Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007: The year Ontario electoral reformers lost their innocence...

The Ontario Citizens' Assembly (OCA) gave Ontarians a unique opportunity to dump our antiquated 'Winner-Take-All' voting system this year in favour of something more representative of voters' wishes. Sadly, Ontarians failed to take that opportunity on October 10th after the McGuinty government undermined the very process it set up.

As we know, 'Winner-Take-All' hands all the power to one political party, frequently giving it a majority of seats in our legislatures with far less than a majority of votes. Sometimes, 'Winner-Take-All' even gives the second-place party among voters an election victory! This has happened in six out of 10 provinces in recent times: Ontario, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

After the party won majority power in 2003 with 46% of the vote, Ontario Liberal enthusiasm for real electoral reform, with some notable exceptions, began to wane. The Ontario Citizens' Assembly process was set up too late in the government's first mandate, the former Minister for Democratic Renewal has admitted.

The OCA, made up of 103 randomly-selected, ordinary Ontarians, spent months studying the issue of electoral reform and found our current system to be very wanting. In the end, they recommended a new system called Mixed Member Proportional or MMP. It was a thoughtful, moderate alternative which kept the best aspect of the current system (ensured local representation) while also creating a list system that would be used to ensure party representation matched party support among voters.

For electoral reformers, the prospect of a new system designed to make every vote count in Ontario seemed like a dream come true. Sadly it would not come to pass.

The opponents of change within the McGuinty government won the day in the backrooms long before any referendum ballots were cast.

To ensure any proposal for change would fail, the government approved a 60% threshold for passage (just as they did in British Columbia in 2005.)

With the recommendation for change coming so late in the government's mandate, voters had only a scant few months to learn about it and pass judgment. The McGuinty government failed to adequately inform Ontarians about the Citizens' Assembly process prior to its May 2007 recommendation, and then of course refused to distribute widely the Assembly's final report to voters. Most Ontarians spent the whole summer unaware they'd be asked to make a complicated choice in an October referendum.

The McGuinty government also chose to hold the referendum at the same time as the general election, ensuring the issue would not receive the attention it deserved from the public.

On top of this, instead of financing "Yes" and "No" campaigns that could work diligently to inform voters of their choices, the government passed the buck to Elections Ontario to design the entire education campaign. Not only would Elections Ontario have to run both the election and the referendum at the same time, it would also have to attempt to educate voters about their difficult referendum choice, and have only two months to do it. In the end, Elections Ontario's campaign made almost no mention of the deliberative process that led to the referendum. Elections Ontario opted to give Ontarians only a clinical comparison between voting systems and failed to mention the consequential differences.

Into this void of meaningful information stepped the opponents of electoral reform. They mainly attacked the perceived fatal flaw of the OCA proposal: province-wide party lists.

For supporters of voting reform, it was almost surreal to see a bunch of backroom party hacks on the 'No MMP' campaign attack MMP for giving "party hacks" more power. It also seemed surreal to hear opponents attack the new system as undemocratic, when in fact it was designed to fix the undemocratic aspects of First Past The Post. Mainstream media outlets like the Toronto Star also printed misinformation about the new system in their news stories and got away with it.

Proponents for change had virtually no effective way to counter these attacks. Vote For MMP was able to raise about $400,000 dollars from grassroots supporters, but such an amount was a drop in the bucket in a province the size of Ontario. Up against the circulation of the Toronto Star and other establishment media outlets, proponents had no chance.

By October 10th, the writing was on the wall. Ontarians had heard few substantial reasons to change systems because proponents had little ability to effectively communicate with the public. Ontarians knew almost nothing about the body of citizens who had recommended change and had heard or read a lot of negativity and doubts expressed by most establishment media about the new system.

Under such a scenario, it was virtually impossible that Ontarians would opt for change, let alone the 60% threshold required. In the end, 63% voted to keep our antiquated, vote-distorting 'Winner-Take-All' system.

This was not a fair fight. It was an electoral fiasco.

Even the non-partisan Chair of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly agreed the referendum process designed by the government was flawed.

Hindsight being 20/20, it's clear that the Citizens' Assembly should've never put forth its closed list proposal, designed specifically to address under-representation for certain groups in the legislature. This one proposal became the Achilles heel of the new system. A Mixed Member Proportional model with an open regional list system (where voters could choose which members would be elected to top-up local members, not the parties) might have been an easier sell to Ontarians.

Advocates of electoral reform in Ontario lost their innocence in 2007. We saw in all its ugly glory how far opponents of fair voting, both inside and outside governments, will go to keep our 'Winner-Take-All' system. Any process that contemplates change will never be enthusiastically embraced by the politicians, power brokers and party hacks who control the government decision-making process and benefit greatly from our flawed 'Winner-Take-All' system.

Initial enthusiasm for voting reform by mainstream parties historically victimized by 'Winner-Take-All' frequently disappears once those parties get a taste of false majority power. Witness how Dalton McGuinty has completely dropped the issue of democratic renewal, failing to appoint a new minister after his October re-election despite the historically low voter turnout. Former NB Premier Bernard Lord, whose New Brunswick Conservatives were shut out of the legislature in 1987 and struggled for 12 years in opposition, contemplated voting reform after returning to power in 1999. But after seven years in power, Lord failed to act on electoral reform and ironically saw his own party defeated again in 2006, even though it won the most votes.

Any change to fair voting in Canada will undoubtedly face the same kinds of delays and heavy-handed attacks that we saw this year in Ontario. This is a depressing reality for those fighting for a better, more just system.

But of course, as history has taught us, just change is never easy. The forces of the establishment will always fight to hang on to their power, no matter how unjust. Proponents of fair voting must learn from the 2007 Ontario referendum and continue to lay the groundwork for change in the future.

There remains one major opportunity on the horizon in British Columbia where voters will get another chance to push their fair voting option called Single Transferable Vote (STV) over the 60% threshold in a repeat referendum in 2009. (Voters in 2005 in B.C. voted 58% for STV.) This is cause for optimism as we move forward on this issue.

This site will continue to advocate for a fair voting system in Canada to ensure public interest and fairness will one day win out over the establishment, partisan interests who support our antiquated 'Winner-Take-All' system.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lack of Action on Environment Blamed on "Winner-Take-All" Voting System in Canada

Our "Winner-Take-All" voting system has ensured that significant votes for the Green Party have never translated (and mostly likely will never translate) into any kind of representation in our legislatures in Canada. While this site supports the Liberal Party, we also recognize the lack of representation for the Greens makes it more difficult to raise environmental concerns on an ongoing basis.

For voters who are growing increasingly concerned about lack of action on the environment, they should know our voting system - which hands one party all the power with as little as 40% of the vote - actually makes it easier for the winning party to be complacent on this issue and many other issues. If Stephen Harper wins a majority with only 40% of the vote next time, can you imagine the damage he could do not only to Canada's environment, but to the planet? The following release was issued today by Fair Vote Canada:


Growing voter frustration with footdragging on the environment -- another symptom of Canada’s electoral dysfunction

FAIR VOTE CANADA: DECEMBER 17, 2007 -- Pointing to a landmark study on voting systems and policy outcomes, Fair Vote Canada today said growing public anger with current and former federal governments’ inaction on environmental problems has its roots in Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system.

“A bad electoral system almost guarantees bad politics,” said Stephen Broscoe, President of Fair Vote Canada.

“Canadians are increasingly aware our first-past-the-post voting system skews election results. Some parties are given far too many seats, others too few and some are shut out altogether,” said Broscoe. “It’s time to connect the dots on how that affects the daily lives of our families, communities and our environment.”

The urgent need for substantive action on environmental issues has been apparent for the past two decades, yet Canada’s federal governments – both Conservatives and Liberals – have been slow to act, with policies and programs falling far short of public expectations.

Arend Lijphart, a leading international expert on electoral systems, noted two relevant studies in Patterns of Democracy, his landmark comparative assessment of electoral systems in 36 nations.

He cited a 1997 study that measured environmental policy performance through a composite index based on carbon dioxide emissions, fertilizer consumption, and deforestation. On a zero to 100 scale, countries with proportional or fair voting systems scored 10 points higher than those with winner-take-all voting systems.

Lijphart also studied energy efficiency, using the World Bank’s figures for GDP divided by total energy consumption for the years 1990 to 1994. He concluded the correlation between countries using proportional electoral systems and energy efficiency is “extremely strong”, even when controlling for the level of development.

