The Referendum Question

The shoe has dropped; the referendum question is set. (Actually, there was no waiting for the other shoe to drop; it turns out there will be two questions, which could be problematic.) How did they do?

The First Question

Well, since they took my advice in the first instance, I can’t complain too much. The first question, the real question, should be a no-brainer. Do we change or do we not? We ask the people a short, simple yes-or-no, a-or-b question, and we get a clear, fair answer. If you look at the questions in 2005 and 2009, there was a complicated, apples-against-oranges question derived specifically to benefit the status quo. As I mentioned in my post cited above on “Stacking the Deck on Electoral Reform,” that sort of question never gets a clear answer. So we can safely assume that any arguments the opposition has against #1 will be politically motivated and emotional, and logic will go out the window.

The Second Question

So we get two votes for the price of one. I have several reasons to be leery of this.

First, because I think the NDP may have miscalculated. The major argument used by the Liberals on the hoi poloi is that Proportional Representation is too complicated. By putting both votes on the same ballot, it roils the water and makes everything more complicated. I can see uncertain voters reading the first question, not being sure, then reading the second question, finding it “too complicated,” throwing up their hands and voting “No.” Exactly what FPTP proponents want.

No matter that putting both on the same ballot disenfranchises all the FPTP people. After all, once they have voted against PR in the first half, their choices for the second half will hardly be made with a clear head and a willing heart. They are much more likely to vote for any old thing: the one with the least words, the one that they heard someone say last, whatever.

The second reason I don’t like having both questions asked at the same time is that this method usually doesn’t work. How often have I sat in a meeting listening to people talking at cross purposes, because there are two questions on the table, and until the basic one is settled, there is no point in even talking about the second one. Too many “if-thens” get in the way. It’s hardly fair to ask people “If you lose, how do you want us to proceed?”

I’m a little afraid the government’s overall political agenda is driving this. They must get everything settled and the new legislation in place before they fall out with the Greens and trigger a new election. It’s a shaky alliance, and nothing is certain.

I know it takes longer to have two ballots. Democracy is a slow process.

My third question is the choice of choices, if you get what I mean. There is a distressing habit in bureaucracies, when they make a change, to try something completely new. Instead of looking around the industry or the world to find out what has really worked well in other jurisdictions, we get the egotistical, “We can do it better.” Which they usually can’t. Note the Federal Government’s new payroll program, or the shemozzle with the Compass Card in Metro Transit. In both cases, there were tried-and-true products available, but in both cases the bureaucrats decided to start afresh. In both cases, they tanked.

So this “Rural/Urban Whatever” choice is puzzling. Is it just there as a sop to the rural vote, hoping for more PR votes on Question 1? How can “I vote one way, you vote another” bring rural and urban voters together? I suppose I don’t have to vote for it, so I don’t really care.

And the point is, at this stage, I shouldn’t have to care. I should be getting my head around the original, important choice. I should be able to say, “I’ll worry about that later, when I’ve had time to study the choices.”

How Binding is Each Question?

I’m assuming that the first question is binding. I have yet to hear whether the second is just an information-gathering exercise, or whether it’s binding as well.

On the positive side, the form of the second question is a ranking by numbers, a demonstration of a Proportional Representation ballot, so maybe it’s a, “See? It’s not so hard, is it?” ploy. I hope it works. No, don’t remind me that ranked ballots aren’t one of the choices. I can’t think why not.

So the bottom line is that the government gets top marks for Question 1, and a “doubtful” for Question 2, rounding out at about 75%, or a low B grade.

They have a lot of work to do between now and the final exam.


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