Saturday, December 1, 2007

Electoral refrom redux - Toronto Star, Nov 29

To the editors of the Toronto Star;

"Electoral reform has had a full airing, and Ontarians rejected it," says the Star (Electoral refrom redux - Star, Nov 29). That is precisely what has not happened. According to a polling study done during the referendum campaign by Fred Cutler and Patrick Fournier, political scientists at UBC and the Université de Montréal respectively, "Many Ontarians were in the dark about the proposal. . . . Useful knowledge about the proposal was rare. Less than one-third knew MMP makes multiparty governments more likely. Less than half were aware that MMP makes votes and seats proportional, that it would give seats to more parties, and that it involves two votes." Voters did not know that the members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform "were ordinary Ontarians," "had an equal chance of being chosen," "represented all parts of Ontario," "became experts on electoral systems," and that "most members wanted what's best for all Ontarians" (rather than themselves). Furthermore, the study concluded that, had voters known these things, "The result would have been 63 per cent for MMP and 37 per cent for the existing system - exactly the mirror image of the actual outcome."

"Some people just won't take no for an answer," says the Star. When democracy is the question, we must never take no for an answer.

Electoral reform redux

Toronto Star editorial
Nov 29, 2007 04:30 AM

Some people just won't take no for an answer.

In a province-wide referendum last month, Ontario voters soundly rejected a proposal to replace the current electoral system with a new method of voting called "mixed-member proportional." The results were not even close. Only 37 per cent of voters endorsed the alternative on offer, far short of the 60 per cent threshold required.

Undeterred by the results, though, electoral reform advocates are already back at it. Fair Vote Ontario this week issued a press statement demanding all parties at Queen's Park "address the unfinished business of electoral reform," and calling on Premier Dalton McGuinty to put it "back at the top of the agenda where it belongs."

An option turned down by 63 per cent of Ontario voters hardly constitutes "unfinished business," and it certainly doesn't merit being at the top of anyone's agenda just seven weeks after voters rejected it.

Electoral reform proponents had a fair opportunity to make their case. Now, Fair Vote Ontario and other like-minded groups should respect the democratic process, accept the wishes of voters and resist the urge to harangue Queen's Park until they get the result they want.

Unfortunately, Fair Vote Ontario is already cranking up its rhetoric ahead of today's Speech from the Throne. It is accusing the government of not living up to "a pledge for an open and informed public debate on electoral reform" and for "poor management of the process." It says the government should start the electoral reform process all over again, only with more money and fairer rules this time.

These criticisms sound like sour grapes. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a more thorough process than the one that saw a "citizens' assembly" of 103 randomly selected voters study electoral systems for seven months before issuing its recommendation last spring. The "unfair" 60 per cent threshold set by Queen's Park was an appropriately high bar for such a radical change to our democratic process.

And while the scrupulously neutral public education campaign mounted by Elections Ontario could have done a better job of engaging voters, all the money and flashy ads in the world likely would not have made some Ontarians pay attention.

Electoral reform has had a full airing, and Ontarians rejected it. Its champions should graciously accept that.

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