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."