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Wise Democracy Victoria

Wise Democracy Victoria is a group of citizens concerned about the state of our democracy – in Victoria, in British Columbia, in Canada, and on the planet. Wise Democracy Victoria was initiated by the Victoria Branch of the World Federalist Movement – Canada in the spring of 2006 in order to help create genuine democracy in Victoria and in Canada. It is, however, an independent entity, not connected with the World Federalist Movement or any other organization. The mission of Wise Democracy Victoria is to seek out and investigate processes that can enhance the scope, collabarativeness, and co-intelligence of our democratic system.

Wise Democracy Victoria comprises a growing number of people who realize that we cannot expect better governance unless we make some fundamental changes in our system.

We believe (as Winston Churchill famously said) that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. We do not know of a better system, but we do believe that this one could work a great deal better than it does.

Ultimately, ordinary people are the only resource we have. Humans once had tribal councils that drew on the knowledge, wisdom and experience of every member of the tribe. In our current system, governments are run by politicians and bureaucrats. Although they consult a limited circle of "experts" and "interest groups" and "stakeholders," they seldom consult the broader community. And they tend to filter whatever information they get through various ideological screens.

At their very best, governments institute big and expensive processes including hearings, surveys, and outreach programs to encourage public input. While those efforts are commendable, they have many practical deficiencies. Their greatest deficiency is that they do not provide any room for deliberative discussion. Rather, they encourage people to speak as representatives of various interests. When you are trying to speak for other people you are forced to adopt an artificial and rigid position. You have to assume what those people would want you to say, and then stick to that message even if you are persuaded that there might be a better way. You are often rewarded for being tough and uncompromising. It is hard to hear others, let alone have co-intelligent discussions with them.

A notable exception was the BC Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. The members of the Assembly were selected by a random process. They were provided with a great deal of information on electoral systems, and they held hearings throughout the province. They then deliberated until they were able to make a near-unanimous recommendation for a new of type of electoral system.

This was a genuine democratic innovation. It afforded the Assembly a great deal of legitimacy. The Assembly was, however, a very large and expensive undertaking of a sort that is unlikely to be used again except for matters of fundamental constitutional import. Also, the Assembly had a fixed agenda set by the government and was empowered to consider only one important but narrow issue.

Therefore, this kind of Citizens' Assembly does not provide a means for ordinary people to determine what are the most important issues, and to consult the knowledge, wisdom and experience of the general public on those issues.

Geographic Focus: Victoria, Canada

Resource Link: wisedemocracyvictoria.com

Caspar Davis

prana4@shaw.ca

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