“A fair voting system, in itself, cannot create better environmental management,” said Larry Gordon, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada. “But what it does create is a truly representative parliament, which better reflects the views of the electorate. Here in Canada, new parties, such as the Greens, would have the seats and voice they deserve in Parliament. Studies have also shown parliaments in proportional voting countries also do a better job of passing legislation that represents majority views. For many years, public support for environmental action has been far ahead of any Canadian government’s willingness to act. When you connect the dots, you can see why the voting system we use really matters to our quality of life, our communities and the environment.”

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Contact:

Stephen Broscoe
604-817-5400
Stephen.broscoe@fairvote.ca

Larry Gordon
647-519-7585
Larry.gordon@fairvote.ca

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

McGuinty gets support from provincial rivals in Commons seat battle

From today's Globe & Mail:

"Premier Dalton McGuinty secured all-party support yesterday for a resolution asking the federal government to amend proposed legislation so that Ontario gets its "fair share" of seats in the Commons.

"Mr. McGuinty said the federal bill, C-22, is unfair because it violates the principle of representation by population and ensures the continued under-representation of Ontario in Ottawa."

To read more, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Electoral reform redux: Revisionist history from the Toronto Star

As this site has stated previously, the recent Ontario referendum on voting reform was nothing short of a fiasco. Ontario did not have a full debate on the issue as Dalton McGuinty promised in 2003. In fact, as most objective observers now agree, the 2007 referendum process was greatly clouded by the noise of the Ontario election campaign, among other manipulations.

The McGuinty government failed in the run-up to the referendum to adequately inform voters that the process was even taking place. When the referendum officially began in September, public awareness of the Citizens' Assembly process and its proposed Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system was dismally low. The former Minister for Democratic Renewal, Marie Bountrogianni (now retired) has admitted the process started too late in the government's first mandate.

The McGuinty government also undermined the process by burying public information on the Citizens' Assembly. The final report from the Citizens' Assembly (paid for by Ontarians) was not widely distributed and the government stopped printing information on the Assembly altogether before most voters even knew what was going on. Sadly for many Ontarians, the first they heard of the Citizens' Assembly was when they saw it mentioned on their referendum ballot on October 10th. Voters were rushed into this decision with little time for considering the question.

Instead, there was too much misinformation spread by mainstream media outlets including the Toronto Star and supporters of the status quo. The Toronto Star misled its readers when it used the loaded word "appointed" in news stories to describe how some MPPs would be elected to the legislature under the Mixed Member Proportional system. This misinformation was compounded by Elections Ontario's woefully inadequate education campaign, which can now be considered one of the most ineffective (and expensive) communications campaigns in recent Ontario history. Instead, the government should've used that $6.8 million to fund both the 'Yes' and the 'No' sides, which struggled to get their messages out to a confused and bewildered electorate.

In response to this press release yesterday from Fair Vote Ontario, the Toronto Star today published this editorial, the latest in the paper's cynical attempt to spin the issue of voting reform in favour of the Toronto establishment's favoured "Winner-Take-All" status quo. If the Star can't be trusted to be truthful about electoral reform, on what other issues will it choose to misinform readers?

In spite of all listed above, the Star still claims that, "Electoral reform proponents had a fair opportunity to make their case." Perhaps the editorial writer failed to read this Toronto Star piece penned by George Thomson, who served as chair of Ontario's first Citizens' Assembly, entitled, 'Bad timing undermined exercise in democracy.'

The issue of electoral reform is certainly not dead in Ontario or Canada. An unjust system like our "Winner-Take-All" system cannot and will not be tolerated forever. As we know, British Columbians have another opportunity in 2009 to vote on their version of proportional representation called Single Transferable Vote or STV. That's because over 57% of B.C. voters endorsed the proposal in a 2005 referendum, but the government refused to implement it because of its imposed 60% threshold. This STV system would provide for results that closely match the wishes of voters, while guaranteeing all representatives are directly elected by the voters in multi-member constituencies. In many ways, it's better than MMP. If B.C. passes this system in 2009, it will be a huge victory for electoral reform in Canada, keeping alive the issue right across the country.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

42% is not a mandate for majority rule: Ontario legislature has unfinished business on electoral reform

The following was released today from Fair Vote Ontario:

TORONTO: November 28, 2007: As the 39th Ontario provincial parliament prepares to sit, Fair Vote Ontario is calling on all parties to address the unfinished business of electoral reform.

“On Thursday we will hear the throne speech from yet another phony majority government, elected by just over forty per cent of the voters in an election with the lowest ever turnout,” said June Macdonald, President, Fair Vote Ontario. “The only ‘mandate’ such a government should have is to immediately launch a better-funded and fairly managed citizen-driven electoral reform process.”

Fair Vote Ontario rejects the claim that the government honoured a pledge for an open and informed public debate on electoral reform.

“While using a citizens’ assembly and referendum for electoral reform is the right approach, that process must have adequate time and resources to allow for an informed public debate and decision,” said Macdonald. “Whether intentional or not, the poor management of the process over the past two years made a mockery of the exercise.”

Fair Vote Ontario cited the following problems:

- The Citizens’ Assembly was not convened until late in the last government’s term, unduly reducing the time it had for deliberation and consultation and for the subsequent referendum.

- The referendum was triggered by a recommendation by the Citizens’ Assembly, but neither the Assembly’s report nor summary brochure were distributed to all voters. In fact, the government ceased printing the Assembly brochure in late summer.

- Due to poor government promotion and media coverage, about half of the electorate had very little understanding of the role and mandate of the Citizens Assembly.

- When voting in the referendum, only about half of the electorate had even a rudimentary understanding of the MMP system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly.

- At least a quarter of the electorate had no idea a referendum was being held. In some polls, very few voters knew about the referendum.

- The Election Ontario public education program left most voters bewildered and uninformed – e.g., the official public education campaign would not tell voters the reasons for the Assembly recommending the MMP system or how key aspects worked.

By setting an unfair 60 per cent threshold, under-funding and misdirecting the public education program, the government created a widely shared impression that the whole process was cynically designed to fail.

In his 2003 election platform, Dalton McGuinty said: “I find it unacceptable that [my children’s] generation may be so turned off by our political system that they will virtually abandon representative democracy. We cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.” A poll take just days before the referendum found that more than 60 per cent of young voters, ages 18-34 were in favour of the proposed reform.

“We call on Premier McGuinty to put democratic renewal and citizen-driven electoral reform back at the top of the agenda where it belongs,” said Macdonald. “As the Mr. McGuinty said, we cannot afford to let the status quo continue.”

Fair Vote Ontario is a program of Fair Vote Canada, a national citizens’ organization for electoral reform: www.fairvote.ca.

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Contact: June Macdonald at 416-962-8181 or Larry Gordon 647-519-7585.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ontario and Quebec vow to fight federal plans to change Commons, Senate

It's clear the federal Conservative Bill C-22 discriminates unfairly against Ontario, providing Canada's largest province with far less representation than it deserves, compared to British Columbia and Alberta, let alone the other provinces. This issue has been getting decent press over the last couple of weeks, most notably the war of words between Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and federal House Leader Peter Van Loan, who hails from the York-Simcoe riding in Ontario.

Now today this story from Canadian Press:

"The premiers of Canada's two largest provinces vowed Monday to keep fighting the federal government's plans to change the makeup of the House of Commons and reform the Senate, and called for a first ministers' meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to resolve the disputes."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

MMP would've served Ontario democracy better in 2007

Kudos to Christina Blizzard for today's article on electoral reform in the Toronto Sun.

Here's an excerpt:


"Peter MacLeod, of Queen's University's Centre for the Study of Democracy, has crunched the numbers from last month's vote and says the Legislature would look quite different had it been elected using MMP.

It is difficult to be entirely accurate in this calculation. MacLeod points out we can't say for sure how people would have directed their second vote for the party, but he estimates the Tories would have gained the most from MMP.

With 107 seats under the First Past The Post system, the Grits have 71 seats; PCs 26; NDP 10 and the Greens have none.

Under a 129-seat House under MMP, the Liberals would have dropped dramatically to 56 seats; PCs would have 41; NDP 22; Greens, 10...[But] many potential voters in this province simply sat home Oct. 10. Voter turn-out was a pathetic 52%.

"We may have voted down the referendum, but we're getting perilously close to voting down democracy too. A 52% turnout isn't much of an endorsement and yet I can't believe this is what people want," MacLeod said.

The issue of democratic renewal now seems forgotten, since Premier Dalton McGuinty dropped the democratic renewal portfolio from cabinet.

