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.


Abdul-Rahim said...

Is the 60 percent thresh hold really necessary. It's gonna take forever to get that.

aginsberg said...

Wait. So the establishment plotted to defeat MMP by having both ministers responsible for it, favour it? Can we stop with the conspiracy crap now? Please?!?! Considering the size of the referendum defeat, McGuinty has reacted appropriately. Yes, the threshold is legitimate. As I have said repeatedly, it is in keeping with provisions in the Canadian Constitution on major changes to our democracy.

Linuxluver said...

aginsberg: If one looks at the whole picture, there can be little doubt that the opportunity to change the voting system was being subverted.

1. The citizens assembly report was not distributed to every home in the province, as was done in BC.

2. Elections Ontario took the view (a very interesting one) that actually telling people WHY the OCA had recommended MMP was not allowed.

3. Leaving the substance of the debate to be conducted in the public arena....where the two largest print media groups were 100% opposed to the change....for reasons clearly at odds with the facts. Fact: Virtually all press releases put out by all 6 pro-MMP campaigns sank witrhout trace. Of the 50+ put out by Vote for MMP in the last weeks, only two received *any* coverage at all from *any* media. At the same time, their columnists were going hammer and tong *against* MMP.

There was no real debate.

So with the effective suppression of the official information and Metroland and Sun Media campaigns against MMP stifling alternative debate, this measure was subverted....whether or not a minister or two was in favour.

Matt Guerin said...

Bryant and Bountrogianni being in favour of change is no indication that the establishment backed this. They were close to the issue and understood why the current system is so flawed. It's now widely accepted this referendum was set up to fail. Not by Bountrogianni, of course, but by the Premier's Office and power brokers in the government. Most objective observers agree with that. As Linuxlover points out, their friends in the media took care of the rest.

Bountrogianni and to a less extent Bryant were mere puppets doing the top guy's bidding (for the most part). Democratic Renewal was always controlled from the Center.

As someone who worked for Caroline Di Cocco when she was Parl. Ass't to Bryant for Democratic Renewal, it was clear to me from the beginning that the government's commitment to real democratic renewal dissipated shortly after winning in 2003. Bountrogianni's right: Bryant had little interest in pushing the DR agenda as it had little media value for him and wasn't sexy enough compared to other law & order issues. The only major thing Bryant pushed through was Fixed Election Dates, which was very much controlled by the Premier's Office anyway.

As for Bountrogianni, no doubt most of the major decisions were made for her, not by her. Considering everything we've seen, it's clear the top power brokers in the government set it up to fail. End of story. The NO side should stop pushing their fiction this was a fair process, it just simply makes you look even more suspect.

aginsberg said...

Matt, are you saying that the government and the media engaged in an active disinformation campaign? That is a serious allegation and you have no proof of any conspiracy. The reality is that journalist after journalist came to the same conclusion, not because of coercion but because of their own independent reasoning. If you read the editorials and opinion pieces they are anything but uniform. They all raise different problems. The Globe & Mail, for one, is not in bed with the government on this issue. In fact, they like MMP, just not the version proposed in Ontario. Rick Salutin and Andrew Coyne (no slouches they) came out in FAVOUR of MMP. Sheila Copps was among those at Sun Media against MMP. Strange, she never struck me as the type to toe the line blindly. Linuxlover complains that the yes side couldn't get their press releases covered. The No MMP campaign couldn't either at least not by a major paper (I think there was one piece that got picked up in Western Ontario, can't remember the paper).

No, Elections Ontario did not send the biased CA report to every home in the province. Elections Ontario is a NEUTRAL organization. The Citizens' Assembly was not. You do not hold a referendum in a free and fair democracy and have your election agency tell people how to vote. If anything was "unfair" about the referendum it was that the government paid for the Citizens' Assembly material that did go out (often packaged by the Vote for MMP campaign with their literature) while not paying a cent for the no side's literature.

Proportional representation is not a rebellious cause. It is the academic consensus supported by half of the political elite. You aren't railing against some shadowy establishment, you are railing against the voters of Ontario who have spoken and spoken clearly.

Matt Guerin said...

Aaron, I am saying the public had a right to read and know about the Citizens' Assembly process and why they were recommending MMP. The gov't chose instead to bury the report. The question came out of the blue for most people who didn't have time to consider the issues very deeply. The set-up came because the powers-that-be knew full well the Ontario public would never vote for change if they didn't understand the new system being proposed. It sounded more complicated than the status quo and without any deep understanding of the issues involved or even what the Citizens' Assembly was, clearly Ontarians wouldn't vote for it. Why would they embrace change when they don't understand it and there's not much awareness around the flaws of the current system? The government made sure they didn't. And imposed the 60% threshold just to make sure. Most voters heard about those "appointed" lists and made up their minds very quickly and superficially, clouded by the election campaign.

Wilf Day said...

What I find interesting is that Bountrogianni is not blaming the delays on anything that happened on her watch. She's still fighting the 2005 battle, which must have been a bigger deal than I realized.

The unexplained delay from March 9th to June 13 allowed the PCs to stage an end-of-session threat: if you want consent for this bill to pass at the last minute, we want a Select Committee. So Bryant is to blame for the five months the Select Committee added to the timetable?

I'm waiting for Bryant's version.