Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform (British Columbia)
The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform was created by the government of British Columbia, Canada to investigate changes to the provincial electoral system. On 25 October 2004, it proposed replacing the province's existing First Past the Post (FPTP) system with a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. This recommendation was put to the electorate-at-large in a referendum held concurrently with the 2005 provincial election. In order for the results to be binding, the referendum required a super-majority including approval by 60% of voters overall and simple majorities in 60% of the 79 districts in order to pass. In the event, the second of these thresholds was easily met, with a majority supporting the reform in 77 out of 79 electoral districts, but the overall vote fell short of the 60% requirement, with 57.7% of the votes in favour.
During the 2001 provincial election, the Liberal Party promised to create a citizens' assembly to consider changes to the provincial electoral system (as opposed to forming a Royal Commission, as New Zealand did). The recommendation of the assembly would then be put as a referendum. In December, 2002 Gordon Gibson submitted his report, recommending an assembly composed of randomly selected citizens, two from each of the province's 79 electoral districts. In May 2003 the Legislature unanimously adopted the concept and most of the details.
Counting the chair, the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform was composed 161 members, one man and one woman randomly selected from each of BC’s 79 electoral districts, two Aboriginal members and a chair. Assembly members were selected by a civic lottery that ensured a gender balance and fair representation by age group and the geographical distribution of the population.
Selection of members for the Assembly involved a three-stage process:
- Stage one began in August 2003 when 15,800 invitations were mailed to randomly identified British Columbians. To ensure even geographical representation, 200 invitations were extended in each constituency. Invitees were asked if they were willing to put their names into a draw for future candidacy.
- In stage two, the names of respondents expressing interest went into a pool for their constituency. Positive respondents were organized into 79 groups of 20, with some structuring to ensure an even split between men and women and reflect the age distribution of individuals in the constituency. These candidates were then invited to information meetings where they heard presentations about the Assembly and were asked to publicly confirm their eligibility and interest in participating.
- In stage three, the names of those who responded positively were sealed into envelopes and entered into a final draw. Two people from each district pool, one man and one woman, were selected by random draw for membership in the Citizens’ Assembly. Selection into the Assembly continued until December 2003. Two additional members, representing First Nations communities, were added after the selection of the original 158.
The selection process resulted in an assembly that was not very representative of the larger public insofar as the members were widely dissatisfied with BC's current electoral system from the very start, while surveys of the public indicated it to be relatively satisfied.
From January to May 2004, the Assembly went through a 12 week "Learning Phase" involving presentations by experts, group discussions and access to a range of source materials. Work included a review of different electoral systems in usage around the world and their various effects on the political process.
This was followed by a public consultation phase lasting from May to June. Assembly members held over 50 public hearings and received a total of 1603 written submissions.
Between September and October 2004, the members deliberated over which electoral system to recommend, emphasizing three values deemed most important: fairness of representation, local representation and voter choice. Among the alternatives considered were a Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP) and an STV system.
On Oct. 23 and 24, the Assembly voted on different options in three separate votes. A first vote asked members to express their preference for MMP or STV. This vote yielded a strong, but not unanimous preference for STV: 123 votes for STV vs. 31 for MMP. Members then voted between retaining FPTP or moving to STV. There was a strong preference for STV: 142 votes for STV vs. 11 for retaining FPTP. Finally, the Assembly voted in favour of submitting a recommendation in favour of STV to the public in a referendum on May 17, 2005: 146 in favour vs. 7 against.
On December 10, the Assembly's Final Report, titled "Making Every Vote Count: The Case for Electoral Reform in British Columbia" was presented to the B.C. legislature by the Assembly. It recommended changing the electoral system to a localized version of STV called BC-STV. A separate Final Report on the work of the Assembly was submitted to the legislature by the Special Committee on the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform in February 2005.
- Elections BC (May 17, 2005). Report of the Chief Election Officer: 38th Provincial Election/2005 Referendum on Electoral Reform (PDF). p. 34.
- Blais, André; Kenneth Carty; Patrick Fournier (2005) http://www.crcee.umontreal.ca/pdf/Citizens%20Choice.08052.pdf
- LeDuc, Lawrence; Heather Bastedo; Catherine Baquero (June 4–6, 2008). "The Quiet Referendum: Why Electoral Reform Failed in Ontario" (PDF). Presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association: 10–11.
- Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform of British Columbia, Final Report (December 2004). Making Every Vote Count: The Case for Electoral Reform in British Columbia (PDF). p. 10.
M. E. Warren and H. Pearse, eds., Designing Deliberative Democracy: The British Columbia Citizens' Assembly (Cambridge University Press, 2008). ISBN 978-0521885072