Thursday, January 11, 2007

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

I went to the one and only KW meeting of the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, last night. It was inspiring and depressing at the same time. It was inspiring (once I found it, could they have held the meeting in a more obscure place?)because the place was packed and the presentations were thoughtful and passionate. Most in the crowd were sold on Mixed Member Proportional Representation, but I found it wonderful that the members of the assembly did not let the crowd sway them one bit. They asked very pointed questions about the cons of MMP (who controls the lists, in a list system, was very skeptically viewed by the assembly members). I agreed with the one gentlemen who advocated a non list system. Rather than having a party list, the proportional seats would be given to the candidates of the party based on the percentage of popular vote they got in their riding. So, if a party was entitled to 10 extra seats, their top ten runner ups would get the nod. That would take the power out of the hands of the party and put it into the hands of the voters.

I was also impressed by the chap who presented his case for an Alternate Vote (Instant Runoff) System. The crowd was very much opposed to his plan (which I have to admit I didn't like either because it would overly reward the big parties), but he was firm in his belief and delivered his presentation with humour and grace.

I said it was depressing too and it was. It was depressing because the government has stacked the deck against electoral reform. For all the hard work of the assembly, they have a compressed timeline to come up with a recommendation (about 4 months) for a new system and the government has set the threshold for accepting the will of Ontarians at 60%. Clearly, this long overdue reform process is not favored by the powers that be and it will be an up hill struggle all the way. That reality hung over the room like a cloud.

Still, it was a great evening. I am in total awe of the ordinary citizens who participated in the event. It was democracy at its finest.
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