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-- Leia Organa

Electoral reform in Ontario

…has me really confused. Oh, I understand how the proposed mixed member proportional system works; what I am confused about is how this is an improvement. OK, I know, I should read the report; and perhaps I’ll find the time to do just that before the referendum. However, I’m pretty sure there is a downside to the proposed MMP, and I’m really not sure what it is.

It also seems to me that MMP still retains the flaws of first-past-the-post, and then essentially give you the right to vote for a party. Given that I usually vote by candiate, not by party, I’m not entirely comfortable with this. I’d rather have a system where I get to rank the candidates; Candicate C is my first choice, candidate A is my second choice, and candidate B is my over-my-cold-dead-body choice. I remember this was one of the ideas that was bandied about when this debate started, but it appears to have fallen by the wayside. I can see that MMP might be a way to get more representation for smaller parties such as the Greens, but I think there are other ways to accomplish this.

Anyway, before I start distracting myself too much from my thesis by reading reports and platforms, does anyone else have any opinions on this?

9 Responses to “Electoral reform in Ontario”

  1. Yeah, I do. I certainly recognize that first-past-the-post has its flaws, but I won’t be supporting the MMP alternative. There are several little reasons, but my fundamental objection is that it grants legislative powers to a group of individuals that are accountable only to their political party, and not to any constituency of citizens. I believe MMP will only encourage further partisan maneuvering, and not really achieve much in the way of proportional representation of the electorate (other than numerically).

    Our elected representatives are just that — representatives, first and foremost. MMP essentially grants the party itself power, rather than granting power to individuals aligning themselves with one of the parties. To me, that’s much more than a semantic difference; it goes right to the heart of why we consider our system to be (more or less) democratic.

    I’m not saying that the existing system achieves proportional representation either, but at least every legislator has been directly voted into their seat. Political parties are not so principled that I’m willing to assume that supporting a party platform irrespective of the individual interpreting it will work.

  2. After discussing this some with BirdLady and Homewrecker last night, and then again over breakkie this morning, I think I can say that I have a better understanding of the rationale behind the list members. I’m still not entirely comfortable with having legislators that have no direct constituency, but I think I can live with that concept for the delivered benefit of being able to separate my vote between supporting a local candidate and supporting a party’s platform.

    However, the last piece of my objection that I still don’t think I have an answer to is how the list members will be put onto the list in the first place. I can live with MPPs that aren’t directly elected into office, if their inclusion on the list in the first place has some kind of oversight. What I can’t live with is someone getting onto the list (and subsequently given the power to influence laws) just because someone decides to appoint them.

    I did a little digging online and apparently many people are concerned about this as well, and there is no clear answer for it yet. The Star has a decent “pros and cons” article here: http://www.thestar.com/OntarioElection/article/252176

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m pleased with first-past-the-post…I just don’t want to put something else in place that might just be worse, in my zeal to get rid of something I don’t like. Canadians already do far too much of that when it comes to the representatives we actually elect into power… :-)

  3. From the informational pamphlet I received in the mail about the referendum:

    “Before an election, parties would nominate candidates as “List Members” and describe how they were chosen.”

    To me this means the method for listing members becomes an election issue, if you don’t like the list, or how the list was chosen, don’t vote for that party. The “oversight” for how the list members get put on the list then comes from the voters.

    Going back to HomeWrecker’s original question, the biggest drawback of any “more-proportional” system of representation (as compared to first-past-the-post) that comes up regularly is the resulting tendency towards more minority governments (and/or majority governments that are less of a majority when they do happen).

    Some may fear that this will slow down government more, but I suspect the difference will be fairly negligible. I mean, Parliament is already slow… slowing down just a little bit more would hardly be noticeable ;) I also think parliament should be relatively slow where there is little consensus.

    With minority governments becoming the expectation, this has the strong possibility of changing how parties interact. Less incentive to bull your way through: not much chance of getting a majority government next time. (This also gets interesting in Ontario, with 4 year election cycles in place — which I think might combine better with the prop-rep system than prop-rep would with Premiere chosen election dates.)

    Another repercussion around this relates to KaveMan’s first post. While our system was originally set up around the idea of consituency representation, it was quickly overshadowed by the formation of institutionalized parties. Elections are now much more about electing a party (or even a Premiere/MP), rather than about how your “representative” will be able to represent you… if the person you vote for even gets elected. The tendency towards majority governments, and their desire to do whatever they want while in power leads to strict party discipline, further undermining the representational aspect of the system: fewer “free-votes”. Under more-proportional representation, with more parties represented, and fewer majority governments, some believe there is likely to lead to more freedom for your representative to vote as they wish, rather than along party lines. This is basically a (perhaps mild) shift of power away from the cabinet/executive and back to the members/legislature.

    Another thing on my mind about all of this: I hope people will vote for this if they support prop-rep, even if they don’t think MMP is the best system to do it. (The BC referendum was around a different system of prop-rep, and had I been voting there, I actually would have hesitated to vote for it based on the system.) In the Ontario case, first of all, I like the MMP system. But even more so, I see this as a test of the idea of prop-rep in Canada. If this referendum doesn’t pass, I think it would undermine the chances of prop-rep (in any form) from being considered elsewhere in Canada (including at the Federal level) any time soon.

