Citizens Assembly News Digest

January 17, 2008
Written by J.H. Snider

Saskatchewan Premier and Citizens Assembly Advocate Defeated; New Zealand Parliament Debates and Defeats Citizens Assembly Legislation

This issue of the Citizens Assembly News Digest is divided into the following sections:

News Roundup


New Zealand




Some Noteworthy Trends

Launch of iSolon’s Citizens Assembly Forum


Next Issue

Newspaper and Blog Articles (cites and selected links or text)

News Roundup

Since the last Citizens Assembly News Digest went out on October 19, citizens assembly stories have been centered in three hot zones:  Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Zealand.  The defeat of the Citizens’ Assembly referendum in Ontario spurred several dozen follow-up editorials, op-eds, and letters-to-the-editor.  Saskatchewan and New Zealand each saw about a dozen articles.  Various odds and ends concerning citizens assemblies also appeared in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Manitoba, California, Washington, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.    In Australia, a related proposal called a “citizens parliament” got a fair bit of blurblike attention, but only on the inside news pages that relatively few people read.   

Saskatchewan and New Zealand were the locations of the two major news developments.  In Saskatchewan, Premier Calvert lost his re-election bid, thus making politically irrelevant his promise to institute a citizens assembly after his re-election. 

In New Zealand, a citizens assembly amendment was proposed for a high profile electoral finance bill.  The amendment was overwhelmingly defeated, but not before stimulating a vigorous debate in parliament and educating the country’s political movers and shakers that this was a new type of democratic reform option.


On October 19, 2007 Saskatchewan's Premier, Lornie Calvert, announced that if he was re-elected on November 7, 2007 he would convene a Citizens Assembly by May 7, 2008.  A link to the press release is  here

The jurisdiction of Calvert’s proposed citizens assembly was different from and broader than the jurisdiction of the Ontario and British Columbia citizens assemblies.  His electoral reforms included—in addition to representative models--fixed election dates, methods for increasing voter participation, and voting age.

On November 7, Calvert lost his re-election bid and with that defeat any hope that a citizens assembly would be instituted in Saskatchewan in the foreseeable future.  Calvert’s proposal and his expected defeat were presumably linked.  Already, by October 19, when he announced his proposal, Calvert was well behind in the polls.  A reasonable inference, then, is that the proposed citizens assembly was a hail mary pass, the type of populist democratic reform proposal that underdogs are wont to introduce.

New Zealand

On December 5, New Zealand’s national Green Party introduced in parliament an amendment (“Supplemenatory Order Paper Number 170”) to the Electoral Finance Bill seeking to create a citizens assembly.  The Electoral Finance Bill was a high profile, controversial, and long debated bill designed to fix some widely perceived campaign finance problems at the national level of government.  The amendment went down to defeat with 10 members (the members of the Green and Maori parties) supporting it and 111 opposing it.

Two interesting aspects of the New Zealand legislation were the proposed citizens assembly’s jurisdiction and the debate that ensued about it.  Unlike the British Columbia, Ontario, and Netherlands citizens assemblies, the proposed jurisdiction of this citizens assembly was campaign finance reform.  In terms of proposed powers, it was more like the Netherlands than the British Columbia or Ontario Citizens Assemblies.  In the Netherlands, the recommendations of the citizens assembly were purely advisory.  In British Columbia and Ontario, they had the effective power to put their recommendations on the ballot in the form of a referendum.  An additional proposed power for the New Zealand citizens assembly was to have its advisory report receive a formal, written, “ministerial response.”  Here is the wording: “The Minister must respond to the report of the Citizen’s Assembly and present a copy of the response to the House of Representatives within 6 months of receiving the report.”

Attached below is the discussion in New Zealand’s parliament on the citizens assembly amendment.  Parts of the discussion are humorous, including the characterization of Canada as a “well known communist country” and the author of the Canadian citizens assembly as a member of the “McGillicuddy Serious Party.”  Much of the tone of the discussion is one of ridicule rather than serious reasoned argument.  At no point do the opponents of a citizens assembly acknowledge that in designing an electoral reform bill they might have a conflict of interest.  This is especially noteworthy because each party repeatedly accuses the other of designing a bill to favor its own electoral interests.  Even the advocates of using a citizens assembly as part of the electoral reform process skirted the conflict of interest argument on the floor of the legislature (less so in the press), perhaps because they didn’t think it was a winning way to frame the issue. 

In general, both advocates and opponents of the citizens assembly amendment viewed a citizens assembly as a way to encourage public participation.  Framed this way, the citizens assembly was pitted against other forms of public participation such as hearings or expert advisory committees.  In my opinion, advocates of the citizens assembly amendment failed to clearly state why, in this particular case, a citizens assembly was the preferred method to foster public participation. 

The text below is fairly wrong.  Those not interested in the details may want to skip this indented section. 

Advance Copy
(subject to minor change before inclusion in Bound Volume) 

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Madam Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.


Business Statement

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): Next week in the House priority will be given to the completion of the Committee stage of the Electoral Finance Bill, the third reading of the Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill, the remaining stages of the Taxation (Annual Rates, Business Taxation, KiwiSaver, and Remedial Matters) Bill and the Dairy Industry Restructuring Amendment Bill (No 2), and a range of first readings.


Debate resumed from 5 December.


METIRIA TUREI (Green): I want to talk to the Committee about the Supplementary Order Paper the Greens have put forward on this part. It is the only Supplementary Order Paper we have on this bill, and it is a shame that Bill English is not able to address directly why he attacked the idea so fiercely—the idea that the citizens of our country should have a say in how our electoral campaign law should be determined.

Our Supplementary Order Paper establishes a Citizens’ Assembly that would begin its work before the next general election. It is a process similar to a jury whereby a number of citizens are randomly selected from each electorate, so the idea is not completely unusual in New Zealand. The assembly would include the Māori electorates, and in our Supplementary Order Paper we have left it open so that at least two people from every electorate—a man and a woman, we would expect—would be on the assembly. It could be opened up for possible Treaty implications that might be involved, as well.

Those people would be brought together by the panel that we have also established in our Supplementary Order Paper and that would do a great deal of work preparing information and support systems for the Citizens’ Assembly. [Interruption] National is not going to support it and I would really like to hear why it is so opposed to this idea.

Our citizens would then work with the secretariat. They would get the information about the different kinds of electoral campaign from across the globe, as well as here in New Zealand; look at all the issues; and determine what they believe would be the best kind of election campaign financing system that our country should have.

This is exactly what we need—a mechanism for our citizens to be the decision makers. The assembly would report back to the Minister on its findings, and the Minister and the Government would then be expected to enact those findings. I do not understand why the National Party could be so fiercely opposed, for no good reason, to citizens having a say. Could it please, please let us know. National Party members have said they would like greater public involvement, and then, at the first opportunity they get to allow that, they say no.

This assembly model was used in Canada. I will briefly read from—

R Doug Woolerton: A well-known Communist country!

METIRIA TUREI: That is right; Canada is a well-known Communist country! The chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, George Thomson, who worked on that electoral system, said: “The Assembly members constantly amazed me with their enthusiasm and deep commitment to the task they were given. Throughout the eight-month process, not one member withdrew from the Assembly. Members applied themselves to learning about electoral systems. They talked to people in their communities about the work of the Assembly and chaired public consultation meetings. Some members read hundreds of written submissions. Others participated on working groups to advise on the Assembly process or to do more research in specific areas. Many used an online forum to share information and discuss issues between meetings. By the time the Assembly began its deliberations in February, it had become a community of people who cared about one another and never lost sight of their common objective … Assembly members approached their deliberations with open minds, respect for different points of view, and in the spirit of the best kind of collective problem-solving. They inspired the members of the public who came to see them at work, and they inspired me.” That is from the chair of the assembly from Canada.

It just goes to show that we can have faith in the community to make these decisions. Canada is a great country—and clearly the Citizens’ Assembly worked brilliantly for them—but New Zealand is better. I believe that New Zealand is a much better country than Canada. I reckon it is the best country in the world, and if Canadians can do that kind of work and come up with the best kinds of options, then our citizens can, as well.

Why does National not trust New Zealanders? [Interruption] My colleague Nandor Tanczos is quite right; why do National members not trust New Zealanders to make these decisions? Why do they feel, despite everything they say about the public having a say, that they cannot trust New Zealanders to have a say about their own electoral system? Is it because the National Party has something to hide? I suspect that is the case.

The National Party has a lot to hide. It has a lot of fat back-pocket wallets to protect. National members do not want the public to have a say about how the National Party can raise money. They do not want the public to have a say about what the National Party can spend its campaigning money on or when it can spend it, because they are pretty frightened about what the public would say. The public would say they want transparency. The public would say they want a level playing field. The public would say they want controls on big money.

