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."


JimBobby said...

Whooee! So, as a Liberal, how do you characterize the statement: "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 choice we were given by Elections Ontario was between MMP and FPTP. I ain't sure it's EO's job to advocate for one side or even to explain why reform is necessary when one of the choices is anti-reform.

The blank stares that Thomson encountered around the dinner table are the same blank stares that I've got for years whenever I've tried to discuss PR with non-wonks -- worse than blank, actually, I'd say the look is more "eyes glazed over."

By it's very nature, PR is an arithmetic problem. To may people, any discussion that includes double-digit percentage figures and requires a rudimentary effort at mathmatical conceptualization is b-o-r-i-n-g.

We on the pro-PR side need to come up with some way of dumbing down and glamourizing the issue. Not easy.

I figger the No side won last week on accounta two reasons.

First, they waged a more aggressive campaign -- particularly, in the Letters to the Editor sections of daily papers. I would suggest that even the Editors themselves were swayed byu the letters they published and most big dailies came out on the No side.

Second, ignorant voters choose the devil they know. 6 or 7 of Thomsons 12 dinner companions probably voted. Unless he was able to educate them (probably against their wills) after dinner, they voted without understanding the choice. When presented with a known status quo versus an unknown change, the uninformed will generally opt for what they perceive as the safe choice.

I think the No side probably had a lot more funding than the Yes side. Party stalwarts in both of the big parties have a vested interest in disproportional representation. I reckon it'd be naive to think they didn't help out financially.

My recipe: simplify/sexify the message and find more pro-PR funding.


Anonymous said...

A Edmonton paper criticizing Ontario, how original and unexpected.

aginsberg said...

We had a lot more funding? HA! Yeah, it was us and our $12,000 budget. Give me a break. EO had to remain neutral. I don't think Michael Bryant, George Smitherman and John Gerretsen were plotting to defeat MMP. MMP lost because it was unpopular.

Matt Guerin said...

aginsberg. Sure the official NO campaign had little money. But you had the entire establishment pulling strings for you, plus the government setting this up to fail from day one. This was not a fair fight. MMP had merits, although most people never heard them. Still the race is over. MMP is now off the table, as far as I'm concerned.

Wayneon said...

The final report of the Citizens' Assembly came out on May 15. It should have been circulated immediately to every household in the province. This has still not happened. The plain fact is that most people who voted against MMP found out about it in October, and many found out about the referendum when they were handed a ballot. This is no way to have a public debate about an important topic. Electoral reform involves some new ways of thinking. People need time to make up their minds about change.