances (Part 9); topical issues, such as Muskrat Falls (Part 10); and recommendations for a reform process (Part 11). This is followed by 11 politically themed food recipes. The sections are interspersed with archival photos of Newfoundland and Labrador procured from the provincial archives. The photos were exhibited in the lobby of the Confederation Building from September to November 2017.
The project was supported by a grant from the Office of Public Engagement at Memorial University. Project partners included The Telegram, ISER Books, Apathy is Boring and the Harris Centre. The Telegram ran authors’ analyses daily for weeks and prominently featured the book on its website. The Democracy Cookbook is ISER Books’ first Open Access publication.
The book is designed to support the efforts of the province’s All-Party Committee on Democratic Reform. It can be a useful model for jurisdictions across Canada and for small polities worldwide seeking to engage the public in debate about how democratic structures and processes should evolve. It promises to stir up conversations around cabinet tables and kitchen tables alike.
The Democracy Cookbook is edited by Alex Marland (Department of Political Science) and Lisa Moore (Department of English). A print copy is available for just $25 and for free electronically through ISER Books. See https://www.arts.mun.ca/iserbooks