Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Ennui of Democracy

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

The Ennui of Democracy

Article excerpt

One of the most disheartening events of the Ontario election was the failed referendum on electoral reform and the record-low voter turnout of 52.5 per cent. Profound voter ennui was the rule, and during the first half of the month-long campaign, nothing anyone said appeared to move the public. Well over half of the voters paid no attention to the election--or to the other issue on the ballot: electoral reform.

The introduction of some elements of proportional representation into Ontario's electoral system was supposed to address the issue of voter apathy. Consequently, on a separate referendum ballot, following from the recommendations of a citizens' commission that sat for months, voters were asked whether they would prefer to keep Ontario's traditional "first past the post" or "plurality" voting system, or to switch to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) model, as recommended by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly.

The referendum--the first in eighty years--followed similar votes in B.C. and P.E.I., and was driven by the fact that 87 of 130 countries in the world now use proportional representation.

Yet, few Ontarians seem to know what the referendum was about or why the public was being asked to vote on this issue. The media openly campaigned against it. The Tories sent millions of e-mails to supporters and citizens, claiming that it undermined democracy. The NDP said they supported reform, then buried their heads and ignored it.

The Liberals, however, showed themselves masters in orchestrating their concern for electoral reform, and then setting up the referendum for failure. It was McGuinty's way of keeping a campaign promise while making sure change didn't happen.

First, the Liberals expressed their concern for electoral reform. Then they appointed a citizens' commission a few months before the election. …

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