A National Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

A National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform: A Process We Can Trust

Fair Vote Canada’s top priority in the 2019 federal election is to elect MPs who will champion proportional representation and parties who will promise to implement proportional representation or make it a condition of supporting a minority government.

But what happens after the election? We need an electoral reform process we can trust.

Experience has taught us that politicians are in a conflict of interest when it comes to designing a new electoral system. Their difficulty in putting aside considerations about their own political party’s fortunes and their personal re-election prospects has repeatedly created a political impasse. That’s where a National Citizens’ Assembly comes in.

 

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FAQs about a National Citizens’ Assembly

What is a citizens' assembly?

A citizens’ assembly is a representative group of citizens  – sometimes called “a mini-public” – that comes together to learn about an issue in depth, deliberate, and to make a recommendation on an important policy issue. Citizens’ assemblies usually involve a relatively large group of ordinary people, a lengthy period of learning and deliberation, and a collective decision that carries substantial political weight.

What makes a citizens' assembly different from a committee of Parliamentarians that consults with the public, or a commission?

Citizens assemblies put ordinary people in the driver’s seat. They empower citizens to obtain in-depth knowledge of an issue and make recommendations independent of partisan political interference. 

The assembly will have the assistance of experts and the independence to be able to request additional information or specific expert help as needed.

A core principle of citizens’ assemblies is that participants are chosen by near-random selection, the goal being to assemble a body that represents the public demographically as closely as possible. As such, their recommendations may carry a great deal of legitimacy with their fellow citizens.

What is the history of citizens' assemblies and where have citizens' assemblies been used?

Citizens’ assemblies are being widely used around the world to tackle difficult and complex issues.

Citizens assemblies were preceded by another widely used process: the “citizens’ jury,” trademarked by the Jefferson Centre, which invented the process in 1971. In Canada, citizens’ juries are usually called citizens’ reference panels by the independent company most often engaged to deliver them, Mass LPB.  

Denmark has made extensive use of “consensus conferences” since the 1980s, with similar objectives. They differ as they may be completely open for public and media observation.

The distinctions between citizens juries or reference panels and citizens assemblies have to do with the size and the time involved. Citizens assemblies usually involve a larger number of participants (typically over 100) and usually meet for a longer period of time (months rather than days).

BC’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2004 is a model that was emulated around the world. In 2007, Ontario held a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, based on the BC model. Each of these assemblies included one man and one woman from each riding and met for almost a year.

Citizens’ assemblies have been held in countries including Iceland, Belgium, Ireland, the UK, and Australia, among others.

Videos About Citizens’ Assemblies

See below some videos about past citizens’ assemblies. You can also read more about citizens’ assemblies in this backgrounder.

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