OTTAWA — Ever been confronted with a situation and thought to yourself: "There should be a law against that?"
If so, Nathan Cullen has a contest for you.
The New Democrat MP is inviting constituents in his northern British Columbia riding to send him ideas for a new law.
He'll take the winner to parliamentary legal beagles to write up as draft legislation over the summer and introduce it as a private member's bill in the fall.
The contest is open only to constituents in Skeena-Bulkley Valley. But Cullen hopes the idea will catch on with other MPs, who'll run their own contests and eventually give Canadians across the country the chance to become lawmakers.
"I just think the wisdom of the crowd is untapped," said Cullen, who also sees the contest as a fun way to try to combat cynicism about politics.
"It's very difficult, particularly to get young people, but people in general, involved. My thinking is, you can't just use the platitudes — 'We want you involved, we care what you say' — we actually have to trust voters, beyond just their vote once every four years, to have real influence over what we do."
Private member's bills don't often become law and Cullen acknowledges those that do are typically "safe, meaningless bills" — like declaring a "national hot dog day."
But he points to the outcome of a similar contest he used to run for young people in his riding as proof that it is possible for average folks to have real influence on the federal legislative agenda.
Back in 2009, three teenage girls from Smithers, B.C., won Cullen's "create your Canada" competition with a proposed law to ban the export of cancer-causing asbestos.
At the time, Cullen said his own party was nervous about the idea and the other major parties were opposed — all of them worried about a backlash in Quebec, home to Canada's asbestos industry. He nevertheless introduced a private member's bill on the matter — flying the girls to Ottawa to witness the occasion — and, while the bill never passed, he credits it with starting a conversation that ultimately led to a ban on asbestos six years later.
"These young women, they just got a bunch of allies and they got people who were excited about it and their voices carried a different kind of weight ... These young women didn't care about conventional (political) thinking."
Cullen is opening up the current contest to adults, as well as kids, and will accept proposals until the end of June, after which a volunteer panel of local business, faith, cultural and ethnic leaders will choose the winner. He'll fly the winner to Ottawa to witness introduction of their bill in the fall.
Cullen vows to champion the bill whether or not he personally agrees with it. There are only a few restrictions on contest entries; proposed laws must be within federal jurisdiction and compliant with the charter of rights, and must not involve any new spending.
"I'm keeping it very vague in terms of what the bill has to try to accomplish, which is try to make Canada a better place ... and that will be from their perspective, not mine."
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press