— A week to go in the Ontario provincial election campaign and
there are only two observations worth making beyond the stunning
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
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
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
Quick and easy, I'm afraid, doesn't
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
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
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
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
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.