By: David Swann
Strengthening Democracy in Alberta
As a concerned Albertan I have issued a call to all major political parties in Alberta to commit to creating a Citizens’ Assembly on key issues that reflect the public interest. My goal is to make public, before the next election (likely May/2023) the position of each political party in relation to creating a Citizens’ Assembly and thereby make this a basis for voter decisions.
Whether deliberating on electoral reform or tax policy, affordable childcare or climate change, a Citizens’ Assembly provides a strong direction to government from a diverse group of non-partisan citizens. In many jurisdictions around the world it has strengthened democracy by providing accountability to elected representatives and more confidence that the public interest is heard.
If you and/or your organization support this call (see the full text below) to the Parties to commit to establishing a Citizens’ Assembly, please write to me and this appeal will have more influence on the Parties to respond. And please pass this along to other groups and individuals you think might support this call.
Many thanks for considering this important tool for strengthening our democracy.
To all Alberta Political Parties – A Call for an Alberta Citizens’ Assembly
Few people understand the underpinnings of healthy democracy or even their role in maintaining it. But the public want to know their interests matter to their elected representatives. Currently there is widespread cynicism as corporate and party interests appear to dominate and this bodes ill for participation in our democracy. The fundamental element of democracy is the belief in ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’.
Active participation and fair elections; ease of voting; protection of minority rights and equality before the law, depend increasingly on the active engagement of citizens that hold representatives, and their institutions, accountable to uphold these values.
In Alberta today there is increasing polarization of views, misinformation and disinformation, economic inequality often energized by fractious social media which continue to undermine confidence and trust in political process. In the context of partisan politics, entrenched and oppositional positions alienate citizens and fail to provide the best evidence for policies that serve the public interest.
Key issues and government policy on climate, taxation, royalties, electoral reform, social programs, addiction and mental health are complex and it is seldom clear how these will be addressed based on campaign platforms. Nor is it clear, without more transparent discussion and research, where the public interest is served as separate from private or Party interests. While all parties claim to be acting in the public interest there is considerable scepticism that they are able to assess this, let alone act on it.
In 1991 the Mulroney government established the Citizen’s Forum on Canada’s Future, acknowledging these tensions and dissatisfactions, which discourage citizen participation, and one of the key recommendations from this (also called the Spicer Commission) was to establish a ‘constituent assemblies’. A few provinces have responded to this idea for a specific issue only.
Across the world Citizen Assemblies have been adopted by a number of countries and many report a favorable impact on public trust, citizen participation and in related public policy.
A Citizens Assembly is a randomly selected group of non-partisan individuals representative of geography and demographics, convened by government. It meets regularly and deliberates on important, often controversial, public issues. With the help of researchers and experts, it proposes to the government of the day, what it, by majority or consensus, determine to be in the public interest in any identified areas.
Citizen Assemblies have been successfully established by governments, for specific purposes and timelines, in British Columbia (2004), where electoral reform was identified and recommended; similarly in Ontario (2006). In the Republic of Ireland (2016) climate change and abortion were key issues on which the government accepted many of the recommendations of the Assembly. In Poland (2006) deliberations on flood management and on LGBTQ rights; the UK, Netherlands and Belgium also have Assemblies on issues such as electoral reform, seniors’ care and climate policies.
Before the next provincial election we will be asking each major Party to make a public commitment to create a CA early in their mandate. We believe that a political party that is serious about understanding and acting on the public interest will welcome a CA on the pressing issues of these times, including climate change, electoral reform, recession, pandemic management, etc.
Democracy is fragile and is being seriously damaged or lost in some countries. Party self-interest, deliberate misinformation and citizen cynicism must be counteracted.
We, the undersigned, believe all Parties should view a CA as innovative and empowering, strengthening our democracy in these challenging and fractious times.
We hope you share our concerns and would like to meet to discuss the growing momentum for Citizen Assemblies before the next provincial election.
David Swann MD
Member of Calgary Citizens on Climate Change
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