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How to Make Referendums Trustworthy Again

with John Gastil, Penn State University

Original premiere date: 15 March 2019

Referendums and initiatives are strange instruments in a democracy.

They present as opportunities for the public to make a decision on a matter of great importance. In some cases, they are fundamental to our system of governance; at other times they are so red hot, the government simply doesn’t want to own the issue.

In each case, you as the voter are asked to make a decision, one that will change laws. How, then, do you make an informed decision? Where do you get information that is detailed yet comprehensible? Who can you trust?

Take electoral reform in BC for example. In 2018, it was a mess. The authorship of the question was poorly crafted, it was never appropriately explained and the whole thing was all done in a rush. Then the campaigns of interested parties began. The “never in a million years” side did a great job of exploiting the poor authorship of the question and instilled distrust in the entire process.

The level of discourse only went down and the actual merits of electoral reform virtually disappeared as opposing sides went tooth and nail. The losers in this titanic battle were voters who were deprived of a balanced and thoughtful exchange of the facts or the merits of the issue. So, what if we could establish a method of examining the facts in a thoughtful and deliberative way? What would that look like?

Enter deliberative democracy, a communication model that would mirror the process of weighing the facts, the way a jury does in a court of law. It is possible in small groups and it could potentially serve as a guideline for future referendums.

We invited John Gastil of Penn State University to join us for a Conversation That Matters about a way of creating a structure and process that will allow voters to make informed decisions on referendum questions.

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