Citizens' Assembly with SFU tinge

May 13, 2004, vol. 30 no. 2
By Howard Fluxgold

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B.C.'s Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform is moving into the consultation phase with a SFU tinge to its deliberations.

At least 13 of the randomly selected assembly's 160 members, along with chair Jack Blaney, are associated with the university either as students or former students, alumni and in Blaney's case, a former university president.

Blaney seemed a bit surprised by the representation from SFU. “My hunch is I wouldn't have expected as many, but I was quite pleased to see that list (of assembly members with an SFU connection.)” He noted that there was significant representation from other post-secondary institutions.

He added: “There's no doubt about it, SFU is a very cohesive institution that has a very strong sense of working together.”

Since the Liberal government's overwhelming election in 2001 there has been considerable public debate about proportional representation. Assembly members too, have studied and discussed proportional representation. Representative Nicholas Boudin, a SFU English major entering his third year acknowledges that “proportional representation has become a buzz word but no country uses it in its purest form. It's used in the Netherlands, but we are very different from them.”

Another student, Firmin Hung who is in the professional development program studying to be a teacher, echoes Boudin's sentiments. “Everyone wants proportional representation, but there's quite a lot of downside to it. That's surprising because when I went into it (the Citizens' Assembly), I thought what we had was no good and anything else would be better. But the more we learned about it, the more we found there was no one clearly perfect system.”

Tanis Dagert, an alumna who graduated in 1987 with a degree in communication, says that coming to a consensus with 159 other representatives is a challenge. “We are making progress and at the same time we are doing it in a very considerate and safe way. My tendency would be to move a little quicker. But I understand it is not possible because if we are really moving to consensus, and that's one of our goals, then we need to invest the time and bring everyone along.”

The Citizens' Assembly, which was established in April 2003, has 160 members, all volunteers who were selected randomly based on the B.C. voters' list. The assembly does not have to recommend a change to B.C.'s electoral system, but if it does recommend a new model it will be put to a referendum during the 2005 provincial election.

The assembly has now completed its learning phases - six weekend sessions at the Morris Wosk centre for dialogue from January to March. In May and June it will consult the public during 49 hearings throughout the province. By Dec. 15 it must deliver its report to the government.

Blaney, who is responsible for co-ordinating the effort, isn't worried about the deadline. “I can't say anything (about being chair) has been stressful,” he maintains. “It has been one of the most gratifying experiences I've had in my whole life.”

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