    This is because prop-rep is probably something that needs to gain a foothold in several provinces before it can actually be considered at the Federal level (as happened with women’s and universal sufferage). I am afraid that if it does not pass here, then the movement will lose its momentum altogether. The attempt will be seen to have been made and rejected, and it will fall off the Ontario agenda, and never get on the Federal agenda.

    Lastly: I do agree with KaveMan’s idea of choosing something, rather than choosing change just to get rid of something we don’t like, but I do think prop-rep (and prop-rep via MMP) is generally the right direction to go. I’m pretty sure taht MMP is the system that the Law Commission of Canada was promoting Federally when I first read about all this a few years back. And I have a fair amount of respect for both the public consulation processes that LCC used, and that were used here in Ontario for this proposal. On top of that (and as per HomeWrecker’s original question) I haven’t heard any convincing arguments against it.

    As well, (re KaveMan’s last sentence, above) it seems to me that choosing a system of prop-rep would actually *reduce* the tendency to use regular elections to vote for change, rather than to vote for what you really want!

    p.s. If anyone does run across any further material around the negative aspects of prop-rep (or MMP in particular), do post links!

  4. The CBC’s page on the Ontario Referendum has a good pros and cons list at the bottom. (Although it is clearly advocating for MMP/prop-rep, it at least provides a more extensive list of some of the counterarguments.)


    I was not impressed with their “pro” argument on a few of the items, in which they just basically dismiss the “con” side as irrelevant.

    For example, countering the argument that “22 extra legislators will cost more”, they just say that “Extra representation is worth the cost of 22 more legislators.” I agree with this statement, but this is a value laden judgement (as it should be), but with little exploration of the values involved.

    The other example is the argument that “Canadians don’t like minority governments and feel they are weak and indecisive”, countered by “Canadians are comfortable with the balance of power in minority governments”. Each side claims to have all Canadians on their side (very similar to claims by governments who win a majority via first-past-the-post). I like to think that my previous post gives more ideas around why any one uncomfortable with minority governments under the current system *might* *still* vote for the change towards them. (To reiterate: that the resulting system’s tendency towards minority governments changes the foundation of how parties will behave/interact, changing (and I believe improving) the way things get done when there is a minority government.)

  5. To be honest, I’m not so concerned with the minority government issue — I don’t think I can really argue against MMP resulting in a legislature that more accurately reflects the democratic choice of the voters. And if that’s true, then the fact that we have minority governments more or less often is irrelevant to me — it will essentially happen exactly as often as the voters want it to happen.

    And I also don’t care about paying the salary for 22 extra MPPs…that’s a red herring that doesn’t seem to ever go away (we had the same issue come up with adding new councillors to the city government). The salary of our legislators is a drop in the bucket compared with the overall budget, so I really couldn’t care less if we add a few more, as long as there’s a good reason.

    My only real remaining objection was the issue of how the list members are chosen, but you’re right, BogMan…if that has to be published as entry criteria for the election, then I can make my choice based on which party has performed that selection with the highest level of integrity…or at least the one that’s done the best job of faking integrity… :-)

    Hmmm, I guess I’m reversing my decision, aren’t I? The power of the blog at work! :-)

  6. Yay we changed KaveMan’s mind (hee hee)!!!

    I agree that even if this system isn’t perfect,it’s still worth supporting since if it loses the referendum in Ont. it will be a huge blow to any chances of proportional representation at a federal level. Which, as I said in our discussions I think is even more important given the current bias in favour of parties with a high concentration of regional support (Bloc and Reform back in the day) versus parties who have thinly spread national support (greens, NDP). For instance, in the last election the NDP got 17% of the popular vote but only 29 seats, Bloc got 10% and 51 seats and Green got 4.5% and no seats at all…

  7. OK, so the next change that’s needed is some way to take seats away from a party… :-)

  8. It will be very interesting to watch what happens in the Quebec situation around prop-rep. They seem to be the next province on the list that will be considering it (but I don’t know anything about where they are in the process; far from a referendum I think… anyone, anyone?)

    As previously mentioned, one of the main reasons that prop-rep can’t really be considered at the Federal level (yet) is that it generally gives parties that have wide support more of an advantage, as compared to parties with more regional support.

    It will be hard to introduce this Federally when it will be seen as undermining regional parties (the Bloc, and the Conservatives, although to a lesser extent than previously).

  9. On a related note… over breakkie on Sunday (or was the Sunday before?), we were discussing Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals, and what it is exactly that they have accomplished during the past term. Kaveman asserted that it was not sufficient to simply avoid doing something bad, he really felt that the premier and their party need to do something, and he was not convinced that McGuinty had actually done much.

    A conversation with the Friendly Redhead last night provided one example of something concrete that the liberals have accomplished. There is a considerable brain drain with respect to nurses in Ontario, and in addition a whole cohort are due to retire soon. FR claims that since the Liberals came to power, she has noticed a variety of new programs aimed to recruit, retain and train nurses in Ontario. She felt very strongly that these programs were effective and improved the quality of our health care system. I’d call that a very convincing example of something concrete accomplished by this government.

    Doesn’t mean I’ll vote for them necessarily, my NDP candidate is still pretty dreamy!! ;)

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