As was the case in New Zealand perhaps it will take several referenda to finally change the system. It would be good if we could change it first at the Federal level.
Rejection of electoral reform plan expected
-- Mary Vallis, National Post
The votes will not be counted until midnight tonight, but Ontario's experiment with electoral reform already appears doomed to fail.
Pollsters are predicting the referendum on whether to introduce mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) will fall below the threshold required to change the province's voting system -- 60% of all valid votes cast and a majority of support in at least 60% of the provincial ridings. A recent survey conducted by the Strategic Counsel suggests the proposal will be supported by only 52% of voters. And most of the undecided voters are expected to vote against the change as well.
"The more people find out about MMP, the less they like it," said Joseph Angolano of No MMP, a small group of campaigners that handed out nearly 10,000 flyers in defence of Ontario's current "first past the post" voting system. "People are really skeptical about this party list."
The new electoral system would add 22 more MPPs to Queen's Park and give voters two ballots:One for a local candidate, and another for a political party. Ninety members would still be selected by the traditional first-past-the-post method. The remaining 39 would be selected from lists of candidates submitted by each political party prior to the election: Parties would be allocated a share of those seats based on their proportion of the "party vote."
"A lot of people that will be putting the check mark in the first-past-the-post box will be people who aren't voting for first-past-the-post as much as saying 'I don't have enough information to choose a new system,'" said Larry Gordon, Vote for MMP campaign manager.
"That's really unfortunate, because this is one of those rare, historic moments where voters actually have an opportunity to make a decision on a voting system. If we have a lot of people going to the polls on Wednesday who don't feel like they had enough information to make an informed decision, that's an unfortunate conclusion to what otherwise was a well-intentioned initiative of putting this decision in the hands of voters themselves."
The referendum has been hailed by academics as a prime example of democracy in action. Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government announced in 2004 that a citizens' assembly of 103 average citizens from every riding in the province would evaluate Ontario's current electoral system and decide whether to recommend a new one.
The government gave Elections Ontario the daunting task of promoting the province's first referendum since the 1920s. But the agency has been roundly criticized for its efforts: Proponents and detractors of MMP argue Elections Ontario has either done too much or not enough to promote the work of the citizens' assembly and explain the proposed system. The agency rolled out most of its referendum campaign after Labour Day.
"This is 'Referendum 1.0,'" said Jonathan Rose, a professor of political science at Queen's University who served as the citizens' assembly's academic director.
"We're all learning how to conduct a public education campaign, and what's necessary for it. That includes Elections Ontario -- this is the first time they've done this sort of thing."
Even if the referendum fails, MMP's supporters insist Ontario's flirtation with proportional representation is not yet over. A similar proposal failed in British Columbia last year, earning 58% support where it needed 60% to pass, but will be back on the ballot in 2009. And in New Zealand -- where a mixed-member system close to what is proposed here was introduced in 1993 -- it took nearly a decade and two referendums for voters to accept.
Prof. Rose suggested the same kind of questions people are grappling with over MMP would be raised if they were re-evaluating the current system. Many people do not yet realize that in some Canadian elections, opposition parties have received more votes than governing parties, he explained.
"There is a very low level of civic literacy around important democratic institutions, like the Charter, and like the electoral system," he said. "You can't change an entire civic culture in six weeks. It requires a much longer process."
Published Wednesday, October 10, 2007 7:50 AM by Kenny Yum
Filed under: Electoral Reform, News