Nandor Tanczos: They want the Business Roundtable to make the rules.

METIRIA TUREI: That is exactly right; the National Party wants the Business Roundtable to make these decisions and to be able to provide it with all of that money. It does not want New Zealanders to make that decision. What is the National Party’s problem?


JILL PETTIS (Labour): I want to start by giving a brief response to the comments made by Metiria Turei from the Greens about a review. The Government is not opposed to a review, but at this stage we cannot support the detailed review as outlined by the Greens. In fact, the Hon Mark Burton in his first reading speech announced that he intended to establish a review of electoral administration and political party funding. The Hon Mark Burton said that the panel would be appointed and would report back by December 2008. We are most certainly open to further discussion with the Greens and other support parties about a review and what form this dialogue might include.

I ask National Party members whether, instead of filibustering as they are, they will tell us what they actually think about a Citizens’ Assembly. It has gone very quiet. They have no answers; all they have are objections. They have no positive comments to make at all about being forward-looking and future-thinking. In fact all the filibustering by National members is because they were caught out—they were caught with their fingers in the till. The National Party, as Doug Woolerton said, used to play by the rules. It used to be an honourable party, but it is so no longer. That is what all the filibustering over there is about. National has been caught with its fingers in the till. Its members are trying to talk clause by clause, but their opposition has nothing to do with those clauses; it is about getting their filthy little hands on anonymous money, on money from covert, secret organisations that operate nefariously and illicitly in our community. The National Party used to be a fair party until “Desperate Don” and “Gerrymandering John” came along and tried to rort the system. “Gerrymandering John” is desperate to get his hands on the filthy moolah from those covert—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): No, no. When speaking about members of Parliament the member needs to speak of them by their proper name. I just caution the member. [Interruption] We have not had a warning, I guess, this afternoon, but when I am making a ruling on a point of order it is helpful to have silence. I just say to the member to watch the personal abuse. We have had a couple of cases of that this afternoon; we do not want any more.

JILL PETTIS: Thank you for your guidance, Madam Chair, because I would not want there to be any confusion. I am grateful for the opportunity to have some clarification.


Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore): I want to reflect on the speeches given by New Zealand First and the Green Party, and the reason I want to do that is this: they are in the Chamber propping up legislation being proposed by the Government but that New Zealanders do not want. The reason that New Zealanders do not want it is that they see it as an assault on their democracy: their rights and freedom to participate. Yet both the parties that have been speaking in support of the bill are backing it on the basis that it is about fairness. I want to bring to the attention of the Green Party the point of view of, for instance, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. It often becomes involved in political debates like whether political parties should support Māui’s dolphin and protect them. In fact, I had a visit from those people about protecting Māui’s dolphin. I have to say to the Green Party that this bill will effectively stop the organisation doing that, unless it goes through a complicated and difficult procedure of registrations and then running the risks of committing offences and being prosecuted.

Metiria Turei: Untrue.

Dr WAYNE MAPP: That is the point of clauses 120 and 125. I need to explain, obviously, to the Green member why she does not understand the law she is supporting. The only way the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society could run a campaign to protect Māui’s dolphin, to engage the public interest, is to print pamphlets, hold public meetings, maybe have radio ads, put ads in the newspaper, and the like. If the organisation did that throughout New Zealand and held a dozen or so meetings, then straight away, on that one issue alone, it would have spent tens of thousands of dollars, which it would have had to gain from its members. Do members know why?

Chris Auchinvole: Why?

Dr WAYNE MAPP: That is an issue that particular political parties are identified with, and, indeed, they go so far as to say: “Support those parties that will protect Māui’s dolphin.” That is what the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society will do, and there are many, many other concerned citizens’ organisations just like that. The whole problem with this legislation is that it makes things much, much harder for those organisations to do that. I will admit that it does not make it impossible, but why put those organisations through the hoops? Why force them to register? Why get them to record all of their donations? Why put them at risk of being prosecuted?

Hon Annette King: They don’t have to.

Dr WAYNE MAPP: I hear the Minister saying no, but it would be hugely helpful if she read the bill and understood that Subpart 5 does precisely that, as soon as one gets involved in any discussion, which is about supporting a political party, or a group of parties, on a particular issue, and that leads one directly into Part 3 and the provisions around sanctions. The Green Party then said: “Well, we’re going to support this legislation.”, but this legislation is designed to restrict freedom, designed to limit debate, and actually designed to help Labour get elected, as was quite clearly revealed by Jill Pettis.

Hon Darren Hughes: Citizens’ Assembly.

Dr WAYNE MAPP: So their excuse is: “Well, we will pass the legislation to chill freedom, to stop debate, but our fix-up, our ‘solution’ is to have a Citizens’ Assembly.” They seem to think that that will somehow make whole their deficiency. They are totally wrong. It will be seen as the facile trick and device that it is. I just want to tell the member of the Green Party what a Citizens’ Assembly actually is. Everyone in this Chamber is a citizen. Every person here has been elected. It is an assembly. This is the place where we debate the legislation, and I just wish that the Green Party, in particular, and the New Zealand First Party understood their obligation to New Zealanders, and that is about freedom. These parties come into the House specifically to represent the citizens—they would say the minorities. Yet they are supporting legislation that will do the very opposite of that; it will prevent those citizens’ groups from participating easily in the election. They have constructed a whole apparatus of registration, donations regimes, and so forth, and then on top of that they say that the financial agent, under clause 119, of the third party then is going to be liable to be prosecuted. How does that defend freedom?

HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT): I rise to speak to Part 3, and I too will focus on clause 119, “Liability of candidates, party secretaries, and third parties”. But before I move on to that I will make a comment on the Green member who throughout Dr Mapp’s very excellent speech, I have to say, called out repeatedly: “Why don’t you trust the people?”. This whole bill is about the fact that Labour, New Zealand First, and the Greens do not trust the people. Heavy-handed law and regulations are being put in place because they have no trust in the people. Those members do not trust people to have freedom of speech or to spend their own money in the way that they see fit. Trust seems to be a commodity that is in very short order in this House, and that is a terrible, terrible statement on the state of our democracy.

With regard to the liability of candidates, party secretaries, and third parties, who in their right mind would put a hand up to be a party secretary? Certainly I would not. Let us look at these liabilities. They were bad enough before this bill, but they are even worse now. [Interruption] I do not think they do.

Chris Auchinvole: They’ll be dragged off to prison.


METIRIA TUREI (Green): I want to deal with a couple of other matters on Part 3 that the Greens were very pleased to see changes made to in the Justice and Electoral Committee. In particular, I refer to the removal of a statutory declaration for spending less than the threshold amount for third parties. This is an issue that all the minor parties were keen to see changed. It means that people or groups do not have to sign a statutory declaration if they want to spend money under the threshold for listing as a third party. It did seem like an unnecessary bureaucratic measure, so it was great that it was removed.

We are also very pleased with our advocacy for strengthening the enforcement provisions for a corrupt practice—which has already been talked about, to some extent—from a fine of $40,000 to a fine of $100,000. This is very important to us because, of course, it means that the police will take prosecutions and treat them seriously when the consequence of the criminal or corrupt activity is very high. So increasing those fines was a very important thing to do, and the Electoral Commission supported us doing it.

I also refer again to the very good Supplementary Order Paper 170, which establishes a Citizens’ Assembly, a form of citizens’ jury, for our country. I take note of Mr Mapp’s very poor analysis of the importance of having the public engaged in such a process. I understand that he has been many years away from the legal profession, and perhaps has lost a bit of his edge on that matter, but it is very important to the Greens that the public have a say. We have campaigned on this issue for a very long time—since the early stages of this year.

Anne Tolley: So why not send the bill back?

METIRIA TUREI: Anne Tolley is interjecting on me. I emailed Anne Tolley a copy of my Supplementary Order Paper that had provision for a citizens’ jury incorporated into it. It took Anne Tolley only 56 minutes to email me back. Do members know what she said? Did she say that National would like to look at the Supplementary Order Paper and consider the issues, or that she had read it and it was very interesting but National had principled reasons for not agreeing to it? No. Did she send me anything of use about why she thought that perhaps it was not a good idea? No. There was no analysis, no description—nothing. All she did, after 56 minutes of very poor consideration, was to send me back an email that said “No”. “No” is what Anne Tolley said. It took her 56 minutes to come to the conclusion that, no, citizens should not have a say in how their campaign reform should look.

