Albertans weigh in on supervised consumption sites: How does public engagement help shape policy?

WATCH: Calgarians are having their say on supervised consumption sites in Alberta via public engagement sessions. How can public input shape what the province does next? School of Public Policy academic director Kevin McQuillan weighs in on Global News at Noon.

As an eight-person panel hearing support and concern over Alberta’s supervised consumption sites rolls into Calgary this week, one expert is questioning whether this method of public engagement can accurately reflect residents’ general feelings.

“The people who are inclined to attend those kinds of sessions will have strong feelings about it, either pro or con. unlikely that we will hear new arguments that we haven’t heard before,” University of Calgary School of Public Policy academic director Kevin McQuillan told Global News on Wednesday.

“The sessions that we’re going to have tonight, or the survey that’s been done, are really the kinds of things that people who don’t have a big stake in the game, one way or another, are either unlikely to attend the session and probably not that likely to fill out the survey either.”

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McQuillan said it’s important for people to have an opportunity to express their opinions on the issue and said the government is making a “reasonable attempt” to allow Albertans to do that, but said the issue lies in who might participate.

Survey ‘searching for complaints’

In addition to attending the public engagement sessions, people can have their say on the hotly debated topic in an online survey, which McQuillan took and said he had some reservations about.

“The questions, if you look at them, do, in some sense, seem to be searching for complaints, I would say, from people,” he said.

“I found it a little bit difficult in terms of the timing of people reporting on this – whether it’s daily, monthly, whether it’s happened in the last six months, more than six months. I think that’s a tough question for most people really to answer.”

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McQuillan said his biggest concern though was: “Who’s going to be inclined to fill out that kind of survey?”

“Does it really give us a picture of how people in the community generally feel about a topic like this? Or is it more of an opportunity for people to express either their support or their concern on the issue?”

McQuillan said people will have to wait to see exactly how the provincial government will factor all of the results into an ultimate decision on how to proceed with supervised consumption sites.

“Probably only those really close to the site are experiencing significant changes, and even in those cases, we can’t be absolutely certain that those kinds of changes might not have occurred anyway,” he said.

“I think that’s the most difficult problem for anybody looking at the survey results, is to try to connect cause and effect based on what people are reporting.”

WATCH: More than 100 Calgarians turned out on Wednesday to share their views on supervised consumption sites for the first of two government review panel sessions. As Cami Kepke reports, the public response has been overwhelming and may force the panel to extend its work.

The online survey on supervised consumption sites is open until Sept. 30.

The government panel will hear from Albertans across the province through a series of town hall sessions, which are scheduled to wrap up in Edmonton on Sept. 19.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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