Hugs, tears as assembly says farewell
B.C. households will get copy of group's report in January

By Neal Hall
Published November 29th 2004 in The Vancouver Sun

There were hugs and tears Sunday as the 160 members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform bid farewell to friends and colleagues after the assembly's final meeting.

After 11 months, the assembly completed its mandate by recommending that B.C. adopt a new voting system called single transferable vote (STV), a proportional representation system that will be put to voters in a referendum at the next provincial election on May 17.

The assembly is expected to deliver its final report to the government and British Columbians by Dec. 10. A copy of the report will be sent to every household in B.C. sometime in January, the assembly announced Sunday.

The report will provide the assembly's rationale for choosing STV over other systems.

A day earlier, Premier Gordon Campbell and Attorney-General Geoff Plant attended a ceremony to thank the assembly members for their diligence and public duty. Campbell presented each member with a framed certificate of appreciation.

"In many ways you have reinvigorated my belief in the citizens of this province," the premier told the assembly.

"I believe the people of the province have watched your deliberations with a sense of confidence, a sense of pride," Campbell said. "You came with open minds and you came with open hearts. Your diligence, your determination have been exceptional."

He said people across Canada and around the world have been watching the assembly, noting people from 148 countries have logged on to the assembly's website.

"It's interesting to me that what really seems amazing is that we decided we should let citizens decide how democracy should work. And I think that's what's fundamental to this."

Campbell recalled he taught in Nigeria for two years and learned that in many places people effect change by using bullets.

"We live in one of the few places in the world, this place Canada, where you can make change with the use of a ballot."

The premier said he hopes the work done by the assembly will reinvigorate a sense of commitment to the ballot and increase public participation in shaping the future of B.C. "You have done something truly historic," Campbell said. "You have given new life to public life in British Columbia."

Later, the premier was asked by reporters why he hasn't endorsed the STV system chosen by the assembly.

"I don't want anyone to say this process is tainted in any way by the premier's participation or the Cabinet's participation," Campbell said, adding he'll leave it for the citizens of B.C. to debate the merits of adopting a new system.

"This is a process that's been driven by citizens, and I think you'll find lots of champions for it," he said. "You'll probably find some critics for it."

MLAs are welcome to participate in the public debate, he added. "This is a chance for citizens to shape and recommend how they would like to elect their legislative assembly."

He said it would be "great if it succeeds and, if it doesn't, at least people have participated in a full discussion about what they expect out of their elected representatives."

Jack Blaney, chair of the citizens' assembly, told the assembly he found it remarkable that the group had started last Jan. 1 with 161 members and only one had withdrawn, for personal reasons.

He noted 159 members attended the final weekend, including Sam Todd of Burnaby, who had quadruple heart bypass surgery two weeks ago.

"This is Guinness Book of Records dedication and commitment," Blaney said. "It's quite unbelievable."

He praised Gordon Gibson, a former B.C. Liberal leader who helped design the assembly, for his contribution.

Gibson attended most of the assembly's weekend sessions but couldn't be at the final weekend because he was in England, so Blaney read a note on Gibson's behalf. Gibson credited Campbell and the government for creating the assembly, which Gibson called a "major, new tool for democracy. It is the most generous and visionary act of state craft that I have seen in my lifetime."

Gibson also thanked the assembly for its trail-blazing achievement. "You have made history," he said.

Blaney thanked the premier for the assembly, which he called a "gift to British Columbia" and for democracy.

He said: "No government, in any democracy, has ever given such a charge to non-elected citizens. You set new rules -- the new gold standard -- for the true engagement of citizens in democratic governance.... And it is now being copied in Ontario and watched around the world."