Canadians for
Check Mark  Direct Democracy (CDD)

Direct Democracy -- theright of citizens
to hold referenda on any issue

Executive Summary of Direct Democracy


Let's define Direct Democracy as the right of citizens to hold referendums on any issue -- and to veto legislation.

In practice the details can and should be tailored to suit the needs of each town or country. (requires Acrobat)

The mechanisms are simple, but the implications of the different process are far-reaching.

In 1991 83% of BC citizens voted for citizen-initiated referenda, in a referendum that was part of the BC election. We still do not have referenda. Why not?

"Beedham" says "Democracy in the 20th century has been a half-finished thing. In the 21st, it can grow to its full height".

We say that Direct Democracy is to the 21st Century what the Magna Carta was to the 13th Century.

Cartoon -- What's Democracy? -- Democracy is the freedom to elect your own Dictators

The Process

Direct Democracy creates a process which is very different from the one currently operating in our Municipal Councils, and at all levels of government in Canada.

Experience in Rossland, BC since 1991, shows that council continues to make 99% of all decisions. Town administrator André Carrel's speech gives details of this success story.

When divisive issues arise in our current system, council usually either:

postpones action indefinitely; or
goes in-camera to produce compromise solutions controlled by the representatives.
Neither action is satisfactory.

As any council gains experience with the DD process, they realise that this domination by the majority of representatives often leads to a citizen-initiated referendum, unless council quickly opens up the process to all citizens. This open process often brings, by itself, a widely-acceptable solution.

Where there is genuine difficulty reaching a decision, the matter goes to a referendum, called either by council, or by the required number of petitioners.

In all of these non-routine decisions, the open and transparent communication process vastly improves the quality of the final law.

It is this change to an open process which is the heart of the success of DD, not the Mechanisms.

The Mechanisms

1. The "Popular Veto" - when, say, 5% of the voters challenges a law or policy by petitioning government, a referendum vote (local, regional, provincial or national) must be held.

2. The "Popular Initiative" - when, say, 5% of the voters demands a new law or policy by petitioning government, a referendum vote must be held.

3. *  The "Double Majority" (if applicable) means that a referendum must get more than 50% of the total votes; it must also get more than 50% of the votes in more than half of the designated regions.

 In closing, we must emphasize that the success of Direct Democracy is due to the open process, not the "mechanisms", although the detailed mechanisms are critically important District of North Vancouver Task Force Final Report

*  The "Double Majority" (sometimes applicable for populations of 100,000 or more) can significantly protect minorities from being dominated by majorities:
in a province such as BC, where rural voters may differ from urban voters or;
in a municipality such as North Vancouver, where Deep Cove may differ from Capilano.

For a deeper understanding of Direct Democracy we recommend (three of these links are in the above text):

The 6-year success story of Direct Democracy in Rossland, BC  October 1997, by André Carrel, Swiss-born Administrator, author of Citizens' Hall.
District of North Vancouver Task Force Final Report  February 1999, the product of a 12 month study recommending a bylaw specific to the needs of this BC municipality of 50,000 voters (requires Acrobat)
Full Democracy  December 1996, Brian Beedham's article in the Economist magazine of London, England, a comprehensive analysis of democracy in Europe and worldwide
Progress toward Direct Democracy in B.C.  1999, by Colin Stark, Canadians for Direct Democracy

See Outstanding Readings in our Bibliography

**N.B.** Carrel, André, Citizens' Hall: Making Local Democracy Work - 2001
**N.B.** Rebick, Judy, Imagine Democracy - 2000
**N.B.** Boyer, Patrick, QC, The People's Mandate, Referendums and a more Democratic Canada - 1992
**N.B.** Savoie, Donald J. Governing from the Centre - 1999
**N.B.** Hock, Dee, Birth of the Chaordic Age - 1999
**N.B.** Yankelovich, Daniel, Coming to Public Judgement - 1991

Home Index FAQs BC Charter What's New Top of Page

This page was updated on July 11th 2002
We welcome ALL communications and suggestions, including those from students and researchers.
Do YOU have a question that we do not address here?

Or that we do not address to your satisfaction?
Would you like to have this file or FAQs e-mailed to you as a Word attachment, suitable for printing on two sides of an 8-1/2"x11" sheet?
E-mail us at
JOIN our Listserv: e-mail, put "SUBSCRIBE" in the message BODY.
OR visit