If you read the Comox Valley Record, you couldn’t have missed the big money, full page ads attacking the upcoming referendum on electoral reform. In this age of sophisticated, EXPENSIVE bots mining social media to find vulnerabilities in personal perceptions you can bet these ads represent the best hope of big money interests to foster any kind of resentment that might help poison the upcoming referendum.
The first thing I noticed in this ad is the attempt to foster resentment by making it seem that it is David Eby (PERSONALLY) forcing this on people—rather than a referendum designed to give the people of BC a voice in how we decide who we will represent us in governing our province.
Can you imagine what the ad would have said if the question had been one simple yes or no to electoral reform without any say in what kind of alternative to First Past the Post voting system we might be voting for? I can see the ads rolling off the presses and into social media:
Perhaps the big money ads are simply suggesting that we hold a separate referendum for each form of electoral reform— Yikes! Can you imagine the howling over the costs ?—oh and the lamentations over not being able to simply choose whether you actually wanted any kind of electoral reform!
Big money is not genuinely concerned about the proper ballot wording to get fair and truly representative legislature. Notice that in these ads they are not arguing the value of First Past the Post, they are simply fostering/manipulating the kinds of Social Media researched petty resentments that have worked so well for the racist right in Europe, for Brexit, For Donald Trump and (most recently) for the Doug Ford campaign in Ontario.
Nothing could be clearer than first of all asking whether you want to move to a proportional representation voting system or keep the current first past the post voting. If the voter wants to change to proportional representation there are three forms of PR to choose from. Yes, it takes some reading to understand the different systems but if one votes for change in the first question it seems axiomatic that one has read enough about electoral reform to be able to indicate which proportional representation system one prefers. If one likes First Past the Post, he won’t go beyond the first chance to vote against reform.
While big money interests are afraid the referendum wording might lead to electoral reform, the real prospect is that First Past the Post has a huge edge on the vote simply because the choices do require the voter to become informed about what one is choosing. But isn’t the whole idea of an effective democracy based on the idea that voters will make a meaningful and informed choice?–an informed choice based on knowledge and reason.
Fortunately the recent Ontario election gives a real life example of the failings of First Past the Post. June 8 the people of Ontario woke up to a new extremist right wing government set on turning back the clock on efforts to stop climate change, a government whose first act was to cut millions from the budget to repair aging schools and promote resentment toward those who are sexually, financially or racially different from rich, white heterosexual males. Doug Ford’s Conservative Party is not the government that people of Ontario voted for. Only 41% of Ontarians voted for Doug Ford’s party but with the First Past the Post system, the Ontario Conservatives have been handed a majority government free to impose Trump-styled extremist views on all Ontarians. Under balloting by proportional representation the three parties representing 58% would have a chance to form a government representing the majority of Ontarians who want a just, sustaining and sustainable Ontario.
So off to the campaign to inform the public about the reasons for voting yes to proportional representation? Well that would be good–but not nearly good enough. What these Big Money ads tell us is that Big Money research clearly indicates that the balance of the decision will not be made on information and reason any more than Doug Ford, Donald Trump, Brexit and the European far right are elected on reasoned choice. We simply must rise to the challenge of Social Media messaging—not necessarily through social media.
To get an idea of what we might do to counter the weight of Big Money advertising in social median and full page ads in the press against electoral reform, let’s look at the successful effort of Canadian progressives to dislodge the Harper government—a government that gutted the federal government of responsibility for social and environmental justice, basically invited industry to write the legislation that came before parliament then ran its election campaign on trying to manipulate trivial but exploitable wedge issues–like what kind of head covering a woman can wear.
Yes, there was a lot of information about the Harper government turning the reins of government over to big business, but I think the reason people came out in hordes to advance polls and the reason so many never voted before voters (especially young people)lined up in long queues to vote for the first time in their lives is because of the huge civil society effort to stop the Harper government by creating a movement. I think all those STOP Harper signs along the roadsides and on lawns and—even– attached to the top of cars had more to do with the Conservative defeat than any rational argument about what Harper was doing to our climate change effort or health care or… .
I was once involved in taking a petition door to door to stop uranium mining in BC. I was amazed and saddened by how many people were more interested in who else signed the petition than in what the petition actually said. The petition was successful but I have pondered and ruminated on that information about people signing a petition because of who else signed it rather than what it actually said for a long time. In the end I wish it weren’t so but I have to accept, at least, aspects of what I learned: people make up their minds about an issue partly (small part usually) because of a rational evaluation of the issue and largely because of who else is for or against it.
So don’t let me stop anyone from getting out the rational message about the benefits of electoral reform, but let’s do more than that. Let’s create a Stop Harper/Save Canada type of campaign that lets our friends, neighbours, community know that we are supporting electoral reform. We don’t have the big money that can put out full page ads in community and provincial press. But we can create our own lawn/car signs, buttons, T-shirts, pamphlets and wear/display them wherever we go. Let’s get creative: “No Doug Ford in BC—I’m for reform,´”No Trump in BC—I’m for reform,” Yes to reform for better government,” “Make your vote count—Yes to reform.” Oh, I’m not that creative. I know many reading this article will have much more creative ideas– let’s share/build on them. What ideas do you have? How else can we promote electoral reform in a way that it will get heard and get voted on? Leave your thoughts on effective messaging for electoral reform in the comment box at the end of this column and we can begin a community discussion on how we can effectively counter the resentment fostering messaging of big money ads in the press and on social media. Send me your phone or email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas on promoting electoral reform by community messaging and when I have four names I will call a meeting to talk about acting on our ideas.