Anne Tolley says that citizens should not have a say about campaign finance reform. It took her 56 minutes to dismiss the public of New Zealand. It took her 56 minutes to decide that New Zealanders could not be trusted to make decisions about campaign finance reform. Why is that? Why did it take her only 56 minutes to decide? Hmm, let me see. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the National Party is opposing anybody who is trying to make sure that we have a transparent system in this country where the use of money is clearly defined, where it is clearly understood to be part of the corrupting process, and where there are clear caps on the way that money is spent and on the massive amounts of secret trust money that the National Party gets.

I feel very sad that National could be so dismissive of the rights of citizens to make decisions about the nature of their campaign finance. People have a right to make a decision that political parties should not get anonymous donations from wealthy organisations and people like those in the Business Roundtable, people like David Richwhite—all of those people who have long reputations for certain kinds of behaviour in New Zealand. National wants to be able to keep the money coming from all of those kinds of people and from organisations like the Business Roundtable, and it does not want New Zealanders to have a say about it. I just find that so tragic. [Interruption] Well, Wayne Mapp has no analysis.

I would like to hear from Anne Tolley why it is she would take only 56 minutes to decide that New Zealanders should have no say in electoral campaign finance reform. Is it because she knows that if New Zealanders did have a say, they would say they want more transparency, they want more control, and they want to know where the secret money comes from? They would want National to tell them who funds the party, who gave National $1.2 million from the Waitemata Trust, and who gave National hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret funds. The public want to know, but Anne Tolley does not want the public to know. Anne Tolley said no to citizens having a say and no to the community having an input into campaign finance reform. What is Anne Tolley’s problem?


TIM GROSER (National): I take the floor in the first instance to talk about Supplementary Order Paper 170 and the proposal of the Green Party, put forward in the name of Metiria Turei, on a Citizens’ Assembly. Let me make this clear. Our assumption is that the Government is not going to go there. But so great is the political pressure on the Labour-led Government and so great is the confusion around this bill, that we are simply not going to take that risk. So let us start by looking at the purposes of the Citizens’ Assembly. The functions of this—and I will focus just on the key operational point—are to review the levels of transparency and accountability of candidates and parties, and other persons engaged in elections. Who will the members of the Citizens’ Assembly be? There will be at least two registered voters, randomly selected from each of the Māori and general electorates. Imagine this. This is a bill of such complexity that the Minister herself has admitted she does not understand it. It is a bill of such complexity that Helena Catt, the chief executive of the Electoral Commission, says she does not understand it. But at least these two persons drawn from each of the electorate lists—at random, I repeat—will be able to clarify it.

We have to understand the political origins of the author of this proposal. I did a bit of research on Wikipedia because I was wondering about the place of the McGillicuddy Serious Party in this whole process. I found out, to my surprise, that the author of this proposal was a member, originally, of the McGillicuddy Serious Party. We have to understand that the criterion of policies for the McGillicuddy Serious Party was that it “selected its policies on the basis of their absurdity and their impracticality.” Let me make this clear. First of all, I regard this party as having made a unique and important contribution to New Zealand’s politics. If we have lost our sense of humour, we have lost everything. Secondly, in no way do I in any way hold Metiria Turei responsible for moving her political views. After all, Dr Mapp and I were momentarily members of the Labour Party. But, in line with basic evolutionary theory, we expect evolution to move up the food chain to higher levels of sophistication. I seriously have to ask whether the author of this paper is a little confused and still thinks that she should be applying that criterion for policy now that she has moved into the New Zealand Parliament. This amendment would be an absolute disaster, and we implore—my favourite word this afternoon—the Labour Party not to go there.

I now wish to move to clause 119, and the matter of the financial agent. My own feeling is that the person who is selected as the financial agent has to be either a person of unsurpassed naivety or one with a heroic sense of martyrdom.

John Carter: Or both.


Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I move, That the question be now put.

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Clem Simich): I think we have been adequately informed in the debate on Part 3. The question is that the question be now put.

ANNE TOLLEY (Senior Whip—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I would like to point out that I have not taken a call on this part, and the Green member, in particular, has spoken at length about my actions in regard to her Supplementary Order Paper 170, and I ask you for the opportunity to reply to her questions of me in this part.

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Clem Simich): That is an interesting twist.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. The member raises a very fair point, and I suggest perhaps that we might take leave for the member, since you had started putting the motion, to have one speech and then for the closure motion be put.

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Clem Simich): I do not need any more help on this. I will take it upon myself to call Anne Tolley.

ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast): Thank you, Mr Chairman. I would like to speak to Supplementary Order Paper 170 presented by the Green member, Metiria Turei, who was a member of the Justice and Electoral Committee. Yesterday she sent me an email in my capacity as the senior whip for the National Party. I think she made much in her speech of the fact that it had taken me 56 minutes to send her a one-word reply of “No”—that we would not support that amendment. Well, I would actually like to let that member know, and the Committee, that, in fact, it took much less than that. I did not see the email for 55½ minutes, so it really took me only 30 seconds to consult and decide that we would not support that amendment. Members might ask why.

Well, I am prepared to tell the Committee why the National Party will not support that Supplementary Order Paper. I refer to a letter that the select committee received from the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Rosslyn Noonan. I would just like to read what she said in point 30: “Many of the substantial concerns of submitters are likely to be addressed in redrafting.” So this was during the select committee process. We had heard submissions, we had had some discussion about some changes, and a whole lot of issues had been raised by various members of the select committee, and some changes had been suggested. She said: “The committee now faces the challenge of how the rationale for recommended changes, and the opportunity for further improvement, is incorporated into its processes. The commission considers that public concerns would be best addressed by a further round of public consultation on a redrafted version of the bill.” That is the position of the National Party. We argued that matter during the select committee and I stand in the Committee to reply to the Green member in relation to her Supplementary Order Paper that that is not the way to address the public having an opportunity to have a say on this bill.

The Human Rights Commissioner has said the commission believes that having substantially redrafted that bill it should go back for public debate. It should go back for another round of submissions. During the select committee hearing the Green member was loud and vociferous in denying that opportunity to the public of New Zealand. For her then to come to the Committee with a Supplementary Order Paper that sets up a quasi-public process of redebating this bill 2 months after it comes into effect is an absolutely calculated act to manipulate the process—

Chris Auchinvole: Gerrymandering

ANNE TOLLEY: Absolutely, and the word has been used here earlier tonight by someone trying to make fun of one of the members on this side. But I would say that Supplementary Order Paper 170 represents gerrymandering of the public democratic system more than anything else I have heard from that member.

I thank you, Mr Chairperson, for the opportunity to reply to the Green member, and I would just like to reiterate that it is the National Party’s position that we follow the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission, which is to put this bill out for another round of public submissions. It is not too late for the Committee to decide to do that.

We can make sure that the public have the opportunity to have another say on a bill that is almost entirely different from what it was when over 600 members of the public made submissions on it. It is an entirely different bill. The most reasonable thing that this Committee could do at this time of the year would be to send this bill back out for another round of public submissions and stick with the Auditor-General’s rules. They are quite clear. We all understand them this time round. We could quite easily go through the 2008 election under those rules that have been so very clearly spelt out in this House and through the Speaker’s’ directions for all parties.

Thank you, Mr Chairperson, for the opportunity to reply to the Greens member. The National Party’s position is that we do not support the Supplementary Order Paper from the Greens. We support the Human Rights Commission in relation to sending this out for a further round of public submissions. We support democracy.

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Deputy Leader of the House): I move, That the question be now put.

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Clem Simich): The question is that the question be now put.


The question was put that the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 170 in the name of Metiria Turei to insert new Subpart 1A be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 10

Green Party 6; Māori Party 4.

Noes 111

New Zealand Labour 49; New Zealand National 48; New Zealand First 7; United Future 2; ACT New Zealand 2; Progressive 1; Independents: Copeland, Field.

Amendment not agreed to.

The House adjourned at 5.56 p.m.

 Advance Copy
(subject to minor change before inclusion in Bound Volume) 

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

KEITH LOCKE (Green):....  The Electoral Finance Bill is not a perfect bill. Everyone knows that, and that is why the Green Party is putting forward the idea of a Citizens’ Assembly, assisted by experts, to have a look at this whole question, and to a large extent to take out of the hands of politicians the control of how election financing is determined. We do have self-interests, and I think it would be good if the public could play a greater role in determining the restrictions on election funding—how they take place, and how they take place in the best way to enable free speech. That is my view. We have a model in the United States of what happens without that. Thank you.

