MMP referendum misses the mark

Elections Ontario campaign a ‘failure in communication’

MMP supporters blame lack of communication and poor media coverage for the failure of Wednesday’s referedum question concerning the proposed system.
MMP supporters blame lack of communication and poor media coverage for the failure of Wednesday’s referedum question concerning the proposed system.

Supporters of the mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system are blaming Elections Ontario and poor media coverage for its failure in yesterday’s referendum.

Queen’s politics professor Scott Matthews said the referendum campaign and the question itself were badly designed.

“It was basically a non-campaign. There wasn’t a whole lot of information floating around,” Matthews said.

Elections Ontario spent $6.8 million on a voter education campaign, detailing the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) and MMP systems.

Compared with the electoral reform proposal in British Columbia—which was defeated with a 58 per cent “Yes” vote, just short of the 60 per cent threshold—this one should have been easier for voters to accept, Matthews said.

A 2005 referendum in B.C. asked if voters wanted to switch to a single transferable vote system.

“[MMP] was a much more plausible change because it was kind of an incremental step away from our current system … whereas the change in BC would have been to a system that was much more complex,” he said.

“I would attribute the failure [in Ontario] to the lack of an effective campaign for MMP,” Matthews said. “With the right campaign, it’s imaginable that it could have been sold.”

Matthews said he doesn’t think the issue will be on the political agenda again for some time.

“I think it’s a dead issue … until some random factor motivates some political leader to commit himself or herself to something similar.”

In a press release, Chief Electoral Officer John Hollins defended Elections Ontario’s approach to explaining the referendum question to voters.

“It fulfilled our mandate to ensure that Ontario voters received clear and impartial information about the referendum question, the process, its date and the two choices,” he said in the statement.

Caroline Law, Green Party candidate for the Beaches-East York riding, said when she was campaigning door-to-door many people said they didn’t even know there was a referendum.

“It’s definitely a failure in communication,” she said. “The only thing people got directly was a piece of mail that went with the voter’s card … most people see it as junk mail and throw it away.”

In Law’s riding, the MMP system narrowly beat the FPTP system with a 50.1 per cent “Yes” vote.

Buddhadeb Chakrabarty, Kingston and the Islands representative for the Citizens’ Assembly—the committee that researched and named MMP as the system to vote on for the referendum—agreed that Elections Ontario should have done more.

“One thing I had issue with was the ads, especially in the newspapers; it was kind of confusing,” he said. “We were hoping the government was going to do something better than what they did for the publishing campaign.”

Chakrabarty said he thinks the issue of electoral reform isn’t over and will be raised in the future—by himself and some other members of the Citizens’ Assembly.

“I’m going to talk to my other fellow members and we’re going to decide what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re still working to make this issue a little more important and public for Ontario.”

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