Ontario rejects electoral reform in referendum

Ontario voters have rejected a proposed electoral reform that would have seen some provincial legislators chosen based on a party's share of the popular vote, results showed Thursday.

Ontario voters have rejected a proposed electoral reform that would have seen some provincial legislators chosen based on a party's share of the popular vote, results showed Thursday.

The systemwas the subject of Ontario's first referendum in 83 years during the provincial election on Wednesday. However,Ontarians headed to the polls amid criticism and confusion over how officials spread the word about the mixed member proportional (MMP) plan.

OnThursday afternoon, with 99.8 per cent of polls counted, the proposal had the support of 36.85 per cent of the vote. Meanwhile, 63.15 per cent of voters cast their ballots in favour of the existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.

Onlyfive ridings, all of them in Toronto, showed a majority supporting MMP.

The MMP proposal required 60 per cent support to become the new electoral system. As well, it had to win a majority in 64 ridings.

A citizens assembly was appointed by the previous Liberal government to study the issue. Itrecommended MMP to replace FPTP, which has been in place in Ontario for 215 years.

Referendum 'had no chance': NDP Leader Hampton

Despite Elections Ontario's $6.8-million education campaign, which included television advertising and direct mail flyers across the province,many voters appeared unaware the referendum was being held.

"The referendum had no chance," NDP Leader Howard Hampton said late Wednesday as the votes were still being tallied."All across the province, people didn't know what the issue was. They didn't know what mixed member proportional stood for, so that was not a surprise."

One scrutineer said people arriving at her Toronto-area polling station to cast ballots for both a new provincial government and the referendum were clearly confused.

"They walk in and say, 'What do I do with this thing?'" Judy Wilkings said early Wednesday evening. "People don't get it. They want to get it. But they just don't get it."

Scrutineers, however, were forbidden to provide any guidance.

Supporters of the change bitterly criticized the Liberal government and Elections Ontario for stacking the deck against the proposal. They said the government failed to fund a proper campaign to inform voters while the official education effort from Elections Ontario was so anemic as to be all but useless.

"It's so neutral, it's so unbiased, that it doesn't say anything," said Arita Droog, a member of the citizens assembly.

Under FPTP, each voter casts a vote for a local candidate, and each political party gets a seat for each local riding where one of their candidates has won the most votes. The party with the most seats — not necessarily the majority of votes in the province — then forms the government.

But under the mixed member proportional system, voters would each cast two votes — one for their local candidate and one for the party they think best represents their interests.

System used in Germany, New Zealand

The MMP system called for Ontario to be divided into only 90 electoral districts, instead of 107. Another 39 legislators would be elected at large, based on parties' shares of the popular vote and lists submitted by each party before an election.

A handful of countries use a mixed-member proportional representation system, including Germany, New Zealand, Venezuela, Hungary, as well as Scotland's parliament and Wales' national assembly.

Proponents of the MMP system argue it will improve government by encouraging parties to create majorities through coalitions, as well as allow for better representation of third parties, racial minorities and women in the legislature.

The supporters argue that the FPTP system allows parties to form majority governments even when a minority of voters cast ballots for that party.
But critics of MMP argue it will result in a weaker, indecisive provincial government and a less democratic system, with one-third of the legislature chosen by party leaders and not directly by voters.

The No side also argues that MMP will improve the chances of extremist minority parties having a greater role in government. MMP supporters say that argument will be nullified by a provision that disqualifies any party that receives less than three per cent of the party vote from getting extra seats.

Previous referendums on electoral reform were held in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in 2005.

The B.C. proposal garnered a surprising number of votes in its favour, but fell just short of the 60 per cent provincial support required to pass. In P.E.I.'s plebiscite, residents voted 63.58 per cent against the change, while 36.42 per cent voted Yes.

With files from the Canadian Press