 Advance Copy
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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

METIRIA TUREI (Green):...  In New Zealand we seem to have accepted that there is a situation of donations to political parties, provided that the donation, the giver, and the receiver are known—that is, disclosure is the key for us. The Greens, to the best extent we could negotiate, have ensured that we have severely restricted the capacity for anonymous donations to be made to political parties, so that the public can know more about who is funding their political representatives and their political campaigns, and can then assess their policy positions in response. We have exposed the secret trusts to the disinfectant of sunlight. We have exposed the rorts of the 2005 election and we do not want those rorts to happen again. We have closed those loopholes. For parties that are in Government, such public scrutiny of funders and policy preferences is critical, and the Greens have made that scrutiny by the public easier through the provisions in this legislation.

The Greens will continue to work for better campaign funding law. This legislation does not do everything right, and we need better work done. That is why we have advocated so strongly for a citizens’ assembly. A citizens’ assembly would comprise two people selected from each electorate, who would work together as a group with advisers and a secretariat to consider New Zealand’s historical situation and comparable jurisdictions. It would hold public hearings, and would work towards developing a new campaign funding law that is about the New Zealand situation. This is what we have been advocating for nearly a year. Such an assembly would enable the citizens of our country to devise election funding rules that meet the changing needs of a society that is sophisticated and technologically savvy, but that at heart upholds the founding principles of the parliamentary democracy our forebears brought to this country—principles of transparency, equality, and fairness. In short, we need Kiwi politicians with no strings attached.

The press picked up on the idea that democratic reforms tend to be done in a politically self serving way for the parties in power: 

[T]he bill has been written and rewritten in the back rooms of the Beehive with Labour's prime motivation being the short-term political imperative of knobbling National's financial advantage in the run-up to next year's election. Labour's self-serving behaviour and departure from the norm of cross-party co-operation when writing electoral law made a gift of the moral high ground to National even though National's objections to the bill could likewise be regarded as self-serving.   (“When a little humility could go a long way,” New Zealand Herald, December 1, 2007)

But that cynicism about a conflict of interest didn’t necessarily translate into support for the citizens assembly proposal.  The same author in the same article above dismiisses the citizens assembly proposal simply by observing: “It is unlikely any other party in Parliament would support an untested mechanism on something so important.” 


After Ontario voters rejected the citizens assembly’s referendum on October 7, I expected that after a few days newspaper coverage of it would disappear.  As it turned out, that was not the case.  The defeat spurred a spate of commentaries and letters-to-the-editor trying to make sense of what happened. 

As with the arguments used before the referendum, virtually all the commentators wanted to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly’s MMP proposal rather than the strengths and weaknesses of the citizens assembly process itself.   One new angle was how the seat distribution in parliament would have been different if MMP had already been in place.   Another new angle was how the vote tally would have been different if all the voters had been educated about the strengths and weaknesses of the MMP proposal.  Specifically, political scientists Fred Cutler and Patrick Fournier projected that, based on the voting patters of those informed and uninformed about the MMP proposal, if all had been informed the referendum, it would have passed with 63% of the vote:

There was latent potential support for MMP…. Just before voting day, two-thirds were aware that a referendum was taking place and the same proportion said they knew something about MMP. But useful knowledge about the proposal was rare. Less than one-third knew MMP makes multiparty governments more likely. Less than half were aware that MMP makes votes and seats proportional, that it would give seats to more parties, and that it involves two votes….

Could referendum support have reached the 60 per cent threshold if voters had been fully informed about both? We can simulate the outcome if all citizens had known: (1) that MMP would give voters two votes, elect some members whose names never appear on a ballot, produce proportional outcomes with more parties and infrequent majorities; and (2) that assembly members "were ordinary Ontarians," "had an equal chance of being chosen," "represented all parts of Ontario," "became experts on electoral systems," and that "most members wanted what's best for all Ontarians" (rather than themselves).

Under these conditions, our data indicate the result would have been 63 per cent for MMP and 37 per cent for the existing system - exactly the mirror image of the actual outcome. (“Why Ontarians Said No to MMP,” Globe and Mail, October 25, 2007)

George Thomson, the Chair of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, wrote the following commentary, published in the Toronto Star:

As chair of Ontario's first Citizens' Assembly that produced the proposal, I had the unique privilege of watching 103 Ontarians dedicate themselves over an eight-month period to the task of examining the current system and those that might replace it.

While their proposal fell far short of the 60 per cent approval threshold, the success of the Citizens' Assembly should not be judged by that outcome. The assembly members - randomly selected citizens from each of Ontario's electoral districts - performed a valuable public service by reviewing our electoral system in place since 1792 and putting forward an alternative model for the voters to consider. They also showed that "ordinary people" can learn, consult, and formulate options on complex issues….

What I hope most of all is that we recognize the enormous value of the Citizens' Assembly and other methods of involving Ontarians in the democratic process. In my long career, I have never observed an attempt to engage the broader public that approached the level of commitment, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice shown by the members of the Citizens' Assembly. These randomly selected Ontarians inspired all those who came to observe them in their work. One look at the low turnout in this election should make us all eager for more opportunities to inspire citizens to participate so directly in our democracy. (Bad Timing Undermined Exercise in Democracy,” Toronto Star, October 24, 2007).

Trying to squeeze lemonade from lemons, the Fraser Institute’s Gordon Gibson argued in an email to me that the defeat of the referendum may paradoxically build political support for citizens assemblies among elected officials.  That is because elected officials will now know the public will not automatically endorse a citizens assembly’s recommendations, especially if the recommendation is a clunker.   As a Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute, Gibson has also written a policy brief, Citizens’ Assemblies:  A New Kind of Direct Democracy (Fraser Institute, November 2007),  making the case for using the citizens assembly process.


On 24 September 2007, Australia’s Minister for Education Science and Training announced that the Australian Research Council, a branch of the Australian Government, would provide $300,000 in Australian money to the partnership of newDemocracy Foundation (, Australian National University, University of Sydney, and Murdoch University, for support for a “Citizens Parliament.”  The citizens parliament backers cite the Canadian citizens assemblies as a precedent (see Lyn Carson’s essay, Creating Democratic Surplus through Citizens’ Assemblies, in the current issue of the Journal of Public Deliberation).  The project has some citizens assembly elements: it is government endorsed, addresses democratic reform issues, and is based on a broad cross section of Australians with randomly selected representatives from every electoral district. 

However, there are also important differences: it will operate on a shoestring budget, is purely advisory, asks for much less commitment on the part of participants, and has less official standing than even the Netherlands citizens assembly.  Recognizing these limitations, the backers decided not to call the deliberative body a citizens assembly, even if their ultimate goal is to spur the creation of such a body; they are just doing as much as they practically can right now. 

This strategy of accepting halfway measures in order to actually accomplish something is not without risk.  If by pursuing grand ambitions with minimal resources, their odds of failure increase, then the project could backfire.  Citizens assemblies are VERY, VERY, VERY expensive undertakings.  I’m crossing my fingers that the citizens parliament will be a valuable education project for the public and lead to an even more ambitious citizens assembly like projects in the future.  

Lyn Carson sent me the following brief description of the Citizens’ Parliament as funded by the government (see also newDemocracy’s Information Sheet): 

The organizers hesitate to describe this minipublic as a Citizens’ Assembly because it is not convened by government. They consider that the term “Citizens’ Assembly” is best restricted to those that conform to the BC model. This is an ambitious project nevertheless and has many attributes that invite a comparison with the Citizens’ Assembly method.

The project emerged from the activities of the newDemocracy Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation in Australia  The project has been strengthened recently by a research grant of AUD300K that was awarded by the Australian Government (via an Australian Research Council-Linkage grant). The collaborative project involves researchers from three Australian universities: Australian National University (John Dryzek and Simon Niemeyer), The University of Sydney (Lyn Carson and Ian Marsh), Curtin University (Janette Hartz-Karp) and one from newDemocracy (Luca Belgiorno-Nettis). The project is entitled “Creating and Analysing a Citizens’ Parliament: Exploring the Public's Deliberative Capacity”.

Participants for the Citizens’ Parliament with be drawn randomly from each of 150 electoral districts. They will participate online, by telephone and face-to-face in regional meetings (commencing August 2008), then come together for a four-day event in February 2009. The charge that participants will address will be broader than any of the Citizens’ Assemblies that have been convened to date. For example, the Canadian Citizens’ Assemblies have examined voting systems only, the Australian Citizens’ Pariament will address the question: How could Australia’s political system be reformed to serve us better?

The announcement that the government would fund a citizens parliament got a fair bit of mostly blurblike press coverage—on the inside newspaper pages—when it was announced in late October.  Since then, the mainstream press has ignored it.  In the blogosphere it has generated more notice but little passion or sustained argument either for or against.


