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Reflections from the Chair

The Citizens’ Assembly successfully modeled a new kind of democratic decision-making unprecedented in Ontario. It demonstrated the value of involving citizens in important policy questions. I was privileged to witness the extraordinary capacity of citizens when given the chance to contribute so directly to the democratic process.

The Assembly brought together 103 randomly selected Ontario citizens to learn, consult with their fellow Ontarians, deliberate, and come to a decision on an electoral system for Ontario. The Assembly was guaranteed its independence from government, and direct access to Ontario voters through a referendum if it decided to recommend change.

As Chair, my responsibility was to lead a process that would give Assembly members the tools and support they would need to come to a well-informed decision. And, just as important, my role was to facilitate a neutral and transparent process that would inspire the confidence of members and the public in how the Assembly reached that decision.

The Assembly members constantly amazed me with their enthusiasm and deep commitment to the task they were given. Throughout the eight-month process, not one member withdrew from the Assembly. Members applied themselves to learning about electoral systems. They talked to people in their communities about the work of the Assembly and chaired public consultation meetings. Some members read hundreds of written submissions. Others participated on working groups to advise on the Assembly process or to do more research in specific areas. Many used an online forum to share information and discuss issues between meetings.

By the time the Assembly began its deliberations in February, it had become a community of people who cared about one another and never lost sight of their common objective: choosing the best electoral system for Ontario. Assembly members approached their deliberations with open minds, respect for different points of view, and in the spirit of the best kind of collective problem-solving. They inspired the members of the public who came to see them at work, and they inspired me.

The Assembly members often expressed their gratitude for the support they received from the Citizens’ Assembly Secretariat staff, the learning team, and so many other organizations and individuals who provided advice and participated in the process. My space in this report isn’t nearly enough to thank everyone adequately.

The Secretariat was a talented and dedicated team. Staff worked tirelessly to provide members with whatever they needed to get the job done. Our Academic Director, Dr.Jonathan Rose,headed up the learning program. He recruited small-group facilitators who played a vital role working with the members, and assembled a group of external electoral system experts who provided ongoing feedback and advice.

On behalf of the Assembly, I want to thank the government for creating the Assembly and for respecting its independence. We are also grateful to the former Select Committee on Electoral Reform, which developed eight of the principles that guided
the Assembly's work, and to Elections Ontario, which created and led the selection process for Assembly members.

The Assembly worked with many others to ensure that its process was transparent and that it engaged as many people as possible in the discussion. Our thanks to TVOntario, Seneca College, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, the Social Planning Network of Ontario, and to many others,too numerous to mention here but greatly appreciated.

Members of the Assembly are especially grateful to the citizens who came to observe their weekend meetings, participated in the consultation meetings, or put time and effort into written submissions. All of them enriched the discussion of electoral systems and the principles that underlie them.

Now, I encourage all Ontario citizens to participate in the discussion and, on the day of the referendum, to be heard.

George Thomson

George Thomson