Ontario electoral reform referendum, 2007
|Ontario electoral reform referendum|
|Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature? / Quel système électoral l’Ontario devrait-il utiliser pour élire les députés provinciaux à l’Assemblée législative?|
|Referendum held: October 10, 2007|
An Ontario electoral reform referendum was held on October 10, 2007, in an attempt to establish a mixed member proportional representation (MMP) system for elections to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. However, the resulting vote, expressed as Yes or No in the side-box on the right, was heavily in favour of the existing plurality voting or "first-past-the-post" (FPTP) system.
- 1 Background
- 2 Proposed changes to the electoral system
- 3 Referendum question and threshold
- 4 Elections Ontario education campaign
- 5 Support and Opposition for the Proposed Reform
- 6 Results
- 7 Analysis
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 External links
Currently, Ontario elects Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) using the single member plurality, or so-called "first past the post" (FPTP), system. In this system, each voter gives one vote to a candidate in an electoral district; the candidate with the most votes wins and is charged with representing all voters in the electoral district, except as limited by principles of party control. In most cases, the party with the most elected candidates is asked to form a government.
The initiative to reform this system was first proposed by the Liberal Party opposition leader of the time, Dalton McGuinty in 2001. The impetus for the proposal was at least in part the experience of the province with two successive majority governments elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, the NDP from 1990-95 under Bob Rae (elected in 1990 with only 38% of the popular vote), and the Conservatives from 1995-2003 under Mike Harris (elected in 1995 with 45% of the vote). When the Harris government enacted sweeping changes in public services, a feeling developed that both of these governments lacked a sufficient democratic mandate to justify the extent of such changes (Leduc, 2008: 5). The Liberals won a majority of their own in October 2003 with 45% of the vote.
On 18 November 2004, Premier McGuinty announced that a citizens’ assembly would be established to examine the FPTP electoral system and recommend possible changes to be voted upon by referendum in the next provincial election. Enabling legislation to implement these measures —the Election Amendment Act, 2005— received Royal Assent on 13 June 2005. It included provisions for Elections Ontario to select volunteers for a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. An all-party Committee on Electoral Reform was also created to consider and report on options for electoral reform. Its report was submitted in November 2005. It included a number of recommendations and defined the Citizen's Assembly's mandate.
The Ontario Citizen's Assembly was modeled primarily on the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform established as the first of its kind in 2002, leading up to the British Columbia referendum in 2005. It was composed of 103 members, one from each of Ontario's existing ridings, including 51 women, 51 men, and one native member. Its deliberations began in September 2006 and ended with the Assembly's final meeting on April 28, 2007. Proceedings included a learning phase as members learned about the strengths and weaknesses of different electoral systems, a period of public consultations, and a "deliberative" phase during which the Assembly came to a consensus on its recommendations.
Proposed changes to the electoral system
The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform proposed a mixed member proportional representation (MMP) system. Although there exist slightly different variants of MMP, the model proposed for Ontario by the Citizen's Assembly was designed with simplicity and practicality in mind.
The general idea
As is usually the case in MMP systems, each voter would cast two votes:
- one for a local candidate and
- one for a political party.
The local member would be elected according to the usual FPTP mechanism. These members would represent the electoral district, as in the past.
However, there would also be a number of "list seats." The second ballot would be used to determine what share of total seats (local + list) should be proportionately assigned to each party to ensure proportionality of the overall result.
The proposed Legislature would have 129 seats consisting of 90 local members (70% of the Legislature) and 39 list members (30% of the Legislature). The conventions as to which party is asked to form a government would remain unchanged.
The use of party lists
List members would be chosen according to a ranked list of candidates proposed by each party before the election. In the Assembly's proposal, there would be only one such list per party for the whole province, as opposed to several regional lists, and it could include candidates also running for office locally. If a candidate for a list member seat had already been elected locally by the time that list seats were being allocated, that candidate's name would simply be passed over in favour of the next candidate on that party list.
The largest remainder issue
The number of seats won by a party would be calculated by multiplying a party's share of the party vote by the total number of seats in the province. As this multiplication would not automatically yield a round number, the fractional part would be allocated in favour of the party or parties with the largest fractions.
For example, if there were four parties with party votes yielding 45.43, 31.54, 24.76 and 5.27 seats respectively for a total of 107, the initial allocation without the fractions would be 45, 31, 24 and 5, for a total of 105 seats so far. This would leave two seats to be allocated on the basis of fractions; in this example, these seats would go to the second and third parties. The final tally of seats would thus be 45, 32, 25 and 5.
This approach to allocating the fractional seats is called the largest remainder method. The result is as close to proportionality as possible using a simple method given the need to allocate the fractional seats in some way. However it is not necessarily as close as that from the more complex Sainte-Lague method used for New Zealand's MMP system, given that unlike the latter formula the largest remainder method may result in the so-called "Alabama paradox" in allocating seats.