That doesn't augur well for this the democratic process. The MMP proposal...was a complex issue for voters to grasp as they also grappled with election issues.

MMP died a cruel death on election night. But at least it opened up a conversation about democracy and elections -- and how and why we vote. But when almost half of eligible voters stay home on election day, it's tough to call it democracy. The people may have spoken -- but they did so very quietly."

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bountrogianni voted for MMP, agrees the Citizens' Assembly process should have begun earlier

Former Ontario Democratic Renewal Minister Marie Bountrogianni, who chose not to run again for the McGuinty Liberals in the Oct 10th Ontario election, says she voted in favour of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system proposed by Ontario's Citizens' Assembly.

"I think it would have been an exciting change," she says.

Bountrogianni's comments were published in an Ottawa Citizen article this weekend.

The former minister remained publicly neutral on the question during the referendum campaign. Bountrogianni was reacting to criticism from Fair Vote Ontario that the Citizens' Assembly that recommended the new system was set up too late in the McGuinty government's first term, leaving little time for public education and debate.

"They have a legitimate point there," says Bountrogianni. The problem, she says, was that Michael Bryant, who had responsibility for Democratic Renewal for the first two years of the government's mandate, was also Attorney General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

"I think something this important perhaps should have been given to someone with fewer responsibilities earlier," she said.

By the time she took on the portfolio in 2005, there was much to be done and little time in which to do it. "I ran as fast as I could," she said. "This was my number one and only legislative priority. I spent most of my time on this." Bountrogianni was also the government's Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.

Bountrogianni continues to support the government's decision to impose a 60% threshold for approval on MMP. She also challenges the notion that Ontario voters lacked information, pointing out, among other things, that extensive background was available at the Citizens' Assembly's web site. Nevertheless, when the referendum officially began in September, public awareness of the Citizens' Assembly process and its proposed system was dismally low. The government had decided not to distribute the Assembly's final report widely and ultimately stopped printing the Assembly's brochure long before most voters even knew the referendum was taking place.

Bountrogianni also defends the government's decision to leave the referendum's education campaign in the hands of Elections Ontario, saying the government placed no restrictions on the agency. "We left it entirely up to them." Most observers say Elections Ontario's dry campaign failed to give the referendum question proper context.

It's interesting to note that both Democratic Renewal ministers in the first McGuinty government - both Michael Bryant and Marie Bountrogianni - ended up endorsing the new MMP system.

In 2003, Dalton McGuinty said, "The time has come for a full, open debate on voting reform...When almost half of the public does not see the point in heading to the polls we have already had a non-confidence vote in our democracy."

With the failure of Dalton McGuinty to appoint a new Minister of Democratic Renewal in last week's cabinet shuffle, clearly the low turnout of 52.8% in 2007 seems to now suit McGuinty just fine. What a pity.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is electoral reform dead in Canada?

Mark Sutcliffe wrote this incisive piece in today's Ottawa Citizen in which he asks the question, "If Canadians are so dissatisfied with our current system of electing governments, why do recent elections show us unwilling to embrace change?"

He points out that both Ontario and Prince Edward Island rejected a version of Mixed Member Proportional (or MMP) in referenda by near identical margins after experiencing very similar campaigns. Vote For MMP Ontario chair Rick Anderson correctly argues that governments in both provinces did little to educate voters about their choices. But Sutcliffe also quotes Carleton University political scientist Jonathan Malloy who points to aspects of MMP that proved unpopular with voters, including the infamous province-wide "lists" that would come with such a system. Voters also seem reluctant to embrace a system that produces never-ending minority governments in which smaller parties frequently win the balance of power, says Malloy.

The writer notes that 57% of British Columbians did vote for a different system called Single Transferable Vote (or STV) in a 2005 referendum, but the government refused to implement it due to its high 60% threshold for approval. There too voters complained the government didn't do enough to explain the alternative system, yet that didn't stop voters from almost giving STV the green light. Now B.C. residents will vote again on their new system in 2009.

Sutcliffe notes that, "STV is a much more complicated process in which between two and seven candidates are elected in each riding, depending on the population. Voters rank their top choices and votes are redistributed in a multi-step process until the required number of candidates has enough votes to be elected. The results are expected to mirror proportional representation while using exclusively local representatives...Another factor that may have worked in favour of reform in British Columbia was the uneasy state of politics in the province. For electoral change to be embraced, the confidence of the electorate may need to be shaken by a crisis or a series of scandals, not slowly eroded by apathy."

Indeed, British Columbia saw the NDP win a majority of seats in 1996 with only 39% of the vote, three points less than the Liberals who won 42% of the vote! Five years later, the Liberals won 98% of the seats with only 58% of the vote. Thus voters were likely more aware of how First Past The Post greatly distorts voters' wishes. No such freak-result elections have occurred in Ontario in recent memory, thus making it more difficult to convince voters of the need for change.

In the end, Sutcliffe writes: "Having somebody break the ice would help people increase their comfort level," [says Malloy.] That may come in 2009. After having come so close in 2005, there's a strong chance that British Columbians will push STV over the top in the next referendum. Once that happens, voters in other provinces, including Ontario, may feel more comfortable making changes to their own systems."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Flawed electoral reform process means the Ontario government has not yet met its commitment to let Ontarians decide

The following was released this week by Fair Vote Ontario:

Flawed electoral reform process means the Ontario government has not yet met its commitment to let Ontarians decide

TORONTO – October 30, 2007: Today electoral reformers called on Premier McGuinty to address the flawed electoral reform referendum process and take steps to meet his commitment to give Ontarians an opportunity to make an informed decision on the best electoral system.

June Macdonald, President of Fair Vote Ontario, pointed to three design flaws in the referendum process that denied voters the opportunity they were promised.

“First, the citizens’ assembly process – which we enthusiastically support – was unnecessarily delayed until the end of the government’s first mandate,” said Macdonald. “With four years to take action, the government did not convene the Assembly until one year prior to the referendum date. By the time the Assembly could issue its report, the referendum was less than five months away, including the summer vacation period, which left little time for public debate.”

“Second, the public education program was glaringly inadequate. The referendum was triggered by a recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly, which asked that the public education campaign include the Assembly’s rationale for recommending MMP. Unlike the British Columbia referendum, the Assembly’s report was not distributed to all households – in fact, the government stopped printing the Assembly’s summary brochure several months before the referendum, blocking widespread distribution to voters.”

“Third, while it had no effect on the October 10 vote, the application of an unfair referendum threshold of 60 per cent is simply unacceptable in a modern democracy. Prior to the application of the rigged threshold in two other recent electoral reform referendums, no provincial or federal referendum in Canadian history used any threshold other than the democratic standard of 50 per cent plus one. The all-party Select Committee on Electoral Reform, which had a majority of members from the Liberal Party, recommended a simple majority threshold.”

“Premier McGuinty promised a citizen-driven process for electoral reform, including a citizens’ assembly to assess the need for reform, and a referendum to decide upon any recommendation from that assembly,” said Macdonald. “That was the right approach, but the implementation was so severely flawed, Ontarians have not yet had the chance to make an informed decision on electoral reform. As the new government begins setting its agenda for the coming year, we call on Premier McGuinty to address this issue as soon as possible.”

Fair Vote Ontario is a program of Fair Vote Canada, a national multi-partisan citizens’ campaign for electoral reform: www.fairvote.ca.

Enclosed: backgrounder on the citizens’ assembly and referendum process.


30 –

Contact: June Macdonald at 416-962-8181 or Larry Gordon at 647-519-7585.


Fair Vote Ontario:
Backgrounder on the Citizens’ Assembly and
Referendum Process

November 18, 2004: One year into his mandate, Premier Dalton McGuinty announces the impending creation of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

June 13, 2005: Legislation to establish the Citizens' Assembly is passed and the all-party Select Committee on Electoral Reform is established.

November 29, 2005: The Select Committee reports. The majority report endorsed by the six Liberal members recommends "the referendum should be binding upon a vote of 50% + 1, and the support of 50% + 1 in at least two-thirds (i.e., 71) of the ridings, or any other formula that ensures the result has support from Northern, rural, and urban areas of the Province." The Committee also calls for a referendum public education campaign in which “every voter receives adequate information about the arguments for and against each side of any question that is put to the people.”

March 27, 2006: Another four months pass before the government announces the appointment of George Thomson as Assembly Chair. The timing means the Assembly cannot be set up and convened until September 2006. The government has set May 15, 2007, as the report date, so the public education period is reduced to five months. The government has yet to respond to the Select Committee’s proposed threshold.

