Ottawa Citizen

Ontarians will vote on changes to election laws

Liberals promise referendum on any reforms panel proposes

- BY APRIL LINDGREN

TORONTO • A law introduced yesterday provides for a referendum next fall on proposals for major changes to Ontario’s election law.

The electoral system referendum bill sets the stage for citizens to vote on changes to the electoral system that might be proposed by a citizens’ assembly examining current practices.

Intergover­nmental Affairs Minister Marie Bountrogia­nni told the legislatur­e “ the adoption of a new electoral system would represent a foundation­al change to Ontario’s democracy,” noting that the Liberal government has undertaken the exercise in an attempt to reduce voter cynicism and increase turnout. “ A decision of this magnitude deserves to have the support of a solid majority of Ontarians across the province.”

The assembly, made up of one person from each of the province’s 103 ridings, will issue its recommenda­tions by May 15 after hearing from the public.

If a referendum is required, it will be held at the time of the next provincial election on Oct. 4, 2007. At least 60- percent support will be required for any new system to be adopted.

To ensure there is general approval for the change in different regions of the province, it must also be supported by more than 50 per cent of ballots cast in at least 64 electoral districts.

The proposed referendum legislatio­n came under fire from both opposition parties, but for somewhat different reasons.

Conservati­ve MPP Norm Sterling said public cynicism and mistrust of the political system doesn’t stem from the election process.

“ We believe the cynicism and distrust have a lot more to do with what the elected representa­tives actually do once elected and to some extent how well or how poorly the institutio­n to which they are elected actually functions, as opposed to the method of election,” Mr. Sterling said in the legislatur­e.

NDP MPP Michael Prue attacked the 60- per- cent approval provision.

“ You have set the standard beyond the traditions of this country. In fact, you have set the standard beyond the traditions of the entire world. The entire world understand­s that to change laws you need 50per- cent plus one,” he said.

“ We in this party and, I’m sure, all people know that this has been designed to fail.”

Ms. Bountrogia­nni, however, insisted that the 60- per- cent threshold is the “ responsibl­e” approach because any referendum will be binding and not easily reversed.

Ontario is just the latest province to jump on the electoral reform bandwagon.

In May 2005, a proposal to introduce a new electoral system in British Columbia — a singletran­sferrable vote system under which voters rank multiple candidates in larger multi- candidate ridings — fell three percentage points short of the 60per- cent majority needed to pass.

A second referendum on the issue will be held at the time of the next provincial election in May 2009.

Quebec is also considerin­g changes, while New Brunswick will hold a referendum on a mixed electoral system in May 2008.

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