Elsewhere, citizens assembly advocates continue trying to put citizens assembly based democratic reform on the public agenda.   In general, citizens assemblies are only being proposed in English speaking countries, although it’s possible that I’m missing citizens assembly proposals in other countries due to my language limitations.  I may very well be like the drunk who drops his keys while walking to his car, then only looks for them under the lamppost because that is where the light is.

Among English speaking countries, Canada remains the hotbed of citizens assembly proposals, with stories of new proposals cropping up in Alberta (“Advocacy group targets government's massive public affairs wing,” Edmonton Sun, December 28, 2007) and Prince Edward Island (“Group Wants Reform Body,” Guardian, October 29, 2007 ) in addition to ongoing stories in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.   In the U.S., California, Utah, and Washington State had op-eds supporting citizens assembly based reform.  In the UK, I saw my first op-ed supporting citizens assembly based reform in Scotland (“Truly handing political power to the people,” The Herald, December 27, 2007), which today arguably has more interest in innovative democratic reforms than any other region in the world except perhaps the Basque region of Spain and the small country of Estonia.      

In the U.S., a noteworthy new/revised citizens assembly proposal comes from Citizens for U.S. Direct Initiatives.   Although a number of academics have proposed citizens assembly based vetting of initiatives, this is the first time I’ve seen a practitioner attempt to implement the idea.  My guess is that the main reason other practitioners haven’t come forward with this proposal is that it requires a constitutional amendment, which is too much of a longshot for most grantmakers and short-term oriented public policy advocates.   I’d encourage the author of this proposal to shift his focus to the state level, where the obstacles to implementing a citizens assembly based referendum are less daunting.  He also needs to shorten and polish his argument. 

Some Noteworthy Trends

A trend among the current batch of citizens assembly democratic reform proposals is more flexibility on the jurisdiction of the citizens assembly.  Citizens assembly advocates are trying to tailor their proposals to whatever democratic reform issue is already on the table in a particular region.   The result is that the citizens assembly proposal in New Zealand addresses campaign finance reform whereas in California it addresses redistricting reform and in Scotland general constitutional reform.    

Another trend is that advocates of small parties, such as the Green, Maoiri, and Libertarian parties, have been the biggest advocates of citizens assembly based democratic reform.  The clear motive of all these parties is enhanced power, as they see citizens assemblies as a vehicle to create electoral rules benefiting smaller parties.  

To date, all the majority parties that have supported a citizens assembly were in the minority when they promised to institute a citizens assembly if elected.  The major apparent exception would be Saskatchewan, where the premier was already in power.  But he only promised a citizens assembly when his leading opposition party had a double digit lead in the polls less than a month before the election.  What this pattern does suggest is that politicians intuitively recognize that citizens assemblies are a politically popular idea but not one necessarily good for incumbents.

Launch of iSolon’s Citizens Assembly Forum has launched a citizens assembly discussion forum.  This is a forum for practitioners and academics to tout their work and learn from each others’ work.  I’m assuming that enough of you are or will be doing work related to citizens assemblies—work that you will want others to know about—that this forum will have a chance of one day meeting it goals.   The easiest way to get to the forum is to go to’s home page and click the Citizens Assembly Forum (beta) link in the table of contents. 

The forum is intended to complement iSolon’s two other citizens assembly projects: its News Digest (which you are reading) and its website clearinghouse.   The difference between the News Digest and the Forum is that the former is under my strict editorial control and only comes out occasionally.  The Forum is decentralized and allows registered users to create their own custom news by subscribing to posts in a specific forum or topic. 

The difference between the website clearinghouse and the Forum is that the former is codified information under my editorial control.  The geographic structure of the Forum gives it a measure of codification but not enough for impatient people who need to get key facts quickly.  I will occasionally shift around subforums and topics to improve the overall organization of the Forum, but the Forum will probably be  an inefficient place for people to go who are looking for quick facts. 

I hope to use the postings on the Forum as relatively raw information to bolster both the News Digest and clearinghouse.  Before writing the News Digest, I will look at all the postings since the last newsletter for information that I believe will be of interest to the News Digest’s audience.  Similarly, I hope the information in the Forum will help me strengthen the website clearinghouse.

I welcome your feedback on ways to improve the Forum.  The Forum will not be my last attempt to use new technology to foster a community of those interested in citizens assembly based democratic reform.   Expect me to fine tune the Forum and perhaps add some major new features over the coming year.

Note that the Forum interface is available in about 15 different languages—all the major languages of the developed world (registered users pick their preferred language during registration and can change it any time by going to the User Control Panel).  I’m hoping that the international flavor will encourage citizens assembly academics and practitioners from outside the English speaking countries to contribute to the Forum.    Even posts in foreign languages aren’t necessarily as daunting for English speaking readers as they would have been a short while ago.  With Google’s free translation service, it’s now possible to get an idea of what an article is about even if it’s written in a foreign language. 

Please don’t just be a lurker or wall flower.  Please use this Forum to let this community know what you are doing.  For example, I hope that Fred Cutler (University of British Columbia) and Patrick Fournier (Universite de Montreal) will post their article analyzing the results of the Ontario citizens assembly election; that Lyn Carson will describe the ambitions of Australia’s newDemocracy organization; that Gordon Gibson will post a link to his new policy brief on citizens assemblies; and that Ted Becker will describe his interest in publishing articles on citizens assemblies in the Journal of Public Deliberation.

Right now I’ve set up the Forum so that anyone can peruse it but only registered users can post to it.  It’s easy to register, but if people think that extra step is likely to suppress the contribution of useful information, please let me know. 


For the spring semester (January through May 2008), I will be a Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy, located at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.    In addition to this being a great learning and professional experience for me, it will give me an opportunity to spend some time with my daughter, Pallas, who is a sophomore at Harvard College majoring in Social Studies (which focuses on the interdisciplinary study of the great social theorists). 

I’m also pleased to report that my politically sophisticated 17 year old daughter, Sage, has been accepted into Yale University as part of its early action program.  Earlier this year she was one of two students from Maryland selected to participate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program.  She has also been serving as a school board member with full voting rights in a school district with a $1 billion budget and 10,000 employees. 

Next Issue

Barring some major unexpected development, the next issue of the Citizens Assembly News Digest won’t be published before late March.  By then, I hope to have fine tuned the Citizens Assembly Forum.  I also hope there will be some posts on the Forum that will serve as news for the News Digest.  In the next issue, I also hope to launch an occasional book review section.  I will only review books that have at least one chapter devoted to the citizens assembly phenomenon.  The first book will be Designing Deliberative Democracy: The British Columbia Citizens' Assembly (Cambridge University Press), which has an expected publication date of February 29, 2008.

Newspaper and Blog Articles 

Articles on Citizens Assemblies--Cites




Democracy can be new and improved
The Lloydminster Meridian Booster (Alberta), January 9, 2008 Wednesday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. A4, 298 words, BY SUN MEDIA


Democracy can be new and improved
Calgary Sun (Alberta), January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 14, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Democracy can be new and improved
Edmonton Sun (Alberta), January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 10, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Democracy can be new and improved
Fort McMurray Today (Alberta), January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 4, 334 words, BY SUN MEDIA


Democracy can be new and improved
London Free Press (Ontario), January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. A6, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Democracy can be new and improved
The Ottawa Sun, January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 14, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Democracy can be new and improved
The Toronto Sun, January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 20, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Democracy can be new and improved
Winnipeg Sun (Manitoba), January 7, 2008 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Editorial; Pg. 8, 334 words, BY JEREMY LOOME


Seniors want benefits restored
Edmonton Journal (Alberta), January 6, 2008 Sunday, LETTERS; Pg. A15, 250 words, S. Michael Marlowe, The Edmonton Journal


Non-Republicans cheated out of fair representation
The Salt Lake Tribune, January 5, 2008 Saturday, COLUMNISTS; Opinion, 583 words, Rob Latham


Advocacy group targets government's massive public affairs wing
Edmonton Sun (Alberta), December 28, 2007 Friday, NEWS; Pg. 16, 292 words, BY JEREMY LOOME, SUN MEDIA


Truly handing political power to the people
The Herald (Glasgow), December 27, 2007 Thursday, FEATURES; Pg. 16, 371 words




Electoral Finance Bill: In their own words
The New Zealand Herald, December 8, 2007 Saturday, NEWS; General, 2032 words


New Zealand Press Association, December 6, 2007 Thursday, 471 words


New Zealand Press Association, December 6, 2007 Thursday, 423 words


readers views
The Evening Standard (London), December 5, 2007 Wednesday, A; Pg. 51, 1439 words


