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.