The Allocation of list members seats
Since the number of local seats is established by the election results at the local level, what remains to be done is to fill in the difference with the required number of list member seats for each party. In the above example, if the first party had won 39 local seats, they would now be allocated 6 more seats from the list, for a total of 45 as determined by their share of the party vote.
No balance seats for overhang
A particular situation that could arise, though rarely, is that a party might win more local seats than it would normally be allowed in total based on its share of the party vote. This excess of seats is called an "overhang" and in some systems, a form of compensation is made for this by adding "balance seats" to the other parties. The Assembly did not allow for balance seats, accepting instead that the system would be slightly less proportional in such cases (see the article "Overhang seat", section "Dealing with overhang seats" for the alternative method that was proposed).
Referendum question and threshold
On June 20, 2007, the Ontario Democratic Renewal Secretariat announced that cabinet had decided on the following wording of the referendum question:
Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature? / Quel système électoral l’Ontario devrait-il utiliser pour élire les députés provinciaux à l’Assemblée législative?
- The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post) / L’actuel système électoral (système de la majorité relative)
- The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional) / L’autre système électoral proposé par l’Assemblée des citoyens (système de représentation proportionnelle mixte)
This approach to wording the question was subtly more neutral than that adopted in the 2005 referendum in British Columbia in two ways:
- it gave equal billing to the existing FPTP system rather than asking if voters were for or against the proposed reform using a Yes / No format; and
- it used the word "proposed" rather than "recommended."
To pass, the alternative system required 60% support across the board, and at least 50% support in 64 of the 107 (60% of total) ridings. If successful, the new government would have proposed and passed a new law for MMP by December 31, 2008. and the resolution would have been in effect in any subsequent election.
The referendum was held on October 10, concurrently with the 2007 provincial election, which provided for a separate referendum ballot with the referendum question.
Elections Ontario education campaign
The Ontario Citizens' Assembly recommended that a comprehensive, well-funded public education program, be undertaken to assist voters with their decision, beginning in May 2007 (right after it released its final report) and continuing through to the referendum in October. The Assembly recommended that the education campaign 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. This would ensure that Ontarians could make an informed decision.
A June Environics poll showed that 70% of those polled were not familiar with the proposal, including over 50% who knew nothing at all about the upcoming referendum.
The McGuinty government decided to mandate Elections Ontario to direct the education campaign, but with the referendum scheduled for October 10, 2007, Elections Ontario didn't formally launch its public education campaign until August of that year. The projected cost for the referendum was $6.825 million, an amount that fell short of the minimum $13 million called for by Fair Vote Canada. The assigned money would give one mailout to each Ontario household, a part-time Referendum Resource Officer in each of the province's ridings, a call centre and a website.
According to LeDuc et al (2008, p. 33), "Elections Ontario interpreted its information mandate quite narrowly, and did not inform the public of the substance of the proposal or the competing arguments in favour of or against it." Citizens were expected to get the information they needed from various websites or from the press. Remarkably, although the Citizens' Assembly had produced a shorter version of their report and a short leaflet further summarizing it, Elections Ontario distributed neither, to the surprise and disappointment of the Citizens' Assembly. By contrast in British Columbia, the Citizens' Assembly material was distributed to every household.
Similarly, the government made no effort to explain why the Citizen's Assembly had been created, how it had conducted its hearings and deliberations or why they had made the recommendations upon which voters were expected to pronounce themselves.
The lack of information was such that by late September 2007, public understanding of the question remained very low, with 47% of respondents telling pollster Strategic Counsel they knew nothing at all about the new system, and another 41% saying they knew only "a little." Only 12% said they knew a lot.
Support and Opposition for the Proposed Reform
The Ontario New Democratic Party supported the referendum. although party leader Howard Hampton criticized the system for giving Northern Ontario a decreased number of ridings. The Green Party of Ontario also lent its support.
As can be seen in the individual endorsements for and against shown below, the Liberals were divided on the issue, with a greater number in support of reform than against it. However, the Premier himself did not take a position on behalf of the government.
The proposed system received critical support from Fair Vote Canada, which organized the Vote for MMP campaign, a multi-partisan citizens' based campaign. Vote for MMP had received a long list of public endorsements from all parts of the political spectrum. In addition, over 140 professors of law and politics have endorsed MMP.
The women's group Equal Voice were also critically supportive during Select Committee on Electoral Reform hearings, speaking in support of proportional representation. Equal Voice, with the support of the Doris Anderson Fund has organized the Equal Voice in Politics campaign to support MMP in the referendum.
Candidates endorsing MMP
There does not appear to exist any comprehensive review of the views of 2007 election candidates from each party on the referendum. The following identifies a selection of candidates upon which information could be found.
Although the Ontario Liberal Party had not taken a formal position on MMP, a number of Liberal candidates took a public position in favour of the proposal, including the following.
