Privatization of the Political Domain

– Anna Di Carlo –

In Canada, the destruction of the liberal democratic institutions by the ruling elites themselves is a result of the politicization of private interests. This refers to the direct takeover of functions of government and the state by narrow private interests, and the role of cartel party governments to pay them to carry out functions formerly performed by legislatures, civil servants and state agencies.

Legislatures have literally been emasculated while governments now rule by wielding prerogative powers beyond the reach of the legislatures themselves, to say nothing about depriving the people of any role whatsoever in setting the direction of the economy or matters related to war and peace.

The privatization of the political domain is one of the distinguishing features of the neo-liberal anti-social offensive which initially took up the restructuring of the state to pay the rich as one of its main aims. It was hoped this restructuring would save the rulers and their liberal democracy from crises, but these have only intensified. The political process for electing legislatures and the legislatures themselves no longer play a role in sorting out conflicts among the oligarchs while maintaining the illusion of democracy and constitutional order and forms of government among the people.

Today, concentration of power in the executive, rule by decree and consolidation of governments of police powers with their broad impunity lead to a situation in which people have no confidence in governing institutions. It is common to hear people say that they do not consider them legitimate, while conflicts among the oligarchs have heightened civil war conditions.

Civil war conditions are most obvious within the United States but their spillover into Canada is also evident in the form of things like the Freedom Convoy, police impunity and violence, use of mercenaries at home and abroad as well as conflicts between different levels of authority. The federal government runs roughshod over provincial levels of authority while, within the military and police forces and even at the level of the Privy Council and diplomatic service and other agencies of the state, rogue elements whether deemed good or bad increasingly assert themselves.

The privatization of the political domain, with its attacks on the public, has further contributed to the destruction of governing institutions and increased demands for change that favours the people. The privatization includes how and where decisions are made, the interests served through increasingly opaque and scandal-ridden processes, and the fraud involved as concerns the methods used to claim that these decisions are legitimate because they are allegedly made with the consent of the people.

Public forums that previously provided the people with a limited space where their views could be officially and publicly heard are things of the past. Also in a destructed state is the purported role of elected members to represent the people and legitimate decision-making and the laws of the country.

In an effort to give the appearance of democracy, various national and international organizations have organized mechanisms for "public consultation." Organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have developed frameworks for creating forms of "public" consultation suited to the implementation of the neo-liberal agenda. This necessarily involves the further destruction of existing institutions and additional efforts to disinform public opinion.

In 2020, the OECD issued a report entitled Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave. It attempts to address people's anger and growing consciousness about the dysfunction of governing institutions and demands for a say. It uses "innovative ways to effectively engage with stakeholders to source ideas and co-create solutions and seize the opportunities provided by digital government tools." It focuses on "new research in the area of deliberative, collaborative, and participatory decision-making that are evolving across the globe." It is an attempt to disarm and divert organized efforts by the people to renew the democracy and democratic processes in a manner that serves the peoples' interests.

In Canada, forums such as royal commissions and parliamentary public hearings have ceased to exist because they were not giving the rulers the conclusions they wanted. Some individual members of parliament held "town halls" but the cartel parties had no interest in hearing what the people had to say. This has all now been supplanted by outsourced online surveys and phony "consultations" where people are selected at random or marketing firms pose questions and then rank the people's preferences while all expressed views disappear into the ether.

Public participation has been replaced by privately convoked "citizens assemblies" whose deliberations are barely, if at all, publicly visible. A very select section of mostly accommodated individuals are involved in these affairs, which are guided by a framework set by the executive power and its courtiers with the outcome predetermined and informed by the values, directives and concerns of powerful national and international private economic interests. And even within these contrived settings, including those with "advisory" councils' paid experts, not only is dissent obvious but so too is the demand to end the violation of democratic rights.

The privatization of the political domain has given rise to an international industry replete with trademarks such as "21st Century Town Meeting®," "Fast Forum Opinionnaires®," and "Deliberative Polling®."

There is a formal networking body called the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2). Established in 1990, IAP2 claimed its purpose was to "respond to the rising global interest in public participation." It boasts a membership spanning 26 countries and more than 12,500 members (government, "public" sector, non-profits and industry), having grown from 300 at its inception.

