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.