Crowdsourcing National Constitutions

12 06 2011

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland decided to re-write its constitution. The way in which Iceland’s bank collapsed was interpreted by many Icelander as a damning indictment of a political system with too much cronyism and too little transparency. It is not surprising, therefore, that the constitutional convention is trying to make the process of drafting the new constitution as open and transparent as possible.

According to the Guardian newspaper:

The crowdsourcing follows a national forum last year where 950 randomly selected people spent a day discussing the constitution. If the committee has its way the draft bill, due to be ready at the end of July, will be put to a referendum without any changes imposed by parliament – so it will genuinely be a document by the people, for the people.

Read more here.

It helps that Iceland is a very literate society and have essentially universal internet access.Everyone in Iceland speaks the same language, which it possible for all citizens to wiki-edit the same text. Plus, Icelandic isn’t spoken anywhere else in the world which helps to keep foreign interests from participating in the process.

Read more here.

In terms of the process by which it was produced, Iceland’s constitution will probably be the most open and inclusive in history. At the other end of the spectrum, I suppose, are constitutions produced by a single individual, a dictator. (Of course, it is doubtful whether these documents can be considered actual constitutions, since they weren’t really honoured in any meaningful way).

Most of the key texts in Canadian constitution history were produced through processes that occupied intermediate points on the spectrum. The Quebec Act of 1774, which gave a new constitution to the Province of Quebec, was produced by a small group of people in London. Canadian Confederation in the 1860s was somewhat more democratic and inclusive in that hundreds of colonial legislators plus the male property holders of New Brunswick got the chance to vote on it.  The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 was put to a referendum in which every adult had the right to vote. Recently there were “citizens’ assemblies” selected by lot in BC and Ontario to propose electoral reform.

With the Charlottetown Accord in the 1990s, Canada essentially adopted the Australian model of constitutional reform: when the separate colonies in Australia were trying to decide whether to federate in 1898-1900, there were referenda on the issue. In fact, in two of these colonies, South Australia and Western Australia, women got to vote on the new constitution.

It remains to be seen what procedure 21st century Canada would use to try to modify its national constitution.




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