Monday, September 24, 2007

Referendum? Now what referendum would that be?

With just over two weeks to go before Ontarians head to the polls, many voters still say they know "nothing" about the Citizen's Assembly recommendation for improving the province's voting system.

According to a Strategic Counsel poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, 47 per cent of those polled said they knew nothing at all about the proposal. Only 12 per cent said they knew a lot. Forty-one per cent said they knew "a little."

Half said they don't plan to vote in the referendum, or remain undecided. Among decided voters, a slim majority, 54 per cent, said they would vote for it.

The Citizens' Assembly process has been going on for over a year, but it seems many voters have heard nothing about it.

"This thing came out of the blue at me," said voter James McNee yesterday in the Toronto Star. "I'm more interested, more aware, more engaged about political issues than most of the people I know. If it didn't register with me, I'd be amazed if I'm the only one taken aback."

A provincial Liberal official, who asked not to be identified, reportedly said, “It's not our responsibility to educate people on this.” Accordingly, the government decided just before the referendum campaign began to stop printing any more materials on the Citizens' Assembly process (even though the Citizens' Assembly is specifically mentioned in the referendum question before voters.) Materials on the Citizens' Assembly are still available online and can be accessed here and here.

Rick Anderson, chairman of a citizen's campaign in support of the alternative voting system and a former Liberal, said Sunday he is “optimistic” voter interest will perk up in the 17 days left before Oct. 10.

“I don't think the election campaign or the referendum campaign could be predicted by anyone at this point in time,” said Mr. Anderson, chairman of Vote for MMP. “The voters have not clicked in.”

He praised Elections Ontario for its work in explaining the referendum process, but said the provincial government could have done more, much earlier on, to explain the choices. “A bit more neutral public education funded by the government authorities would have been a plus in terms of the voters getting up to speed on this,” he said.

In other news, the Toronto Star ran an article today on the last Ontario province-wide referendum which took place in 1924. The vote was not held in conjunction with an election as this one is, and there were two simple questions. The first was: Are you in favour of the continuance of the Ontario Temperance Act? The second: Are you in favour of the sale as a beverage of beer and spirituous liquor in sealed packages under government control?

The Star considered alcohol one of the "greatest social ills of its time and waded into the debate with all the crusading passion it could muster. Front-page editorials, feature articles and guest opinions all elaborated on the destructive hold and ruinous effect of alcohol. The paper pointed to the ill effects of repeal in other provinces, the rise in drunkenness and public disorder. The Star decried the bootleggers, speakeasies and out-of-province smugglers, particularly from Quebec, where the sale of liquor was banned, but beer and wine allowed."

The above photo is from the Library and Archives Canada and shows Ontario premier Howard Ferguson (left), Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (centre) and Quebec premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau in November 1927 soon after prohibition was repealed in Ontario.

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