For the industry, it offers a "Certificate Training Course in Public Participation" where it promises to provide "the tools and skills needed for effective participation." In 2009, it offered special training on "Emotion, Outrage in Public Participation."

IAP2 has its own publication -- the Journal of Deliberative Democracy. Its most recent issue featured titles such as "Just Advisory," "Maximally Representative: A Conjoint Experiment on Non-Participants' Legitimacy Perceptions of Deliberative Forums," and "Looking in from the Outside: How Do Invited But Not Selected Citizens Perceive the Legitimacy of a Minipublic?" Another article provides a "theoretical model" of "How Digital Platforms for Public Consultation Can Leverage Deliberation to Boost Democratic Legitimacy."

Describing the Public as a "Resource"

A typical Canadian company is Toronto-based MASS LBP, whose website motto is a quote from Thomas Paine: "There is a mass of sense lying in a dormant state that good government should quietly harness." It describes "the public" as a "resource." It states that "we believe in people," and this is "why we are working to see that more people have a hand in shaping the policies that shape their lives." This company is listed as an approved ongoing service provider for the federal government.

Founded in 2007, it says that it has "worked with hundreds of public sector clients to find new and inventive ways to bring more people to the table and bridge the distance between citizens and governments." Based on this admission that governments are not of, by and for the people, it says it was founded on "the radical proposition that the next stage of democracy is not only one where people can have their say, but where everyone has the opportunity and responsibility to exercise public judgement and act as stewards of the greater common good."

It is notable that while speaking of people "having a hand in shaping" policies and "responsibility," it leaves out the solutions people are proposing in all spheres of the economy and life. People across the board are fed-up with being consulted about implementing decisions that have already been taken and that go against their interests. What is needed is not consultation but a decision-making role on all matters of concern.

MASS LBP boasts that it is "internationally recognized for its work to popularize deliberative processes and has led more than 40 Reference Panels and Citizens' Assemblies contributing approximately 55,000 volunteer hours to policy-making in Canada."

Among its "clients," MASS LBP lists the Citizens' Assemblies on Democratic Expression. These Assemblies were created in 2020 as a three-year project by the private think tank Public Policy Forum which hired MASS LBP to organize them. The Assemblies are a sub-group of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression, comprised of "seven Commissioners and 42 Assembly members ... tasked with examining an issue, deliberating on concerns and potential solutions, sharing their perspectives with each other, and producing a two-volume report that details their respective findings and recommendations." All of it takes place in a rarefied world about which Canadians know nothing.

The Citizens Assemblies on Democratic Expression (more than 120 people separated into three groups) held its last session from June 15 to 19 in Ottawa. It was to review the work of the Liberal-appointed Expert Panel on Online Harms and "consider the measures government should take to strengthen online safety, reduce disinformation, safeguard user rights." According to an announcement, its report is expected to be issued in July "as part of the Department of Canadian Heritage's ongoing efforts to develop a regulatory framework for digital platforms."

The main funders of the project are listed as the Department of Canadian Heritage and the McConnell Foundation, described as "a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. They do so through granting and investing, capacity building, convening, and enabling co-creation with grantees, partners, and the public."

All these "assemblies" and "consultations" claim that a general will can be aggregated by assembling a number of individual opinions and preferences, a claim with no credibility whatsoever.

Government Turns the Conduct of Public Affairs Over
to the Private Sector

Privatizing the duties that rightly belong to government bodies in relationships with the people of the country as part of the attack on the public is not a new practice. Outsourcing to private companies is a main form for this. For example, the Harper regime in 2007 outsourced a promised electoral reform consultation. It took place as a private affair, with the predictable verdict being that Canadians were largely satisfied with the first-past-the-post electoral system except for not agreeing with a non-elected Senate.

Upon taking over in 2015, in lock-step with the demands of neo-liberal international institutions, the Trudeau Liberals turned the destruction of all civil society forms into an official policy, framing it as a "re-invention of government." One of its most disastrous exercises was the online consultations on the electoral process following the Liberals' 2015 election promise to end the first-past-the-post method of counting votes, for which it contracted the private firm Vox Populus. It discarded the conclusions of an all-party parliamentary committee to incorporate an element of proportional representation because the government favoured a system of ranked ballots. The public outcry was ignored, the entire matter of reforming the first-past-the-post method of counting votes was dropped, and no discussion allowed. The result was that the collective consciousness of the powerlessness of the people and their institutions went up another notch.

