(Draft # 9 – pre December 2nd, 1998 meeting)
WHERE WE STAND
- District residents should have full access to information on District affairs
- The conduct of District business should be transparent and open, with a well-developed District-wide communication system
- Council should always be sensitive to its accountability to District residents
- “Direct democracy” will encourage resident input into District policy making and enable residents to participate more actively in District affairs
- “Direct democracy” will raise the level of public awareness and debate of key civic issues
- Council can exercise the leadership necessary to ensure that it becomes a model of effective “direct democracy” for other municipalities and jurisdictions
WHAT WE RECOMMEND
THAT COUNCIL ADOPT A DIRECT DEMOCRACY BYLAW ENABLING CITIZEN-INITIATED REFERENDA, COVERING ALL REGULAR DISTRICT AFFAIRS
- That the bylaw enable the amendment, alteration, or repeal of an existing bylaw or the initiation of a new bylaw
- That the bylaw enable a citizen-initiated referendum to be initiated only by a petition by at least 5% of eligible voters
- That Council pay particular attention to effective methods of restraining costs, delays, and bureaucracy in the conduct of District referenda
- That Council continue to encourage citizen participation primarily through community associations
WHY THESE RECOMMENDATIONS?
- a direct democracy bylaw gives Council an effective and orderly way of addressing contentious issues
- a direct democracy bylaw strengthens the hand of Council in dealing with senior governments and unelected bodies
- a direct democracy bylaw leads to increased respect for those in public office
- “Direct democracy” does not mean government by referendum. Most District decisions would be made as they are now, by elected officials. Few issues would be important and contentious enough to prompt referenda.
REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE
The previous pages serve as an executive summary and draw attention to the highlights of the Report of the Task Force on Direct Democracy – District of North Vancouver. What follows is our complete report.
REPORT OF THE TASK FORCE ON DIRECT DEMOCRACY
DISTRICT OF NORTH VANCOUVER
Table of Contents
1. Terms of Reference 1
2. Task Force Processes 2
3. The Work Plan 3
4. Preface to Recommendations 4
- The Need for Information
- An Enabling Communications System
- The Need for Structure
- The Need for an Enhanced Political Culture
5. Recommendations and Their Rationale 7
6. Follow Up to this Report 12
Annex – Citizen – Initiated Referenda in Saskatchewan
(Draft # 9 – pre December 2nd 1998 meeting)
(Note that “they” and “The Task Force members” have been replaced by “we” throughout)
1.0 Terms of Reference
1.1. The issue of “direct democracy” first came to the formal attention of Council through a report presented to Council on October 21, 1997.
1.2. At a November 3, 1997 meeting, a resolution was adopted by District Council to establish a Direct Democracy Task Force with the mandate “to advise Council on the possible implementation of a Municipal Constitution (“Direct Democracy”) under the authority of the Municipal Act”.
1.3. For purposes of the Task Force, ‘direct democracy’ was defined by Council as “a process to enable electors to petition Council for an amendment, alteration or repeal of a proposed by-law; to initiate a petition for a new enactment; and to initiate a petition for a change to an existing bylaw”. Successful petitions would result in citizen-initiated referenda.
1.4. The Task Force held its first meeting on May 27, 1998, with the preliminary intention of meeting the original target date for completion of the work of the Task Force by November 1998. Early in their proceedings, the Task Force members agreed that we would not seek an extension of our mandate, unless it became apparent that the original schedule set by Council could not be met. We agreed to meet on a weekly basis, whenever possible, to accelerate the pace of their work. On November 2, 1998 the mandate of the Task Force was extended to January 15, 1999 to allow us to complete our work plan.
1.5. We had a first working draft of their report by September 2, 1998 and proceeded with our original work plan from that point.
1.6. Despite our rather narrow formal Terms of Reference, we generally agreed that, to accomplish the task set out for us, we would have to engage in wide-ranging discussions of ‘direct democracy’ and other forms of active citizen participation in municipal life.
2.0 Task Force Processes
2.1. We quickly agreed among ourselves that our meetings should be conducted informally and that discussions should be as free-flowing as good order would permit.
2.2. We also agreed that we should search for consensus wherever possible and particularly on our recommendations, but that potential minority positions should also be respected and reported.
2.3. We also agreed that we did not, individually or collectively, have the specialized expertise to craft a suitable bylaw, nor was it the intention of Council that we should do so. Rather, we made the point that we should concentrate on identifying and explaining the basic elements of a ‘direct democracy’ bylaw, with the understanding that specialists could later draft the bylaw wording to incorporate ‘the basic elements’ we had identified.