September 9, 2006: The Assembly holds its first meeting – not a single reporter is present. The cabinet has still not decided on the threshold.

October 24, 2006: The government announces its decision – rejecting the recommendation of the Select Committee – by setting a super-majority threshold: "60 per cent of all votes cast provincewide, plus a simple majority of more than 50 per cent of votes cast in at least 64 provincial ridings (the equivalent of 60 per cent or more of provincial ridings)."

April 15, 2007: The Assembly votes by a 92% majority to recommend that Ontario adopt the Mixed Member Proportional voting system.

April 25, 2007: The government announces that "Elections Ontario will deliver neutral public education to raise awareness of the referendum and to educate the public about the alternatives under consideration."

May 15, 2007: The Assembly's final Report recommends that "the question should ask the voters whether Ontario should adopt the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform."

The Assembly’s report also recommends that a “comprehensive, well-funded public education program, beginning in May and continuing through to the referendum, is vital. We believe that the program should include a description of the new system and how it differs from the current system; a description of the Citizens' Assembly process; and the Assembly's rationale for recommending a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario." The subsequent program of Elections Ontario focuses primarily on referendum awareness and does not include any information on the Assembly’s rationale for reform.

June 15, 2007: Marie Bountrogianni, Minister for Democratic Renewal, makes an announcement that she is not running again. An initial press report says the Minister was unhappy about the government’s referendum decisions, but she denies it.

June 20, 2007: The cabinet decision on the referendum question is announced. It ignores the Assembly’s recommendations.

Summer 2007: The Assembly report and a summary brochure are made available to the public through Service Ontario. However, the government subsequently decides to cease printing the brochure. Unlike voters in British Columbia, who received copies of their Assembly’s report in the mail, the great majority of Ontarians never see either a brochure or report from their Assembly.

Fair Vote Ontario
October 2007

Fair Vote Canada
26 Maryland Blvd.
Toronto, ON M4C 5C9

info@fairvote.ca
www.fairvote.ca
416-410-4034

Thursday, October 25, 2007

York University Report: Why Ontarians Said No To MMP

The York University Institute for Social Research released a study today by professors Fred Cutler (UBC) and Patrick Fournier (Université de Montréal) entitled, "Why Ontarians Said No To MMP." A report on the study was printed in the Globe & Mail today.

The study confirms that two elements of the Citizens' Assembly's Mixed Member Proportional proposal proved to be unpopular with Ontarians: "...increasing the number of members in the legislature by 22 was not well received. Ontarians who believed this was a good idea were clearly outnumbered. More important, there were the infamous party lists - the biggest weapon in the anti-MMP arsenal. A majority thought giving control over the composition of those lists to parties was a bad thing. Only 16 per cent liked the idea."

But the study also indicates Ontarians would've been prepared to support the MMP proposal in sufficient numbers if they had had more information about it and how the proposal was created:

"[The] Citizens' Assembly...was...unfamiliar to the public. Voters tend to be skeptical of referendum proposals from politicians, so the assembly might have provided much-needed grassroots legitimacy. But only if voters knew that its members were ordinary people.

"Few discovered that. The media paid little attention to the assembly and often described it as "set up by the government" - a half-truth that did nothing to dispel voters' assumption that the proposal was coming from the usual political suspects. At the start of the campaign, half said they knew nothing about the assembly and, amazingly, there was no gain in awareness over the campaign.

"So, knowledge about MMP and the Citizens' Assembly pushed voters toward the new system. Could referendum support have reached the 60 per cent threshold if voters had been fully informed about both? We can simulate the outcome if all citizens had known: (1) that MMP would give voters two votes, elect some members whose names never appear on a ballot, produce proportional outcomes with more parties and infrequent majorities; and (2) that assembly members "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).

"Under these conditions, our data indicate 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.

"This is probably heartening, and yet disappointing, for electoral reformers. And perhaps opponents should show more relief than smugness."


Clearly, the decision by the McGuinty government to bury public information about the Citizens' Assembly, including its final report, was instrumental in defeating MMP.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ontario Citizens' Assembly Chair: Bad timing undermined exercise in democracy

Telling reading this morning in the Toronto Star from George Thomson, who was the chair of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Here's an excerpt:


"The [referendum] public education program faced another major challenge from the beginning: timing. The [Citizens'] assembly was set up very late in the government's mandate and completed its work less than five months before the referendum. Elections Ontario apparently was asked to take on the task of public education only as the assembly's report was being finalized and released.

"Many voters had little or no knowledge of the Citizens' Assembly, despite the fact that it was established and funded by the government to consider an important policy question on behalf of all Ontarians. Assembly members read, researched, analyzed, consulted (with citizens and experts) and debated the question of electoral reform for eight months. Both the government and Elections Ontario were concerned that making the assembly's report more readily available would appear as campaigning for the MMP option. One day after the referendum, I spoke to a class of 75 Carleton University students who had a strong interest in the topic. Not one of them had seen or read the 27-page report or any other assembly materials.

"Elections Ontario decided to focus on informing voters that there was a referendum and on providing only the basic elements of the two systems. It was left to others to foster discussion about how the different elements would work in practice, and to debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each system.

"With ample time and substantial support for healthy discussion and debate, this might have worked well. With only one month after the summer break and an election campaign going on at the same time, it is not surprising that many voters knew little about the choice they were being asked to make.

"The impact of these factors on the referendum is impossible to assess and the clear result should, of course, be acknowledged and respected. The assembly members knew and accepted that it would be up to the electorate to adopt or reject their recommendation.

"I do regret that, for the most part, an opportunity for vigorous, informed public discussion on an important public policy issue was missed. As well, there are lessons to be learned about how to structure and respond to exercises in citizen engagement.

"What I hope most of all is that we recognize the enormous value of the Citizens' Assembly and other methods of involving Ontarians in the democratic process. In my long career, I have never observed an attempt to engage the broader public that approached the level of commitment, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice shown by the members of the Citizens' Assembly. These randomly selected Ontarians inspired all those who came to observe them in their work. One look at the low turnout in this election should make us all eager for more opportunities to inspire citizens to
participate so directly in our democracy."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stephane Dion reportedly muses about voting reform referendum

Bourque.org's headline this morning 'DION WOULD CHANGE THE WAY WE VOTE' links to an interesting blog posting by writer Curtis Brown on his Manitoba-based site, 'Endless Spin Cycle, Episode III'.

These comments from Liberal leader Stephane Dion seem to be in line with previous statements on the need to explore voting reform at the federal level.

Here's an excerpt from today's posting by Curtis Brown:

"During a 90-minute question and answer session with the audience at the Gas Station Theatre, Dion was asked to give his thoughts on electoral reform...The Liberal leader mused out loud about how a preferential ballot would be better...

"...Dion finished by saying this would lead to more respectful debate between parties and leaders since "if you're a Green or NDP voter, I don't want to insult you so you'll consider me as your second choice." Then, he said he wouldn't want to make this part of an election campaign promise, but would rather put it to a national referendum after taking office."


The fact that Stephane Dion continues to be open to discussing voting reform, as well as suggesting a possible referendum on the question, is good news for Liberals and all Canadians who support electoral reform. A move to a preferential ballot or an Instant-Runoff voting system would bring needed change to our antiquated winner-take-all Single Member Plurality system, which has actually exacerbated regional tensions at the federal level. While Instant-Runoff voting is not necessarily proportional representation, preferential ballots are used in PR-STV (Proportional Representation - Single Transferable Vote) which will be voted on again in a referendum in British Columbia in 2009.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ontario, Alberta out of 'proportion'

Check out this column by writer Graham Thomson from yesterday's Edmonton Journal. It's clear the Liberal government in Ontario sabotaged this effort at electoral reform as this Thanksgiving anecdote is no doubt very typical:

"Officials at Elections Ontario did a miserable job of explaining how the reformed system would work. More importantly, they failed to explain why the electoral system needed to be reformed in the first place.

The Liberal government also did its best to bury the issue, realizing, no doubt, that the MMP system would deny the Liberals a majority government unless they won a majority of the votes.

The result was an electorate who knew little about the proposed reforms. In fact, many voters didn't even know electoral reform would be on the ballot.

I discovered that for myself when, over Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family three days before the vote, I asked if they'd be voting in favour of the MMP.

"Are you talking about our MPP?" one asked me. "You know, our member of provincial parliament? You call them MLAs in Alberta. We call them MPPs here."