While the people have been left out of the equation altogether, the growth in privatization of the public realm has given rise to a body of literature assessing its "pros" and "cons." A 2008 paper entitled Can the Market Help the Forum? Negotiating the Commercialization of Deliberative Democracy, presents the two sides as those who see the privatization of the public realm as "the dispersion and deepening of deliberative processes in practice," versus those who see "commercializing deliberative processes as detrimental to democracy."[1]

Of significance, observations are already being drawn about the abject failure of these "new" forms to satisfy the demands of the people to have their say and exercise control over the decisions made. The paper notes:

"Peoples' real experiences, their pain, fears, hopes, aspirations, dreams and desires get reduced to a report with bullet point executive summaries. The public view has been commodified -- turned into a negotiated product that can be bought and sold on the market and like any other product, it can even be customized to suit."

In the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, the old forms of consultation were broadly perceived as limited and elitist, in service to vested private interests. The restructured forms, while ensuring the rich continually get paid, have failed in terms of governance. Concentrating great powers in the executive and using supra-national neo-liberal institutions, like the OECD, have not served to resolve conflicts short of war nor to maintain illusions of democracy. Governments of police powers destroy even token recognition of a body politic. Even the pretense of concern for legitimacy is treated with arrogant disregard. The dysfunction of legislative bodies can be seen in abysmal approval ratings, low voter turn outs and more.

The private and anarchist nature of the oligarchs with their competing interests, their actions to completely marginalize and depoliticize the people and destroy whatever they cannot control, has gone from restructuring to destruction.

Need for New Modern Arrangements

Far from establishing new, modern relations between humans and humans and humans and nature, the trend of the international oligarchs attempting to "reinvent government" has given rise to governments of police powers and impunity. Their aim is to get an upper hand through their frenzied striving to compete internationally in a manner which secures control over the world while also serving to block the people from exercising control over the economy, society, and their lives.

Canadians, as is also the case of the peoples of many countries, are facing a situation where the old forms of governance have exhausted themselves and destructive governments of police powers are being consolidated. A government of police powers is not synonymous with a military government or a military or police junta. The promotion of "public consultation" when none occurs is an indication that the elites are trying to consolidate their governments of police powers while preserving a constitutional form. All of this is meant to hide the reality that governments today exercise police powers with impunity and civil society and the values they claim to uphold have all been discarded and destroyed. This cover-up is failing badly.

At the same time, the absence of the new forms creates a vacuum which makes the peoples vulnerable to all the dangers which lie ahead. This is why the task of the working class to constitute the nation and involve the masses of the people to bring an anti-war government into being is so crucial. The working people must solve the problem of creating the forms they require which enable them to exercise political power in a manner which favours them.

Collectives exist in their relations. A collective consciousness is built in the course of fighting for rights, with the many struggles being waged contributing to that collective consciousness of the people that is rejecting the direction society and the world are headed in and seeking alternatives.

Further development of that collective consciousness takes place in the fight for the rights of all which necessarily gives rise to a modern society based on fidelity, not to an individual cause but to the ensemble of human relations between humans and humans and humans and nature. This is precisely what the Trudeau Liberals' "consultocracy" and the "deliberation industry" serve to destroy.

There is no such thing as a "social consensus" in a society divided into classes that have clashing interests and outlooks. And there is no such thing as a "collective consciousness" or expression of public opinion created by slapping together the results of online questionnaires or declaring that individual opinions can be aggregated to represent the public will.

The conditions of today call for new and modern arrangements which put the people at centre stage, not selective narrow private interests who have even taken up to destroy the private property of their rivals. This is currently expressed in the overwhelming power of the oligopolies on a world scale.

To realize new arrangements which favour humankind is the task history has presented. All material conditions exist for their realization by activating the human factor/social consciousness. It is to deprive the people of their own outlook and keep them mired within the imposed framework as a force to be disposed of as the ruling class wishes that the ruling elite recycle what is old and discredited but present it as new. This is an area in which the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada is involving the working people and their organizations to pay the greatest attention at this time.


1. Hendriks, C.M., Carson, L. Can the market help the forum? Negotiating the commercialization of deliberative democracy. Policy Sci 41, 293 (2008).

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 7 - July 17, 2022

Article Link:


Website:   Email: