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Deliberative democracy in Canadian watershed governance

Margot Hurlbert
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada; margot.hurlbert@uregina.ca

Evan Andrews
School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada; e3andrew@uwaterloo.ca

ABSTRACT: Bottom-up watershed governance that features citizen engagement in decision-making is touted as a panacea for better social and environmental outcomes. However, there is limited agreement on how exactly this engagement occurs, and how it can be assessed. Water decision-making may result in better social outcomes when decision-making is deliberative and democratic. This article brings together a cross-disciplinary framework to assess deliberative democratic practices in local water councils (LWCs) in the Prairie Provinces, Canada. We apply this framework to assess and compare LWCS, using data from a review of secondary sources and semi-structured qualitative interviews with members of LWCs. Our framework was useful for identifying strengths and shortcomings of deliberative democracy within and across LWCs. The strengths of the Manitoba model are its significant mandate and stable tax funding. Alberta’s strengths are in the areas of community representation and significant contested deliberation. Saskatchewan’s strengths are its interconnectedness with other organisations, sectors, and governments. While LWCs have made important contributions to local watershed governance, a consideration and comparison of deliberative democratic practices offers options for policy change strengthening the deliberative democratic practices of LWCs.

KEYWORDS: Deliberative democracy, watershed, water governance, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Canada