- Michael Bryant, St. Paul's
- Steven H. Fishman, Simcoe—Grey
- John Gerretsen, Kingston and the Islands
- Selwyn Hicks, Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound
- Kate Holloway, Trinity—Spadina
- Ted McMeekin, Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale
- Shafiq Qaadri, Etobicoke North
- Tony Ruprecht, Davenport
- George Smitherman, Toronto Centre
- Ian Wilson, Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington
- Lorenzo Berardinetti, Scarborough Southwest
NDP and Green candidate support was basically universal, since those parties had taken a party position on the issue. The following provides a sample:
- NDP and Green Party
The Freedom Party of Ontario was the only party that officially opposed the proposed system, believing that rule by a majority can be anti-democratic and can be incompatible with the protection of minorities and of individual rights.
As explained by LeDuc et al (2008, pp. 31–37), the mainstream print media were "uniformly opposed to both the Assembly process and the MMP proposal" (op. cit. p. 31). This included the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star. A content analysis conducted by the authors showed that newspaper coverage was predominantly negative, and that it failed to go beyond the statement of objections to explain the issue to the public (op. cit, pp. 35–37).
Organized opposition to the proposal included the No MMP web site.
Individual candidate opposing the proposed reform
The following candidates took a position in favour of the existing FPTP (and against the proposed MMP):
- Progressive Conservative:
- Family Coalition:
No Official Position
As already noted, neither the Ontario Liberal Party nor the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario took an official position on electoral reform. The positions of Liberal candidates on the issue varied, while most PC candidates opposed the initiative.
The Ontario Libertarian Party, Confederation of Regions Party, Republican Party of Ontario, Reform Party of Ontario and Party for People with Special Needs did not officially state a position on electoral reform.
The proposal was defeated, with only 36.9% of the electorate supporting the proposal, and 63.1 against. For detailed results by riding and by region, see Ontario electoral reform referendum, 2007 detailed results.
|Response to||# of votes in favour||% of votes in favour||# of ridings in favour|
|Mixed Member Proportional||1,579,684||36.9||5|
The result was decisive, with only five constituencies in the Toronto area returning a majority in favour of MMP. Four of these constituencies also elected an NDP candidate.
Analysis and polling conducted after the referendum identified two features that had not been well received: the proposal to increase the number of members in the legislature to make room for a certain number of list members; and the use of closed lists defined by the parties themselves as a mechanism (Cutler and Fournier, 2007). Aside from this, the major factor determining the outcome was widely seen to be the lack of adequate information and understanding of both the proposal itself and the Citizen's Assembly that had given rise to it. In a pre-referendum poll conducted in April 2007 by Stratcom Research, the most commonly cited argument in opposition to the MMP proposal was lack of information about it (LeDuc et al. Table 4 on p. 30).
Fair Vote Canada adds that the version of MMP proposed by the Citizen's Assembly differed from that proposed in 2004 by the Law Commission of Canada in two significant ways:
- the Law Commission had proposed that voters have the ability to vote directly for party candidates in each region —an option that would have addressed voters' concerns about the use of closed lists as proposed by the Citizen's Assembly;
- the Law Commission had proposed that at-large members should be elected at the regional level, rather than province-wide —an option that would have alleviated any possible concerns about MLAs being "locally anchored and accountable."
Other analysts, such as LeDuc et al. look to the ambivalence or hostility on the part of the political elite for an explanation. For them, the lack of information and balanced analysis available to voters was not an accident, but the result of inadequate funding, an excessively limited approach to public education by Elections Ontario, a last-minute approach to informing the public, the lack of attention to the role of the Assembly, and hostility from the media elite. Elections Ontario televised advertising of the referendum featured ads only five seconds long.
Also worth noting from these authors' analysis, was the evident softness of public opinion on the issue. They point to past surveys that tend to show a public that is aware of electoral issues and somewhat positive towards the issue of proportionality, but does not have particularly strong views about it. They conclude that "in Canada, and particularly in Ontario, we do not find an underlying climate of opinion that would necessarily facilitate the passage of a reform proposal" (op. cit., p. 26).
For LeDuc et al, pp. 41-45, a victory for the reform proposal would have been surprising under the circumstances. As they argue based on the evidence of this case and others, "The political advantage in referendum campaigns, particularly those dealing with unfamiliar issues, often seems to rest with the NO side. Those opposed to a proposal do not necessarily have to make a coherent case against it. Often, it is enough merely to raise doubts about it in the minds of voters, question the motives of its advocates, or play upon a natural fear of the unknown" (p. 45).
- For timelines, see Library of Parliament. "Electoral Reform Initiatives in Canadian Provinces". Retrieved 21 April 2014.
- REPORT ON ELECTORAL REFORM, November 2005
- Leduc, Lawrence, Heather Bastedo and Catherine Baquero (June 4–6, 2008). The Quiet Referendum: Why Electoral Reform Failed in Ontario (PDF). Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, University of British Columbia: University of Toronto. pp. 11–14.
- See numerical illustrations and other explanations in the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly Secretariat. of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly's MMP System.pdf "Extract from Democracy at Work: The Ontario Citizens' Assembly On Electoral Reform" Check
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