Roaring towards the referendum
by The Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
TORONTO - In A few days we will know the exact date of Italy’s Referendum on the Constitution. Then, the real fireworks on both sides of the issue will erupt. They should. Tinkering with, or changing, the principles and mechanisms by which a people govern themselves is, to coin a phrase, “A Big Bloody Deal”.
Canada went through something similar in 1980 and again - more dangerously - in 1995. Canadians of Italian background took their responsibilities seriously. But more on that in a moment.
In the shadow boxing that is preceding the announcement, some are getting their “knickers in a knot”, to coin another English phrase, because the American Ambassador to Italy has said publicly that a No vote will be tantamount to disaster for Italy, for Europe and presumably for anything that follows.
Maybe. The Americans always have an interest in what happens in Italy. They are not shy about expressing their views there, or anywhere for that matter. In this case, Jim Messina, an American consultant whose company has been commissioned to guide the Referendum campaign, would have asked his former boss, US President Barack Obama to “lend a helping hand”.
President Obama obliged: Premier Renzi has been invited to a State Dinner at the White House (not the same as a State Visit, but significant from a PR, “Face”, point of view); and Ambassador Phillips has made his comments. Since officially there is not yet a Referendum in process, there is “no breech in diplomatic protocol”.
Maybe this American “non-intervention” will work in Italy, a land where anything American is praised a priori to the heights of Olympus and accorded the obsequious veneration usually reserved for divinities.
To be kind, we tend to forget that there are seven (7) American military bases (1 Air Force, 2 Army, 4 Navy) operational in Italy. Time will soon tell whether the US musings on the outcome will have an impact. It is Italians who will decide, as Quebeckers did in 1995.
Then, a younger, dashing President Clinton and his wife Hillary took Ottawa by storm in the winter lead-up to the Referendum. The President addressed the Canadian Parliament and in suave but firm terms expressed America’s preference for a “stay in Canada” vote, adding “elegantly” that of course only Canadians (Quebec residents) would decide.
He was right. A remarkable and historic 93.52% of the 5,087,009 registered voters actually turned out to vote – no smartphones, Twitter or Facebook accounts got in the way. The result was razor thin: the “Stay in Canada” side won by a margin of 50,58% to 49.42%, a mere 55,000 votes.
The result was made possible by the Anglophone and Allophone (non English, Non French - Ethnic) voters - 95% of them turned out in support of Canada.
A similar turnout by Italian passport holders (some 76,000 in the GTHA alone) currently resident in Canada could have a similar impact on the outcome of the Referendum in Italy.
The end result will depend on which side is more successful in getting out its supporters. So far, in Canada, two of the three MPs and Senators elected to the Italian Parliament, MP Fucsia Fitzgerald and Sen. Turano, have preferred to stay silent, abandoning the field to MP La Marca.
They may engage later, when their American ambassador passes from memory and the heavy lifting begins.
If the Canadian experience, tracked by the polling table on this page, is any guide, no one in Italy should take the outcome of the Referendum as a forgone conclusion. To coin yet another phrase, American this time, “in Opera it ain’t over until the fat lady sings”.
(Monday 19 September 2016)