A coalition of political activists hopes to convince the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to break out of what it says is a fairly tight box.
The Active Voice Coalition put together a list of recommendations on electoral reform following a day-long conference in Prince George on the weekend.
“These are some of the things that we feel are important, so we feel that they should be taking these and examining them and seeing if it’s something they should take forward too,” said spokesperson Melinda Worfolk.
“Although they do have a mandate, part of what happens in the Citizens’ Assembly is driven by what the participants feel is important.”
Indeed, the mandate of the assembly is very focused, said assembly official Marilyn Jacobsen.
The 158-member Citizen’s Assembly was formed to discuss the way B.C. elects its politicians. If it decides the current system should be changed, then based on those discussions and input from the public, it will recommend an alternate electoral system. The provincial government will then be forced to ask voters in a referendum whether they want to change the system.
The 100 people who gathered at the College of New Caledonia on the weekend, including representatives from eight political parties, support what the government is doing, said Worfolk. But they agreed they would like to see the assembly’s mandate broadened.
“The formation of the Citizens’ Assembly is a good idea that should be supported,” said one recommendation to come out of the conference. “However, its authority needs to be expanded and extended (beyond choosing just one electoral model) to include other areas of political and electoral reform.”
Other recommendations urge the assembly to consider how to ensure more effective regional representation in the legislature, to support changes to recall and initiative legislation, to recommend “contracts of trust” between politicians and voters in their ridings, and to re-evaluate the way political parties are funded.
“Hopefully this is going to go beyond just the Citizens’ Assembly and our community,” said Worfolk.
The provincial government appreciates the recommendations, but is loathe to interfere with the Citizens’ Assembly process it has already put in place, said a government spokesperson. It explicitly established the assembly as an independent, arms-length committee and promised it would be free of any political interference.
The Citizens’ Assembly has almost completed selection of its 158 members – one man and one woman from each of 78 ridings.
It will begin learning about different electoral systems after Christmas. It will then conduct public hearings in the spring.
Deliberations will take place in fall 2004, after which the assembly will bring recommendations back to the legislature in time for the May 2005 election.