Friday, February 09, 2007

Turnout is the question -What's the answer?

Each party wants to get out their spin on the results of these three by elections. After all, if a party can't ascribe meaning to the events then the events lose their punch. That leaves aside the matter of the Humber Valley vote next week.

For government, the spin is that the electorate have endorsed the government's direction and that the Premier has received his mandate to negotiate with the enemies of the province. You know those people; the ones in the black hats who want to take our resources away leaving us nothing. The Premier, he tells us, is the only thing standing between them and more giveaways and now we've all told him to stand firm.

According to the Telegram today, Williams believes his party has majority support in spite of the low turnout saying “I’ve heard time and time again that if there’s a high voter turnout, it’s an indication of the satisfaction with a government. This is a lower voter turnout, but we’ve taken significant majorities in these three districts, and I take that as an endorsement of us and that the people are quite content to say, ‘Fine, we don’t need to get out and vote because this government is doing a good job.’ ”

I wouldn't take a 33% turnout in the district of Kilbride as a mandate for too much.

On the other hand is the message of the opposition Liberals. Gerry Reid said in the Telegram that it was possible some people didn’t vote because they don’t like the direction the premier is taking the province.

Overall their their message is a more difficult one: there is discontent with government because the Liberal vote went up and so many people stayed away because they were afraid to vote against the government.

Mind you that in most cases the Liberal vote went up from a ridiculously low base. And anyway, losing by 5-1 this time is not much better than losing by 10-1 last time (see Ferryland) and is fairly meaningless as a trend.

And while it's arguable whether there's any popular discontent with the governing PCs, there is little doubt that there is no popular appetite for the opposition Liberals.

Even though every side is working their hardest to put a brave face on a alarmingly low turnout, it does not bode well for the general election.

And by the way, I know Sean Skinner has been getting dumped upon for his suggestion of a fine for non-voters. God knows I've dumped on him myself for some stands he's taken - nothing personal - but I believe he's on to something here.

It's time for substantial and fundamental reform of our electoral system. We have a voting and first-past-the-post system evolved from another millennium inappropriate for the economic, demographic and social conditions we face today.

So far election reform has been an issue on the fringes with some minor tinkering on the edges only (incomplete and ill thought-out implementation of fixed election dates, for example) but now it's time to bring the issue to the fore.

I'll be offering suggestions shortly.

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