MMP or FTPT or "chin up, plebes"?
Monday, October 1, 20071 Comment
WHAT'S THE CURRENT SYSTEM, AND HOW WOULD IT CHANGE?
Our federal and provincial parliaments both work under a system of representative democracy. At a basic level, that means we hold elections and vote in candidates who will speak for us and represent our interests in parliament.
In order for representative democracy to work--to fulfill democratic principles--it's got to be representative. Currently, we use a First-Past-the-Post (FTPT) system both provincially and federally. Ontario has 107 ridings, and we elect 107 MPPs. Voters cast one vote each, aiming to elect a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in their riding. Whoever receives the largest number of votes in a riding becomes the MPP for that riding. The political party with the majority of winning MPPs (usually) forms the government.
How effective is the FTPT system in terms of fulfilling the principles of representative democracy?
A 2004 report put together by Fair Vote Canada asserts that 51% of Ontarians cast wasted votes between 1980 and 2003 ("Dubious Democracy" 3). Fair Vote Canada analyzed the past 7 Ontario elections and discovered that:
- 68.1% of citizens who voted NDP cast wasted votes
- 49.2% of citizens who voted Liberal cast wasted votes
- 47.8% of citizens who voted Conservative cast wasted votes
- 100.0% of citizens who voted Green cast wasted votes
("Dubious Democracy" 5).
With the Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP), Ontario would have 129 seats in the legislature instead of 107. We would drop down to 90 ridings, each with an MMP, and then 39 "List Members" would fulfill the remaining seats. Every voter would get 2 votes. The first would be used to elect an MPP in their riding--still using the FTPT system. The voter would then get to vote for a political party. The "List Members" would be chosen according to the percentage of the popular vote that a given party receives. (A party would need to receive at least 3% of the popular vote in order to get a seat). With MMP, every party's percentage of seats in the legislature would be roughly equal to the percentage of the popular vote they received.
WEIGHING IN: WHAT DO GUELPH'S CANDIDATES THINK ABOUT MMP?
"My perspective personally is that while MMP would not be a perfect system, it would add proportionality to the legislature," Ben Polley asserted in an interview on September 28th. "We would see a better variety of voices in parliament, and we would see the need for parties to work together to form coalitions."
Polley pointed out that other countries utilizing forms of proportional representation witness "incremental changes to policy instead of the lurching back and forth that we've seen in Ontario over the past several years." Instead of moving forward, Polley said, each successful governing party has simply undone the work of the party before them.
I asked Polley about how he felt a change in the electoral system would affect the Green Party. He responded that there were two possible ridings where the Greens could be voted in--Guelph and Owen Sound. "The likelihood based on current polls," he said, "is that the Green candidates will receive about 10 or 12 % of the popular vote, and will wind up not winning any seats. That's a large number of Ontarians whose voice won't be heard in the legislature."
Liz Sandals, the incumbent Liberal MPP for Guelph, is "not taking a position in favour of MMP or not." Instead, she is choosing to stay neutral. Liz added that MMP "would clearly give voters an opportunity to express themselves by voting for both a candidate and a party." She cautioned, however, that MMP would "have the effect of reducing the number of rural and northern ridings." Ridings in Ontario are formed by strict representation by population. If MMP is instituted, ridings would drop from 107 to 90, with rural and northern ridings (where the population is more sparse) being affected the most.
Liberal candidate Liz Sandals also avoided taking a position on the type of governmental outcome that would result from instituting MMP: "whether it would produce stable coalition governments or unstable minority governments is the great unknown," she stated.
The NDP is not directly endorsing MMP, as they believe that voters need to make their own decisions. However, Karan Mann Bowers asserted that the NDP is in support of a new electoral system. "Mixed Member Proportional Representation is more democratic and fair," she said, adding that "one of the struggles we see is low voter turnout, resulting from the fact that citizens don't wish to waste their votes."
Karan went on to point out that the current system results in an an artificial majority government, with some parties receiving a percentage of votes that don't get acknowledged.
When asked about the the loss of ridings that would result if MMP became our electoral system, Mann Bowers noted that adding seats to Queen's Park is always an option.
"The PC Party has no official position on proportional representation," Bob Senechal stated in an email communication. "However, I personally question this approach because having 39 MMPs who are not elected and have no specific constituents (or constituency offices) and will ONLY be responsive to a party leader is unwise."
While Senechal asserted that he understood the "attractiveness" of proportional representation, he said he believed that "we should continue with the political system that has served Canada and Ontario well for some 140 years."
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get Drew's opinion directly. However, the Communist Party website asserts that the institution of MMP will be the "first vital step to ensure that every vote counts in future elections, and that the composition of future Legislatures more closely reflects the popular vote, instead of the deep pockets of Big Business." Check out votecommunist.ca/mmp for more information.
John Gots stated first and foremost that the referendum law only permits registered Referendum Organizers to explicitly take part and advocate for or against MMP. He added, "all we are permitted to do is give fair statement. So I can say only that our policy supports electoral change and has done so for many, many years."
He directed me to their MPP information page for more information. While I was browsing the site, I discovered that the FCP is the only party that seems to have a superhero running in the election (if you discount Howard Hampton/Peter Pan, that is).
CONCLUSION: to MMP or FTPT?
University of Guelph Political Science professor Carol Dauda addressed several issues concerning the MMP referendum. "One of the great fears," she said, "is that all these small, narrowly focussed parties would develop and win seats that would be pivotal in coalition-building for the larger parties." Dauda asserted that people are concerned that this would force governments into accepting certain measures in order to keep governments together. However, she countered that most people interested in MMP support something like the Green Party--a party whose beliefs receive widespread popular support, even though they currently lack political representation within the legislature.
Dauda also touched on the concern that "List Members" wouldn't be directly elected by voters. "I would argue that those people who become part of legislature on the party vote would have the same principles as those elected in constituencies."
"I would say that it's a worthwhile experiment," Dauda asserted, adding that we'd be likely to see less strategic voting and perhaps a greater voter turnout.
In order for our electoral system to change to MMP, at least 50% of voters in a majority of the electoral districts, and 60% of voters overall must choose MMP on their referendum ballots. The referendum gods have spoken: it is necessary to receive a majority of the popular vote in order to make such an important choice about our political future here in Ontario.
On the other hand, the Liberals won a majority government in 2003, capturing 69.9% of the seats in the Legislature with 46.5% of the popular vote ("Dubious Democracy" 7). In 1995, a major marker in Ontario political history and the beginning of what some have called the "war on the poor," the Conservative Harris government took 63.1% of parliamentary seats with 45.1% of the popular vote (ibid).
Hmm. Do the numbers add up?
Dauda again asserted that the danger always exists when introducing a new electoral system that it will be seen as necessarily less legitimate than the previous system. "A change to MMP really warrants having considerable backing from the population," she said. "We'd be changing something quite basic, and for people to accept that change, there needs to be a qualified majority."
Will you be part of that qualified majority? Decide for yourself on October 10th.
Check out Fair Vote Canada's "Dubious Democracy: Report on Ontario Elections from 1980-2003." to make your own decisions about the horribly biased, horribly factual report quoted throughout this article.