WHO ARE THE OTHER STAKEHOLDERS?
When we talk with government about issues that affect our industry, we are sometimes reminded that, although our concerns are important, they need to balance the needs of other stakeholders. This comment seems to arise particularly often around issues concerning public recreation on crown land.
I think it is a perfectly reasonable concern, since our industry isn’t the only user of the public land base, but it got me wondering. Who are the other stakeholders, and how should government go about the task of considering their concerns?
“For other large and organized stakeholders like the mining and forestry industries, the answer is fairly simple. Governments can simply talk to the companies or industry associations involved. When it comes to some of the smaller and more diffuse users of crown land, it gets a bit more complicated.”
Local MNR offices often turn to rod and gun clubs in their area do address the concerns of recreational users. Angling and hunting are certainly very significant recreational activities in most northern communities, so this approach makes sense. But do these clubs always represent the full range of recreational concerns? In a number of communities, these clubs have a very strong focus on insuring absolutely unrestricted motorized vehicle use on all crown land. These users are frequently well organized and highly vocal. Do they represent the entire outdoor recreation community?
Most of us know individuals in our communities who enjoy remote, non-motorized recreational experiences. These range from back country canoeists and skiers to folks who simply prefer to hike to a favourite out of the way hunting or fishing spot. Besides recreation, there are other economic concerns. Tourism is important to most northern economies. Are municipal governments or economic development corporations part of the consultation process?
There are also important questions about whether a particular group or individual really represents stakeholders and their respective interests. NOTO approaches this issue in a clearly structured way, but I’m not at all sure that this is true for every other group.
In order for NOTO to consider itself a part of a consultation, the process has to start with an invitation through the NOTO office to participate. Simply inviting someone who happens to be a NOTO member, even a board member, does not constitute NOTO participation. Why not?
We believe that in order to be representative of a broader constituency, an organization needs to be accountable. In the case of NOTO, that means accountability of an elected board of directors. NOTO’s directors are democratically elected by the members, and our board structure insures fair geographic representation. This board sets the policies and direction for the organization and the staff implements these policies, and are monitored by the board on how they carry out these tasks. NOTO president Al Errington talks more about how NOTO insures accountability in his President’s Message. Some might argue that not everybody in the industry belongs to NOTO. Although this is true, everybody has the opportunity to join, if they choose to. We also communicate regularly with the entire industry, both members and non-members, and everyone is encouraged to bring their concerns to NOTO staff or board members. Is this perfect democracy? No, but neither is an election where half or less of the population votes.
Of course, there is nothing particularly unique about NOTO’s structure. Most established organizations run this way, from your local school board to the Federal Government. It is the fundamental structure of most democratically elected bodies.
Of course, none of this should be seen as suggesting that individuals can’t or shouldn’t get involved in issues. We should all take every opportunity that we can to voice our opinions on things that matter to us. It just needs to be clear when we are speaking for ourselves and when we are representing a larger group or constituency.
So the next time you observe an attempt at local consultation, take a look around at the participants and ask yourself how they got there and to whom they are accountable. We all have a huge stake in many local issues, and in the democratic process. Lets all do our part to make sure the system works the way it should.
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Fall 2006 Issue