Justin Trudeau, who will become the new Canadian Prime Minister next week after winning the general election on October 19, has promised that the election will be the “last election” based on the first-past-the-post system.
But without it, he would not have won a parliamentary majority, so there will be considerable pressure from within his own party to renege on, or avoid fulfilling, his promise.
What is more interesting, however, is that Canada has a compelling history of using sortition in Citizens’ Assemblies to address provincial electoral reform – it happened in British Columbia in 2004 and in Ontario in 2006.
As argued recently in the Ottawa Citizen, sortition in Citizen’s Assemblies is the “emerging norm” for deliberating on electoral reform in Canada. A critical response to the argument appeared less than a week later, claiming that sortition and Citizens’ Assemblies “threatens representative democracy by taking decision-making power from MPs and handing it to citizens.” Actually, we agree! That’s what we want – for decisions to be handed back to the citizens. It is indeed a convoluted argument that assumes accountability must only involve citizens at election time.
Yet both efforts to reform the provincial electoral systems failed in subsequent referendums. That both Citizens’ Assemblies made near-unanimous recommendations for change (by 146 - 7 in British Columbia, and 94 - 8 in Ontario) shows how wide a gap there can be between the informed deliberation of ordinary people and the uninformed vote of everyone, influenced by emotive media campaigns and the wishes expressed by politicians.
To the Sortition Foundation the solution is obvious: if we trust a random selection of people to come to a legitimate decision – a decision that any (or indeed all of us) would make if given the time to deliberate about it with a diverse range of people in an informed and fair environment – then there should be no need for the recommendation to go to a referendum. Politicians’ decisions are usually not put to referendums – the hope is that they have access to balanced information and have participated thoughtfully in parliamentary debate. So too, our citizens’ assemblies need to be empowered assemblies. Select people at random and let them decide. And let their decision become law. We will then be one step closer to a truly deliberative democracy.