Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hampton rues lack of info on referendum

It is too bad that the referendum law forbids campaigning politicians to also campaign for or against the MMP. It might have been a better idea to have the referendum separately. They did it this way to save money. They do not even have separate ballot boxes! It seems a shame to have a dedicated group of citizens do a lot of work on the issue and then it ends up that with the election campaign going on very few people are interested in the referendum issue. Probably the measure will go down to defeat but who knows perhaps I am being overly pessimistic. Certainly some papers such as the National Post have tried to drum up interest.

Muzzled by law, Hampton rues lack of info on referendum
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 | 5:42 PM ET
The Canadian Press
Ontarians aren't getting enough information to help them choose whether to vote for or against a new electoral system during the upcoming referendum, NDP Leader Howard Hampton and electoral reform advocates say.

Hampton said he'd love to talk more about why voters should choose change in the referendum — but he's not allowed to.

The NDP has long campaigned for electoral reform and is supporting the proposed change to a mixed-member proportional system in the Oct. 10 referendum.

But the referendum regulations prevent him from actively campaigning for the new voting system, Hampton said, and that's why he hasn't mentioned it even once on the campaign trail.

It's wrong that political leaders can't say more about the referendum, especially since it appears the public isn't getting it, Hampton said.

With just a week until the vote, Hampton said he's hearing from people on the streets that they don't understand the question or why a referendum is being held.

But Hampton said he doesn't think electoral reform is going away, even though he believes next week's referendum has been set up to fail.

Citizens assembly speaks out
Elsewhere, advocates for changing the way Ontario's politicians are elected criticized both Elections Ontario and the Liberal government for failing to adequately inform the public about the campaign.

Voters are barely aware of the referendum, they said, and much of the information out there is either wrong or amounts to fearmongering.

"I'm very disappointed there's been a lack of meaningful debate," said Catherine Baquero, a member of the citizens assembly that recommended changing the system.

"I'm disappointed that Elections Ontario's education campaign has been so toothless. What I expected was a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of each system."

Coinciding with next week's election, voters will decide whether they want to adopt a new voting system — mixed-member proportional representation, or MMP — that would distribute 39 of 129 legislature seats in accordance with the popular support shown to each party.

MMP supporters, including former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, argued Wednesday the system is more democratic in that it would allow smaller parties, more women and more minorities to find a real voice in the legislature.

"Under our current electoral system, 2.5 million out of 4.5 million votes do not go to elect anyone," said Patrick Heenan, another member of the 103-member citizens assembly.

"When so many votes are wasted, we have to question whether the system is essentially fair, and whether it provides the representation that the majority of voters want."

John Hollins, the province's chief electoral officer, said Elections Ontario is obliged to provide "clear and impartial information" on the vote, which is costing the agency about $6.8 million.

"We are currently delivering a comprehensive provincewide program that extends to all eligible voters using multiple household mailers, the Internet, radio, television, newspaper and public presentations in communities," Hollins said.

"Our focus over the remaining days leading up to the referendum is continuing to increase awareness of the referendum question and educating voters regarding the two choices."

On the campaign trail, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he was "proud" of setting the binding referendum in motion and "really pleased" with the work of Elections Ontario.

Still, members of the citizens assembly, activists, and current and former politicians are fretting that the electorate is either largely still in the dark or has been woefully misinformed.

"I don't think the government is that crazy about this reform because they haven't put the money behind promoting it," said Judy Rebick, past president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

Rebick said the province should have taken a page out of the federal referendum on the Charlottetown constitutional accord in 1992, when the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney provided enough money for a "real" education campaign.

Rick Smith, another member of the 103-person assembly of randomly chosen citizens from across the province, suggested it was a mistake to try to save money by holding the referendum at the same time as the general election

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