ORANGEVILLE, ONT. — A week to go in the Ontario provincial election campaign and there are only two observations worth making beyond the stunning weather.
One, if the word "schools" had never left his mouth, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory might well be running away with this thing.
And two, no one seems to have a clue what to do when the time comes to mark the ballot.
We're not talking the first ballot - the one that goes toward the individual candidates and the various parties.
It's the second one - the one that half of Ontario's voters doesn't even seem to know exists.
Just ask a few people in a shopping mall. Shrugs. Embarrassment. People moving on without even stopping.
That second vote will be held on whether or not to approve Mixed Member Proportional, a political reform idea that sounds, unfortunately, like a bad title for a porn movie - which may explain the reaction of some shoppers to any mention of it.
It is a bad phrase that has simply not caught on. No one talks "MMP." Some know there will be a "referendum," but not much more.
"Can you give me a quick and easy explanation about the possible repercussions of the referendum question?" a politically aware woman from Northern Ontario writes in an e-mail. "Please keep in mind my attention span, like that of most other voters, is very short for this type of issue."
Quick and easy, I'm afraid, doesn't quite work.
The Oct. 10 referendum comes out of a provincial initiative that involved asking 103 "ordinary" Ontarians to sit in a Citizens Assembly and talk about electoral reform. They met on a regular basis for eight months and it is fair to suggest that, having been flattered by being named to the assembly and then devoting so much time to it, there was never any thought they would come out in favour of the status quo.
The media paid no attention then and is only paying attention now because of deadline, not interest. Editorials around the province have not been particularly sympathetic.
What MMP would do is reduce the number of elected members to 90 from the current 107. It would then add another 39 members from "lists" of candidates proposed by the various parties, the numbers to be divided up proportionately according to the overall Ontario vote.
The party with the largest number of seats would obviously still form the government, but the chances of, say the Green Party, or of a newly organized political force, such as aboriginals, gaining representation to Queen's Park would be far higher than the current system of "first past the post" allows.
To become law, the referendum would have to be approved by 60 per cent of the votes cast. Voters in British Columbia earlier voted on something somewhat similar to MMP - the single transferable vote - and it also was a story of little interest and some confusion. It also fell just short of the required 60 per cent.
Those behind MMP have put up convincing arguments for MMP being a fairer system and a system that has worked elsewhere, such as New Zealand. It offers hope to the underdog and the marginalized.
One of the supporters' studies says that Ontario elections are essentially decided by 75,000 "super-voters" who just happen to live in tight ridings where the slightest shifts will decide who rules and who sulks. The predicted 4.7 million who will vote on Oct. 10, therefore, will have their government determined by 1.5 per cent of the electorate. Not fair.
Knowing Ontario's reluctance to embrace change, the MMP campaign includes a delightful skit (http://www.voteformmp.ca) featuring Don Ferguson of the Royal Canadian Air Farce greeting historical change - the 1888 drive to allow non-property owners to vote, the 1919 push to enfranchise women - with a cackling dismissal that to do so would "be the end of civilization as we know it."
The opponents of the system - which would include the major parties - say it would only encourage divisive interest groups and perpetuate minority governments. Only strong majorities, they argue, can produce real change. No strong majorities, the argument would go, no repatriated Constitution, no Charter of Rights, no free trade, no GST, no Mike Harris "Common Sense Revolution."
That argument, of course, cuts both ways. Supporters of minority governments point to medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the flag, all products of 1960s minority governments.
In the end, it will come down to the likes of Bill O'Malley, a retired clothing merchant, who has recently become interested enough in the referendum to seek out information - including attending an information session on MMP.
He found little of his confusion cleared up by the session. He understands the fairness argument. He believes, even, in electoral reform.
But in the end he thinks he may stick to the status quo for one very simple reason: "It means we have to pay more politicians."
Still, he's not completely sure.
And he has only a week to decide.