VANCOUVER(NEWS 1130) – Thursday night’s heated leader’s debate on voting systems in this province did little to educate voters for the upcoming referendum on electoral reform, that’s according to one expert who says it’s now up to voters to do their own research.
UBC political science professor Max Cameron, voters need to rely on themselves if they’re really trying to make up your mind based on the merits of the system.
“Reading the voters’ guide and going online if you’d like and finding there are lots of good sources, a variety of media outlets and government outlets have provided information that you can find relatively easy on the web,” he says.
There really is no alternative to doing the homework, he adds.
As for those who don’t want to figure it out for themselves, the decision, Cameron says, is usually made based on who you trust the most.
“I think it just reinforces the degree to which the final decisions will come down to, whether you support or oppose the current government,” he adds.
Cameron describes the debate itself as “rather disappointing”, and adds he would have liked to have seen more substance.
“I don’t think anybody would have learned a lot,” Cameron tells NEWS 1130. “My sense is that a lot of voters are pretty confused, still, about their different options and would like clarity.”
Through the work he has done in talking to British Columbians, Cameron says the sense has been that people have the desire to understand the systems in order to make a good choice. However, if they tuned into the debate hoping to walk away better informed, he suspects people were disappointed.
He even says it’s possible some undecided voters are even more confused now than they were before the debate.
“I thought the debate was better when the two leaders were speaking to the camera and answering questions from the audience because then they weren’t interrupting each other. I thought the interruptions were infuriating, I thought the moderating was terrible. It just was not a productive conversation.”
WATCH: BC Referendum – What’s on the ballot?
British Columbians have until the end of the month to submit their ballots. Of the options are the current first-past-the-post system and three variations of proportional representation.
Cameron believes the whole subject of electoral reform has become, and was even from the beginning, a partisan referendum.
“And I think the debate just reinforced that partisanship and didn’t really get beyond that to ‘would this make our democracy a better one?'”
He says Premier John Horgan and Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson took up much of the half-hour talking over one another and not really answering the questions that were asked.
Cameron admits there is a concern over voter turnout, and says it would be important to see a high level.
“I’m not sure that the debate that we saw is going to motivate people, particularly, or inspire people.”
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He says not to be alarmed by the low number of ballots turned in so far, explaining that it’s not uncommon for voters to take their time sending in ballots.
Two recent polls — both conducted before the leaders’ debate — suggest British Columbians are split when it comes to their decision. While it remains to be seen whether the debate will have an impact on such results, Cameron believes it’s unlikely to change a lot of minds.
“What this may suggest is, in some sense, the public is kind of, really, unsure about this,” he says. “Then what would be the lesson for government? What would you do if you’ve gone through this process and at the end of it you don’t feel that there’s an overwhelming wave of support behind you? On the other hand, you also feel that people who you’ve asked to support you did support you. It puts the government in kind of a tricky situation.”
This is made trickier considering the NDP’s relationship with the Green Party, he adds, which has been vocal about its support for a form of proportional representation.
Cameron says it may have been naive for the government to think an online consultation was enough before moving forward with a referendum.
He adds it’s important for things to remain as non-partisan as possible.
“Make sure that the decisions about, let’s say we’re going into [Mixed Member Proportional]…make sure that those decisions are not made by politicians. Put those decisions, as much as possible, in the hands of people who are going to make it on the basis of what’s the best system for the voters, not what’s going to work for the parties.”