Little Fish in a Giant pond

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ontario Referendum Question 2007

After much thought I have finally decided to come out of the closet... and admit that I intend to vote for the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system being used to select the members of Ontario's Legislature.
MMP is a little more complicated than the traditional "first past the post" system we are used to in this province and federally, but you don't need a degree in political science to understand it either. Under the proposed system, the number of ridings in Ontario would be reduced to 90, however there would be an additional 39 "at large" Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs). At election time, there will be a ballot with two columns on it, one where you vote for the person you want to be the MPP for your riding, and another for the party of your choice. Once all the votes have been counted, the number of seats each party won will be compared against the amount of votes they received in the second column of the voting cards. If the percentage of seats that the party has is less than the percentage of the overall amount of second column votes they received, then they will be given an appropriate amount of at large seats in order to help their numbers better reflect the percentage of the overall province-wide support they received. Before the elections, each party would have submitted a list of candidates for at large seats, and seats would be distributed according to the placement of each candidate on the list (i.e. the first person on the list would get the first at large seat won by his or her party, and so on).
To simplify even further, if party A has 40% of the overall votes (in the second column) but wins 60% of the ridings, at large seats will be distributed among the other parties until party A has only 40% of the seats in the legislature. Note: All 39 at large seats will be occupied, which means that in the example given it is possible that party A may receive at large seats as well, but not as many as the other parties, and its total numbers could not give it more than 40% of the seats in the legislature.
Make no mistake, this system has its shortcomings. For starters, it would mean that 39 MPPs in the legislature would not be directly accountable to the voters of any riding. But I don't think this is such a big deal as they are vastly outnumbered by the MPPs that do have ridings and of course they are still accountable to the voters of Ontario as a whole. The fact that the names of any would be at large MPPs are on the list before an election means that there is no chance of a party trying to sneak a bad candidate past the electorate. Simply put, if nobody likes the lead candidate for party B, nobody is going to vote for that party. More realistically speaking though, if unpopular or incompetent candidates are placed high up on the list, chances are strong that the bad choice of the party will be reflected in the number of second column votes they do, or rather do not receive.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to choosing MMP is the likelihood that it will lead to more minority governments. While a minority government is not in and of itself a bad thing; it means that elections will likely happen more often, which can be quite the burden on taxpayers. Still in countries such as Germany or Israel, where they have long since adopted a pure proportional government, parties often form coalitions with one another that can last for years. I'm not yet totally convinced that this will be the case here in Ontario, but I believe it can work. At least at the provincial level the parties are not so vastly different that they cannot bury the hatchet between elections in order to govern properly. All that is required is a little maturity.
Speaking of maturity, this brings me to one of the best parts about MMP. It has the potential to help curb the trend of negative advertising that has infected Canadian politics (no party is innocent). If parties know that they are likely to win a minority government they will have a strong incentive to treat their fellow candidates and party leaders with just a little bit more respect while campaigning. It would not likely put an end to negative advertising, but it might just force candidates to point out the flaws in one of their competitors platforms without totally slandering the individual.
Finally, I think that the most important advantage to MMP is the fact that it will give a voice to some of the smaller parties, which in turn will attract more voters to the polls. I think that when people know that their vote will at least give them a voice at Queen's Park, they are more likely to take the time to wait in line and then cast their ballot. And let's face it, if we really want to curb the declining trends in voter turnout that is sweeping throughout the western world we are going to have to do more than just hold "rock the vote" campaigns. Electoral reform is needed in this province.

9 Comments:

  • Good for you Brian :)

    I intend to vote " yes" to this question as well.

    By Blogger Marc-André Mongeon, at 6:12 AM  

  • Feels like I'm re-reading the misguidances of the the pro-MMP website...

    You do need a degree to understand it...did you actually read the 308 page report Brian? took about 3 pages to explain the formula, and another 9 to give 3 examples...

    It won't encourage higher voter turnout

    It wont make Ontarians better repressented, au contraire... it cuts the number of ridings to 90 from the 107 we currently have. Never has the number of ridings been so low... last time was 1890!

    There will be 39 UNELECTED persons sitting in legislation, 39 people paid with your taxes, what staff paid with your taxes but who don't owe a single thing back...since they're appointees by their party...

    The little parties have a better chance to make it into legislature...HA! little parties like the Family Coalition..ok... we'd have a grand ol time with a minority Tory governement in temp-mergers with the anti-gay-anti-abortion Family coalition... they'd hold the balance of power with something as little as 2-3 seats...

    We may need a reform...but MMP IS NOT IT...

    By Blogger Vicky, at 6:38 PM  

  • Thanks for the comment Vicky, but what you're saying does not really make any sense.

    I must confess that I have not actually read the 308 page report, but from what you're saying it only takes 3 pages to explain the formula itself in full detail, but I think I summarized it pretty well in my one paragraph, as did the article you posted on your own blog.

    As you pointed out, there are currently 107 ridings in Ontario, but if MMP is introduced that number will be reduced to 90. But the other 39 MPPs will not be "unelected" as you are suggesting. They will be chosen by their respective parties, and then it is up to the people of Ontario to decide which party has the list of candidates that they like the best. If the voters of Ontario do not like who is on a particular party's list, you can bet they will not be as likely to vote for that party. The same is true if the Ontario electorate does not like the way that parties select their at large candidates list (i.e. elected by the party membership or appointed by its leader).

