Thursday, October 4, 2007

Yes Side Best Campaign, But Should Have Stayed On Point

The VoteforMMP side is feeling the frustration. These are a group of people who have lost faith in our electoral system, at least to some degree, and have an option they believe will improve our democracy - mixed member proportional (MMP). One can imagine the frustration when the media has not been entirely supportive of their change agenda and the public has not risen up in mass numbers in defense of it. And that starts the blame game.

The "yes" side has issued a press release that, in part, states, "Elections Ontario's information campaign does not adequately inform voters why the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform - after eight months of work - recommended the MMP system." However, it is not up to Elections Ontario to do a sales job for MMP. They have sent a pamphlet to every home and provided information online that more than adequately explains the mechanics of how the two systems work. They have also run television and newspaper ads making sure voters know there is a referendum this election.

They also complain that, "Media coverage on how and why the Assembly proposed the new system has been lacking." Actually, there has been an abundance of news coverage on this issue. I believe every political columnist and commentator has done an indepth coverage of this topic more than once. Really, what more could you want?

I know that one article I ran here contained two lines from the Toronto Star's editorial against MMP and the entire rebuttal from the yes side. One MMP supporter stated the article was biased. Yesterday's article mentioned that a poll showed more Canadians supported the current system than either proportional representation (PR) or a mixed proportional. MMP supporters felt that since mixed proportional is a form of PR the numbers for PR and mixed proportional should have been added together. Another comment rightly pointed out that mixed proportional, being "mixed", was also a form of first past the post (FPTP) so you could add the support for the current system with mixed proportional to show majority support for FPTP. The bottom line is that the pollster has an expertise in this area without any agenda, and yet their poll was labeled as "curious" because it wasn't more pro MMP.

One thing that becomes apparent in their press release, and has been an element of the yes side campaign, is that since a citizens' assembly overwhelmingly endorsed this there should be a presumption that this is a good proposal. That presumption has not been given to MMP. While columnists and commentators have covered this topic over and over many have dissected MMP. That's what happens.

The bottom line is that the yes side has run an excellent campaign, the best of the two sides. With the limited funds they have they should be proud of what they have done. However, one has to expect that those advocating change are going to be put under closer scrutiny than those advocating status quo. That has happened, and we have seen the warts of MMP. That does not mean it is a bad system, because we also better understand the warts of our current system. The only mistake the yes side has made throughout this campaign is that they have too often gone off message to be critical of the media and Elections Ontario. By doing so they have at times made it seem like they feel they are loosing and at other times only drawn more media coverage to the negatives of MMP - and there are negatives. They should have religiously stayed on point, without waivering.

Below is the entire release from VoteforMMP.

Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform got it right: Ontario voters urged to go directly to the source for the facts

    Media urged to print text of "One Ballot - Two Votes"

TORONTO, Oct. 3 /CNW/ - Today, the campaign and several
prominent Ontarians from differing political backgrounds backed a Citizens'
Assembly on Electoral Reform call to Ontarians to take charge of their own
learning process for the upcoming referendum. The group also called on the
Ontario media to step forward and provide more substantive information on the
Citizens' Assembly's proposal for electoral reform.


"We urge all Ontarians to take personal responsibility for casting an
informed vote on the proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system in
the Ontario 10 electoral reform referendum," said Anderson. "Elections
Ontario's information campaign does not adequately inform voters why the
Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform - after eight months of work -
recommended the MMP system. We strongly urge all Ontarians to go right to the
source - - and learn why this Assembly of
103 Ontario voters, from all backgrounds, all regions of the province and with
no axe to grind, proposed MMP as best for Ontario."
Media coverage on how and why the Assembly proposed the new system has
been lacking.
"Unfortunately, instead of informed public discussion, we're seeing
extensive misinformation being presented as fact, and emotional debate
crowding out thoughtful learning and deliberation," said Anderson.
"Before this referendum is held on October 10, at the very least, every
voter should have read Citizens' Assembly's summary leaflet "One Ballot - Two
Votes". The content of that leaflet - explaining why the Assembly chose MMP -
has information not being provided by Elections Ontario," said Anderson.
"Today we are calling on Ontario's media to make an extraordinary commitment
to fill that gap. We are calling on every daily and community paper to print
the contents of this 800 word leaflet from the Citizens' Assembly so that
everyone who casts a vote on October 10 has had opportunity to read exactly
what the Assembly recommended and why."
Anderson stated that those who have more time should read the full
27 page report from the Citizens' Assembly, available at is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the mixed
member proportional (MMP) voting system proposed by the Ontario Citizens'
Assembly on Electoral Reform.


