Municipal Electoral Reform

Citizens’ Jury Demo Project

By Taylor Howarth

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07 December 2018

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On Sunday October 28th, Synapcity ran a Citizens’ Jury demo project on the topic of municipal electoral reform. “What is a Citizens’ Jury?”, I hear you ask. To put it simply, selected members of a community come together to make informed recommendations on a particular issue. There are lots of different Citizens’ Jury models, so we created our own to be delivered over one afternoon, with advice from an advisory committee.

As a recent example, a Citizens’ Jury (or Citizens’ Assembly as it was called) was held in Ireland earlier this year to discuss the country’s position on abortion ahead of a public vote on the issue.

Synapcity held an application process for a limited number of seats with the intent of inviting a diverse group from across the city. The application process was opened several weeks ahead of the event and we encouraged individuals from across the city, with differing opinions and various knowledge bases of municipal electoral reform, to apply.

To shape our discussion, we asked participants:

  • Why would someone support First Past the Post, and another support Ranked Ballot? What are the tradeoffs?
  • Given those tradeoffs, what is the preferred electoral system for the City of Ottawa?

We limited ourselves to these two systems because we wanted participants to compare the current system with the only other choice available to Ontario municipalities. In June 2016, the Ontario Provincial Government updated the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 by empowering city councils across the province to adopt the Ranked Ballot system for municipal elections by passing a by-law at City Council. We created two short videos to briefly explain First Past the Post and Ranked Ballot.

Twenty participants braved the first snowfall of the season and spent the day thinking through the impacts each system has on the election campaign, the candidates, and voters, and what values we should be focusing on when weighing the tradeoffs of each system.

We have produced a detailed report of the day’s finding that we will make available on January 15th as part of a new series of events called CityMakers 5 à 7. The event will be held at the Atelier d’innovation sociale Mauril-Bélanger, 95 Clegg St., from 5-7 pm. Refreshments will be provided.

Please RSVP to the event here.