The Policy Wiki: An end and a beginning

With the tabling of the federal budget this afternoon (which we are live-blogging), the Globe’s first experiment in merging public-policy debate and social-media tools — the Public Policy Wiki, a joint venture with the Dominion Institute — comes to a kind of conclusion, but the discussion that we helped start about the economy will continue as long as Canadians have ideas they wish to share.

We’ve collected the data on the two policy proposals that our contributors and readers supported the most, and we’ve sent that information to the Finance Minister as we promised. But while the budget process is now complete, the economic portion of the Policy Wiki will remain available for contributions, even as we begin a new chapter aimed at discussing Canada’s policy towards Afghanistan.

During the two weeks it has been open, the Policy Wiki has attracted more than 850 registered users and almost 100,000 pageviews, and contributors have created and discussed almost 30 briefing-note style policy proposals, ranging from a proposal for fractional ownership of farmland by the unemployed to a system of regional recycling mills.

The policy proposal that got the most support — as measured by a combination of pageviews, comments and votes — was the idea of a 100-per-cent GST rebate for non-profit institutions such as charities, hospitals and universities. The next-most popular briefing note was a proposal to create a Green Infrastructure Fund, which would see Ottawa spend six billion dollars for upgrades to the power grid, energy-efficient building renovation, switching to renewable energy sources, and improvements to public transit and the highway infrastructure to reduce pollution.

Interestingly enough, while it didn’t get the most votes or comments, the most-viewed page at the Wiki (other than the home page and the resources page) was the Flat Tax briefing note. And in terms of the policy proposals that came after the GST Rebate and Green Fund in popularity, some of the top submissions were the Fibre to the Home note, the EI proposal, and one that recommended the GST be increased to create a stimulus spending fund.

As far as polls go, the analysis by Don Drummond got the most overall votes (with 79 per cent in agreement), followed by the analysis by Jim Stanford (with 60 per cent in agreement). Of those who voted on the GST Rebate proposal, 95 per cent agreed, and of those who voted on the Green Fund note, 83 per cent were in support.

There was one late entry in the process that is worth of note: A policy proposal created on the very last day before the budget, proposing a Child Nutrition effort by the government, sparked a flurry of memberships (over 150 in just a few hours) and voting that pushed the note to the number one spot in terms of votes. This was a valiant effort, and those who worked to get that kind of support out so quickly are to be congratulated.

After discussions with our partners at the Dominion Institute, however, we decided that a campaign like that, however worthwhile it might be, shouldn’t take precedence over policy proposals that had been read and voted on over the life of the wiki, and so we chose the GST Rebate and the Green Fund as the “winners” of this round. This is only a snapshot in time however, and we hope that the debate continues on some of our proposals.

Our next policy issue is Afghanistan: What should Canada’s approach to that country be, both in terms of our military and our humanitarian efforts? Should we pull our troops out at the earliest opportunity or expand them? Should we ramp up the social spending and charitable efforts we have proposed so far? We’ve got some expert input already that we will be launching with after the budget is over, including a proposal and analysis of the situation from retired Major-General Lewis Mackenzie, a veteran of nine peacekeeping missions in six different conflict areas over the course of his Canadian military service. Please come and participate in the discussion.

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