"Uh, no," I replied. "I mean the mixed member proportional system."

Blank stares.

"The referendum," I added helpfully.

More blank stares, this time with an offer of more gravy.

It turned out nobody at the table of 12 people had heard of the MMP referendum question. I should add at this point my family members in Ontario are not a particularly dense group even if they are related to a political columnist. They are usually up on current events, but this time the officials at Elections Ontario had failed miserably to inform the voters about the referendum."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Our thoughts on the referendum results and where we go from here

With the Hill Times reporting today that about half of Canadians support holding a national referendum on changing Canada's electoral system in the next general election, and 45 per cent say that in such a referendum they would vote in favour of proportional representation (versus only 28% for our winner-take-all system), there is much to be encouraged about as we move forward in this debate.

We'd like to share our thoughts on the recent Ontario referendum on electoral reform.

In 2003, Dalton McGuinty said, "The time has come for a full, open debate on voting reform...When almost half of the public does not see the point in heading to the polls we have already had a non-confidence vote in our democracy."

While Ontario did have a debate on voting reform with the referendum, it's clear to us that this discussion was not full nor open. In fact, as most would agree, it was greatly clouded by the noise of the Ontario election campaign.

Also very disturbing was the low voter turn-out in this election at only 52.8% support. Voter turn-out for the referendum was even worse at only 51.1%.

Voters did not have enough information on their choices in this referendum. The McGuinty government failed in the run-up to the referendum to adequately inform voters that the process was even taking place. The decision by the government to bury public information on the Citizens' Assembly undermined the process. Most voters didn't even find out about the referendum until mid-September. Sadly for some Ontarians, the first they heard of the Citizens' Assembly was when they saw it mentioned on their referendum ballot on October 10th. Voters were rushed into this decision with little time for considering the great benefits of proportional voting.

Instead, there was too much misinformation spread by mainstream media outlets and supporters of the status quo. This was compounded by Elections Ontario's woefully inadequate education campaign, which can now be considered one of the most ineffective (and expensive) communications campaigns in recent Ontario history. The government should have decided to fund an official "Pro-MMP" campaign, as well as an official "Pro-FPTP" campaign to ensure more voters were properly informed of their choices.

While we accept the verdict of voters that this particular version of Mixed Member Proportional is now off the table, we do not accept that the debate on electoral reform is over in Ontario or across Canada.

We have the following recommendations for moving forward on this issue:

* The McGuinty government should appoint a new Minister for Democratic Renewal to tackle the troubling issue of low voter turn-out and engagement. The low 52.8% turnout in this election is deeply troubling.

* A legislative committee should study the referendum process to see if it was fair and the result valid.

* Many voters, while unsure about the strengths of MMP, expressed great dislike for our current system. Since Ontario voters don't appear to be willing to accept a major change to our voting system at this time, the government should consider other more modest changes that would fix some of the many problems of our current system. When more voters are ready to move toward proportional representation, we should consider better forms of PR for Ontario.


As we move forward, we are encouraged that voters in British Columbia will have another chance in 2009 to vote on their version of proportional representation called the Single Transferable Vote or PR-STV. We'll watch this referendum very closely.

Many say PR-STV is a better form of proportional representation as it ensures all politicians are directly elected by the voters in local constituencies. Since MMP was rejected in Ontario, we should consider PR-STV as an option to our antiquated First-Past-The-Post system in the future.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Welcome to the revamped 'Liberals For Electoral Reform' site

With the defeat of the Citizens' Assembly's Mixed Member Proportional proposal this week, we've decided to revamp this site with a new title and mission: to promote the cause of electoral reform both in Ontario and across Canada.

Our official response to the referendum results and our recommendations on where we go from here on the issue of democratic renewal in Ontario will be posted here on Monday.

In the mean time, we wanted to bring to your attention two very different responses from Canada's two major newspapers in the post-referendum period.

The Toronto Star shamelessly printed misinformation about the MMP proposal on a few occasions during the campaign, contributing greatly to the false and unfortunately widespread belief that politicians would be "appointed" to the legislature if it had passed. This in turn contributed to MMP's defeat. Yesterday's Star editorial stayed true to the paper's establishment credentials by trying to argue the defeat for this particular proposal means the end of electoral reform in Canada. The Star even printed, "Ontario has now joined British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in rejecting proportional representation and choosing the status quo. That should be all the answer the advocates of electoral reform need."

Nothing could be further from the truth. First-Past-The-Post is still broken. Yes, MMP has been defeated in two provinces. But another form of proportional voting called Single Transferable Vote (STV) actually passed with over 57% support in the British Columbia referendum in 2005. But due to the high approval threshold of 60%, it wasn't implemented. To interpret this as a public "rejection" of change, as the Star does, is once again disingenuous. Indeed, British Columbians will get another chance to vote on STV in 2009.

For a better interpretation of the Ontario election and referendum results, check out the Globe & Mail's editorial today:

"Ontarians were not given a fair chance to reform the system; nor was there the full "debate" that Mr. McGuinty claims. Rather, a flawed model was put forward in a referendum that was barely publicized until the campaign's final days. By claiming the result settled the matter once and for all, Mr. McGuinty lends credence to claims that the referendum was intended only to reinforce the status quo.

"This much we know about Ontario's election results: The Liberals won, the Conservatives lost, and one particular brand of electoral change was rejected. Politicians should be careful not to read too much between the lines."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ontarians embrace the status quo!

Disappointing, but completely predictable results. Expect our response in the coming days.

With 27,661 of 27,679 polls reporting

The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)
2,702,324
63.1%
102 ridings

The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)
1,577,245
36.9%
5 ridings


Congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party on a well-earned victory in the election!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Choose Change Tomorrow

Ontarians have a unique opportunity tomorrow to modernize our voting system.

The referendum is the final step in a unique process of citizen-based, deliberative democracy that began with the Citizens' Assembly.

This randomly-chosen group of citizens, free of partisan bias, chose the Mixed Member Proportional system over our existing system by a vote of 94 to 8.

While public understanding of the question was very low at the beginning of this campaign, there's little doubt that awareness has grown. By how much remains unclear. Most voters know little about why the Citizens' Assembly recommended they adopt the new system. Elections Ontario's campaign has done little more than inform voters we are having a referendum on electoral reform. Many establishment media outlets including the Toronto Star have printed misinformation about the new system. There have been many numbers flying around. Accusations and counter-accusations.

If you haven't already, please check out our Top Five Reasons MMP is Better For Voters. Or read our Questions & Answers page for more details on your choice tomorrow.

In the end, voters need to answer the following questions tomorrow: What kind of government do you want? Do you want a government where one party can win all the power with only 40% of the vote or less (the existing system)? Or should a party that wins 40% of the vote win 40% of the power (the new system)?

We agree with the Citizens' Assembly: we support the new Mixed Member Proportional system.

The new system gives voters more choice, fairer results and more representation.

You'll get two votes: one for your local candidate (just like now) and one for a political party. If you don't like your party's local candidate, you can vote against that candidate and still vote for the party with your second vote, or vice versa.

Under the new system, your vote will always have an impact on the overall province-wide result, unlike now where it only counts locally and only if you vote for the winner.

If the new system wins and is implemented, we'll get a legislature that reflects the true face and voice of the people for the first time in Ontario's history!

Tomorrow, choose change. Choose Mixed Member Proportional.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Liberals For MMP spokesperson Kate Holloway speaks at Queen's Park presser last week


Liberals for MMP co-founder and Trinity-Spadina candidate Kate Holloway speaks at a press conference at Queen's Park on Oct 3rd, 2007 in favour of the new system, along with former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, federal Liberal candidate Bob Rae, Tory Senator Hugh Segal and others.

Liberal MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti supports new voting system

Lorenzo Berardinetti, the Ontario Liberal incumbent in Scarborough Southwest, announced last week he supports the Mixed Member Proportional option (or MMP) before voters on October 10th.

Berardinetti made his comments on the "Dale Goldhawk Live" broadcast on Rogers Cable 10 in Toronto last Thursday.

Berardinetti is now the eleventh Ontario Liberal candidate to publicly endorse the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change, joining incumbents Michael Bryant, John Gerretsen, George Smitherman, Ted McMeekin, Shafiq Qaadri and Tony Ruprecht, as well as candidates Kate Holloway, Steve Fishman, Selwyn Hicks and Ian Wilson.