Scott Tribe said...

One of the criticisms of the BC electoral reform refe4rendum was, like here, the government and the elections body didnt do as much as they could have to educate voters on what was being proposed. Despite that, it "failed" with a 58% vote.

I think if you look out on the blogworld out there, both sides have complained how poorly run Elections Ontario campaign has been.

What should have happened is that both proponents for the new system and those against should have had equal amounts of funding to make their case to the Ontario public, with Elections Ontario also using a bit better advertising campaign to let voters know this was coming up.

IF there is another round of electoral reform in the next few years if this measure is to fail, I would hope they'd learned some lessons from this and get it right next time.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what more people are asking from Elections Canada. I feel like I've been bombarded with pamphlets about the referendum. I got at least three in my mailbox, plus the info that was packaged with my voter information when it came (and in the package for every other member of my household). I don't subscribe to a major newspaper, but the free dailies (Metro/24 Hours) have at least one full page ad every day, and then there are the 'don't let someone else speak for you' TV spots that seem to be on every commercial break (and I don't watch that much TV!) I have no idea about radio time, but it seems like Elections Ontario has had the media covered pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Ya, that's all we need ... more of my tax dollars for special interests. I know about the darn referendum ... dont stuff more pamphlets into my mailbox. We're not excited about it because it isn't exciting.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget more of your tax dollars for bigger government if it passes!!

Wilf Day said...

Complaints by the Vote For MMP Campaign volunteers are one thing. But let's look at the CA Report itself on page 15:

"The Assembly feels that all citizens must be well informed about the referendum and have a good understanding of the new system. A comprehensive, well-funded public education program, beginning in May and continuing through to the referendum, is vital. We believe that the program should include a description of the new system and how it differs from the current system; a description of the Citizens’ Assembly process; and the Assembly’s rationale for recommending a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario."

It didn't start until September, and it didn't include the CA's rationale. Elections Ontario was mandated to educate the public about the content of the two choices. One of those choices was the recommendation of the CA. Why not send every household a copy of the CA's summary along with a summary of the rationale for FPTP -- which they could have found a few pro-FPTP political scientists to write for them?

So the relevant complaint is from CA members themselves. Here's the Alumni's current press release:
“Elections Ontario has not provided enough information about the substance of our recommendation. The have made no effort at all to explain why we recommended MMP for Ontario”, says Arita Droog of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform Alumni, “That information void is being filled by a lot of wild ideas that aren't supported by the evidence. At this point we are very concerned. We urge voters to actively learn the substance of our recommendation and pass it on to everyone they know.”

Of particular concern to Citizens' Assembly members is misconceptions around the province-wide list MPPs, elected from lists of candidates nominated by the parties.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve read that they are ‘appointed,’” says Droog. “This is totally false. In fact, we were meticulous to build democratic accountability into every stage of the election process. To help voters to understand the truth about this aspect of MMP, we have written a separate explanation of list seats.”

And here's the CP report:

"I'm very disappointed there's been a lack of meaningful debate," said Catherine Baquero, a member of the citizens assembly that recommended changing the system.

"I'm disappointed that Elections Ontario's education campaign has been so toothless. What I expected was a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of each system."

"Under our current electoral system, 2.5 million out 4.5 million votes do not go to elect anyone," said Patrick Heenan, another member of the 103-member citizens assembly.

"When so many votes are wasted, we have to question whether the system is essentially fair, and whether it provides the representation that the majority of voters want."

Rick Smith, another member of the 103-member assembly of "average" citizens from across the province, suggested it was a mistake to try to save money by holding the referendum at the same time as the general election.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Day, that's all well and good but there's a flaw to the logic. As soon as the Citizens Assembly made their recommendation, they ceased to be 'non-partisan' on the issue. Your argument, as stated, basically reads "forget what MMP campaign volunteers have to say, here is what OTHER people in favour of MMP have to say."

In fact, one of the citizen's assembly members has made comments that the Elections Ontario campaign is "too neutral" which
A) hardly seems like an unbiased statement and
B) seems to be exactly how it should be run. Elections Ontario SHOULDN'T be taking a position on the issue. Would we be happy if they were biased towards a political party?

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