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."