Electoral Reform Process Proved Public Efficacy
In 2004, I participated in the British Columbia Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform, (CAER) which proposed an innovative electoral system we named BC-STV. The experience changed my outlook on how people could govern themselves.
I won’t elaborate on the specifics of the system in this post. I will only say that it is a compelling invention, and that there will be more about that before the polls open in May. This is about the idea behind the CAER, and why deferring important decisions to the public more often is healthy.
The impetus behind the CAER came from what many deemed an unlikely source; when Gordon Campbell, lost the 1996 provincial election despite winning the popular vote, he vowed electoral change if he ever got into power. To his credit, he delivered by tabling this unique and moderately risky project. The government had their insurance, to be sure, requiring a double super-majority of 60% in both popular and constituency votes. But the 2004 referendum results, 57% of the popular vote and 89% of constituencies indicated the idea resonated strongly with the electorate.
What strikes me as important, no matter how the referendum does in round two, is the idea of the exercise that produced the proposal. I hope that in my lifetime I will see another instance of a government putting something as fundamental as systemic electoral design into the hands of the public and putting binding legislation on themselves to let the process alone!
What was noted, by media, politicians and public observers alike, was the earnestness, enthusiasm, responsibility and commitment with which the members applied themselves to the task. Surely this was why the members arrived at such nuanced decisions and maintained such confidence in their convictions. Speaking as someone who was entrenched in the process, I was so appreciative of being consulted, that I was disarmed of my cynicism and outfitted with hope for what governance could be. Many of my colleagues voiced similar sentiment, and that sense of agency gave us the impetus to rise to the task.
If BC-STV does not pass in the next referendum, it should not be perceived as a failure of meaningful public consultation. Whatever the result, the process of arriving at it was a refreshingly innovative democratic tool of Canadian invention, one that I hope is used more often.