Flawed electoral reform process means
the Ontario government has not yet met
its commitment to let Ontarians decide
TORONTO – October 30, 2007: Today electoral reformers called on Premier McGuinty to address the flawed electoral reform referendum process and take steps to meet his commitment to give Ontarians an opportunity to make an informed decision on the best electoral system.
June Macdonald, President of Fair Vote Ontario, pointed to three design flaws in the referendum process that denied voters the opportunity they were promised.
“First, the citizens’ assembly process – which we enthusiastically support – was unnecessarily delayed until the end of the government’s first mandate,” said Macdonald. “With four years to take action, the government did not convene the Assembly until one year prior to the referendum date. By the time the Assembly could issue its report, the referendum was less than five months away, including the summer vacation period, which left little time for public debate.”
“Second, the public education program was glaringly inadequate. The referendum was triggered by a recommendation from the Citizens’ Assembly, which asked that the public education campaign include the Assembly’s rationale for recommending MMP. Unlike the British Columbia referendum, the Assembly’s report was not distributed to all households – in fact, the government stopped printing the Assembly’s summary brochure several months before the referendum, blocking widespread distribution to voters.”
“Third, while it had no effect on the October 10 vote, the application of an unfair referendum threshold of 60 per cent is simply unacceptable in a modern democracy. Prior to the application of the rigged threshold in two other recent electoral reform referendums, no provincial or federal referendum in Canadian history used any threshold other than the democratic standard of 50 per cent plus one. The all-party Select Committee on Electoral Reform, which had a majority of members from the Liberal Party, recommended a simple majority threshold.”
“Premier McGuinty promised a citizen-driven process for electoral reform, including a citizens’ assembly to assess the need for reform, and a referendum to decide upon any recommendation from that assembly,” said Macdonald. “That was the right approach, but the implementation was so severely flawed, Ontarians have not yet had the chance to make an informed decision on electoral reform. As the new government begins setting its agenda for the coming year, we call on Premier McGuinty to address this issue as soon as possible.”
Fair Vote Ontario is a program of Fair Vote Canada, a national multi-partisan citizens’ campaign for electoral reform: www.fairvote.ca.
Enclosed: backgrounder on the citizens’ assembly and referendum process.
Contact: June Macdonald at 416-962-8181 or Larry Gordon at 647-519-7585.
Fair Vote Ontario:
Backgrounder on the Citizens’ Assembly and
November 18, 2004: One year into his mandate, Premier Dalton McGuinty announces the impending creation of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
June 13, 2005: Legislation to establish the Citizens’ Assembly is passed and the all-party Select Committee on Electoral Reform is established.
November 29, 2005: The Select Committee reports. The majority report endorsed by the six Liberal members recommends “the referendum should be binding upon a vote of 50% + 1, and the support of 50% + 1 in at least two-thirds (i.e., 71) of the ridings, or any other formula that ensures the result has support from Northern, rural, and urban areas of the Province.” The Committee also calls for a referendum public education campaign in which “every voter receives adequate information about the arguments for and against each side of any question that is put to the people.”
March 27, 2006: Another four months pass before the government announces the appointment of George Thomson as Assembly Chair. The timing means the Assembly cannot be set up and convened until September 2006. The government has set May 15, 2007, as the report date, so the public education period is reduced to five months. The government has yet to respond to the Select Committee’s proposed threshold.
September 9, 2006: The Assembly holds its first meeting – not a single reporter is present. The cabinet has still not decided on the threshold.
October 24, 2006: The government announces its decision – rejecting the recommendation of the Select Committee – by setting a super-majority threshold: “60 per cent of all votes cast provincewide, plus a simple majority of more than 50 per cent of votes cast in at least 64 provincial ridings (the equivalent of 60 per cent or more of provincial ridings).”
April 15, 2007: The Assembly votes by a 92% majority to recommend that Ontario adopt the Mixed Member Proportional voting system.
April 25, 2007: The government announces that “Elections Ontario will deliver neutral public education to raise awareness of the referendum and to educate the public about the alternatives under consideration.”
May 15, 2007: The Assembly’s final Report recommends that “the question should ask the voters whether Ontario should adopt the Mixed Member Proportional electoral system recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.”
The Assembly’s report also recommends that a “comprehensive, well-funded public education program, beginning in May and continuing through to the referendum, is vital. We believe that the program should include a description of the new system and how it differs from the current system; a description of the Citizens’ Assembly process; and the Assembly’s rationale for recommending a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario.” The subsequent program of Elections Ontario focuses primarily on referendum awareness and does not include any information on the Assembly’s rationale for reform.
June 15, 2007: Marie Bountrogianni, Minister for Democratic Renewal, makes an announcement that she is not running again. An initial press report says the Minister was unhappy about the government’s referendum decisions, but she denies it.
June 20, 2007: The cabinet decision on the referendum question is announced. It ignores the Assembly’s recommendations.
Summer 2007: The Assembly report and a summary brochure are made available to the public through Service Ontario. However, the government subsequently decides to cease printing the brochure. Unlike voters in British Columbia, who received copies of their Assembly’s report in the mail, the great majority of Ontarians never see either a brochure or report from their Assembly.
Fair Vote Ontario
Fair Vote Canada
26 Maryland Blvd.
Toronto, ON M4C 5C9