Because the most important answering is for intentions, we need
a structure for authorities to report their intentions that shows
the fairness trade-offs they are making in what they intend as
outcomes, for whom. Nothing in existing standard forms of authorities
reporting gives us the information we need to help us adequately
assess intended action that affects the public in important ways.
The following extract from the Citizens Guide introduces
the idea of the equity statement as a means of stating authorities
intentions. While developed for proposals in local, regional and
federal issues, it applies as well to the intentions of nations.
The Equity Statement (EqS)
Programs and projects affecting the public can be initiated by
authorities, such as an executive government intending policy
change in levels of health care. Or they can be proposed by others
who apply to the authority for approval, such as a municipal by-law
amendment proposed by a property developer, or a corporation seeking
a government subsidy or change in regulations.
We need a simple means of structuring proposals for public challenge
before authorities decisions are taken. But it must be rigorous
enough to tell the public what the proponents intend, for whom,
and their reasoning. The proposal statement should the answer
to the question of who would benefit from what an authority intends,
and who would bear the costs and risks, and why. As well as political
fairness issues, this includes safety and environmental protection.
For example, what is often the case in "development"
projects is that those who get the benefits dont live where
the impact occurs, and those who live there are the ones who pay.
We can call such an explanation statement an equity statement
(EqS). The fairness issue of who would get what benefits and who
would pay must be brought out and debated, not confined to back
rooms of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate executives. The
main purpose of the equity statement is to make visible, for public
inspection, the fairness trade-offs implicit in any major proposal.
Answering the "who" question helps us tell whether the
only needs intended to be honoured are those of the proponents.
The purpose of the equity statement. For each significant
proposal, for legislators' and public scrutiny, the proponents
can reasonably be asked to draw up a statement that meets the
answering standards proposed earlier, that is, to specifically
state, in their view:
- who would benefit, and why
- how they would benefit, immediately and in the future
- who would bear the costs and risks, and why
- what the costs and risks would be, immediately and in the
- who would answer publicly, for what, and when, if the proposal
In city council development application approvals, for example,
councillors can make it a rule not to decide contentious property
development applications without a publicly-challenged equity
statement. The statement would be audited and signed off by city
staff for its fairness and completeness in setting out the proposals
affect on the community and the environment. A summary equity
statement would be backed up by information accessible by those
wanting to examine the proponents reasoning in greater detail.
A corporate board can require the same. For example, a CEO may
recommend that the corporation acquire another company. An equity
statement for the proposal, rigorously examined by the board,
should help bring out CEO ego-based motivation if that is a main
At the provincial, state or national level, making publicly visible
the underlying policy intentions and reasoning is vital to citizen
understanding. For example, focusing on the quality of the delivery
of government services doesnt address fairness policy --
the decision of whose needs the policy would honour and whose
it would not. Confining the publics attention to aspects
of the delivery of the service diverts attention from the underlying
issue of the fairness trade-offs intended. The equity statement
goes to the bone on fairness policy by making visible who gains
and who loses, and the reasoning for it.
To legislators having information overload, and therefore too
little time to think, accurate statements of executive governments
intentions are more important than descriptions of past activity,
or financial statements after the fact.
In regular decision-making in approving programs and resolving
equity issues, governing bodies have a diligence obligation to
be reasonably informed on the matters that come before them. They
therefore need pertinent information in a succinct, useful form
for the issue, whether its for a proposal to launch or stop
a program or project, or make a major change where safety, fairness,
community values or the environment are involved. The equity statement
structures this information.
For elected representatives, the equity statement makes a succinct
briefing document. It doesnt replace existing means that
politicians use to assess issues; it augments them. Using the
statement meets an informing standard that citizens can reasonably
expect to see met by governing bodies. Politicians can ask their
civil servants to develop equity statements for important proposals
identified through public consultation. And if an important proposal
is already on the table, the proponents' equity statement for
it can be set out for public consultation and reaction.
This isnt a complicated idea. Bare-bones equity statements
can be drafted on the back of an envelope. On big issues, citizens
are entitled to reasonably complete equity statements that can
be presented in half a page in a newspaper. Once elected representatives
are satisfied that the equity statement has been challenged, and
identifies the trade-offs fairly, and that no major effects are
missing, it can be used for making decisions.
The scope of an equity statement can easily be extended to become
an ongoing "one-stop" reporting document that includes
reporting on all the answering standards introduced earlier. An
expanded equity statement can make visible not only authorities
outcome intentions and reasoning, but also their specific achievement
objectives, their key performance standards, their actual performance
results and their learning gained and applied. It can also be
continued over a project or program life cycle, giving governing
bodies and stakeholders the complete story for their control.
As the basis for legislators' scrutiny of programs of government
departments, the statement can be broadened still further, to
show for each program or project the authorities intended
performance standards for each of fairness, efficiency and compliance
with the law, and to report whether the standards have been met.
Applied to government programs and policies, equity statements
combined across departments would clarify for parliamentarians
the fairness issues and show serious policy gaps or overlaps.
They would show whether policies that should be coherent are in
fact coherent, show whether policies are at cross-purposes, and
whether some people seem to gain consistently while others lose.
In each case where joint government action is intended, the responsible
or lead government (for example the federal government in health)
would draft the equity statement for challenge by other government
jurisdictions and by citizens groups.
If government ministers and civil servants say they are already
producing what equity statements would show, they can produce
the information that they claim is equivalent, and say why it
is as useful as the information structured through equity statements.
