They get off the buses and file slowly through the grey, early-morning light into Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.
No, these aren't prospective lawyers gearing up for their bar exam. They're members of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, voters one per riding randomly chosen from across the province to consider whether it's time to scrap our voting system that elects candidates with the most votes regardless of whether they have a majority.
Their recommendations are slated to go to the people of Ontario in a referendum as part of the next election. But their work, so far largely ignored by the major media, could actually trigger a political earthquake in the next 12 months.
The Assembly, which met at York September 9, isn't actually representative; Ontarians didn't elect them to do this. But its members are much more reflective of the people of Ontario than is the coterie of mostly professional and business folk who make it through the party nomination system and gruelling election campaigns to win a plurality of votes cast by those who still bother to cast them.
For a start, half are women. The group includes people of colour from Asia and Africa, a sprinkling of Chinese Ontarians, working-class guys with ball caps, a good spread of ages from eager 20-somethings to greying retirees who haven't had their belief in the duties of citizenship beaten out of them.
Take William Kwegyir-Aggrey, who represents York South. Born in Ghana, he spent time in prison for criticizing the military coup in his native land. For him, a key issue is "holding them [what he calls the political giants] to account once they have been elected." This is a common theme amongst many delegates.
Elsayed Abdelaal, the member from Guelph-Wellington, raises the issue of strategic voting. "So often we end up voting with our heads rather than our hearts," he complains. He concludes not that this is simply bad, but that it would be better to have a situation where "we need both."
Women delegates make the case that our present parliamentary politics are too simple-mindedly adversarial. Politicians from one party condemn others not because they disagree but simply because they're on the other side.
The discussion moves back and forth. Some value governing coalitions of parties as opposed to the "strong leadership" associated with single-party government. Sometimes the conclusions are conservative, other times reformist or even radical in their implications.
Missing is the kind of insider cynicism and grandstanding so often associated with people who have positions and institutions to defend.
It's probably this absence of an institutional stake that makes political insiders nervous about this kind of open-ended process dominated by everyday citizens. The distrust of democracy spreading beyond the professionals is palpable.
Take the Queen's Park correspondents. Murray Campbell of the Globe and Mail hasn't pronounced recently on the Citizens' Assembly, but in a spirited defence of the electoral status quo after the last federal election he referred to it as "Dalton McGuinty's golly-gee wish for democratic renewal."
Ian Urquhart of the Star launched a recent assault on the Assembly, disparaging its members as "mostly retirees, part-time workers, students, homemakers and computer nerds looking for some excitement in their humdrum lives."
The subtext: how dare these ordinary people consider deep questions of democracy? The hostility of the Queen's Park journos' inner circle and the editorial boards to which they're answerable may say something about the almost total media silence that has greeted the start of Citizens' Assembly deliberations.
But the need for reform is there if you want to look. Voter participation has fallen to just above the 50 per cent mark in recent Ontario elections.
Poll data presented by Citizens' Assembly animator Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queens, shows Canadians' trust in and respect for political parties declining dramatically.
In Ontario, political parties with bare pluralities and quite radical reform programs get to impose their will on an unwilling majority. In fact, thanks to the first-past-the-post voting system, Ontarians have not actually experienced legitimate majority rule a government elected by the majority of voters since 1943.
Democracy is the thing we are asked to cherish, pay taxes for and sometimes even die to defend. Perhaps ordinary citizens should occasionally be allowed to think about it.