Fear-mongering and opposition to democratic reform nothing new: voters urged to learn issues themselves

    TORONTO, Oct. 7 /CNW/ - As Ontario's historic electoral reform referendum
approaches, opposition voices are making dire predictions about the "dangers"
of moving forward with democratic reform. Voters are urged to consider their
opportunity to adopt a new voting system that provides more choice, fairer
results and stronger representation.
    Electoral systems expert Dr. Dennis Pilon, author of The Politics of
Voting: Reforming Canada's Voting System, sees these warning as "the same
arguments were proffered in the nineteenth century against democracy itself,
and against every attempt to extent the franchise. The basic message remains
the same - that voters can't be trusted and democracy inevitably leads to
chaos. They were wrong then and wrong now."
    The following examples of opposition to prior democratic reforms, now
considered core elements of Canadian democracy, appear in the book, The
History of the Vote in Canada, published by Elections Canada.

    1874 - Introduction of the secret ballot in federal elections.

    John Cameron, M.P., declared his opposition in the House because
"Elections cannot be carried without money...(with secret ballots) an elector
may take your money and vote as he likes without detection."

    1920 - Women gain the right to vote.

    Over the years, opponents raised many objections to extending the
franchise, e.g., polling places were too dangerous for women and it was
against God's will for women to vote. In 1916, a bill introduced in the
Ontario legislature to give women the vote "provoked laughter and derision."

    1948 - Removal of restrictions blocking many Asian-Canadians from voting.

    In a 1920 debate on these voting restrictions, Solicitor General
Hugh Guthrie explained that "citizenship in no country carries with it the
right to vote. The right to vote is a conferred right...no Oriental, whether
he be Hindu, Japanese or Chinese, acquires the right to vote simply by the
fact of citizenship..."

    1955 - The last vestige of religious discrimination was removed.

    From 1934 to 1955, conscientious objectors were denied the vote, a
restriction primarily aimed at Doukhobors. In the 1934 debate on the
legislation, A. W. McNeill, M.P., shared the view that only the "sickly
sentimental" MPs would support the right of Doukhobors to vote.

    1960 - Aboriginal peoples finally gain the right to vote without giving
up treaty rights.

    Attitudes had finally evolved since the days of Isaac Burpee, M.P., who
colleagues in the 1880s that aboriginals knew no more of politics "than a
child of two years old."

    Once again, defenders of the status quo are warning of the dangers of
democratic advancement. Vote for MMP, a citizens' campaign supporting the
recommendation, urges that all voters use the remaining days to learn about
the MMP recommendation, by visiting the Citizens' Assembly web site:
http://www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca. Additional information on the case for
MMP is also available at www.VoteforMMP.ca.


    On October 10, voters in Canada's largest province go to the polls to
consider the mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system, recommended by the
Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, an independent body of
randomly-chosen voters who spent eight months studying electoral systems.

For further information:

For further information: Media contacts: Steve Withers: (519) 282-1078,
steve.withers@VoteForMMP.ca; Larry Gordon: (647) 519-7585,
larry.gordon@fairvote.ca, www.VoteForMMP.ca

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