Democracy was invented in ancient Athens. But it got a new lease on life again this year with the advent of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in British Columbia, Jack Blaney told a Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd.
“It (democracy) was a social invention. And it had an impact on the quality of life and the way we do things. I’m proud to be a British Columbian,” he said. Blaney, along with 160 members of the Citizens’ Assembly, was in Prince George Friday winding down from their whirlwind information gathering trip. The assembly had attended 50 public meetings in communities around the province during May and June, he said.
“People told us what was good and what they wanted to see changed. We tried to find common ground in an atmosphere of trust. We got over 700 written submissions,” Blaney said.
The assembly may well “identify and encourage future leaders of Canada,” Blaney said. He reviewed the history of how the assembly came into existence in B.C. And he also talked about the selection process for members, a process which he said was “important to the success of the assembly.” The dedicated members ranged in age from 19 years old to 79, he said. It was “absolutely phenomenal” he added, that the group still consists of its 160 original members. No one has dropped out. “They know they’re part of something important.”
The task of finding out what is wrong – or right with the voting process is best left to voters, he said. “We wanted to take this out of the hands of politicians and put it in the hands of voters.”
Blaney said the credit for the formation of the Citizens’ Assembly goes to the “Premier of the Province who thought we might review our voting system. It is rare that a party in power would make such a bold, courageous move. It is even more so when we found out how they did it. It was a real innovative, gutsy thing to do.” Rather than using politicians, retired judges, or highly placed individuals the assembly members were “randomly invited and self selected from (regular) citizens of B.C. “No democracy in the world has ever given people that kind of power,” he said.
What recommendations will the Citizens’ Assembly make? “They may decide that on balance, the system should stay the way it is. Or, they may make recommendations to change it,” he said.