Victoria Wisdom Council: newspaper coverage


Richard Moore

Date: Thu, 05 Apr 2007 16:51:51 -0700
From: Caspar Davis <•••@••.•••>
Subject: [Wisdom Council] Today's TC Article

Times Colonist,
Thursday, April 05, 2007
By Carolyn Heiman

Grassroots democracy takes wing

When first hearing about the Wisdom Council project, it seemed naive, 
idealistic, even a bit loopy. Organizers picked names from the telephone book 
and had 12 of them decide what the most important issue is. Then everyone went 
home. Canada¹s first Wisdom Council was done.

The question that comes to mind is: What¹s the point of this?

But 12 who met for the first and last time last weekend didn¹t ask that question
at all. At the end of discussion around hundreds of local, national and 
international issues, it sounded as if they were changing the world. They were 
nothing short of passionate about the process.

It gave them a voice when they felt they had none.

One member called the experience the ³most powerful² he had ever had.

Simon Nattrass was among the 12 who didn¹t toss out his invitation to the 
council along with pizza brochures coming through his mailbox.

He was initially pessimistic, but his interest in politics led the articulate 
17year-old to agree to join. He was the youngest by far; and his piercings, army
boots and high school dropout status made him stand out among the group mostly 
in the 45-plus demographic.

Saying little at the start, by the end he joined with 71-year old Gillian 
Sanderson to read the council¹s final statement to the public.

³I¹d like the councils to be more frequent,² said Nattrass, adding that if 
enough people talk about the issues ³government has to listen.²

That¹s the real point of the Wisdom Council exercise that¹s to be repeated twice
more this year, using different randomly selected people each time.

Convener Diane Wallrich said councils aren¹t intended to come up with a product 
or solution. ³This is about a process about opinion-generating and 
consensus-making. After that, the usual political channels apply. … Politicians 
are just people looking for a parade to get in front of and this helps create 
the parade. … It¹s not revolutionary. It¹s evolutionary.²

Two politicians checking out the event were Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman and 
Victoria MP Denise Savoie. Coleman thought the process was interesting. For one 
thing, the ideas emerging out of the short-lived councils have nothing to do 
with agendas defined by lobbyists, corporations or social agencies each with 
their worthwhile but vested interest.

The council also got the attention of Paul Mohapel who is on faculty at Royal 
Roads University. Mohapel wants to research future councils and write about the 
process as it might apply to developing leadership.

U.S. facilitator Jim Rough, who has a company that does corporate facilitation 
and also runs his non-profit Centre for Wise Democracy aimed at developing 
Wisdom Councils, says the process is key to solving society¹s collective 
problems. ³I don¹t see how our system can work if we place ourselves in 
special-interest silos.²

One Wisdom Council member saw the process as applicable to federal politics. 
Imagine, said Brian Burchill, if the Senate included randomly selected 
Canadians. That would provide better second sober thought than an elected body, 
said Burchill, who is no stranger to party politics.

Burchill thinks the election process is a bit of a sham: ³Politicians don¹t 
really represent us.²

Looking at voter turnout it¹s easy to see why he might think that. In 2004 
Canada hit a dubious record with the lowest-ever turnout in a federal election ­
61 per cent. Fewer than 30 per cent of eligible voters turn out for municipal 
elections. Seems we don¹t even send politicians loud messages at the polling 
booths. Wisdom Councils offer an auxiliary way to do that.

Some of the people on the first council said they don¹t vote in elections and 
aren¹t involved in other civic activity. But the council gave them a voice, they

Their big issues touched on societal isolation, disconnection from government 
and our unsustainable world. It encouraged citizens to become more civically and
politically engaged through public life and making connections with people.

All of the council members said they were going to talk up the process to their 

³I¹ve told a lot people about it already,² said Sanderson, adding, ³The 
gravevine works very well.²

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