Citizens’ Assembly to meet tonight

Queen’s faculty, students, community members to discuss voting and democracy at a public consultation meeting tonight as part of a government initiative to review Ontario’s electoral system

Chris Horkins, ArtSci ’08, will be speaking on behalf of the Queen’s New Democrats at tonight’s public meeting.
Chris Horkins, ArtSci ’08, will be speaking on behalf of the Queen’s New Democrats at tonight’s public meeting.

Tonight, a public consultation on democratic reform could be one step towards changing Ontario’s electoral process later this year.

Members of the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform will be listening to presentations and discussions by Kingston and Queen’s community member.

The assembly is part of a project set in motion by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

In November 2004, McGuinty announced the creation of a citizens’ assembly of randomly selected voters to explore the possibility of electoral reform in Ontario.

Barry Koen-Butt, spokesman for the assembly, said the assembly is comprised of 103 people—one for each provincial riding--narrowed down from 124,000 randomly selected individuals. It also has a chair and equal numbers of men and women.

The assembly spent until November 2006 learning about various electoral systems, with Queen’s politics professor Jonathan Rose as their academic director.

“[My job was to] teach assembly members about different electoral systems used around the world, teach the different values of each one,” he said. “This will help them make a decision about whether they want to make a change.”

Rose said the random selection of members for the assembly works towards improving the democratic deficit in Canadian government.

For the next few months, the assembly will be travelling the province to consult with members of the public about their views on electoral reform. Following a deliberation phase, the assembly will send a report to the Ontario government in May recommending a change in Ontario’s electoral system, or suggesting that it remain the same.

“They have to recommend it in minute detail--what the ballot would look like, how the votes would be tallied,” Koen-Butt said.

The government has committed to a referendum on the assembly’s recommendations coinciding with the next provincial election this October.

The government has proposed legislation, which Koen-Butt said is currently in committee--that would require a qualified majority of 60 per cent in at least 60 per cent of Ontario ridings in order for the referendum to pass—the same requirements used in the 2005 British Columbia referendum on single transferable voting, which failed with 57 per cent of the vote.

Rose encouraged students to attend tonight’s consultation.

“The Citizens’ Assembly [is] very keen to hear from the youth as they want to want to find ways in which young people can become involved in politics,” he said.

Chris Horkins, ArtSci ’08, will speak at the consultation on behalf of the Queen’s New Democrats, of which he is the president. He will present tonight why he believes a form of proportional representation is a better electoral system.

Horkins said attending the public consultation is vital for people who care about the state of government.

“It is rare that something like this happens, and it is a chance to make your voice heard on something important as how we vote,” he said, adding that if there is a poor turnout at the consultation, it’s indicative that young people in Canada think their vote doesn’t matter.

“This can be bettered by the proportional representation system because it would make each vote count for more,” he said.

Max Rubin, ArtSci ’08, signed up to be a speaker in hopes of bridging the generational gap while discussing proportional representation.

“I want to ensure that we can satisfy old generations and foster new generations of political engagement.”


Plurality, or first past-the-post: This is the system used in Canada and the U.K. It involves a number of political races in separate ridings, in which the candidate with more votes than any of the others—regardless of whether that candidate has a majority of the popular vote or not—wins that riding. The number of seats a party garners in parliament is equal to the number of ridings the party wins.

Single transferable vote: This system, used in Malta and the Republic of Ireland, among others, involves ranking candidates on a ballot in order of preference. All candidates with a certain quota of votes are elected; any candidates with preferred votes over the quota have their votes transferred to the candidates ranked in second place on those ballots. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes are transferred to candidates ranked second on those ballots. During British Columbia’s 2005 provincial election, people voted to adopt this system; the vote neede d60 per cent support to pass, but failed when only 58 per cent of voters voted in favour.

Mixed-member majoritarian
: Used in Germany, this electoral system elects candidates to two houses of government. In the first house, the number of seats garnered by a certain party is equal to the proportion of the popular vote that they obtain. In the second house, candidates are elected based on plurality in ridings to allow for regional representation.

List system: This system is used in Israel. Voters vote for their choice of party, and the number of seats a party obtains corresponds to the percentage of the vote the party gets. Candidates are selected based on a list compiled by each party.

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