Referendum advocates happily ignoring the real question | Unpublished

Unpublished Opinions

jlam's picture
Ottawa, Ontario
About the author

Graduate of the Software Engineering program of the University of Ottawa, Julien is an enthusiastic volunteer and the president of Carleton Toastmasters club (2015-2016)

He obtained his Toastmasters competent communicator designation in 2014 after completing 10 speeches.

He is also president of the Ottawa-Gatineau chapter of Fair Vote Canada, an organization that does lobbying and public education on the benefits of changing our voting system so that more votes count.

He likes to cyclo-commute as much as possible, year round.

Like it

Referendum advocates happily ignoring the real question

January 2, 2016

I was told this letter "will be considered for upcoming publications" by the National Post on December 29th 2015.  I have not discounted the possibility yet that it could be published.

Re: The Liberal government does not have the right to unilaterally change our voting system (

The referendum argument is a straw man's argument which conveniently ignores the real discussion that must happen: is our voting system legitimate (did we have a referendum on FPTP)?  Does it treat voters equally?

The referendum advocates, by crying "Injustice!!", can conveniently ignore that the current voting system (FPTP) does not treat voters equally.  This inequality is systematic throughout FPTP elections. Further to the irony in this particular article is reminding its readers that the current and previous majority government only got 39% of the vote, as if it was the exception.   This phenomenon is actually fairly consistent in FPTP.   Of the 16 majority governments since WW2, only 4 had support of a majority of voters.  This is precisely what proportional representation advocates are trying to fix.    To draw attention to it is to draw attention to one of the main arguments of voting reform.

If we assume that referendum advocates would for one bit have an impetus to fix an injustice, they would not be calling for one.  Referendums are a lousy way to bring about change.  Commenting on the voting reform referendum in the UK on preferential voting, Spectator's Alex Massie wrote: "The only thing that has been proved by this referendum on changing the electoral system used for Westminster elections is that referendums are a hopeless way of deciding these matters. Neither the politicians nor the press have distinguished themselves during an affair that's been distinguished by the mendacity of almost all the protagonists, the hysteria of partisans on both sides and the sheer quantity of lumpen stupidity on display. It has not been an edifying or comforting process."

In effect, from the 4th estate, we have seen more opinion on the topic of a referendum than information on electoral reform.  I've had some very smart people that got the Ontario 2007 Mixed Member Proportional (On-MMP) proposition wrong. A CEO of a brick and motar company thought On-MMP was pure list only PR when it was, as the name implies, a mixed system that has local one seat ridings and a list system. A friend of mine who works in the information technology industry and who I met after the On-MMP referendum regretted voting against it after I explained On-MMP. The public can't be trusted not because they are dumb, but because we've seen more opinion pieces than balanced  information pieces.  Not only by the country's 5th estate but by its 4th estate. The only information piece I can recall thus far this year was something published by the Globe and Mail after the election results and CBC's Eric Grenier's forecast under different voting systems. We have seen more opinion on this than information.  If the 4th estate doesn't want do its mandate, then no, we can't trust the public to make an informed decision.

We, advocates of equal and effective voting, would like to see an informed discussion on the possibilities of these different voting systems.  Fair enough if you wish to include other Winner-Take-All systems such as preferential voting.  By putting the referendum question before the discussion, it is already polarizing the discussion between for and against change.  It is already setting the stage for a dis-informed and polarized discussion.  Yes, the voting system is a very political thing and it will lead to passionate debates about what  kind of governance we want. But could we at least have an informed discussion about the voting system?  There is quite a variety of them ( and thus plenty of information to publish.

Proportional representation advocates are taxpayers and citizens too.  We wish to cast an effective and equal vote.  Because, although the right to decide belongs to the majority, the right of representation belongs to all.  Two axioms which, in implementation, proportional voting systems do implement and FPTP fails miserably at.  Referendum advocates seem to conveniently ignore those two axioms and that fact.

If the 4th estate happily ignores the real question, the advocates will all be too happy to ignore it's opinion.