2.4. We had two additional operating guidelines. The first was that we would welcome observers and visitors at our meetings (the meetings were public), but that we would not encourage active participation by observers/visitors except at the request of one or more of us on specific points. The second was that we would seek ‘expert advice’ only after we had determined, in draft form, our own recommendations for the basic elements for a ‘direct democracy’ bylaw.
3.0 The Work Plan
3.1 We initially agreed to the following 6 stage Work Plan:
1. Share perspectives on “direct democracy’
2. Discuss how to achieve what we recommend to be achieved (tools for implementing objectives re ‘direct democracy’)
3. Prepare preliminary proposals/recommendations
4. Solicit “expert” opinion on our preliminary recommendations
5. Solicit “public” input
6. Formulate final recommendations and prepare report to Council
3.2 This work plan was followed in our initial work. However, in the process of implementing the work plan, we agreed that it would be appropriate for the Council, rather than the Task Force, to consult residents on the report. As a result, stage 5 of the work plan was deleted, with the notation that Council should hold at least informal hearings on this report.
4.0 Preface to the Recommendations
4.1 The Need for Information
We recognize that the fundamental purpose of “direct democracy’ is to enable citizens to participate directly in public affairs, rather than only through their elected representatives and on voting day. We conclude that full access to information, openness of the decision-making processes to all residents, and transparency on the part of Council in the conduct of District affairs are essential to healthy municipalities.
It is our premise that Council will encourage resident input into policy-making decisions, and we enthusiastically support such policy. We made note of opportunities District residents already have to participate in the affairs of their district. A staff report (Current Methods of Citizen Participation and Reference Guide to Framework for Public Involvement Manual – August 4, 1998) draws attention to the seriousness with which Councils have taken matters of public participation. However, we believe that participation in civic affairs now needs to be raised to a new level as the business of the District becomes more complex and the desire on the part of residents to participate directly in municipal affairs intensifies.
4.2 An Enabling Communications System – The Prerequisite
4.2.1 The fundamental prerequisite for an effective ‘direct democracy’ bylaw is the establishment and continuous improvement of a District-wide communication system. For us, communication is at the core of democracy. Information, analysis, and reasoned debate offer the only effective path to informed, efficient, public decision-making. True democracy is not only voting or conducting referenda. It is improving the ability of individual citizens to get public information, to have the ability to comment on that information, to raise new issues, to debate the issues, and – only then – to use a democratic tool (like voting) to make an official and binding public decision.
4.2.2 The real objective of Council should be to create and sustain an open, free, informative, inclusive public debate on every important issue. For this to happen, a municipality-wide communications system – run by the people of the municipality – is a prerequisite (to effective citizen participation – THESE WORDS SEEM REPETITIVE)
4.3 The Need for Structure
4.3.1 Notwithstanding the actions already taken by Councils to involve citizens in municipal affairs, we were unanimous in the view that the implementation of ‘direct democracy’ initiatives would be the next logical step in efforts to increase citizen participation.
4.3.2 We are of the view that support for and leadership to ‘direct democracy’ initiatives by Council are not just matters of principle. Rather, we believe that ‘a direct democracy’ bylaw is also a practical matter. Such a bylaw would provide the necessary, official and visible structure or mechanism for direct citizen participation. It could form the official basis for the improvement of the general civic health of our municipality – and be of value to other municipalities as well.
4.3.3 At the same time, we do not think it prudent for the District to make it easy for individual citizens or small groups of citizens to take public actions that could be considered frivolous or strictly self-interested – and risk damaging the public good. That is why we observe that increasing citizen participation requires much more than the mere passing of a bylaw. That is, we are of the view that a ‘direct democracy’ bylaw is necessary to encourage and enable increased and more active citizen participation. A ‘direct democracy’ bylaw is necessary, but not sufficient.
4.4 The Need for an Enhanced Political Culture
4.4.1 Active measures to convince more citizens that public participation is in their personal interest as well as the public interest is important, and Council needs to provide evidence that more active public participation results in more citizen-sensitive action on the part of Council. The importance of Council accountability to the electorate needs to be reinforced, and citizens’ responsibility for their public actions needs to be profiled. That is, the political culture of our District needs to be enhanced. The need is for (we need to take measures to enhance the political culture of our District – these words to be deleted?):) complete openness and transparency in all municipal matters, with full access to information for all, even greater accountability on the part of Council to District residents, and a political will on the part of Council members to act responsively to citizen concerns. Hand-in-hand with the above, residents of the District need to be encouraged to act on their democratic right to an expanded involvement in the local decision making process.