Under new system, your vote will always have an impact right across the province

As stated here last week, one of the greatest benefits of the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system is your vote will always have an impact on the overall result across the province, unlike now where it only counts locally and only if you vote for the winner.

Under the new system, you'll get two votes: one for your local representative (just like now) and one for a political party's team of province-wide candidates. This second vote will always have an impact right across Ontario as it determines the total number of seats each party will win.

Under our existing system, you can't vote for the leader of the party, you can't vote for the party as a whole. You can only vote for a local candidate. If you want to vote Liberal, but you don't like the local Liberal candidate what do you do?

Under the new system, you can vote for a strong local candidate of any party, and still cast your ballot for another party.

Under the new system, all party votes will be reflected in the make-up of the legislature. When you know your vote always counts, you're more likely to head to the polls on election day.

MMP means more voter choice, stronger representation and fairer results.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

First-Past-The-Post/Winner-Take-All sometimes hands victory to the 2nd place party

One of the most disturbing aspects of our existing "Winner-Take-All" voting system is its tendency to distort voters' wishes so badly that sometimes the second place party among voters actually wins the election.

This has happened in six out of 10 provinces in recent times: Ontario, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Fair voting systems will fix this and ensure seat totals match the popular vote.

The people choose the government, not the system!

Why our fabled democracy needs a tune-up

The Toronto Star printed this article today by Dennis Pilon, an expert on voting systems at the University of Victoria.

Here's an excerpt:

"The proportional representation system that Ontarians have an opportunity to approve during the Oct. 10 referendum is simple, modest, and addresses many of the major problems with contemporary Ontario democracy that have long been identified by academics and political commentators from right to left. Imagine more accurate election tallies, a more competitive political environment where every vote would count for something, and better representation of Ontario's diversity. These are not hypothetical possibilities, but the actual experience of countries similar to Canada that have proportional representation, as documented in a considerable body of academic research.

"Opponents of the proposed mixed member system (combining local representatives with representation reflecting a party's overall vote) say it may come at the cost of local representation, individual MPP accountability, and political centrism.

"I maintain the defence of the political status quo hinges on a set of myths and false assumptions. I would like to systematically debunk three key fables about our current, first-past-the-post system: local representation, the role of parties in different voting systems, and alleged instability of the MMP alternative..."


To read more, click here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Top Five Reasons MMP is Better for Voters

1) Your vote will always have an impact right across the province, unlike now where it only counts locally and only if you vote for the winner

Under the new system, you'll get two votes: one for your local representative (just like now) and one for a political party's team of province-wide candidates. This second vote has an impact right across Ontario as it determines the total number of seats each party will win. Under our existing system, your vote only counts in one (1) of 107 ridings and only if you vote for the winner.

2) 40 MPPs elected to represent you, up from just one now

Under the new system, you're guaranteed one local representative, just like now. But you'll also be able to elect 39 new, province-wide representatives. That's 40 people directly accountable to you, elected to represent your interests at Queen's Park, unlike just one (1) representative now.

3) For the first time in Ontario's history, we'll have a legislature that reflects the true face and voice of the people!

Most Ontarians value diversity and equality. Yet Ontario has a terrible record of representation for women and minorities in our legislature. We've never elected an Aboriginal Ontarian to Queen's Park. Fair voting systems like MMP make better representation for all more likely. The voice of the people as reflected in the popular vote will be translated directly into representation at Queen's Park, unlike our existing system which frequently distorts our votes in favour of one party.

4) Laws that get passed in Ontario will be supported by parties representing over 50% of the people

Who knew in Ontario in 2007 we'd be fighting to ensure that laws passed by our government must be supported by the majority of voters?

Our existing, antiquated system has long produced phony majority governments where one party wins a majority of seats at Queen's Park with fewer than 50% of the votes. Under the new system, new laws will need to be supported by political parties representing over 50% of the people before they can get passed. This is good for all voters and good for democracy.

5) The second place party will never win the election again

Another disturbing aspect of our existing system is its tendency to distort voters' wishes so badly that sometimes the second place party among voters actually wins the election. This has happened in six out of 10 provinces in recent times: Ontario, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The new Mixed Member Proportional system will fix this and ensure seat totals match the popular vote. Under the new system, the party that elects the most MPPs will be asked to form a government.

The people choose the government, not the system.

Please feel free to pass along these "Top Five Reasons MMP is Better For Voters" to your friends and family...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Existing, antiquated system mostly penalizes supporters of the two biggest parties

Some critics of proportional voting systems say they only help out smaller parties and their supporters.

But in reality, our existing, antiquated system mostly penalizes supporters of the two biggest parties.

In the 2003 Ontario election, Liberal and Progressive Conservative voters cast over two-thirds of all wasted votes. Why? Because they happened to live in ridings where another party had more supporters, so their votes elected no one. In the ridings outside Toronto, 500,950 Liberal votes translated into nothing in 2003.

VoteforMMP.ca released a study yesterday covering the seven Ontario elections from 1980 to 2003, illustrating how our existing "Winner-Take-All" voting system distorted results, created phony majority governments, wasted millions of votes and disenfranchised the electorate.

Among the findings in the study:

- in provincial elections, most Ontarians (51%) cast votes that elect no one (compared to the last New Zealand election under MMP where only 1% of the votes were ineffective)

- among all provinces during the study period, Ontario had the highest percentage of voters that elected no one

- in the last Ontario election, 70% of the ineffective votes were cast by supporters of the two largest parties

- if every Ontarian who cast a wasted vote in the 2003 election formed a line beginning at Lake Ontario, the line would extend north through the province and out into Hudson Bay

- during the study period, Ontario had the second worst voter turnout record among the provinces

- in the 2003 election, Liberal votes had twice the weight of Conservative votes; in 1995 election Conservative votes had twice the weight of Liberal votes; and in 1990, NDP votes had about twice the weight of votes for the other parties

- in 1990, Ontario set a record by having a majority government formed by a party attracting less than 38% of the votes

If we don't improve democracy now, when will we get another chance?

Thanks to Dalton McGuinty, Ontarians have a unique opportunity next week to vote to modernize our electoral system.

The referendum is the final step in a unique process of citizen-based, deliberative democracy that began with the Citizens' Assembly.

In Ontario, the Citizens' Assembly was a group of 103 ordinary Ontarians selected at random by Elections Ontario (one person from every riding in Ontario, plus chair George Thomson.) They were asked to take a very close look at our current First-Past-The-Post voting system and consider possible replacements.

After months of study, they decided that our First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system should be replaced with a made-in-Ontario form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

The opportunity to change something as deeply rooted as our inherited, First-Past-The-Post system has been truly rare indeed. This is the first time since Confederation that Ontario voters have had the opportunity to change it.

The process leading up to this referendum was unique because it was citizen-driven. The proposed alternative system had to come from ordinary citizens, not politicians who are inherently biased.

That's why Dalton McGuinty, in his wisdom, set up the Citizens' Assembly. A set of principles governed their deliberations: Legitimacy; Fairness of Representation; Voter Choice; Effective Parties; Stable and Effective Government; Effective Parliament; Stronger Voter Participation; Accountability; and Simplicity and Practicality. Now Ontarians will vote on the Citizens' Assembly's proposal next Wednesday.

This randomly-chosen group of citizens, free of partisan bias, chose the Mixed Member Proportional proposal over our existing system by a vote of 94 to 8. If we don't take the Assembly's advice now, when will Ontario have another opportunity to change its system?

More than likely, naysayers would view a defeat for MMP in this referendum as a mandate to keep First-Past-The-Post for the foreseeable future, despite their many admissions that the current system is greatly flawed.

If you support electoral reform, you should vote with the Citizens' Assembly and against the existing First-Past-The-Post system on October 10th.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: Why can't we just give MPPs more power to vote freely at Queen's Park and ignore the flaws in our existing voting system?

Power and control have evolved so tightly in the leaders' offices at Queen's Park. Despite the good intentions of some opposition leaders, substantial parliamentary reform remains a distant dream.

Mixed Member Proportional won't solve all of our democratic problems, but it sure will present the opportunity for greater party cooperation. Politicians will have to work together for the good of the province. The new system will ensure that any legislation that passes into law be supported by parties that represent over 50% of the people.

A healthy division of powers at the provincial level would be a welcome relief. And we know that government kept on its toes is the best kind of government of all.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Minority groups weigh in on electoral reform

InsideToronto.ca published this article today by reporter Mike Adler: "Minority groups weigh in on electoral reform; New system would better reflect diversity of population"

Here's an excerpt:


The new voting system called MMP will make Ontario's government look more like Ontario, representatives of Toronto's ethnic communities are saying.

