The Ontario referendum on electoral reform has failed, preliminary results suggest. Ontario seems poised to join the list of provinces that have rejected electoral reform, following failed votes in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in 2005.
However, this will not likely be the last time Ontarians hear the words ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) — some experts say Ontarians may soon have another chance to vote on electoral reform.
Steve Withers, a spokesperson for Fair Vote Canada, the parent organization of Vote For MMP, says the groundwork has been laid for a future vote.
“Even if the MMP referendum doesn’t pass, if more people vote ‘Yes’ than vote for which ever government is triumphant, then people will give it a second thought,” he says.
Caroline Andrew, a political science professor at the University Of Ottawa, disagrees with Withers. She says that if MMP is defeated we won’t see it brought up again for at least a generation.
“If this fails, and after BC’s nixed vote, I don’t think we’ll see it again for a long time,” says Andrew. “It doesn’t create a great mindset for the movement.”
Peter Black is the media director of Vote For MMP, and he says that if MMP is defeated, enough people will have become educated about the concept that it should pass if it were to come to a vote again.
“Enough people are seized with this issue, but this is a referendum in which voters were not educated about our voting system,” says Black. He says that many voters feel our current electoral system is undemocratic and the movement for change is growing.
Black says that groups are working in each province to push for MMP on a federal level — and for good reason. “Women and minorities are discriminated against with our current electoral system,” says Black.
Education campaign poorly handled, critic says
Withers, the Fair Vote Canada representative, says that the campaign to educate voters about MMP started too late.
“The [education] campaign was compressed into 20 weeks, it was like skiing really fast without any poles. We had to build a grassroots organization in a short period of time,” says Withers. “The hostility of the media didn’t go unnoticed. Only four major papers in all of Ontario would talk to me.”
Withers blames the media for much of the misinformation and he says the same “garbage propaganda” was spread in New Zealand during that country’s 1993 referendum on MMP.
“Politicians don’t want to talk about MMP, it’s like talking to turkeys about Thanksgiving,” says Withers. “They would have to work well with others and compromise.”
While pundits can’t agree when Ontarians will vote next on MMP, most say that minorities like gays and lesbians would benefit if our electoral system is changed. “If it were to pass, people who are not traditionally represented would be [better represented],” says Andrew. “There would be marginally more diversity.”