Monday, July 16, 2012

History of Citizens' Assemblies

Looking for democracy, Rick Salutin puts his faith in Citizens' Assemblies

Well, the most inspiring thing about recent attempts to reform Canadian politics through PR was the Citizens Assembly created in B.C. in 2004. Its task was to choose the form of PR the province would vote on. Its members were drawn by lot from replies to thousands of letters sent to names on voters’ lists: one man and woman per electoral district.They came to Vancouver every weekend for a year to discuss alternatives. They met publicly in a circular hall in which the 160 members faced each other. They sifted types of PR and chose a version called Single Transferable Vote because, though complex, they felt it was the most democratic. On that they were nearly unanimous. The final vote was 147 to 8. 
Is this level of unanimity, normally unseen outside the Comintern, really proof of democracy? Why are the Citizens' Assemblies so single-minded on issues like this, over which even voting-reform zealots vigorously differ -- and where the real citizens, voting in referenda, tend to be much less keen.  
Ontario also had a citizens' assembly, organized much like the one in BC. It too was practically unanimous about the best and most democratic voting system -- but its choice was the (very different) Mixed-Member Proportional system. 
One stark difference between the two Citizens Assemblies: BC's was directed by Gordon Gibson, a vigorous advocate for STV, while the Ontario one was led by a team of political scientists inclined to MMP.  If you want to have your views heard, maybe you don't want to be in a Citizens' Assembly. Maybe you want to "advise" one.
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