In the dying days of a campaign where the Oct. 10 referendum on mixed member proportional, or MMP, has taken a back seat to other issues, several groups said the present electoral system forces women and minorities to take a back seat at Queen's Park.

"If we're constantly being represented by people who don't look like us, what kind of country are we trying to build together," Andalee Adamali, program manager of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians asked this week.

The council and other organizations say the city's women and ethnic minorities find it harder to get the money required to run for an MPP's post and the result is fewer female or minority MPPs.

The proposed MMP system would still elect most MPPs from ridings, but would choose some from party lists based on province-wide support; it's these lists that would give women and minorities more chances as MPPs to address issues important to them, such as childcare or poverty, said Adamali and others.

This week, Dr. Joseph Wong, founder of the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care, announced his support for MMP at a press conference hosted by Chinese-Canadian groups in Toronto.

"The existing system has been unchanged since 120 years ago and the world has changed a lot," Wong added later in an interview. While MMP isn't perfect and all political systems come with risks, what's being proposed in the referendum is "quite a bit fairer" than the system Ontarians now have, he said.

David Poopalapillai, spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said the present system "shuts out the newcomers" and MMP is not as complicated as many people think.

MMP will bring more people into politics and lead more people to conclude that "my voice can be heard," which will be good for democracy, Poopalapillai argued last month.

Representatives of other groups expressed doubt that facts about the referendum were getting through to their communities, some voicing disappointment with government information on the subject.

Poopalapillai, however, suggested MMP was being promoted and discussed in the city's Tamil media to inform voters.

"We are trying our level best," he said.

Thursday Round-up


Here's a really nice pic from last week's York University forum on Mixed Member Proportional featuring former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, Ontario Liberal candidate Kate Holloway and Tory Senator Hugh Segal. Liberal party member Adrian Dafoe took the photo and provided it to this site.

Halton Liberal MP (and former Progressive Conservative) Garth Turner has endorsed the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change on his blog.

Vote For MMP has launched radio ads across the province. Listen out for them. Here's a link to the English version and a link to the French version.

Eye Weekly: Vote for real change

Toronto's Eye Weekly ran an excellent editorial today on the October 10th referendum/election, entitled, "Vote for real change." We couldn't agree more with the editorial's comments on the proposed, new voting system.

Here's an excerpt:

"The referendum on electoral reform allows us a clear choice between the warped current system and a more democratic system called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

"The existing system, misleadingly called “first past the post,” is, as conservative columnist Andrew Coyne has pointed out, a winner-take-all system. Voters select from among multiple options in their local race, and the candidate who gets the most votes (which can be as few as 25 per cent) gets the seat. All others are shut out: allowed no representation in parliament. On the provincial level, this has led to hugely powerful “majority governments” who won elections with the support of less than half of voters. The last time an Ontario government actually had a mandate from a majority of voters was 1937. In other provinces, some majority governments have won every single seat in the legislature with fewer than half the votes; in British Columbia, a majority government once received fewer votes than their opponents. Meanwhile, parties with as much as 10 per cent of the vote are shut completely out of parliament. This is not democracy.

"MMP is a vastly superior system. Under MMP, voters cast two votes: one for a local representative, one for a party. The first vote elects members to the legislature under the same first-past-the-post system, and then the remaining one third of seats are alotted to ensure the seat distribution mirrors the popular vote for each party. Therefore, if a party gets 10 per cent of the vote, they'll get 10 per cent of the seats; if they get 45 per cent of the vote, they get 45 per cent of the seats.

"Last week we used this space to outline some lingering concerns about MMP. Much conversation and further research have convinced us that those concerns were unfounded. The system is not as complicated as it is made out to be. Rather than producing legislative gridlock, the minority governments produced under MMP in other countries using the system have been highly functional coalitions. Wing-nut fringe parties are shut out by a 3 per cent threshold. And the “list candidates,” selected by the party, are preferable or no worse than the existing system that allows parties to appoint candidates and even sometimes premiers without consulting the electorate. Under MMP there will be no more false majorities. The legislature will represent the will of the electorate. That's democracy.

"On Oct. 10, vote for real democracy in Ontario. Vote for MMP."

NEWS RELEASE: Bi-partisan campaign to ask Ontario voters to choose Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

For Immediate Release: Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Bi-partisan campaign to ask Ontario voters to choose Mixed Member Proportional (MMP); Conservatives and Liberals now working together on electoral reform

(Toronto) While each of Ontario's political parties are campaigning against each other for votes over the last week of the provincial election, members from both the Conservative and Liberal parties are campaigning together for the first time to ask voters to choose Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) when casting their ballots on electoral reform October 10th.

"More Ontario youth are voting for Canadian Idol than they do for candidates in either the federal or provincial elections," says Toronto school trustee and Liberal, Josh Matlow, "Under our current system, too many Ontarians simply don't believe their vote makes a difference. I'm hopeful that MMP will contribute to ending voter cynicism and make our democracy more accessible to the diverse priorities of Ontarians."

"Adopting MMP would help introduce a degree of stability to the electoral process where swings in party support would be more moderate and in line with the overall popular vote," says Patrick Boyer, former Progressive Conservative MP (Etobicoke-Lakeshore). "Discuss it with family members, and friends; make your feelings known on this issue to them."

If Ontarians choose the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system, voters will continue to be represented in local constituencies by 90 representatives. Ontarians will also benefit from an additional 39 representatives elected province-wide. Although the Citizens' Assembly recommended leaving it up to individual parties to decide how to nominate their province-wide candidates, all four major parties have already committed to choosing their list candidates in a democratic and transparent way.

-30-

For more information, please contact:
Josh Matlow (Liberal) at (416) 809-5674 cell.
Patrick Boyer (Conservative) (416) 225-3930

Backgrounder:

The Citizens' Assembly was a group of 103 randomly-selected citizens from the Permanent Register of Electors for Ontario - one from each of Ontario's electoral districts. With the Chair, George Thomson, 52 of the members were male and 52 were female. They were asked to assess Ontario's electoral system, and others, and make a recommendation whether Ontario should retain its current system or adopt a different one.

Together, Assembly members consulted with the public through meetings and written submissions. Using what they learned and heard, they recommended that Ontario replace its First-Past-The-Post system with a new electoral system, the Mixed Member Proportional system now before Ontario voters. That recommendation was outlined in a report submitted to the government on May 15, 2007.

The government promised to put the question of whether to accept the Assembly's recommendation to voters in a province-wide referendum in October 2007.

Liberal members launched this Liberals For MMP blog during the summer of 2007 and have thus far received over 8,000 visits, averaging over 300 to 400 hits a day. Liberal supporters of MMP include:

- Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Liberal MP for St. Paul's
- Michael Bryant, Attorney General and MPP for St. Paul's
- Elinor Caplan, former provincial and federal Liberal cabinet minister
- Steve Fishman, Ontario Liberal candidate in Simcoe-Grey
- John Gerretsen, Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing and MPP for Kingston & the Islands
- Selwyn Hicks, Ontario Liberal candidate in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
- Kate Holloway, Ontario Liberal candidate in Trinity-Spadina
- Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas- Flamborough-Westdale
- Dr. Shafiq Qaadri, MPP for Etobicoke North
- Bob Rae, federal Liberal candidate in Toronto Centre
- Tony Ruprecht, MPP for Davenport
- George Smitherman, Minister of Health & Long-term Care and MPP for Toronto Centre
- Ian Wilson, Ontario Liberal candidate in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington

Conservatives For MMP was launched by party member James Calder, and is supported by the following well-known supporters:

- Hon. Hugh Segal, Senator (Kingston-Frontenac-Leeds)
- Hon. Janet Ecker, Former PC MPP and Cabinet Minister
- Hon. Nancy Ruth, Senator (Cluny)
- John Oostrom, Former PC MP
- Justin O'Donnell, Past President, Niagara Centre PC Association
- Patrick Boyer, Former PC MP
- Rick Anderson, President & CEO, Zip.ca and Chair of Vote For MMP

New system ensures second place party will never win the election again...

Another disturbing aspect of our existing system is its tendency to distort voters' wishes so badly that sometimes the second place party among voters actually wins the election.

This has happened in six out of 10 provinces in recent times: Ontario, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

The new Mixed Member Proportional system will fix this and ensure seat totals match the popular vote. Under the new system, the party that elects the most MPPs will be asked to form a government.