4.4.2 In the political culture we envision, limits set by the Municipal Act should not be an obstacle to the practical implementation of citizen-initiated referenda results. We believe that Council should respects the choice of a majority of active citizens. Within the provisions of the Municipal Act and without Council members being unduly disposed in advance to act on the will of the majority of active residents, Council could consider the results of a citizen-initiated referendum as highly persuasive if not morally binding.
4.4.3 We note that a substantial part of Canadian law is based on precedent, and so Council could start the tradition of consistently respecting the results of citizen-initiated referenda. Future Councils would then have a precedent to guide them.
5.0 RECOMMENDATIONS AND THEIR RATIONALE
5.1 Flowing from our approach to ‘direct democracy’ as sketched immediately above, we make the following specific recommendations to Council. Where necessary we also provide the rationale for our recommendations.
5.1.1 We recommend that, to supplement existing Council-initiated referendum and counter-petition processes, Council adopt a “direct democracy” bylaw enabling citizen-initiated referenda.
126.96.36.199 We believe that such a bylaw would provide the necessary and visible structure for increased citizen participation.
5.1.2 We recommend that, to qualify for a citizen-initiated referendum, the prerequisite should be a petition supported by at least 5% of the voters on the current voters’ list.
188.8.131.52 Our objectives are to set a challenging but attainable benchmark for triggering a citizen-initiated referendum and to ensure that the referendum process is seen as rigorous and demanding. On the one hand, we wish to encourage residents to use the referendum process for major District decisions. On the other, we wish to discourage frivolous or expensive petitions – and the demand for some 2,500 petitioners to generate a citizen-initiated referendum should do that. As a result, and after consultation with experts, we recommend the percentage of voters identified in the Municipal Act and already familiar to District residents and Council for counter-petitions.
184.108.40.206 We appreciate that there is no scientific or mathematical way to determine a “correct” number or percentage of voters for a petition to be successful, prior to any citizen-initiated referendum. Accordingly, Council should not consider the percentage we propose to be cast in stone. Rather, on the basis of the District experience with what we anticipate to be infrequent citizen-initiated referenda, that percentage of voters required to trigger a petition could itself be increased or decreased by District citizens through referendum.
220.127.116.11 We consider it implicit, as a matter of good faith with District residents, that Council would act on the results of a successful citizen-initiated referendum at its next regular Council meeting.
5.1.3 We recommend that the scope of citizen-initiated referenda would be all District affairs that are legally permissible and consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the BC Human Rights Code, and other applicable federal and provincial legislation.
5.1.4 We recommend that the District’s ‘direct democracy’ bylaw enable the amendment, alteration or repeal of an existing bylaw and the initiation of a new bylaw.
5.1.5 We recommend that, after an application to the Clerk has met all the formal requirements to initiate a petition for a citizen-initiated referendum, a maximum of 30 days be allotted to allow the gathering of the number of signatures required for a referendum.
5.1.6 We recommend that, when a petition with a minimum of 100 signatures of those on the District’s voting list is received by the Clerk, Council delay the closure of a Public Hearing for a period of thirty (30) days to enable the collection of signatures of the prerequisite percentage of eligible voters for a citizen-initiated referendum as per 5.1.5.
18.104.22.168 The approximate 10 days between Council’s 1st reading of a bylaw leading to a Public Hearing provides insufficient time to gather the prerequisite voter signatures. A more extended – but not indefinite - period for the gathering of signatures of eligible voters would be more suitable.
5.1.7 We recommend that Council continue to encourage citizen participation in municipal affairs and in community associations.
22.214.171.124 In our view, Council and staff need to ensure that residents have full and reasonable access to District information if they are to be able to exercise their civic responsibilities. To truly engage citizens, it is no longer enough for Council simply to issue formal notifications or advertise public meetings or distribute District newsletters or use less formal means of communication.
126.96.36.199 In particular, when a referendum is triggered, Council should take the initiative to inform residents and to encourage public debate ( distribute documentation, contact and inform community representative groups, provide announcements to the District media, arrange for community/neighbourhood information and discussion meetings with a Council member in attendance, enable televised debate on community TV, etc.)
