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Learning Phase overview

The Citizens’ Assembly will take its first six weekends together (January through March, 2004) to explore the variety and workings of different electoral systems and how they contribute to the operation of democratic politics and government. The following outlines the proposed program. It should be regarded as subject to change. As the Assembly goes along, it will be prepared to adapt to the needs and interests of Assembly members.

This phase of Assembly activity will take place over six weekends. They are planned to cover three general topics:

  1. The first two weekends will consider the place of electoral systems within the political life of a democracy and consider the criteria by which members can assess different systems.
  2. The second pair of weekends will deal with the nature of electoral systems and review the characteristics of the five basic families of electoral systems. Only when members know which family they are interested in do they need to get into a consideration of the many details that make up a particular system. Some of that detailed work will be left for the deliberative phase in the fall.
  3. The third pair of weekends will focus on the question of what happenswhen you change an electoral system and, considering all the members have learned, what systems should they be recommending to British Columbians for more detailed consideration. At that stage members will need to agree on a draft preliminary report.
Weekend meetings will include sessions that involve presentations to the entire Assembly followed up by discussion groups which will allow Assembly members to ask detailed questions and discuss with one another the issues raised in the larger group meetings. These discussion groups will be chaired by trained facilitators who have a broad knowledge of how electoral systems work and who are there to help ensure that all members get a chance to participate fully in the discussions. These individuals are all senior graduate students at either Simon Fraser University of the University of British Columbia who have agreed to help the Assembly.

The research staff will provide basic outline documents for each of the sessions and recommend appropriate reading materials. They know that members all have different amounts of time available between sessions and so will try not to overload anyone. Members who want more information or suggestions for extra reading need only ask.

All members are being provided with an excellent introductory textbook entitled Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction by David Farrell. This will serve as a basic reference source, especially for weeks 3, 4 and 5. The book has lots of examples and illustrations and the staff hope it is helpful.

Weekend 5, devoted to the question of what happens when you choose and change an electoral system, will involve two visiting experts to help lead the members' discussions. They are David Farrell (the author of the members' book) from the University of Manchester in England who is an expert on how electoral systems work with wide experience of different electoral systems in Europe and Australia. The second visitor will be Elizabeth McLeay, from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who has been one of the lead researchers in a project assessing the consequences of New Zealand’s decision to change from its electoral system (which was very much like British Columbia’s) to a new proportional one about ten years ago. She is an expert not only on the electoral system but also its impact on the working of political parties, parliament and government.

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