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Bringing Ontario’s “secret” referendum to light

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The Globe and Mail‘s web column had an interesting article on Ontario’s referendum, bringing up a point I had really thought of before: This is not a choice between two equally valid options, our current electoral system vs. the proposed MMP. In fact, the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform has already weighed multiple voting systems, including our current one, and found them all wanting. They recommend MMP as the best option for Ontario. We are voting to ratify that decision.

So Ontarians should be incensed at how the government has distorted this fact, by having all official material pretend this is a neutral campaign between equal options. Your Big Decision. A (current) or B (MMP). Why aren’t they also telling us why the Citizen’s Assembly has already concluded that B is better?

And that’s online. On TV, they won’t even tell us what the A or B choices are! You have call a number or go online to get details. For heaven’s sake; why can’t the commercial at least give a clue what the referendum is about? Takes less than 30 seconds to say “electoral reform”.

Furthermore, in order to be ratified, the decision to switch to MMP must be agreed to by 60% of the electorate and 60% the ridings. 37% is enough to get you a nice majority government for a good four years. But to get actual democracy? Oh no, even 50% won’t do for that.

Of course, the government’s attempts at covering the issue and handicapping the vote wouldn’t matter as much if the media were doing a good job of informing the public about this, but outside of newspapers (read by your more devoted political junkies, typically), they are not. There was barely a peep out of them before the election started, and now they’re all about the religious schools debate and “promise breaking”. If they mention the referendum at all, it’s to say that “people don’t seem to know about it”. Well, duh.

I guess it’s clear I am voting for MMP. And since the media and government don’t want you to know why, I will explain.

a) Under the current system, a minority of voters gets the majority of power.

It takes only about 40% of votes to get a strong majority government, and that basically allows the government to do what they want for 4 years. 60% of voters are currently disenfranchised, not once in a while, but every single time. It’s unfair and absurd.

Not convinced? In recent Quebec and BC elections, parties have won majority governments despite getting a lower percentage of votes than another party. (In Quebec, the PQ over the Liberals; in BC the NDP over the Liberals.) That’s how distorted our current system is; even the party that wins more votes than any other doesn’t necessarily get to govern.

b) Our current system does not produce stability.

That’s what all the naysayers go on about. Oh, it will be unstable! Give me a break. Ontario is a case study in how this isn’t true. Ontario went from a radical left NDP government (elected by 37%) to a radical right Conservative government (elected by 42%), both of which caused the majority who didn’t want them to suffer under their more extreme policies. This, ironically, after the popular and balanced coalition NDP/Liberal government—exactly the kind of government we’d get under MMP.

c) Do not fear the political “appointee”.

The other thing the naysayers seem obsessed with is the appointed list of politicians who would balance out the legislature according to the electorate’s party votes. Again, I find this argument bogus. Political parties already pick their candidates (the ones whose names appear on your ballot), some by party vote, many by appointment. So I really see no difference at all between political parties picking who is on my local ballot and political parties picking who will represent the popular vote. Either way, ultimately, it’s parties who decide who has the opportunity to sit in the House. If you don’t like it, join a political party.

Furthermore, it’s not as if people currently know who the heck their local candidates are anyway. In small towns, sure. In bigger cities? As if. People already just vote for parties anyway. Under the new system, they’ll just have to do the same thing twice.

d) We will not have a “pizza parliament”. But the Green Party will have some seats. And that’s a good thing.

The Citizens Assembly weren’t idiots; there is a 3% threshold before a party can win a seat. So truly bizarre parties with no appeal will not win any seats, even if a few jokers vote for them. But small parties with serious appeal, like the Greens (or the Family Coalition, I suppose), will.

Make your vote count on October 10, so that your vote will count in the future. Vote for MMP.

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