Reasonable people can disagree — and appreciating those differences make us stronger
It’s regrettable that when people don’t like an outcome, they often attack the process. This appears to be the case in the final days leading up to the amalgamation referendum this weekend.
Recently, allegations have surfaced concerning the Duncan-North Cowichan Citizens’ Assembly — a process which I chaired following a meticulous tendering process that was won by my firm, MASS LBP. MASS specializes in citizen deliberation and has been trusted by governments across Canada to lead impartial and independent processes. In fact, we’re recognized as a global leader in the field — and one with B.C. roots, having first been inspired by British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
Active across the country, we have led similar Citizens’ Assemblies for the City of Vancouver concerning land use planning and for the B.C. government, under then Liberal minister Andrew Wilkinson, concerning data privacy.
In fact, over the past decade we have sent letters to one in 67 Canadian households, inviting randomly-selected Canadians to serve on more than 30 different deliberative panels. Cumulatively, more than 1,400 Canadians have served on panels similar to the Citizens’ Assembly in Duncan-North Cowichan. Suffice it to say that our processes have been subjected to intense scrutiny, and have been held up as rigorous, impartial and democratic.
We recently underscored our commitment to transparency, and published an open guide to explain the mechanics behind our civic lotteries. These lotteries allow us to blindly select participants from among a pool of volunteers in such a way that the resulting group roughly matches the demographic profile of the community the volunteers intend to represent. We’re delighted that this free resource is now being used to strengthen local democratic processes in cities as diverse as Madrid and Helsinki, and I’d encourage anyone seeking to understand the selection process we employed in Duncan and North Cowichan to take a look.
Other insinuations have been made suggesting we were politically motivated. These sorts of comments are easy to make but MASS has never been affiliated with a political party, and neither have I held a party membership. It’s not for nothing that our company’s logo is red and blue.
On one matter, however, I am highly partisan — and that is in defence of the citizen volunteers who serve their communities without compensation and do the difficult work of weighing trade-offs and dealing with policy questions for which there are no easy answers.
I believe there are too few opportunities in our society where citizens are called on to share in the difficult work of grappling with real issues, and, in a sense, sharing in the work of governing. Regardless of whether you agree with their recommendations, the Duncan-North Cowichan Citizens’ Assembly was still a rare and authentic instance of putting good democratic values into practice.
Our communities and our country can only be stronger when we accept that reasonable people can reach different conclusions, and that differences of opinion are rarely explained by conspiracy.
Now the decision falls, appropriately, to all residents to determine the best path for Duncan and North Cowichan.
Peter MacLeod, principal, MASS LBP
Past chair, Duncan-North Cowichan Citizens’ Assembly on Municipal Amalgamation