An outsider's view on MMP

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I'm not sure how long people have been checking in on me here on thecannon.ca, so I'll state it simply again: I am an American. As such, I am sort of in the eye of the storm in regards to the upcoming election. However, I do want to put in my two cents about the proposed change to a Mixed Member Proportional System.

It took me a little time to understand Canada and Ontario's parliamentary systems because I am an ignorant American. That's not meant to be sarcastic, in the States you aren't really taught how any other representative system works, only the American system and even that is a poor education. I was a bit alarmed when I showed up and learned that in order to choose the person that runs the province and the country, you don't actually vote for that person. Instead, you vote for a local representative and if enough representatives from the party you choose get elected then the the person you want to be in charge gets the position... Maybe it's just me, but this system seems indirect and inefficient.

To me, the system currently used restricts people's choice. I'll give you a Guelph example:

Let's say that you are a Guelph voter and you really want Dalton McGuinty to continue to be the Premier of Ontario. However, you have had poor experiences with Liz Sandals and do not want to vote for her. In order to get the outcome you want, Dalton McGuinty as Premier, you have to do something that you don't want to do, vote for Liz Sandals.

Now this is just an example that you can use with any of the parties and candidates. The point is important though. When I attended the on campus debate, I noted something. Numerous times when the question rolled to Bob Senechal, he prefaced his statements by saying "John Tory believes..." I understand the reasoning for his responses. The PC campaign is focusing on John Tory as a leader and focusing opposition on to Dalton McGuinty. This campaign strategy highlights the way that the system works. The goal is to control the position of Premier and to do so seats must be elected.

However, there seems to be a problem to me on par with the problems that some people are listing in regards to MMP. Some people say that having MPPs that are assigned a seat from a party list is dangerous and anti-democratic. I charge that this is already taking place. Each party needs to field candidates in as many ridings as they can so as to win a majority and control Parliament. However, these politicians that fill out the ridings are not necessarily the best candidates and are sometimes just fillers for the party. The fact that they are filling in on a riding rather than on a list isn't that much different.

Another criticism is that MMP "list members" will be more dedicated to the party line. However, at the debates each candidate, except Drew Garvie as best I could tell, had a large binder with every topic that could be asked about. After each question the candidates turned to the appropriate section to check notes and check the party's position. Again, sticking to the party line often already takes place.

To me, the MMP system offers more choice. There are definite limitations to the system but you are able to vote for the person that you believe will best represent your riding and you are able to vote for the party of the person you want to run the Provence. This is a way to pick someone that will do the best work locally and someone will set the tone provincially and work on a larger scale.

However, I'm an outsider and I can't vote. So you all need to decide. I strongly advise everyone to vote on the referendum and to make sure that you are educated on the ramifications of switching to MMP. Here are some places to look for information:

Ontario MMP Blogspot Pros and Cons

Ontario Election Reform list of information

Your Big Decision

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  1. Posted by: Jonathon on Sep 28, 2007 @ 9:28am

    I don't like the MMP system for a few reasons;

    1) It will have little difference long term then the current system, with perhaps a few parties (like green) getting a seat or 2. Most people will vote for their local conservative and the conservative party (for example). I'm willing to bet that a good 80% of people don't really care who their local member is, they vote for the leader.

    2)39 of the seats won't be democratically elected. These people won't have constituents to worry about, they won't be answerable to any voters. And what happens if they decide to switch parties?

    3) How much will a spot on the list for the "List Members" run me? I don't like the idea of people being able to buy their way into power.

  2. Posted by: Jonathon on Sep 28, 2007 @ 9:42am

    Rereading the helpful leaflet I got with my voter card I notice it says:

    "If a political party is entitled to more seats then it won locally, "List Members" are elected to make up the difference."

    What happens if they are entitled to less then they got popular vote wise? No where can I find the answer to this question.

  3. Posted by: Greg on Sep 29, 2007 @ 12:45am

    That's an excellent question, Jonathon.

    Seats won't be removed from a party if they happen to receive more riding seats than the popular vote (List members) says they should receive.

    You bring up some valid points, though.

  4. Posted by: Jonathon on Sep 30, 2007 @ 2:54pm


    Where did you find this information? I've looked but been unable to find it anywhere from the goverment supplied reasourses.

    I tried calling the 800 number too, the woman who answered "didn't know"

    Also if that is the case then it means that some parties will have more seats then they are entitled to and conversly some parties will have less.

  5. Posted by: Bill Hulet on Sep 30, 2007 @ 11:26pm

    Wow! There are so many misconceptions on this thread, I don't know where to start.

    With regard to Bob, the parliamentry system has been damaged because the Leader of the party used to be elected by the elected MPPs of the party. (This still happens in England.) This meant that the sitting members had real power over the leader, which meant he had to listen to what they want. But when the leader of the party started getting elected by the membership of the party it pretty much destroyed all the power of ordinary MPs. A more proportional system would give some power back to the MPPs because it wouldn't necessarily be a political death sentence to oppose the leader because there would be more parties and there would be more competition for MPPs that were looking to change parties.

  6. Posted by: Bill Hulet on Sep 30, 2007 @ 11:32pm

    With regard to Jonathan, your three points are all wrong.

    There would be significant differences. First of all, the Greens and NDP would get a significant number of seats because people would no longer in the position where they have to "hold their nose" and vote for a party they don't like because they know the one that they do like doesn't have a hope of winning a seat. Just as importantly, even the major parties will start having MPPs elected in areas where votes are wasted (i.e. Tories in metro Toronto and Liberals in rural areas.)