The people choose the government, not the system!

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: I'm particularly concerned about declining voter turnout - would the new system increase political participation?

Many factors affect voter turnout, but cross-national research shows that countries using fair voting systems have higher voter participation than countries using our outdated system - 5-12% higher in various studies. This should be of particular concern to Ontarians as voter participation in provincial elections since 1980 is only 60.7%.

The logic of fair voting systems should help address this problem. In our current system, many voters in safe-seat ridings (ridings always won by one dominant party) or those supporting smaller parties know very well their vote will likely not elect anyone so many don't bother to vote at all.

Under the new system, all votes will be reflected in the make-up of the legislature.

When you know your vote always counts, you're more likely to head to the polls on election day.

TVO to re-broadcast the Agenda with Steve Paikin Munk Centre referendum debate over long weekend

To help citizens of Ontario make an informed choice in the MMP vs. FPTP referendum on October 10, TVO will re-broadcast a special edition of The Agenda with Steve Paikin featuring a full-hour, in-depth debate Saturday October 6, 2007, at 6 pm and on Thanksgiving Day, Monday October 8 at 8 pm & 11 pm. The interactive live-audience event was held at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies on September 27 and featured an informative and at times passionate discussion with guest experts from both sides of the issue including:

- David Fleet, Director, NO MMP Campaign
- Rick Anderson, Campaign Chair, Vote for MMP
- Marilyn Churley, former NDP MPP
- Dennis Pilon, author, "The Politics of Voting"
- Sheila Copps, former deputy prime minister and a columnist with Sun Media

The Agenda with Steve Paikin Munk Centre special is currently available as a video stream at www.tvo.org/theagenda where viewers can also access more information about the debate's participants, listen to podcasts, have their say in dedicated election themed blogs, or learn more about the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform got it right: Ontario voters urged to go directly to the source for the facts

Media urged to print text of "One Ballot, Two Votes"

TORONTO, Oct. 3 /CNW/ - Today, the VoteForMMP.ca campaign and several prominent Ontarians from differing political backgrounds backed a Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform call to Ontarians to take charge of their own learning process for the upcoming referendum. The group also called on the Ontario media to step forward and provide more substantive information on the Citizens' Assembly's proposal for electoral reform.

Joining Catherine Baquero, Patrick Heenan and other members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform on the steps of the Ontario Legislature were:

- Rick Anderson, Campaign Chair, VoteforMMP.ca
- Ed Broadbent, former NDP leader
- Bob Rae, former Premier of Ontario
- Senator Hugh Segal
- Jim Harris, former leader, Green Party of Canada
- Rosemary Speirs, Co-founder, Equal Voice
- Kate Holloway, Liberal candidate, Trinity-Spadina

"We urge all Ontarians to take personal responsibility for casting an informed vote on the proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system in the Ontario 10 electoral reform referendum," said Anderson. "Elections Ontario's information campaign does not adequately inform voters why the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform - after eight months of work - recommended the MMP system. We strongly urge all Ontarians to go right to the source - www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca - and learn why this Assembly of 103 Ontario voters, from all backgrounds, all regions of the province and with no axe to grind, proposed MMP as best for Ontario."

Media coverage on how and why the Assembly proposed the new system has been lacking.

"Unfortunately, instead of informed public discussion, we're seeing extensive misinformation being presented as fact, and emotional debate crowding out thoughtful learning and deliberation," said Anderson.

"Before this referendum is held on October 10, at the very least, every voter should have read Citizens' Assembly's summary leaflet "One Ballot, Two Votes". The content of that leaflet - explaining why the Assembly chose MMP - has information not being provided by Elections Ontario," said Anderson. "Today we are calling on Ontario's media to make an extraordinary commitment to fill that gap. We are calling on every daily and community paper to print the contents of this 800 word leaflet from the Citizens' Assembly so that everyone who casts a vote on October 10 has had opportunity to read exactly what the Assembly recommended and why."

Anderson stated that those who have more time should read the full 27 page report from the Citizens' Assembly, available at www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca.

VoteforMMP.ca is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system proposed by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

For further information: Larry Gordon, (647) 519-7585 or larry.gordon@fairvote.ca; Rick Anderson, Campaign Chair, VoteForMMP.ca, rick@asci.ca, www.VoteForMMP.ca

Tom Kent: And the future is ... a two-vote electoral system

Tom Kent, who served as principal assistant to prime minister Lester Pearson, has published this excellent piece in the Globe & Mail today, "And the future is ... a two-vote electoral system".

In it, he writes, "Next week's Ontario general election is less important than the accompanying referendum. Although the election will determine how the province is governed for four years, the referendum will determine whether creaking provincial politics can be repaired to fit the 21st century.

"The referendum choice is between realism and romanticism. People who want to stick close to what is familiar are usually seen as the realists. This case is different. It is pure romanticism to believe that we can go back to the good old days when politics was the normal business of two grand old parties. And since we can't, the current electoral system is indefensible."


The Globe & Mail also ran two other good articles on the referendum today: "Vote a key test for democratic reform" and "Changing the legislature's look".

MMP does not mean appointed party hacks

Columnist Andrew Coyne writes another excellent piece in the National Post today (cross posted on his personal blog) called "MMP does not mean appointed party hacks". In it, Coyne writes, "the experience in other PR countries is that list members tend to be chosen democratically, by internal party elections...And in fact all four of Ontario’s major parties have formally committed to do the same. As one would expect -- if competition between parties were not enough to ensure a more open process, agitation from the membership almost certainly would."

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: What will province-wide list members do?

List members will be a new form of public representative in Ontario. Their roles will be virtually identical to the roles of riding MPPs with one major difference: riding members take constituency work from one riding, list members take constituency work from anywhere in the province. They make it possible for our legislature to reflect how the greater populace actually voted.

List members will be required to respond to concerns raised from any Ontarian, not just those in one constituency. List members won't be bound by the usual urban/rural, geographical/regional divides. As a result, list members will be able to devote more time to specific issues of provincial concern and work more often on legislative committees. This will actually free up local members to focus more on local issues.

Under a system like Mixed Member Proportional, most candidates who run on party lists also run as candidates in individual constituencies. The rationale is that most governments under MMP receive few if any list members (because winning parties normally don't need a top-up of list members to ensure their representation matches their popular vote). Alternatively, parties that lose elections elect a smaller number of constituency members, and therefore need a top-up of list members. Thus, it's likely most list members will have run but lost in a district seat in the last election. Those elected from the list will benefit from having sought election and faced voters directly in a district seat. If they want to participate in the next government, they'll likely have to run for a district seat again. This will likely not be a rule under the new system, but it'll likely be the practise.

CBC News Online hosts Electoral Reform discussion with Dr. Dennis Pilon

CBC News Online will be interviewing University of Victoria political science professor Dr. Dennis Pilon who wrote the book 'The Politics of Voting: Reforming Canada's Electoral System' on Thursday, Oct 4th, 2007.

CBCNews.ca wants your questions for their podcast called "Your Interview." They'll pick questions, perhaps combining more than one suggestion, and include them in their interview. Click here to submit a question now and/or follow the discussion.

For more information on the proposed system, check out Liberal blogger Davey's Politics this week. He's doing a series of excellent posts on why MMP is better for Ontario.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ontario Liberal Party commits to choose province-wide list candidates through democratic and transparent process

BREAKING NEWS: The following email was sent today from Don Guy of the 2007 Ontario Liberal campaign to Joe Murray of Vote For MMP. Now all four major parties have committed to choosing their list candidates in a democratic and transparent way, should Mixed Member Proportional pass on October 10th.

This is great news as it absolutely dispels the notion that parties will use their province-wide lists to appoint party hacks, backroom cronies and bagmen, as alleged by opponents of the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change, including NoMMP.ca and the Toronto Star. Instead, the Ontario Liberal Party is committing to undertake a democratic and transparent process to pick such candidates.


From: Guy_Don
Sent: October 2, 2007 12:40 PM
To: Joe Murray
Subject: RE: quote on democratic Liberal nominations under MMP

We are committed to choosing all of our candidates through a democratic and transparent process. We are pleased that our party attracts people from all walks of life and we will continue to work to ensure our party reflects the diverse and multi-cultural nature of Ontario.

We are pleased to be the only party to meet its Equal Voice target of nominating at least 50% of women in our unheld ridings for this election campaign. And we remain committed to further improving the prospects of women candidates running for our party in the future.

Ontario Liberal Campaign, 2007