Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Biased media, neutered education campaign, disinterested public blamed for MMP's defeat last fall

Fair Vote Canada held its annual general meeting this past weekend in Toronto. The following Canadian Press story sums up some of the discussion at the meeting, which focussed mainly on Ontario's recent referendum fiasco on Mixed Member Proportional (or MMP).

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"These kinds of initiatives are very appealing to opposition parties," said Lawrence LeDuc, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, in a panel discussion on the outcome of the referendum. "Opposition parties always like to get themselves on the side of reform movements of one kind or another, and then usually when they come to power they lose interest in those ideas or, even worse than that, they try to kill them."

LeDuc blamed the "one-sided" news coverage during the election campaign for the referendum's failure.

"They had made up their minds very early on that the whole thing was just a joke, not worth reporting on," he said, citing a study that indicates the news coverage of MMP was overwhelmingly negative.

But the government is also to blame for failing to properly inform voters about the new system in the lead-up to the election, added LeDuc.

"(Elections Ontario) were basically, I think, mandated to not say anything at all that could be construed as real information. So, therefore, the information they put out said there's going to be a referendum, and your vote in that referendum is really important. Full stop."

Because so many people were uninformed - less than a week before the election, 24 per cent of people surveyed said they didn't know anything about MMP - we should be careful how we evaluate the results of the referendum, said George Thomson, the former chair of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

"Perhaps Ontarians prefer the status quo. I just wish we'd had a process that I could look at and feel more confident that an informed Ontario electorate prefers the status quo," said Thomson.

Thomson described the Elections Ontario information campaign as "$70,000 spent on this big picture of a fellow looking confused and not much else."

An informed electorate is essential if Fair Vote wants to change the way Canadians elect their politicians, agreed June Macdonald, president of Fair Vote Ontario.

"This expanding through the province, through the dint of personal communication, people talking to people, I think that's what makes the difference," said Macdonald. "Whenever I talk to people, they understand it. They get it."

But LeDuc cautioned that people shouldn't expect another referendum on MMP any time soon.

"However you view the referendum outcome, the fact that there was a referendum and an outcome creates a real barrier that has to be confronted," he said.

Although another referendum may be a long way off, the McGuinty government will strike a select committee on electoral reform next week. No major changes will be considered, but the committee will look at encouraging voter turnout after only 52 per cent of Ontario residents voted in the last election."


jaybird said...

What a joke. McGuinty to strike a committee to consider electoral reform but no real changes in offing. What a surprise. The McGuinty government absolutely ensured that we wouldn't get reform in Ontario. I am sorry to say this but I trust a Liberal that promises to reform elections about as much as a trust Bush/Cheney to come up with a climate change solution.

Wilf Day said...

The story missed one important statement. George Thomson, former CA Chair, said the OCA should have had more time than BC’s had, rather than a month less. (Fair Vote Ontario told the government more than three years ago that the OCA should have a month longer than BC’s had.)

Judge Thomson further stated that, if the CA had had another six or eight weeks to deliberate, he felt sure that the basic model would have been the same but he felt some elements might have been different, like regional lists and open lists.

This gives us the go-ahead to discuss MMP variations without ignoring the OCA's deliberations. Despite the flaws in the process -- not enough time, and if it had started a lot earlier there would have been a year afterwards for public discussion and education -- it was far more representative than anything a few enthusiasts might come up with.

Fair Vote Ontario is now working on plans for a fall conference, likely on Oct. 4, where those interested can discuss how to proceed from here, and what other fair voting systems should Ontario consider. Of course STV is a possibility. If you want MMP variations that fall within the parameters George Thomson outlined, and are tried and true models, they are readily available: Bavaria's MMP model (open lists in seven regions) or Baden-Wurttemberg's MMP model (no lists at all, the compensatory MPPs are the party's local candidates who came closest to election, "near-winners" in four regions.)