Starting September 2006, 103 randomly selected Ontario citizens committed to 30-40 hours a month for 8 months to get educated, hear public consultation and deliberate on the topic of electoral reform to make a unified policy recommendation that would be voted on by a binding public referendum.
The public process was mandated by government, well financed and executed in an independent and transparent manner and with great care and consideration by highly respected experts. The participating Citizens' Assembly members were selected at random and represented a cross section of the population.
In the Learning Phase the citizens attended six full weekends of adult education on the topic of electoral reform. The materials, presentations and process were extensive and balanced by design and the learning was measurably very successful.
In the Consultation Phase, 501 people made presentations at the 41 public consultation meetings that were held throughout the province. Additionally five outreach focus groups were held for people who are homeless, living on low income, who have only basic literacy or English skills and new immigrants. Along with making every meeting accessible, there was an extra special meeting for people with disabilities. The assembly also received and reviewed 1,036 written submissions.
In the Deliberation Phase the assembly spent six complete weekends in well facilitated discussion groups, consensus driven deliberations and structured decision-making processes. Many decisions were made via consensus and participants highly rated their opportunity to participate and the neutrality of the facilitators. The final decision to recommend the Assembly's decision to the people of Ontario was approved by 92% of the assembly. The assembly's final 27 page report was a unified, clear and detailed document approved by consensus.
According to the Canadian Institute on Governance who acted as third party evaluators monitoring the entire process: “The whole Assembly process was undertaken in an open and transparent manner and is well documented for the benefit of future exercises of a similar nature. It serves as a model of how to engage and empower citizens to deliberate and decide on selected public policy questions.”
The Assembly's recommendation will become Ontario policy if during the October 10th 2007 referendum the proposal is approved by 60% of all votes cast, plus a simple majority of more than 50% in at least 60% of the ridings.
Visit the official site
Read an Evaluation of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly Process written by Jason Diceman.