Whistler invited to discuss provincial electoral reform 

A widely supported and indeed unique, citizen’s forum is coming to Whistler on June 3.

The Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform is hosting a Citizens’ Assembly meeting in Whistler next Thursday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Telus Whistler Conference Centre.

Whistler’s Citizen’s Assembly meeting is one of 49 similar meetings scheduled to take place in this process of electoral reform.

All Canadians are invited to attend the meetings to learn more about the electoral reform process, support different ideas and submit ideas of their own.

The results of these meetings will be collated and discussed by160 permanent members of the assembly.

These permanent members, who were randomly selected in September 2003, have been empowered to recommend a change to the B.C. electoral system and if they do so, it will force a referendum on the matter.

Citizens can make presentations to the Assembly and anyone in Whistler who wishes to do so can pre-register by visiting the Assembly website at www.citizensassembly.bc.ca .

It's not essential to pre-register, but it does assure the presenter of a spot on the agenda. After formal presentations are complete, and if time allows, audience members will have the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on electoral systems.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is an independent, representative, non-partisan group of British Columbians and as such it is enjoyed widespread support from members in all the major political parties.

The Assembly was launched in May 2003 by the B.C. government with the unanimous support of the B.C. Legislature. It was created in response to a concern voiced by some British Columbians that the province’s electoral system needed a review.

One man and one woman from each electoral district were chosen, along with two individuals to represent First Nations. Additionally, Dr. Jack Blaney was chosen to chair the Assembly.

In early 2004 members gathered over six weekends in Vancouver to review B.C.’s electoral system as well as other systems used around the world.

Public hearings are being held during May and June throughout B.C. so Assembly members can hear what their fellow citizens have to say about electoral reform.

In the fall, members will gather again over several weekends to deliberate whether B.C.’s electoral system should be changed and, if so, what change should be proposed.

Members must decide by December 15 whether to propose a change to B.C.’s current electoral system and if they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election. Any change approved by the voters would take effect with the 2009 B.C. election.

What kind of voting system do you want in B.C.? Asks political scientist Ken Carty.

As both a judgement on the past, and a preference for the future, the votes we cast during elections shape policies crucial to our everyday lives: such as health care, law enforcement and education.

But what our vote never changes – or rarely questions – is the underlying electoral system itself.

This is an issue being addressed by the 160 members of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, a non-partisan group of randomly selected individuals from across B.C.

In December members will recommend the best electoral system for the province.

There is plenty to consider.

For most of the last century, B.C. has used, and still uses, a "first-past-the-post" system for provincial elections. That is, the winner in a constituency is the candidate securing the greatest number of votes without necessarily receiving an overall majority.

Our system has been in widespread use in British Columbia for most of our history and has served us well. We have a flourishing democracy in which voters hold politicians and governments accountable.

It has resulted, however, in winning parties often receiving a disproportionate majority of seats in the Legislature while smaller opposition parties have found it more difficult to secure seats despite winning a sizeable portion of votes.

The Assembly, in its preliminary statement, indicated it is important that the outcome of an election, in terms of the distribution of seats, should reflect the intentions of citizens as expressed in their votes. Members are also aware that British Columbians in more rural areas, and in locations far removed from the Lower Mainland, feel especially strongly that their concerns must struggle to be heard.

Now the Assembly needs to hear your views.

What both you and the Assembly members are considering is not which party should be elected within our democracy, but the notion of how we will practice democracy itself.

Ken Carty is a professor and former head of UBC’s political science department. He is chief research officer for the Citizens’ Assembly.

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