Electoral reform is unfinished business
The Toronto Star, December 3, 2007 Monday, LETTER; Pg. AA07, 141 words


John Armstrong: When a little humility could go a long way
The New Zealand Herald, December 1, 2007 Saturday, NEWS; General, 1067 words


People, not parties
The Times (London), December 1, 2007, Saturday, FEATURES; Pg. 22, 79 words


People, not parties
The Times (London), December 1, 2007, Saturday, FEATURES; Pg. 22, 79 words


The fight is far from over
The Toronto Star, November 30, 2007 Friday, LETTER; Pg. AA07, 576 words


Electoral reform redux
The Toronto Star, November 29, 2007 Thursday, EDITORIAL; Pg. AA06, 388 words


The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand), November 26, 2007 Monday, NEWS; NATIONAL; Pg. 5, 637 words


An interesting concept lost in a sea of apathy
Pembroke Observer (Ontario), November 26, 2007 Monday, EDITORIAL; Pg. 4, 681 words, Christina Blizzard, Sun Media


Jim Hopkins: Give me a starring role in a remake of Kill Bill
The New Zealand Herald, November 23, 2007 Friday, NEWS; General, 822 words


In the provincial election, the voters spoke - very quietly
Sault Star (Sault Saint Marie Ontario), November 23, 2007 Friday, EDITORIAL & OPINION; Pg. A8, 778 words


Labour fumbles its chances for reform
The Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand), November 22, 2007 Thursday, FEATURES; OPINION; FIRST READING; Pg. 5, 835 words, SMALL Vernon


People spoke . . . quietly
Peterborough Examiner (Ontario), November 21, 2007 Wednesday, OPINION; Pg. A4, 654 words, Blizzard, Christina


Tory would have been sitting prettier under MMP
Times Journal (St. Thomas, Ontario), November 21, 2007 Wednesday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. 5, 673 words, BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD


Tories would have benefited most if MMP system had been in place
Brantford Expositor (Ontario), November 20, 2007 Tuesday, OPINION; Pg. A5, 693 words, Christina Blizzard


Tory would have been setting prettier under Mixed Member
Daily Miner and News (Kenora, Ontario), November 20, 2007 Tuesday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. A4, 704 words, BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD


Legislation could have gone further - Greens
The New Zealand Herald, November 20, 2007 Tuesday, NEWS; General, 314 words


Election reform debate continues
Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario), November 19, 2007 Monday, OPINION; Pg. 6, 387 words


Tories would have made big gains under MMP
The Brockville Recorder and Times (Ontario), November 19, 2007 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. A6, 672 words, BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD


Tough to call this democracy
The Ottawa Sun, November 19, 2007 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. 15, 563 words, BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD


Tory would've been sitting prettier under MMP
The Toronto Sun, November 18, 2007 Sunday, COMMENT; Queen's Park; Pg. C4, 672 words, BY CHRISTINA BLIZZARD, TORONTO SUN


Greens say decision belongs to the people
The New Zealand Herald, November 14, 2007 Wednesday, NEWS; General, 433 words


The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA.), November 11, 2007, Sunday, PERSPECTIVE; Pg. D06, 664 words, STEVEN HILL, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE


Lessons to be learned from referendum
Port Hope Evening Guide (Ontario), November 9, 2007 Friday, EDITORIAL PAGE; Pg. 4, 450 words


Senate has hidden virtues
The Toronto Star, November 9, 2007 Friday, LETTER; Pg. AA07, 153 words


Lessons to be learned from referendum
Cobourg Daily Star (Ontario), November 8, 2007 Thursday, EDITORIAL PAGE; Pg. 4, 450 words


There was no demand for electoral reform
Ottawa Citizen, November 8, 2007 Thursday, NEWS; Pg. A17, 427 words, Lucien Saumur, The Ottawa Citizen


Stop party tricks
Ottawa Citizen, November 6, 2007 Tuesday, NEWS; Pg. A11, 261 words, Ralph Anderson, The Ottawa Citizen


Fair Vote Ontario wants MMP back on the table
Port Hope Evening Guide (Ontario), November 6, 2007 Tuesday, FRONT; Pg. 1, 2213 words, Cassin, Joyce


Enshrine workable format of debates in elections law
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), November 6, 2007 Tuesday, FORUM; Pg. A9, 153 words, The StarPhoenix


The case for PR in SK
The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), November 3, 2007 Saturday, VIEWPOINTS; Pg. B6, 1059 words, Dennis Pilon and Joyce Green, Special to The Leader-Post


'This issue is not dying'
Ottawa Citizen, November 3, 2007 Saturday, SATURDAY OBSERVER; Pg. B1 , 738 words, Don Butler, The Ottawa Citizen


Is electoral reform dead in Canada?; If Canadians are so dissatisfied with our current system of electing governments, why do recent elections show us unwilling to embrace change?
Ottawa Citizen, November 3, 2007 Saturday, SATURDAY OBSERVER; Mark Sutcliffe; Pg. B3, 1157 words, Mark Sutcliffe, The Ottawa Citizen


Fair Vote Ontario wants MMP back on the table
Cobourg Daily Star (Ontario), November 1, 2007 Thursday, FRONT; Pg. 1, 1301 words, Cassin, Joyce


Citizens' Assemblies: A New Kind of Direct Democracy
Fraser Forum, November 2007, Pg. 17, Gibson, Gordon


Citizens' assembly can achieve reform
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), November 1, 2007 Thursday, FORUM; Pg. A11, 272 words, Rusty Chartier, The StarPhoenix


Candidates try to raise interest of students
The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), October 31, 2007 Wednesday, NEWS; Pg. A9, 500 words, Elizabeth Huber, Leader-Post


Green party stresses empowerment
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), October 30, 2007 Tuesday, NEWS; Straight Talk; Pg. A2, 834 words, Randy Burton, The StarPhoenix


Mixed reviews on MMP defeat
The Globe and Mail (Canada), October 27, 2007 Saturday, LETTER TO THE EDITOR; Pg. A26, 55 words, Christine A. Featherstone


No time available to explain MMP
Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario), October 26, 2007 Friday, OPINION; Pg. 6, 346 words


Smart move in Kanata; Firm is bullish on making a profit building display screens in Canada
Ottawa Citizen, October 26, 2007 Friday, BUSINESS; Pg. E1 , 490 words, Bert Hill, The Ottawa Citizen


Why Ontarians said no to MMP
The Globe and Mail (Canada), October 25, 2007 Thursday, COMMENT; SURVEY DATA; Pg. A21, 691 words, FRED CUTLER and PATRICK FOURNIER, Teach political science at UBC and the Université de Montréal respectively


Advisory body on vote reform needs clear agenda
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), October 25, 2007 Thursday, FORUM; Pg. A11, 904 words, John Courtney, Special to The StarPhoenix


Ontario voters missed a great opportunity
Pembroke Observer (Ontario), October 24, 2007 Wednesday, EDITORIAL; Pg. 4, 436 words


MMP was designed to fail, let's bury it
Shoreline Beacon (Ontario, Canada), October 24, 2007 Wednesday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Letters to the Editor; Pg. 9, 275 words


Bad timing undermined exercise in democracy
The Toronto Star, October 24, 2007 Wednesday, OPINION; Pg. AA08, 854 words


Thanksgiving leftovers still on the menu
Lindsay Daily Post (Ontario), October 23, 2007 Tuesday, OPINION; Pg. 5, 783 words, Wallace, James


Unfair electoral system was done on purpose
Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 2007 Tuesday, NEWS; Pg. A13, 317 words, Ralph Anderson, The Ottawa Citizen


Green Party appeal broad, leader says
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), October 23, 2007 Tuesday, LOCAL; Pg. A7, 609 words, Janet French, The StarPhoenix


Elections Ontario boss wouldn't change how referendum was run
Daily Miner and News (Kenora, Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Pg. A2, 411 words, BY MICHAEL OLIVEIRA, CP


Elections Ontario boss says he wouldn't change how referendum was run
Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Pg. A4, 421 words, Mercury news services


Referendum campaign perfect: Elections Ontario boss
Kingston Whig-Standard (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, NATIONAL/WORLD; Pg. B2, 560 words, Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press


Elections boss unfazed by critics
London Free Press (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Ontario Votes 2007; Pg. A3, 403 words, BY MICHAEL OLIVEIRA, CP


Elections Ontario boss defends referendum plan
North Bay Nugget (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, ONTARIO; Pg. A5, 407 words, THE CANADIAN PRESS


Ontario vote defended
The Ottawa Sun, October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Pg. 10, 408 words, BY MICHAEL OLIVEIRA, THE CANADIAN PRESS


