Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Liars or Uninformed?

Here's some historical trivia you may not be aware of: In the July 22, 1948 referendum on joining Canada, Newfoundlanders actually rejected the idea of joining Canada. If it hadn't been for the Newfoundland government ignoring this rejection and going ahead with joining confederation anyway, Newfoundland would probably still be an independent country today.


Now OK, some of you history buffs may want to argue this. After all, you say, more Newfoundlanders voted in favour of joining Canada than voted against. When all the votes were added up, 52% voted in favour.

Of course, what you naive history buffs don't realize is that, if 52% of the population votes in favour of something, that means they have rejected it. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.

Consider this editorial from the Toronto Star which says, "When asked, people in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island shot down the idea [of electoral reform] last year.

Of course, as everybody knows, 58% of B.C. residents voted in favour of electoral reform. Obviously, if 58% support equates to shooting something down, 52% is not nearly good enough.

But wait, you say, that could just be a one-off mistake. Sure it's an editorial from a leading newspaper and you'd think they'd fact-check it, but you never know - look at the NY Times.

To which I reply, fair comment, but it's not just the Toronto Star that says this.

Consider Maclean's columnist and author Andrew Potter writing on his blog that electoral reform was, "Rejected in BC."

Let's face it, the Newfies got snow-jobbed. Well, somebody did, anyway.

Tongue out of cheek, when I see someone write about electoral reform and claim that B.C. 'rejected' it, I can come to one two conclusions:

1) The author is uninformed, and therefore not worth listening to on this topic.
2) The author is informed, but is deliberately misleading (what I like to call 'lying to') his or her readers in order to try and make a point - and is therefore not worth listening to on this topic.

So, you see, the post title, 'Liars or Uninformed?' was a trick question. The truth is, it doesn't matter.

Update: And I forgot to mention that here in B.C. we are having a do-over on the referendum in 2009 - because even the government that set the absurdly high 60% threshold realized that 58% in favour couldn't reasonably be construed as a rejection.

Note: this post inspired by a comment from Philip on the previous post on electoral reform.


  • Maybe the answer doesn't matter, but nevertheless I suggest that it is "liars", at least in the cases you've cited.

    By Blogger Simon, at 3:59 PM  

  • I had a similar reaction to the word rejected.

    I had a worse reaction to Urquhart's claim that STV "was incomprehensible to nearly everybody". Nearly 6 out of 10 voted for something that they couldn't understand ... riighht.

    It made for a very aggravating start to the day.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 4:05 PM  

  • Me and Urqi go way back on this issue, all the way back to my ,fifth post

    I think he's a lost cause on this issue, and it wouldn't surprise me if he was involved with the editorial as well as his column.

    Like you say, it sure is aggravating.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:21 PM  

  • Many of the mainstream media columnists seem to be afraid they themselves would not be able to do the math!
    Cassandra from Woodland Acres

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:02 PM  

  • Yeah, you could be on to something, Cass. Perhaps they are worried about looking silly on national TV on election night!

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:58 PM  

  • I think I might just love you.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 5:34 AM  

  • I knew I spent all this time blogging for a reason...

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:52 AM  

  • Well, that's rhetoric 101 for you. If the vote didn't exceed the threshold, it was rejected; never mind the details when you're trying to prove a point. (I got into an argument with a usenetter who claimed STV didn't get a majority -- his reply was that 60 was a majority for the purposes of this referendum. I think my response was "Get a dictionary.") I've got no problem with saying it was narrowly defeated, which it was, just as it's fair to say that PEI rejected reform in their referendum.

    I really don't get the "incomprehensible" claim, considering that the quota and transfer formula can be derived using high school algebra, and that it's easy enough from a voter's perpective -- namely, rank 'em until you run out of names worth supporting. Figuring out the dynamics of the vote is a lot harder than under FPTP, but that's how strategists and analysts earn their paycheques.

    By Blogger Ian King, at 5:49 PM  

  • 'Narrowly defeated' I could accept, although I still think people fail to acknowledge the nature of the threshold - that while a vote over 60% resulted in automatic approval, a vote under 60% didn't result in automatic rejection (as proven by the re-do in 2009).

    But saying 'rejected' will be very misleading to anyone who doesn't know the whole story, and the people who use that term know that.

    I agree about the complexity, on both counts.

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:28 PM  

  • Sing it, Declan. I'm just wondering why there's so much chaff being spread on the subject, particularly the assumption that people who don't understand a referendum question will vote yes.(The opposite seems just as likely)

    What's the motivation here? I wouldn't think there were that many interests with a strong stake in the matter, would you? It's not like, say, the oil or forest industries would care...

    By Blogger Wrye, at 3:19 PM  

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