A decade ago, Ontario and Quebec and eight states were negotiating what became the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement. The negotiations involved many participants with special interests, a vast geographical area and greatly different legal systems. Ontario’s position was that Aboriginal people should be consulted on the issues. The Americans would have none of it, so Ontario struck out on its own.
In 2004 the province issued a report on its negotiations. Penned by Billy Garton and Sandra Carter, the document is titled “First Nations Consultation: Higher, Wider, Deeper and Sooner.” Later that year, Ontario became a signatory to the final agreement.
The story signifies the growing significance of public consultation in Canada. Also of importance, the report outlines a list of rules for consultation which, though written for government-to-Aboriginal consultation, are applicable much more widely. For the benefit of the private sector rather than government, following is a highly edited adaptation of the ten Higher, Wider, Deeper and Sooner rules for public engagement.
· Involve the public early, carefully considering what adequate engagement would look like. Ensure that sectors with a stake in the issue are fairly represented – especially those who are most critical.
· Don’t go into consultation with pre-conceived ideas. Reach consensus through shared decision-making and balancing interests.
· Demonstrate that your company’s leadership supports public consultation. Keep senior managers involved. Provide staff with the resources they need to do the job.
· Develop clear ground rules. Provide good information and regular updates. Create an atmosphere of respect for those involved in the discussions. Ensure that consultations are open and transparent. Follow through on the advice you are given or provide reasons why you didn’t. Report back on progress.