    The list members will be democratically elected. First of all, all over the world parties develop democratic nomination procedures and three of the main parties have already declared that if the referendum passes they will develop democratic nomination processes. Once they are nominated, then they only get a seat if people vote for their party.

    If you don't like people buying their way into power, you might want to think about reforming the election finances laws.

  7. Posted by: Bill Hulet on Sep 30, 2007 @ 11:38pm

    With regard to the number of seats if a party gets more seats than they are entitled to, the Citizen's Assembly decided to follow a mathematical model called the "Hare Formula". This is not the most proportional way to assign seats, but it is a relatively straightforward way of doing so, and most people warned them to come up with a simple system because people were confused by the BC situation where the Assembly opted for the best system and people said it was "too complex". MMP is not a perfectly proportional system, but it is a lot more proportional than the present system---where no majority government has been formed with a majority of the popular vote since the 1930's. Rejecting MMP because it isn't perfect would be a clear case of making "the perfect the enemy of the good".

    There are elements of MMP that are complex, but that doesn't mean it is hard to use. It is a bit like riding a bicycle---everyone does it, but it would be very difficult to explain how to do it in an essay.

  8. Posted by: Jonathon on Oct 1, 2007 @ 9:16am

    "The list members will be democratically elected. First of all, all over the world parties develop democratic nomination procedures and three of the main parties have already declared that if the referendum passes they will develop democratic nomination processes. Once they are nominated, then they only get a seat if people vote for their party."

    So... the party internally appoints the people on the list then chooses people off the list. This is democratic how? No voters voted for them in the election. The fact that the leader gets to pick the people off the list opens up a huge possibility for corruption that the current system just does not have.

    Also now that I think about it. Who decides which parties get on the ballot? What are the criteria? Can't find this information either. If I elect to run as a party I should get to have my list of people and get my party on ballots province wide!

  9. Posted by: Cynthia Bragg on Oct 1, 2007 @ 12:23pm

    Under the current first-past-the-post system which was devised when there were only two parties to choose from, a majority governement has not been elected with majority voter support in Ontario since 1937. The 103 randomly slected members of the Citizen's Assembly did 8 months of research and public consultation, according to their govt. mandatet,to come up with a fairer electoral system and MMP reflects Ontarions' wish to retain some features of strong local representation and newer elements which more fairly reflect voter choice. It will bring new ideas into governement and eliminate the need, as Bill says, to vote strategically to keep out a party whose policies and ideology you oppose meanwhile sacrificing a chance to bring in a party whose ideas you strongly espouse. I think it will be a much more democratic system.

  10. Posted by: Bill Hulet on Oct 1, 2007 @ 1:03pm

    Jonathan, you are being obtuse. The membership of the party will democratically nominate the people who are on the list. This is exactly what happens under our current system (except when the party leader parachutes a "star" into a riding.) Once people are on the list, then whether or not they get into Queen's Park is a result of how many ordinary citizens vote for their party. This is totally democratic---no one is getting "appointed".

    As for who gets on the ballot, there are clear rules governing how a political party gets onto a ballot. No one is talking about changing these rules. (As I recall, it involves getting so many thousand people to sign a petition and having your name approved by Elections Ontario, and then running candidates, but it might have changed since then.)

  11. Posted by: Nicole on Oct 2, 2007 @ 2:32pm

    Please go to www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca to see the complete detailed report (amd/or some FAQs) put out by the actual people involved in recommending this MMP system. This is the absolute best source of information and I can't figure out why so many people I've come across don't seem to know about it.

    I just want to reiterate that the list candidates will be revealed to the public well before the election so that you know who you are voting for when you cast your party vote. This is a situation that is the *same* as voting for who the party has chosen to run in local ridings. (Plus you get to see *how* they chose these people, which is more than we get now with our local representatives).

    The improvement comes primarily from the fact that no party has to "win" local races anymore to get representation in the legislature. If any party recieves 3% of the popular vote, it will get a seat in the legislature. So if you are in a riding that has in the past been dominated by Liberal and Conservative candidates, you would no longer be "wasting" your vote by voting for a different party, because every vote will count towards a party's overall percentage of votes.

  12. Posted by: George on Oct 14, 2007 @ 12:23pm

    The real problem with MMP is that it does not solve the main problem, which is that most Members of Parliament (both provincial and federal)are elected by a minority of the voters in a given constituency. First-past-the-post only works when there are just two candidates per constituency, and MMP wouldn't cure that problem.

    In BC, the constituent assembly chose the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system. This system is so "complicated" that I could explain it to a classroom of seven-year-olds in half an hour and have them doing mock elections - including the "hard" part, counting the ballots, within an hour.

    Under STV you simply rank the candidates in order of preference - a 1 for your first preference, 2 for the second and so on. If you really only like one candidate/party just put down a 1 and leave the rest blank.

    (to be continued)

  13. Posted by: George on Oct 14, 2007 @ 12:24pm

    The interesting part is in the counting. All the 1s (ones) for each candidate are counted. The candidate with the least first preferences drops out. His/her ballots are then re-distributed to the other candidates based on the second choices. Each pile of ballots is then re-tallied and the person with the lowest number is again eliminated - and their ballots are again redistributed among the remaining candidates.

    Finally, there are only two candidates left, and to win, one of them MUST have more than 50% of the vote.

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