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Newsletter - #20
3rd December, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Great gift to BC
Members of B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform wrapped up their 11-month mission on the weekend with some last-lap drafting of their final report, and announced that a copy of the report will be sent in the last half of January to every household in BC.
The Assembly also had its first visit Saturday from Premier Gordon Campbell. He presented each member with a commemorative certificate and, in turn, thanked them for their gift to the people of BC.
"You came with open minds. You came with open hearts. You came ready to listen to people. . . Your diligence, your determination, have been exceptional…
"It is a great gift you have given to all of us. You have given new life to public life in B.C."
Now, he noted, the decision on the Assembly's recommendation of a new proportional voting system (called BC-STV) is up to the voters of B.C., in a referendum next May 17, provincial election day.
"I hope everyone will listen to the public debate. . . . The people are engaging in a process that you have led, and that engagement is invaluable to our province."
He later confirmed to reporters that an information office will be set up to give the public information on the BC-STV recommendation, but it will not promote or sell the recommendation. And while MLAs will be free to speak on it, the government and cabinet will remain neutral.
Campbell urged the people of B.C. to learn about BC-STV, and to get involved in debate and discussion.
Assembly chair Jack Blaney praised the premier for establishing the Assembly, empowering it, and then giving it full independence from government -- "an independence that was real, constant, and greatly valued by all members."
Added Blaney: "No government, in any democracy, has ever given such a charge to non-elected citizens. You set new rules – the new gold standard – for the true engagement of citizens in democratic governance. . . . And it is now being copied in Ontario, and watched around the world."
The new proportional electoral system the Assembly members are proposing for the province is called BC-STV, short for British Columbia Single Transferable Vote.
Under this system, voters rank candidates by numbers on the ballot paper. BC-STV is designed to make every vote
count, and to reflect voters' support for candidates and parties as fairly as possible, while retaining local representation by MLAs.
It was proposed by the Assembly after 10 months of study, research and debate, including 50 public hearings and 1,603 written submissions from the public.
Now it's up to the voters of B.C., who will vote on BC-STV in a referendum in the next provincial election. The government says that if voters approve the proportional BC-STV model in May, it will introduce legislation so the new system can go into effect for the 2009 election.
The Assembly held its last meeting Sunday, capping six fall weekends of deliberation and decision-making. The Assembly's final report, which will include details of the proposed BC-STV system, will be made public December 10. Then the Assembly disbands and its office begins to close.
Copies of the report will be sent to all of BC's 1.5 million households in mid- to late January. It will also be distributed to libraries, municipal halls, First Nations offices, MLAs' offices, government agents, and more.
Everyone on the Assembly newsletter list will receive a copy of the Final Report. If you receive the newsletter by email, that is how you’ll receive the Report. If your newsletter is mailed to you, you will receive a paper copy of the Report. Until December 31, you can request additional copies by calling the Assembly office at 604-660-1232 (toll-free: 1-866-667-1232) or by e-mailing email@example.com.
The Report will also be printed in French, Chinese and Punjabi. These translations will be posted on the website, as well as available from the Assembly office through the end of December.
The Assembly's recommendation now goes to BC voters in a province-wide referendum to be held along with the provincial election on May 17, 2005.
On Saturday, Assembly members fine-tuned the question that BC voters will decided on in the referendum. It now reads: "Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?" Yes/No.
To pass, and to become binding on the provincial government, the May 17 referendum would have to win with a "double majority", as follows:
• Approval by at least 60% of the valid ballots province-wide,
• as well as, approval by more than 50% of the valid ballots in at least 48 of the 79 constituencies. (That is, by a simple majority in 60% of the ridings.)
If the referendum passes, then the government must bring in appropriate legislation that would ensure the new electoral model can be in place for the election of May 2009.
These details are spelled out in the final version of Bill 52-2004, the "Electoral Reform Referendum Act".
This was passed in the legislature on May 18, 2004, and was given royal assent (thus formally becoming law) two days later.
Where to get more information
Information on BC-STV can be found on the Assembly’s website www.citizensassembly.bc.ca. Additional resources are being developed and will be available shortly. In addition, you can obtain information – such as fact sheets – from the Assembly’s office until the end of December. Just call us at 1-866-667-1232.
Assembly winds down
With the delivery of its Final Report to the people of British Columbia, the Assembly’s mandate is complete. The office will also close at the end of December. The website, however, will be accessible at least until the referendum.
Assembly members organize
Many members of the Assembly feel that, while their mandate is ended, their responsibility to British Columbians continues. Having completed their intense study of electoral systems, members feel they have a role to play in communicating their recommendation. In the public debate leading up to the referendum in May, members feel they can serve as a valuable resource.
To coordinate communication activities, members are organizing an “alumni” group. This group will remain non-partisan and independent. Members are eager to explain their recommendation to British Columbians, so are available for speaking engagements and media interviews.
The Assembly alumni are setting up a website which will be available in the New Year. This site will include contact information for media interviews and for anyone wanting to book a speaker. So, in January, check out www.bc-stv.ca.
Do you know educators – particularly secondary school social studies teachers or post-secondary political science professors – who would like to use the Assembly’s recommendation to inspire students to learn about citizen participation, voting and electoral systems? On the Assembly website, educators can find electoral system lesson aids, fact sheets and videos. (And these resources are currently being upgraded and expanded.) Simply go to the website and select “Learning resources” then “Educational resources”.
Knowledge Network documentary
Knowledge Network has been closely following the work of the Assembly from the start. In January, it will air a one-hour documentary on the Assembly. The first scheduled broadcast is slated for January 27, 2005 at 9pm. Additional broadcasts are planned.
Hansard TV will broadcast the Assembly’s final weekend of plenary sessions on Saturday December 4 and Sunday December 5, starting at 9am.
Hansard TV is also considering future broadcast dates of Assembly sessions if there is public interest.