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
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
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
Simon Fraser University
and former Chair of the
. Dr. Blaney has also served on a variety of
community and government boards, and is a recipient of the
of British Columbia
Jack Blaney's opening speech to the Assembly's first meeting,
January 10, 2004, is online here.