188.8.131.52 We anticipate that improved communications should be achieved through a normal extension of the current Federation of North Vancouver Community Associations (FONVCA), and of existing relationships between FONVCA and the Municipal Council.
5.1.8 We recommend that Council adopt ways of keeping legitimate costs for the conduct of referenda to a minimum.
184.108.40.206 We place high value on encouraging a sense of community and personal responsibility by conducting voting in traditional ways. At the same time, we recognize it is now possible to conduct referenda in different ways and less expensively. As examples, we have been made aware of tele-vote referenda using touch tone phones; extended period voting systems whereby citizens can, over a month-long period, drop by Municipal Hall or other locations, and vote at any time; and, conducting referenda at municipal election time (but referenda should not be limited to election times).
220.127.116.11 In any event, we do not consider that citizen-initiated referenda should be set aside on the grounds that they are necessarily costly. They would constitute a very small percentage of the cost of operating the municipality, and residents would know the incremental cost of a referendum through the information that would constitute part of the petition. We believe cost to be a false concern.
18.104.22.168 In the same vein, we cannot accept the view that referenda will cause undue delays in the conduct of District business. While we agree that some delay in dispatching District business will result, such delays will have more positive than negative effects. Moreover, in most instances, referenda have the effect of accelerating rather than delaying the conduct of business. Indeed, referenda require the timely tabling of all the information related to the issue at hand, and establish a clear and public framework for the conduct of major District business. We point to the current counter-petition process to support the view that referenda prompt only those delays that are in the best interests of District residents.
22.214.171.124 We further note that there are no sustainable grounds to argue that referenda will increase the amount of bureaucracy involved in the conduct of District business. On the contrary, approaching increased citizen participation as we have proposed would have the effect of decreasing current levels of District bureaucracy.
5.1.9 We recommend that Council, coincident with adopting the kind of “direct democracy” bylaw we propose, take the initiative to request those changes to the Municipal Act that might be necessary to ensure that the results of citizen-initiated referenda would be legally binding on Council.
5.1.10 We recommend that, as an interim measure, Council also seek the authority, by Cabinet regulation, to consider the results of citizen-initiated referenda to be legally binding on Council and District residents.
5.1.11 We recommend that Council refer for further study and recommendation the matter of “town hall referenda” or “citizen representatives” meetings to prompt citizen-initiated action on extraordinarily important District-wide issues.
126.96.36.199 While we are in favour in principle of these additional forms of ‘direct democracy’, we believe that modalities of implementation need further study before we would be willing to make a specific recommendation to Council on these matters.
* Annexed to this report we include extracts from the “direct democracy” bylaw in use throughout Saskatchewan since 1984, and amended in 1989. It is only one example pointing to the fact and experience that such a bylaw contributes positively to citizen participation over an extended period without significant additional costs, or increased bureaucracy, or undue delays in the business of municipal government.
6.0 FOLLOW UP TO THIS REPORT
6.1 We recognize that our work officially comes to a formal end with the presentation of our report to Council. Despite this formality, we hope that Council will see fit to enable the Task Force to continue its work in support of the Council.
6.2 We request a ‘shirtsleeves’ meeting with Council, as soon as possible after they have received our report. The purpose of the meeting would be to discuss the details as well as the substance of our report so that Council can be sure of our priorities and intentions. This would also be an important opportunity for Council members to have their individual questions and concerns addressed.
6.3 As the “direct democracy” bylaw is being drafted, we urge that members of the Task Force be given full opportunity to cross-reference the proposed wording of the bylaw with the spirit and recommendations of the Task Force recommendations. Ideally, the drafters of the bylaw and representatives of the Task Force should function as a team for this purpose.
6.4 We consider it only fair and proper to urge Council to put the issue of a “direct democracy bylaw” to the test of a referendum, ensuring that the recommended public awareness initiatives which precede such a referendum also are followed. We cannot imagine a referendum bylaw being adopted or rejected without a referendum.
6.5 Furthermore, with due concern for cost considerations, we urge that the “direct democracy referendum” be held at the time of municipal elections in November 1999.
THE TASK FORCE ON DIRECT DEMOCRACY RECOMMENDS THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF NORTH VANCOUVER ACCEPT THIS REPORT.
Appendix A – Task Force Members, constituencies, and attendance records
Appendix B – Titles of Task Force documents
Appendix C – Acknowledgements
We should acknowledge the outstanding work of the supporting District staff (by name), and particularly of Stephen Fleming.