From Watts Up With That?
Essay by Eric Worrall
The Academics admit “many Canadians are polarized along party lines” – but think the solution is to change how “representatives” are selected.
How climate assemblies can help Canada tackle the climate crisis
Published: September 15, 2023 5.28am AEST
Simon Pek Associate Professor of Business and Society, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria
Lorin Busaan PhD Student, Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria
Unfortunately, Canada has consistently failed to make a significant contribution to this broader effort. And this failure is due, in no small part to political polarization and a corresponding inability of governments to follow through on high-level commitments. We argue that climate assemblies can be a powerful tool in moving past these limitations and driving meaningful action on climate policy, if designed and executed thoughtfully.
The challenges of climate policy are exacerbated by Canada’s political context as an oil and gas producing country. Indeed, many Canadians are polarized along party lines when it comes to key tensions concerning economic and climate policy, including when it comes to phasing out oil and gas, and how it relates to Canada’s future economy.
Climate assemblies are part of a broader family of democratic innovations referred to as “deliberative mini-publics.” They gather a representative slice of a given population selected through a lottery to study, deliberate and make recommendations about a specific climate-related topic.
Climate assemblies’ distinctive blend of characteristics gives them many advantages over other political institutions. With lottery selection, participants are less likely to represent political or special interests, enabling them to be more impartial and adopt a longer-term perspective that takes account of future generations.
Britain has a climate assembly, though unlike the Canadian proposal it is an advisory body rather than a legislative body. The GWPF claim the British climate assembly process is rigged:
Environmentalists tried to sidestep democratic process
London, 29 January: The UK Climate Assembly, which claimed to have delivered a mandate for a green revolution, could not have delivered a mandate of any kind, according to a new analysis published by the Global Warming Policy Forum.
According to the report’s author, Ben Pile, the Assembly was set up to deliver a preordained result:
It was in no way a democratic process. Almost everyone involved with convening the assembly, and almost everyone who spoke to it, was involved with environmental campaigning to some extent. Most can be linked to a small group of wealthy environmental funders.”
Pile says that the Assembly was actually set up because the public were unpersuaded of the case for radical action.
Politicians agreed the net zero target without debate and at best lukewarm public support. The Assembly was an attempt to provide a justification for strong policy measures, but it is ridiculous to suggest that a project like this could deliver some sort of a mandate. The assembly was an attempt to sidestep the democratic process.”
Venezuela loves rigged citizens assemblies, in 2017 Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro used a rigged citizen assembly to dismantle the last vestiges of genuine Venezuelan democracy.
Venezuela’s controversial new Constituent Assembly, explained
Analysis by Jennifer L. McCoy
August 1, 2017 at 7:00 a.m. EDT
Why did the government hold this vote?
The government said it was to bring peace to the conflicted country, but it was widely seen as a move to avoid holding other scheduled elections that the government expected to lose — including elections for governors and mayors in 2017 and for president in 2018.
The government’s approval rating has hovered around 20 percent because of the weakening economy, shortages of food and medicine, and the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to curtail the authority of the legislature. The resulting protests have left more than 100 dead, and at least 10 more died during Sunday’s vote.
What is a constituent assembly?
President Hugo Chávez established a similar body in 1999 that was intended to give the people “originary” power. Venezuelan constituent assemblies have the authority not only to change the constitution but also to dismiss existing officials and institutions.
The election’s rules were heavily biased in favor of Maduro’s government. Instead of “one-person, one-vote,” every municipality in the country elected one delegate and state capitals elected two, no matter the size of the town or city. In addition, a proportion of delegates was reserved for selection by members of specified organizations such as students, workers and indigenous groups. This helped ensure that a larger number of delegates would come from constituencies favorable to Maduro, even if the opposition participated.
The vote lacked many of the safeguards normally present in Venezuelan elections. The government agency in charge of the election skipped 14 of the 21 audits of the automated system, did not use indelible ink, and allowed people to vote anywhere in their city, not only where they were registered. Ballots didn’t even have names of candidates, just numbers.
The scientists behind this climate assembly proposal claim that Canadians are split along party lines, yet somehow they believe their climate assembly would produce a more climate friendly outcome than representative democracy? How could this possibly be the case, unless the assembly process is flawed, and somehow doesn’t genuinely represent the will of the Canadian people?
The track record of non representative citizens assemblies in other countries is not good. Even in places like Britain, where they have no legislative authority, they are criticised as sham bodies which don’t properly represent the people.
In my opinion this proposal is not a genuine attempt to improve democracy, it is an attack on democracy.
In a real democracy, you don’t sway policy by changing the system, you change the system by persuading people to vote for different candidates. But the academics pushing this climate assembly idea seem to have implicitly given up on the idea of persuading voters to support stronger climate action. Instead, the academics appear to be looking for ways to change the democratic process, to produce the outcome they want.