On the upcoming citizens’ assembly
The Yukon Bureau of Statistics is conducting a survey on citizens’ assemblies on behalf of the Legislative Assembly’s Special Committee on Electoral Reform, beginning January 12, 2023
What is a Citizens’ assembly? How does it work? Why would it be a useful tool to determine the kind of electoral system we should have in the Yukon.
Citizens assemblies are one of three forms of direct democracy practiced in the world today. The other two are juries and a modified version of direct democracy practiced in Switzerland where any elector can vote on legislative bills.
Citizens assemblies were the earliest form of democracy practiced; in ancient Athens. The Ecclesia, open to any male citizen who was not a slave or foreigner, could debate and vote on government policy.
In this century, citizens assemblies have been used to resolve policy issues in a number of countries and jurisdictions. A citizens assembly was used to study reproductive rights for women in Ireland which lead to much needed reform. Citizens assemblies have been used by governments in other parts of Canada, the City of Lodz in Poland, Netherlands, Scotland and the UK. Public trust in citizens assemblies is sufficiently high that in some jurisdictions that they have become commonplace aides to effective governance, as is the case in Ireland and Scotland today.
Members of Citizens Assemblies are chosen by lottery. Other than measures making sure that there is fair representation by jurisdiction and diversity, selection is completely random and non-partisan. Assembly members study the issue in depth, are thoroughly informed by a variety of experts and convene to discuss, debate and reach consensus. Simple.
Electoral reform is an issue that will not go away. Many Yukoners, of all political stripes, are dissatisfied with majority governments elected by no more than 32 percent of popular vote. And they are very tired of having to vote strategically.
But how to determine which electoral system best suits Yukon? While the Whitehorse ridings share similar issues, the communities are diverse in population size, environment, culture and lived experience. Electoral reform in Yukon is a very big and very complicated challenge.
The Special Committee on Electoral Reform, with three MLAs, will never be able to satisfy Yukoners. Regardless of the solutions they come up with, the Special Committee will never be seen as impartial adjudicators. Electoral reform in the Yukon is far too complex to be left to just three people. A survey, even if intelligently crafted, (which was not the case with the last survey sent out by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics on Electoral Reform), could not take the place of recommendations by a properly supported Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform in Yukon.
Ordinary citizens have shown themselves capable of making thoughtful and effective recommendations when given enough respect, time and resources to study complex issues.
I hope that Yukoners will fill it out the recent Bureau of Statistics survey with an eye to recommending the formation of a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.