Publicly-challenged equity statements could focus issues sensibly
and help to structure public debate. Example issues are a governments
intentions with respect to medicare, key provisions of intended
international trade agreements, the existence of tobacco companies,
or media corporations continued violence on TV.
In each case, successive rounds of public challenge increase
the accuracy of the equity statement in setting out the fairness
trade-offs in what is intended, and their relative weighting.
Stakeholders can then decide for themselves whether what an authority
intends is fair and in the public interest. The requirement to
disclose longer-run benefits and costs and whose they are could
help prevent short term or expediency-based decision-making.
Equity statements serve as a basis for holding both proponents
and elected representatives fairly to account for what is ultimately
decided. If a publicly-challenged equity statement points clearly
to a certain course of action but the elected representatives
decide something else, their constituents can ask them why they
decided as they did. Requiring equity statements to be produced
for public issues and to be accessible through the Internet would
allow us to be better informed about trade-offs before making
our views known to our elected representatives.
Most important, if the decision-making authorities wont
produce equity statements for public challenge, citizens
groups and public interest organizations can produce their own
and publicly ask the authorities to state publicly what they think
is wrong with them.
The rule is that whoever proposes an action affecting the public
in important ways attaches an equity statement to their proposal.
This provides the basis for checking out the proposal with the
public. If the issue is very important, challenge can include
independent professional audit of the assertions and estimates
in the equity statement. The statement can be divided into elements
that are the responsibility of elected representatives (the fairness
issues) and those that are the responsibility of management (efficiency
and most compliance issues).
The equity statement isnt rigid. As times change, the definitions
of "fair," "benefit," "cost," and
"risk" change, as do the stakeholders involved. But
without such a statement and its validation, stakeholders can
only guess whose needs are intended to be honoured and whose are
not, and what the proponents and decision-makers in authority
mean by key terms that they use. Moreover, having to present an
equity statement to the public forces proponents to be up to date
on the thinking and research that underpins or refutes their reasoning.
Public interest organizations challenging the statements will
The main components of successful decisions are quality and acceptance.
A good decision not accepted by stakeholders may have no effect,
and an accepted decision could be wrong and harmful. The key to
public acceptance of proposals is good understanding of the reasons
for them. Unexplained reasons lead to suspicion of motives. Equity
statements, validated through public challenge, can help produce
better decision quality and acceptance.
Using the equity statement. An everyday decision about
the use of land in a municipality can illustrate the use of equity
It is reasonable to expect a property developer, filing a development
application that will significantly affect a community, to demonstrate
that the proposal is compatible with the intent of the official
plan for the area; to state who would benefit and how; and to
state who would bear what types of costs or risks from the development
and why what is proposed is reasonable.
If the city is reluctant to ask the developer to state publicly
what he or she wishes to bring about -- that is, to account
to the community -- members of the community can take the initiative
and draft the equity statement. But they need to draft it with
as much fairness as they would demand from the developer. Then,
the community representatives, councillor for the area and developer
sit down to discuss the main elements of the statement and the
weightings, and challenge it for benefits and costs left out.
The developer has the obligation to make clear in the equity
statement what the property use is to achieve, and all parties
involved assess the impacts on the community -- including how
a good development idea can be improved upon through ideas volunteered
City staff and the area councillor satisfy themselves on the
fairness and completeness of the statement as a basis for the
planning department's recommendation to council and for the
councillors' vote on the application. If the application is
important enough to call a public meeting, the equity statement
serves as a basis for the communitys discussion.
The area councillor states his or her own position to the community,
with the reasons. If, for example, the application is contrary
to official plan intent, city staff and the councillor would
advise the developer that an official plan amendment application
is needed, not just a by-law amendment, let alone a minor variance
Based on benefits and costs that were subject to public challenge
through the equity statement, residents and developer alike
can judge the fairness of the staff recommendation and the ultimate
voting by council members.
Another example is a provincial government ordering that a city
close a number of schools for cost-saving purposes. This gets
parents up in arms and pits them against each other as the local
argument centers on which schools will close. But did any group
representing parents and present and future school children publicly
say to the executive government -- and to the city school board
if it was apparently willing to carry out the governments
intention -- "You will close no schools until you give us
validated evidence, in a usefully structured statement backed
by reliable demographics, why your intention is in the public
interest, and we have had a chance to challenge your statement
and lay our assessment of it before the public." The group
can then attach its own equity statement for the proposed closings
and ask the government to state its view of the fairness and completeness
of the groups statement.
Equity statements are equally applicable to intentions to close
hospitals or lay off employees.
At any level of government, when the executive is involved in
the decision about a program or project, civil servants review
the draft equity statement, make it as valid as they can, and
sign off on the statement for fairness and completeness of the
trade-offs involved -- to the extent they know them -- before
the elected representatives deal with it.
The public control rule is simple: no publicly-challenged equity
statement, no decision taken by the responsible governing body
on the intended action.
Whether the proposal for a major change comes from government
or the private sector, journalists can help by asking authorities
for bare-bones equity statements and by asking those in authority
-- city councillors, corporate boards or government ministers
-- whether they think their equity statements are fair and complete
as a basis for taking decisions. Journalists can identify the
most important types of information that should be in the statements,
seek to extract the missing information from he proponents and
distill it to workable length for their readers. In cases of suspected
patronage or conflicts of interest, reporters can have a field
day with the "Who benefits?" questions.
Appendix 1 of the Citizens Guide is an example of
how the equity statement can be used to show who would benefit
and who would bear what costs and risks, both in the short and
longer term, in a proposed international agreement -- in this
case the mid-1990s Multilateral Agreement on Investment proposed
by the OECD.