Finish sulking
Ottawa Citizen, October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Pg. A9, 155 words, Lucien Saumur, The Ottawa Citizen


Toward a new democracy
Ottawa Citizen, October 22, 2007 Monday, CITY; Clive Doucet; Pg. C4, 786 words, Clive Doucet, Citizen Special


How MMP electoral system would have worked on Oct. 10
Owen Sound Sun Times (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, OPINION & LETTERS; Pg. A5, 799 words, Tony McQuail


Post-mortem on failed referendum begins
Sarnia Observer (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, OPINION; Pg. A4, 783 words, Wallace, James


Elections Ontario boss says he wouldn't change how referendum was contested
Sudbury Star (Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, ONTARIO; Pg. A4, 407 words, Michael Oliveira, The Canadian Press


Elections head unfazed by critics
Times Journal (St. Thomas, Ontario), October 22, 2007 Monday, NEWS; Pg. 19, 380 words, BY THE CANADIAN PRESS


'Non-confidence vote in our democracy'
Woodstock Sentinel-Review (Ontario, Canada), October 22, 2007 Monday, EDITORIAL/OPINION; Pg. 4, 771 words, BY JAMES WALLACE, SUN MEDIA


Elections Ontario boss says he wouldn't change how referendum was run
Canadian Press NewsWire, October 21, 2007, Pg. n/a, 567 words, OLIVEIRA, MICHAEL


Electoral reform process flawed from beginning
Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario), October 20, 2007 Saturday, OPINION; Pg. A7, 1024 words, Dr. Mark Yaniszewski, Guest columnist


Is that ripened wheat, or just a little bird's white butt?


Fighting to be in front
The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), October 20, 2007 Saturday, NEWS; Pg. A1 , 828 words, The Leader-Post


Assembly would look into fixed election dates
The Leader-Post (Regina, Saskatchewan), October 20, 2007 Saturday, NEWS; Pg. F11, 631 words, Veronica Rhodes, with files from Angela Hall and James Wood, The Leader-Post


Fair vote effort lives on
Owen Sound Sun Times (Ontario), October 20, 2007 Saturday, OPINION & LETTERS; Pg. A5, 861 words, Joyce Hall, For The Sun Times


Still some leftovers to chew on
Peterborough Examiner (Ontario), October 20, 2007 Saturday, OPINION; Pg. A4, 648 words, Wallace, James


Calvert proposes citizens tackle reform; Democratic process would get makeover
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), October 20, 2007 Saturday, LOCAL; Pg. A6, 537 words, Veronica Rhodes, Saskatchewan News Network, Saskatchewan News Network; with files from The StarPhoenix; Regina Leader-Post


Sask. Party has advantage -- on paper
The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), October 20, 2007 Saturday, FORUM; Murray Mandryk; Pg. A14, 832 words, Murray Mandryk, Saskatchewan News Network


Sask Party platform puts cap on civil service, more cops on the street
Canadian Press NewsWire, October 19, 2007, Pg. n/a, 709 words, COOK, TIM


A strong base
Ottawa Citizen, October 19, 2007 Friday, NEWS; Pg. A13, 319 words, John Townesend, The Ottawa Citizen


Articles on Australia's Proposed Citizens Parliament--Cites




The Stump; Decision '07
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), October 29, 2007 Monday, NEWS AND FEATURES; Pg. 7, 515 words, Damien Murphy


Project exploring new democratic ideas a good step
Sunday Age (Melbourne, Australia), October 28, 2007 Sunday, EXTRA; Leaders; Pg. 18, 308 words


STUDY PROJECT; Citizens' parliament
The Advertiser (Australia), October 25, 2007 Thursday, NEWS; Pg. 14, 73 words


YOU DECIDE 2007 Who to elect?
Townsville Bulletin (Australia), October 25, 2007 Thursday, NEWS; Pg. 9, 60 words


Fed: Citizens' parliament launched to overhaul political system
AAP Newsfeed, October 24, 2007 Wednesday 4:59 PM AEST, DOMESTIC NEWS, 324 words

Newspaper Articles

 Democracy can be new and improved
London Free Press - Canada
On a provincial level, moves such as the 160-member citizen assembly panel debate on BC's provincial electoral system demonstrate the intransigence of ...

Non-Republicans cheated out of fair representation
Salt Lake Tribune - United States
... I encourage them to support the creation of a citizens' assembly on electoral reform here in Utah similar to one convened in British Columbia in 2004. ...


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY - Calling for a U.S. Citizens' Initiatives ...
An independent Citizens' Assembly, responsible only to the People, deliberates and chooses worthy Initiatives for the federal election ballots


National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation
Snider ( has an excellent and thorough analysis of the news coverage of the referendum. He looks at three competing accounts of why the ...

New voting system goes down to defeat
... a former research director for the New America Foundation who recently left the respected Washington think-tank to start his own foundation, ...

National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation
Jim Snider ( has an excellent and thorough analysis of the news coverage of the referendum. He looks at three competing accounts of why the ...

Citizens Assembly - Forum
Further analysis: Posted by Raymond Lorenz - Aurora, Ont. on 29 Nov 07 at 12:47 PM (Last edited on 02 Dec 07 at 9:48 PM) ...
Legitimate electoral review process

 Forum: Citizens’ Assembly Discussion Forum

Topic: Legitimate electoral review process?

Here is my reasoning about why I think the 'electoral review' process was not legitimate:

1. The Ontario government clearly chose BC's 'citizens-directed' process over New Zealand's 'multiple-choice' referendum process for its 'electoral review'. The legitimacy of this style of process is lost when the citizens' voices are artificially removed from the final public deliberation. It is possible, and likely, that had the assembly known about the ban on "advocacy material" in advance, a simpler, more "intuitive" electoral model would have been chosen. Up until the end of the deliberation phase, the assembly received reassurances from the government that there would be an extensive 'public education' campaign.

2. The 60/60 referendum thresholds were chosen by the governing party, not independently. These thresholds were not necessarily chosen with the interests of Ontarians in mind and therefore, are problematic. (I would suggest that a judge, a citizens' jury, or another independent body would be better able to determine 'the interests of Ontarians'.) I would also point out that the multi-party Select Committee on Electoral Reform recommended a more reasonable referendum threshold of 50%+1 with a majority in two-thirds of ridings. (The 60/60 thresholds are problematic, because they disenfranchise certain social sectors...or devalue their votes. For example, polling has suggested that the younger voters voted overwhelmingly in favour of MMP: Why should the votes of older Ontarians count more than those of the younger voters aged 18-34?)

3. A principles-based 'electoral review' process can be legitimate. Unfortunately, in this electoral review, the MMP model was NOT presented as the fruit of sincere, principles-based deliberations. There was no effort made to inform the public about the balance of principles and values that shaped the citizens' proposal.

4. The 'perception of bias' became an issue for the government executive only a few months before the referendum. Elections Ontario, of course, was chosen by the government to agree with this 'perception of bias'. As a result, printed citizens' assembly brochures & reports were banned as "advocacy materials". What was missing was due consideration being given to the more important public decisions which were already in place. Was the ban on assembly-based literature really done in the public interest? Or, was the ban a subtle way to change the original 'terms of reference' for this 'citizen-driven process'? (I would suggest that Elections Ontario, because of its narrow, election-centred focus, was the wrong choice to oversee issues related to governance. The issue of printing assembly reports/brochures should have been taken up with a non-governmental body such as this: or through some kind of 'outside' mediation process.) The perception left by the cabinet is that it is legitimate for one independent body (Elections Ontario) to arbitrarily 'manage' the voice of another independent body (the Citizens' Assembly), without the informed (or implied) consent of the original body.

5. Up until April 2007, the expectation was that the citizens' assembly process used in BC would be followed in Ontario. Ontario government discussions centred around 'improving' on the precedent set in BC by providing for an even better public education campaign. Suddenly, in June 2007, Elections Ontario stripped the assembly of its public powers, which had included the capacity to protect its proposal from neglect and misunderstanding, as well as the ability to provide principled public justification for the decisions. In BC, on the other hand, the citizens' assembly voice was given direct access to the public:

6. The objective placed before assembly members in this particular electoral review was NOT to select the 'most popular' alternative electoral system, and then to put the 'winning' design on the referendum ballot. Rather, it was to educate & empower these average citizens to design and/or recommend what they believed to be the BEST electoral system for Ontario. Very little public communication is required to determine the 'most popular' electoral system for Ontario. Much more communication is required when the BEST electoral system for Ontario is based on a higher, more complex, and holistic type of reasoning. (The guidance from the government directed that deliberations be based on principles first, and design content afterwards). This is where the referendum awareness campaign totally missed the point.

