| Sep 27, 2007


Feature Article - September 27, 2007 Feature Article - September 27, 2007

An Ontario Referendum, Are We Planning to Separate?by Wima Kenny

For the first time in 83 years, Ontario voters will be facing a provincial referendum question on their October 10 ballot, and this time it won’t be about alcohol, as all the previous ones have been. This one’s asking us to consider a change in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, little information has been easily available until very recently and most voters are puzzled.

What’s a Referendum?

A provincial referendum is a new experience for all of us who are younger than 104. It’s an opportunity for every person of voting age to express their opinion on a matter considered of importance to all.

What’s the Question?

This is the wording of the referendum question:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?

* The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)?

*The alternate electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)?

Whose Idea Was This?

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Contrary to one e-mail I received recently, this is not a plot hatched by feminists and homosexuals to destroy family values. (I’m not making this up: I really did get that e-mail!)

In March 2006, at the direction of the Provincial Government, Elections Ontario created a Citizens' Assembly to examine our electoral system and recommend whether we should keep it or adopt a different one. To form the Assembly, one citizen was selected at random from each of Ontario's 103 electoral districts. (Dianne Carey of Inverary represented our riding.) They met under the chairmanship of Judge George Thomson, were independent of government influence, and did not represent any political party. Between Sept 06 and April 07, they studied the various ways worldwide that votes are translated into seats in a legislature, listened to experts, politicians and ordinary citizens, and after much consideration arrived at the following recommendation:"We, the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, recommend a new way to vote that builds on the province’s traditions and reflects the values that we believe are important to Ontarians. The Assembly recommends that Ontario adopt a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, specifically designed to meet the unique needs of Ontario."

Why Change the Present System?

In our present system, the candidate with the most votes wins. When three or more parties are running candidates in a riding, the representative elected frequently is not chosen by the majority of the voters. (Candidate A gets 40 votes, B gets 35, and C gets 25: A wins, although only 40 people voted for him or her, and 60 people voted for someone else.) This is what "first-past-the-post" means: the one with the most votes wins.

A political party may not be given the chance to speak for people who supported it. (The party that candidate C represents may have received several hundred thousand votes across the province, yet have few if any members in parliament.) Therefore, voters often face the dilemma of whether to vote for a person or a party. The person you want as your representative in government may not belong to the party you would like to see in power, or to the party that has traditionally won in your riding. The MMP system is intended to address these problems by giving voters greater choice, fairer election results, and stronger representation.

How Does the Mixed Member Proportional System Work?

In brief, a Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP) combines members elected in local districts in the usual manner, and members elected for the whole province from party lists drawn up by each party (in proportion to votes received) to serve as Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) in the legislature. This combination produces proportional election results that better reflect the wishes of voters. More detail next week about how this might be done.

Where Can I Get More Information Right Now?

By telephone (toll free): 1-800-ONT-VOTE : 1-800-668-8683, weekdays, 8am-9pm and weekends 9-9, to speak to a live person, or by computer: www.yourbigdecision.ca , or, if you want a reply to a specific question, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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