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Message from Jack Blaney, Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly

Never before in modern history has a democratic government given to unelected, "ordinary" citizens the power to review an important public policy, then seek from all citizens approval of any proposed changes to that policy.

The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform has had this power and responsibility and, throughout its life, complete independence from government.

I want to acknowledge this unique gift by first thanking Premier Gordon Campbell for creating the Assembly. While several community leaders promoted the idea, it was the premier, in collaboration with Attorney General Geoff Plant, who took the steps necessary to create and secure the Assembly.

I also want to recognize the role of the provincial legislature. The Terms of Reference, as well as the conditions governing any referendum, were approved by the Legislative Assembly in unanimous votes. Members of our Legislative Assembly united in making history.

The members of the Citizens’ Assembly—British Columbians who unstintingly gave their time and energy—demonstrated how extraordinary ordinary citizens are when given an important task and the resources and independence to do it right. Over the eleven-month course of the Assembly, only one of 161 members withdrew and attendance was close to perfect. Their great and lasting achievement is the birth of a new tool for democratic governance.

With an impressive commitment to learning so many new concepts and skills, and with a grace and respect for one another in their discussions that was truly remarkable, the Assembly members demonstrated a quality of citizenship that inspired us all. My deepest thanks and regard go to each and every one of them.

The idea of a citizens’ assembly—its unique authority and its importance as a democratic process—clearly exerted a powerful force, attracting highly-talented staff, researchers and administrators to its cause. Their work enriched the Assembly’s work, and all staff members performed their tasks with exceptional professionalism and integrity. Twelve-hour days, seven-days-a-week were common: they willingly provided anything that the Assembly needed to get the job done and done right. In each session’s evaluation Assembly members consistently gave to staff their highest marks.

The facilitators—graduate students in political science from Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia—were also exceptional. These outstanding, exemplary colleagues deserve enormous credit for the Assembly’s achievements.

All Assembly members and staff are indebted to Gordon Gibson. At the government’s request, he prepared the Constitution of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. With few variations, we followed Mr. Gibson’s clear and sensible plan. And, during the Assembly’s tenure, I often consulted Mr. Gibson for his wise, helpful and objective advice.

I also want to thank and recognize the contributions of Harry Neufeld, Chief Electoral Officer, and Linda Johnson, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, of Elections BC who were essential and very helpful partners throughout the Assembly’s work; Neil Reimer, David Winkler and Carol Anne Rolf of the Attorney General’s ministry who helped us use government services in ways that supported our independence; members of the Research Advisory Committee from the University of BC, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria; community leaders who helped to promote the idea of a citizens’ assembly; and the staff of the Delta Vancouver Suites and Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, who adopted us as a special family.

And the heartiest of thanks to those citizens who attended hearings and made presentations and submissions, and to all British Columbians—your support made possible this wonderful invention in the practice of democracy.

Dr. Jack Blaney is an experienced facilitator who can bring people together around a common goal. He is a former president of Simon Fraser University , and former Chair of the Fraser Basin Council . Dr. Blaney has also served on a variety of community and government boards, and is a recipient of the Order of British Columbia .  

Jack Blaney's opening speech to the Assembly's first meeting, January 10, 2004, is online here.




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