7. The 'independence' of the assembly process from the government was supposed to be a special feature of this particular electoral review. A good test of how well this particular commitment was realized is to ask assembly members if they felt their proposal had reached the public accurately & without government interference. 

8. The 'independence' of the process can also be measured by asking procedural experts (or even average Ontario voters), if they felt that the citizens' assembly proposal should have been accompanied by a printed CA-approved report addressed to the people of Ontario. Common sense & protocol dictates that this was missing in the relationship of the assembly members to their fellow citizens.

9. The vast majority of Ontarians did not even know the report existed (even online):,%20Two%20Votes.pdf "This report to the government AND TO THE PEOPLE OF ONTARIO explains how the system works and why the assembly recommends it." ...exerpt from page 1 of the report

10. In hindsight, parts of the CA process were somewhat confusing. For example, the government had given the CA a mandate to consider principles such as rep-by-pop and legitimacy. At the same time, these issues were taken off the table during deliberations, and were assumed to be part of any proposal. The issue of 'legitimacy' was particularly critical to the referendum campaign. In my opinion, the assembly was dealing with two types of legitimacy: educated and uneducated. (The electoral system that reflected the best 'enlightened' values of the assembly also proved to be the least popular among the uninformed voters. Little effort was made to clarify which type of 'legitimacy' was intended. The divergence of purpose between the assembly's 'thoughtful' deliberation phase and Elections Ontario's 'populist' referendum awareness campaign leaves Ontario's electoral review with a decisive (63-37%) result to a misdirected & misleading process.  

11. Some information provided by Elections Ontario was so sparing in detail to the point of being meaningless to the average voter: Polling data indicates a complete lack of understanding of the basic MMP design elements by the public:

12. The lack of time (5 weeks), combined with a scarcity of printed information, was a significant issue for the Ontario referendum education campaign. Compare this to the BC process, where all households received a printed copy of the citizens' report in late January for a May 17 referendum (14 weeks): 

13. On the pessimistic side, each electoral review in Canada seems to be a Catch-22/ David vs. Goliath/ "stacked deck" phenomenon. Educated citizens (ie. the BC, Ont., & Que. assemblies), Royal Commissions (of NB & PEI), Canada Law Commission (recommendations), etc. really do not stand a chance against the establishments' slanted rules of engagement, its partisan interests, its anti-politician & populist political campaigning, etc. Sadly, history seems to repeat itself:

14. Referendum campaign discussion in the media & public realm seemed to "fragment" the citizens' assembly MMP model to the point that the 'whole picture' was lost. This was a big challenge for the assembly because, due to a minimalist education campaign by Elections Ontario, there was not much of a 'whole picture' to begin with. The assembly's careful balancing of values & principles was lost to the general public. "Source documents", such as the assembly's report, could have provided the voter with an unfragmented perspective. But, these types of documents were legislated away as "advocacy materials".

15. After the public had invested a significant amount of time and money into an intensive, carefully managed process on behalf of all Ontarians, a citizens report was supposed to be part of the expected outcome. It will be difficult for citizens to trust their governments again in the future, if they are asked to serve on another important public assignment. By leaving important decisions until very late, and up to the government, it seemed that the CA proposal was unnecessarily subject to whims of the governing party & its cabinet.

16. Citizens assembly members did everything that was asked of them by the government, including making a final decision. The presumption of a citizens' assembly process is that had any one of us (Ontarians) sat & deliberated with the assembly, we would have come up with roughly the same decision. Calling the assembly "biased" (and withholding the citizens' assembly report) assumes that the general public will deliberate (on its own) from scratch, with the same type of thoroughness as the assembly did,  and then come up with better reasoning than the assembly did. Considering the lack of a broad 'public education' support system, THIS IS NOT A REALISTIC EXPECTATION FOR THIS TYPE OF A PROCESS!!!!

17. Here is what the Saskatchewan NDP had recommended (after following the Ontario CA process): "...within 6 months of re-election...", " is absolutely vital that the process be led by the citizens, and not the politicians...",  "...citizens are firmly engaged and in charge of the democratic process..." (commitment to full funding about the proposal)

18. The governing party also needs to decide whether to trust Ontario citizens to come up with the right decisions over the rules of the electoral review process itself. Several last-minute government decisions were politically contraversial, made with insider polling data, and made with prior knowledge of the content of the citizens' assembly report. The cabinet decisions were influential on the referendum results, and could possibly be viewed as meddling or interference.

19. Once the "sum of the decisions" and the "soft influence" by the government is studied, the process becomes almost meaningless. The 'electoral review' turned into a nonsensical referendum between two electoral systems (selected through a mysterious process) , of which one had "appointed politicians" to be selected through unregulated methods. The 'dubious' alternative had to meet a 60/60 threshold.

20. "...parties must stay out of the electoral reform campaign." (When Elections Ontario gives this type of a directive, and combines this with the governments' 60/60 thresholds, it means that some parties are obviously better positioned than others to benefit from the referendum rules.)

21. If the intent of the electoral review was to bolster confidence in the electoral system or the character of politicians, I don't think it worked. Leaders of the governing party were unwilling to admit to a conflict-of-interest over deciding the "rules" of a process which would have ultimately effected their personal (or their party's) fortunes. Elections Ontario (which is supposed to be a non-partisan body) was unwilling to recuse itself from making additional 'governance' decisions which could be seen as partisan & changing the rules of the original review process. The 'Elections Ontario' interpretation of the citizens' assembly report as 'advocacy material' could be viewed as shifting the original 'political balance' of the CA process in favour of the status quo, and therefore in favour of the governing party(s). For example: (losing) political groups in favour of change: (includes the NDP, the Greens & the smaller parties); (winning) political groups in favour of status quo: (most Liberals & PC's)

22. The 60/60 thresholds represented a wonderful 'ideal' of public consensus, and they were a good 'goal' for the citizens' assembly to work towards. But when these high thresholds are legislated by the governing party, the motives are suspect. There are plausible reasons to enforce such high thresholds (peace, social order, stable government), but I would consider them 'overkill' and 'fear-mongering' in a 1st world democracy. Who decides what these 'publicly-motivated' reasons are? Who intereprets which reasons are relevent or which reasons carry the most weight? The governing party?

23. We now have an emerging 4-party system. Anyone who spends any time thinking about this will realise that our first-past-the-post electoral system is a very crude & primitive way to organize our multi-party democracy. There is too much discretion left in the hands of the governing party, with too much potential for misuse of power. For example, should a ruling political party (or 'cartel') be allowed to decide 'official party status' for the other parties? How can a ruling party 'objectively' decide this? (BTW, I didn't see these types of fundamental issues being brought up in the referendum 'education' campaign.)

24. According to former democratic renewal minister Marie Bountrogianni: "In the end, not enough people cared about it..." Why should people care about something that they misunderstand?

25. ("Democracy Watch" recommended in 2004 that the Ontario legislature be made more representative. "The voting system should be changed to ensure that the popular vote is more accurately represented in the legislature, with safeguards to ensure that MPP's remain accountable to constituents, and no party has disproportionate power".) ("Redistricting" is problematic when the Electoral Boundaries Commission, a non-partisan body, is seen to be guided by the questionable legislation of the governing party.) Since taxpayer funding of political parties is tied to the outcomes of the electoral system, every effort should be made to reflect the intentions of the voter. The 'artificial' consensus created around the 'status quo' option needs to be examined further. I believe that Ontarians still prefer a 'proportional' system. Our distorted election results are not going to go away...if anything, they will get worse in the future.

26. The principle of public consensus-building was severely limited during this electoral review. Ways to achieve consensus include citizen-to-citizen communication with public education OR a preferential (multiple-choice) ballot. Because there are as many potential electoral system designs as there are voters, trade-offs and compromise are necessary to create consensus. I don't think we have a public consensus on our electoral system at the present time.

27. It must be acknowledged that the 'winning' result for first-past-the-post is most likely NOT an endorsement of the current system. The more likely reasons for the referendum results include: lack of information about MMP, lack of time to research & compare the systems, a widespread campaign of fear, misunderstanding due to minimalist details provided by Elections Ontario, and the assembly's choice of an 'exotic' electoral system without a proper means to communicate its rationale.  

28. Leaving things to the last minute: According to The Star: "Key in the effort to educate the public will be the blackout period for political advertising". According to the chief electoral officer, John Hollins: "One of the openings for us is... the (election) blackout period." & "... full page newspaper explanations on election day".

29. The predisposition of the decision-makers: (the governing party) (party president & finance minister)


Ontario still in need of Electoral Reform
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NDP calls for Citizen Assembly
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Blogs—New Zealand

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