The Vancouver Scrum

On the move!

Agh! You’re still here? My new site and weblog, is now up and running; new posts are building up over there, never to be mirrored here. Go! What are you waiting for? All the stuff worth keeping has been migrated over to the new server, and I don’t anticipate making any more posts here.

Bloggers and webmasters: Update your links! Simply replace with in your blogrolls or bookmarks to point to the new site. Old posts will remain on this server for as long as the people at Blogger/Google allow them to remain; unfortunately, I’m not going to bother to come up with any way of converting permalinks on this blog to their corresponding posts on the new site. Yes, I plead laziness. I also realize the irony of switching away from Blogger just it starts to add features that the demanding blog nerds insist upon.

Thanks for reading and linking, and see you over at!

—Ian King, December 13, 2004

Monday, December 16, 2002

More on the Olympic referendum

(but not a neverendum)

Last Thursday morning, Vancouver city council finalized the question for the city's referendum (sorry, plebiscite) on the city's participation in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid. There will be one question:

Do you support or do you oppose the City of Vancouver's participation in
hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games?

_____ YES, I support the City of Vancouver's participation.
_____ NO, I oppose the City of Vancouver's participation.

Pollster Evi Mustel of the McIntyre and Mustel public-opinion research firm, praised the question as "really balanced." That's in sharp contrast to a referendum held earlier this year by the provincial government on First Nations treaty negotiations. The eight positions that the government put forward to voters were leading and biased. Legendary pollster Angus Reid, whose polling firm became the "Reid" in Ipsos-Reid, called the provincial treaty referendum's questions "one-sided and amateurish."

The criticism of the city's referendum continues to pour in. The fact that the city's more conservative commentators are opposed to the city's plebiscite is a given; they generally support the bid without reservation. Vancouver's council is also dominated by left-leaning councillors, and the shots that they've taken from the right would have been fored over something else even if there vere no vote on the Olympics.

Reid's criticism is more nuanced. For him, it's inappropriate that a city that makes up one-eighth of the province's population, and indeed only a quarter of the Lower Mainland's, is effectively deciding the Games' fate in Vancouver. He's right on that count. While the vote is not legally binding on the bid committee -- something that Mayor Larry Campbell admitted back in September when he made the promise to hold a referendum on the Games -- a No vote would sink the bid in the eyes of the international Olympic Committee delegates. A strong Yes vote, on the other hand, would strengthen the bid.

Reid's pont that referenda and elections are always about more than the question or choices on the ballot is well taken. He used the exampe of recent Congressional elections in the U.S. Even in last month's Vancouver civic elections, the election was not so much about who was most fit to sit on council, but it had turned into a stuggle over whether a bold, activist government or the caretaker approach was more appropriate. There was also the issue of the provincial government. The incumbent council was closely linked to the provincial Liberal government, a government whose actions in its first 18 months of office had not been well received. Reid is concerned that an Olympic referendum might turn into a proxy vote on provcincial elections, as many municipal votes in B.C. are. If the provincial government gets involved in the Yes side, will there be a backlash to boost the No forces?

It's worth looking at. To give Reid credit, his criticisms of the referendum aren't partisan, but those of a man who has spent much of his life taking the public's pulse. He denounced the Native treaty referendum. As for those who are against the Vancouver Olympic referendum, but who have loyally supported the provincial government, even in its referendum attempts, I have this for you:

Here's the dilemma: One of your campaign promises was to hold a poll, be it a plebiscite or referendum, on how the government is to proceed on a particular issue if you are elected. Critics denounce your referendum plans as unworkable, too late, and that the plans for a referendum puts the progress that you've made so far at risk. As a matter of fact, the issue is one that many other governments, at different levels, have a stake in. Prior agreements between governments, legal precedent, and various laws on the books indicate that the results of the referendum will have little or no weight. No matter. The idea of a referendum is popular with your base, and especially with a particular cross-section of the base. No way in hell do you alienate them. Come election time, you win in a landslide, taking all but two seats.

For a lot less money, you can get data that is statistically valid and therefore useful in decision-making by hiring a professional public opinion research firm to conduct a phone survey. However, the phone survey is not seen by the public to be visible, and if you take the cheap and effective route, your opponents and some of your supporters will accuse you of flip-flopping on the issue and not taking the real, legitimate way to measure public opinion, which is to have every eligible voter vote. So you swallow the bill and go with a poll of every eligible voter, even though it's not conducted in the way that you would conduct an election, or a referendum that coincides with a general election.

Does any of this sound familiar? Everything that I've written in the above two paragraphs applies to the Vancouver Olympic plebiscite as well as the BC treaty referendum.
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