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March-April 2009

Strong Feelings On: Proportional Representation

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

We’re loving Fair Vote Canada…

The brainchild of three concerned citizens, Fair Vote Canada is devoted to reforming Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Formed in 2000, it currently has members in every province from across the political spectrum, more than 2,000 dues-paying members and a contact list of 10,000 people.

FVC’s ultimate goal, explains Larry Gordon, one its founding members and current executive director, is to have Canadian politicians elected through some form of proportional representation. FVC has been integral in forming provincial citizens’ assemblies in Ontario and British Columbia — both examined models of PR that could work in Canada — with each of those assemblies resulting in provincial referendums on electoral reform. More recently they were behind pro-PR campaigns during Ontario’s, and before that B.C.’s, electoral referendums, and while the results weren’t what FVC was hoping for — PR failed to win in both cases — it did show what the tenacity of average Canadians can do.

“Ontario was demoralizing, but also galvanizing,” says Gordon, adding that the focus is now on another B.C. referendum, set for May 12. That province’s 2005 referendum saw the “yes” vote fall just three percent shy of the needed 60 percent threshold. This time Gordon thinks the momentum is there to make B.C. Canada’s first PR government.

… but are less than impressed by the media’s PR coverage

Coverage of B.C.’s May referendum has so far been quiet, but Gordon expects that to change given the front-page attention the 2005 vote received. We hope he’s right and that B.C.’s media does the topic justice — unlike what happened in Ontario, where coverage was so poor that a majority of residents polled weren’t even aware of the referendum.

“Essentially, the media in Ontario were the “no” campaign,” says Dennis Pilon, a Canadian politics professor at the University of Victoria who authored a paper that found that not only was there little coverage of electoral reform, but that a resounding majority of the existing coverage was negative.

Andrew Coyne, national editor at Maclean’s, agrees, calling the quality and quantity of that coverage, “just scandalous. The general public hadn’t heard about it because we [the media], as well as Elections Canada, didn’t tell them.” Toronto Star columnist Ian Urquhart, who openly disagrees with PR, chalks it up to the fact that PR “is just not that easy to explain in 30 seconds”.

While that might be true, the proposed federal coalition recently forced the media to dive deeper into the topic, a move we hope will lead to bigger and better coverage of PR and any future electoral referendums.

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