    If you still don't like the way candidates are chosen for "at large" positions, you should really take a good look at how they are chosen for ridings as well. Having participated in as many nomination campaigns as you have, I would think that you are all too familiar with this process. As such you should know that often candidates are selected "by the establishment". Anybody who wants to even run for a nomination has to be approved by a "green light committee" (at least in the Liberal party). Even if the big wigs at party headquarters don't interfere in the affairs of a riding, the candidate will be selected by the party members of that riding, and the voters will ultimateley very often (though not always) vote for the party rather than the individual. Simply put, party control will be no less present in an MMP legislature than it is with the first past the post system. The difference is that MMP comes with the advantages I described in my original posting.

    As for your statements about the little parties, I suppose it's possible that a hard right (or hard left) party could come out of nowhere and win enough of the popular vote to gain a seat or two, but it will still be the larger parties who hold the balance of control. Don't forget that in order for a party with two or three seats to hold the balance of power, one of the bigger parties would have to be only one or two seats shy of a majority, and since it is rare that any party gets that many votes, this seems unlikely.

    So in the scenario you are suggesting, the Conservative party would have to win 62 to 64 seats (which would mean they would have around just under 50% of the popular vote) out of the 129 at Queen's Park, in order for "2 or 3" seats from the Family Action Coalition to do any damage.

    And even if this managed to happen, the Charter is still in place to protect us all from rights violations.

    With this in mind, the point I was trying to make is that it will mean people do not have to join big political parties to make their voices count.

    The Green party is also a small party and while many people on the right wing of Canada and Ontarios's political spectrum would consider them to be as potentially harmful to Canadian society as you and I feel about the Family Action Coalition. But at the very least I'm sure neither one of us would be horrified to hear that the Green Party won a seat or two. Perhaps that is why so many people think Liberals are arrogant. There is nothing wrong with believing we have the right ideas to make this country great. But there is something seriously wrong with thinking that other people who think differently should not even be heard.

    By Blogger Fish, at 9:27 PM  

  • Well if it's just more of the same, then why bother going throught he expensive changes? There are so many other electoral systems, some that weren't even addressed by the assembly, I hate the idea of being stuck with this one...not when there's better...

    And yes some of the candidates are chosen by, even parachuted in by the establishment...BUT they only get into legislature if they're voted in by the people...not the case with the 39 party listers...they get in no matter what, pourcentages permitting...

    If they wanted 129 ppl in legislature, why create 22 more ridings... at least they'd be voted in properly...

    By Blogger Vicky, at 7:54 AM  

  • "If the voters of Ontario do not like who is on a particular party's list, you can bet they will not be as likely to vote for that party"

    Brian, Brian, Brian... Let's be serious here...

    Having studied politics like you have, you are probably aware that ordinary voters don't necessarily bother to know their candidate. How is a list more effective? The voters of Ontario will care even less as to what individual are part of what list.

    Furthermore, all a party needs to accomplish to have one MPP elected on their list is to have 3% of the vote. It's fair to say that the 3 major parties in Ontario gets at least 10% of the popular vote, regardless of everything else. Therefore, the top 3 of their list would be elected, no matter what.

    You are right that a political party still interfere in a riding's selection. But the voters in every riding have the power to "kick out" an unpopular individual if that the case. For example, Pierre Petigrew was not re-elected in Papineau last time. You can bet he would still be in Parliament if a list system was around.

    By Blogger Léo Bourdon, at 9:01 AM  

  • Vicky and Léo, you both make interesting cases, but Vicky's point is essentially that MMP has all of the flaws of First Past the Post, and therefore is no improvement. You are totally disregarding the fact that Ontario's legislature will be far more reflective of the popular vote, I hate to break it to you, but that is an improvement.

    Léo's point is essentially the same as Vicky's though it is somewhat strengthened by the argument that voters could not "kick out" an unpopular candidate. In the example that you give, you fail to take into account that a candidate actually has to be on the list to benefit from its protection. There will still be 90 ridings that will have the power to determine who represents them.

    And yes, if a candidate loses an election in a riding but is also high enough on his or her party's list to be awarded an at large seat, this would mean that they would be given a seat. But, who is to say that a candidate is unpopular, aside from the voters of Ontario of course. A loss in a riding is determinative of how popular a candidate and/or party is in that particular riding, not in the entire province, as Stephen Harper and Jack Layton will soon learn in Québec!
    I'll even grant you that if someone loses a riding seat but is then awarded an at large seat, it is very likely because of the popularity of their party, but like you said, it is this way with the FPTP system as well. The difference is that MMP allows the parties to be better represented according to the proportion of the popular vote that they received.

    As Vicky points out, there may be better systems out there (though I am not aware of any), but that is no reason not to take this opportunity to move forward. If we find an even better system in the future then we should take it, but for now I say we should not hesitate to adopt MMP, since at least it is superior to FPTP.

    By Blogger Fish, at 12:53 PM  

  • I completely disagree. How is MMP better than FPTP? You have less ridings, meaning in rural areas in the provinces will probably have lesser representation. If I get 90 MPP and 39 Senators (which is likely to be the case in this reform) instead of regular 107 ridings, my flat answer to MMP is no.

    By Blogger Léo Bourdon, at 1:03 PM  

  • Great post Fish.

    And good responses to Vicky and Leo's misconceptions about MMP.

    Leo, there's no evidence that MMP will decrease the representation of any particular region in Ontario and I think the arguments for that are pretty weak, as I detail in this long post talking specifically about Northern representation.

    Vicky, misguidances on the Vote for MMP website? Really?! I'm biased on this, but I think our site would be seen as most Canadian political scientists as an accurate site.

    I'm extremely confident political scientists wouldn't say the same about the No MMP site.

    By Blogger Mark Greenan, at 3:02 PM  

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