This Is The Question

The question Ontarians will be asked in the October 10th referendum is: “Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?” Voters will then indicate a choice between the First Past the Post system and the Mixed Member Proportional system.

This question seems designed to favour the status quo. We didn’t need that; with a (possibly unconstitutional) 60% threshold required for a “yes to MMP” victory, votes for the status quo are already being weighted more heavily than votes for change. The Ontario government should have used a question following the format of the British Colombian referendum, which was “Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform? Yes/No.”

It’s important for voters to understand that this new voting system was designed and recommended by their peers, just as sub-committees typically report recommendations to their parent committees.

So here’s the real question: why are the people in power so afraid of giving Ontarians a democratic, simple majority yes/no vote on such a fundamental issue?

UPDATE (June 22nd, 2007): The way the two options are worded addresses my primary concern. Apologies, that wasn’t in the original news report I read. Thanks to Saul for pointing it out.

7 thoughts on “This Is The Question

  1. How is that unconstitutional? No really, how is it?

    I’m open to the possibility that it’s true – but it’s an extraordinary claim to just pass along.

    However, I agree with you. It would have been preferable for the wording to have reflected something similar to that of the B.C. referendum – though I suspect the vast majority of Ontarians will arrive at the polls, read the question, and ask themselves, “What’s the difference?”

  2. Also: the exact wording of the options needs to be specified – and I’m wondering why this hasn’t yet been done. There’s a big difference between simply listing the names of the two systems, and identifying them (as “the existing system” for FPTP and as “the proposed system by the Citizens Assembly” for MMP).

  3. The accusation that the 60% threshold is unconstitutional and without precedent has been made by (among others) former MP Patrick Boyer, who Wikipedia describes as “one of the foremost experts in Canadian constitutional law.”

    I agree that the exact wording of the options will be significant, and it may cause me to withdraw some of my initial objection. I’m trying to find out what that wording is now, and will update the post when I do.

  4. I think you’ll agree that passing the buck doesn’t really answer the question of how it is unconstitutional. Swell, Mr. Boyer believes it to be so – why? Unless this is a matter of mere authority.

    Oh, and here’s your answer Chris:

    http://www.democraticrenewal.gov.on.ca/english/news/20070620_nr.asp

    “The referendum question that will be used in Ontario’s October 10, 2007 referendum on electoral reform is:

    Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?/Quel système électoral l’Ontario devrait-il utiliser pour élire les députés provinciaux à l’Assemblée législative?

    The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)/L’actuel système électoral (système de la majorité relative)

    The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)/L’autre système électoral proposé par l’Assemblée des citoyens (système de représentation proportionnelle mixte)”

  5. The question is similar to the one used in the 1993 MMP referendum in New Zealand. There, it was felt that “yes” and “no” were implicitly biased. Instead, voters were given two neutral statements and asked to state a preference.

    The order is no big deal. If the order did matter and was the deciding factor, that would be a very sad commentary indeed on the cognitive skills of the average voter.

    The 60% threshold is quite unfair as it is a departure from all previous democratic practice….and I do not consider the two other abbarant referenda (BC and PI) to be any sort of precedent. By tis standard, we should require 60% of the seas in the legislature to pass “important” legislation like well……whatever we feel is important…(see? arbitrary and subjective obstacle to normal democratic operation).

  6. “By tis standard, we should require 60% of the seas in the legislature to pass “important” legislation like well……whatever we feel is important…”

    But we actually do that. We do require, in constitutional matters, “supramajorities,” precisely because we’ve decided that it’s “important legislation.”

  7. “The alternative proposed by the Citizens” is a pretty positive label. I’ll vote for that.

    Every day more Liberal voters say they will vote yes. And the latest Environics poll even says “Progressive Conservative voters are divided equally 33 percent for and 34 percent against the change.”

    I think it will carry with between 62% and 65%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>