Referendum Resource Officers in the 2007 Ontario Referendum on Electoral Reform

Holly Ann Garnett


On October 10th, 2007, Ontarians overwhelmingly rejected a proposed change to their electoral system in a province-wide referendum on a new mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. Many commentators and academics blamed this failure of MMP on the quality of Election Ontario’s public education campaign, which was comprised of advertisements, an information hotline, a website, and public outreach activities. Elections Ontario’s public outreach element contained a unique program of grassroots education through local liaison officers. Elections Ontario chose to hire one Referendum Resource Officer (RRO) for each electoral district, who was tasked with providing referendum information through presentations and public meetings in their communities.

This paper examines the feedback of one-third of these RROs collected through telephone and email interviews. Many of these RROs felt that the referendum education program fell short of its aim to provide local education on the referendum question and made suggestions as to the reasons behind the shortcomings of Elections Ontario’s referendum education campaign. They commented that their work was not supported by appropriate timelines, budgets and materials. In addition, many were displeased with the restrictions placed on RROs in efforts of keep the Elections Ontario campaign neutral. This case study supports previous referendum education and voting research that demonstrates that referendum education campaigns should not only provide timely and accessible information, but also encourage debate in order to provide citizens with the competence needed to make their “big decision.”


Electoral Reform, Referendum, Ontario

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125