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Update from Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

I received an email today from Paul Harris of British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. The Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly-selected British Columbians. They must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to B.C.’s electoral system. If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election. Click below for an overview of this week’s public hearings.

Presenters differ over electoral reform

Visionaries seeking a remake of BC’s electoral system spoke out alongside those seeking rather more modest change during public hearings this week.

Members of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform gathered at venues in Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Langley to learn what people desired for their electoral system. And, while the majority of speakers favoured greater proportionality over how votes won are translated into seats in the Legislature, they differed on how that proportionality could be achieved.

In Chilliwack Tuesday, presenter Olaf Frost saw electing MLAs through a random process as a key step in creating an electoral system of pure Proportional Representation, with BC having 50 seats in the Legislature instead of the current 79.

Raymond Smith proposed that BC continue with its current First Past the Post electoral system – but add a new twist: an Oath of Obligations that would have to be sworn and adhered to by MLAs.

In Maple Ridge, presenters complained about the “yo-yo effect” of successive governments switching policies. William Walsh, in advocating greater proportionality, blamed the costs associated with such dramatic policy changes for the province not living up to its tremendous natural potential. “We can be so much better,” he said. “We can be so much more.”

Robert Hornsey also identified swings in government policy as a costly consequence of the current electoral system. While favouring more proportionality, he advised the Assembly to retain local representation. “Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water… Let’s keep the good things that work.”

And in Langley, some tinkering with the current system was also the order of the day. David Truman spoke for change but said a recommendation by the Assembly that was too radical might not fly with voters at a referendum. He spoke out strongly against minority government because he said it would “always be in crisis and in danger of falling”.

Former Conservative MP Benno Friesen suggested a “reconfiguration of behaviour” – rather than a reconfiguration of BC’s electoral system – was needed. He said “jigging with the system” would not directly answer the issue of voter apathy. He said voters are shying away from the ballot box “because they see little difference in behaviour and conduct from one party to the next”.

But he urged smaller parties to keep campaigning. “It is a mistake to think that if you do not win, you lose,” he said, because all voices “help to load up the marketplace of ideas and refresh the whole structure, even if we seemingly do not make any progress”.

The next hearings are Tuesday May 25 in Port McNeill, Wednesday May 26 in Courtenay, Thursday May 27 in Nanaimo and Saturday afternoon May 29 in Vancouver. A full schedule of hearings, as well as information on how to sign up to make a presentation, is on the Assembly’s website at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca

The Assembly is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of 160 randomly-selected British Columbians. They must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to B.C.’s electoral system. If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Harris
Media and communications
Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform
#2288 – 555 West Hastings St, PO Box 12118
Vancouver BC V6B 4N6

Phone: 604-660-1373 or 1-866-667-1232
E-mail: pharris@citizensassembly.bc.ca
Fax: 604-660-1236
Cell: 604-908-6144
Web: www.citizensassembly.bc.ca

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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