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. 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. 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.
There's lots of good information at the Fair Vote Canada website, including a Democracy Quiz (test your knowledge of Canada's electoral system) and a petition to make every vote count. Read and learn.