Monthly Archives: April 2007

Trade Shows Are Bad For The Economy

This past weekend was Toronto’s first Green Living Show at the Exhibition. I was there with the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario, which remarkably were the only political parties with a booth at the show. (Our booth was surrounded by car companies. Very funny, GLS. Very funny.)

There’s some great video on YouTube of Friday’s main events, namely Al Gore correctly identifying the new Harper/Baird plan as a fraud, and David Suzuki calling John Baird out on it.

On Saturday, Elizabeth May spoke to the show in what was the most passionate and well-received address I’ve ever seen her deliver. Joel Parkes gives an excellent account:

Wow! I just got back from the Green Living Show in Toronto where I saw Al Gore and many others speak but I have to say the speech that will stay with me the longest was Elizabeth May’s speech during the politician’s presentation part of the evening. She shared the stage with Jack layton who did his typical ‘happy Jack’ routine. Elizabeth then came out and spoke with such emotion and sincerity and passion that she got two standing ovations … Her voice breaking and rising to a shout, she demonstrated true passion like I have never seen in a political speech before. It was the ‘gloves off’ Elizabeth that I had wanted to see for awhile. She even apologised for getting so emotional but she said that Harper had brought out the maternal instincts in her and that she felt like a Mama grizzly protecting her cubs. Someone from the audience said ‘Don’t apologise”, and another person stood up and said ‘What you showed us is what we need’ … When the Stephane Dion video came on screen my friend and I just went home, we had seen the best that a politician could ever deliver. We, as a political party, are being guided by a truly motivating and passionate person.

Coming away from the show, however, there’s one important observation I haven’t heard anyone make. This event was a three-day trade show, an almost purely capitalist exercise. Exhibitors paid thousands of dollars to be in attendance, and were all there because they had something to sell. And yet, John Baird had the nerve to stand on the floor of the show itself and say again that action on the environment is bad for the economy.

How he’s not deafened by the constant cognitive dissonance ringing in his head, I’ll never understand. It’s almost impressive.

What Is MMP?

This is the second of three posts concerning the the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform’s recommendation that Ontario vote yes to adopt a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system in the October 10, 2007 referendum. The first outlined the need for change; the next will refute some common arguments from the “no” side.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) is a “best of both words” voting system. It will allow us in Ontario to keep the parts of our current system that we like (for example, that our MPPs represent our specific geographic area) while adding on some extra features, the most notable of which is proportional representation. MMP is used in some other countries including Germany and New Zealand, but the specific system we’ll be voting on was designed by Ontarians for Ontario.

So, how would this system work? First, voters would cast two votes: one for their preferred local candidate, and one for the party they support over all. It’s up to voters if they want to place their candidate vote and their party vote with the same party or not. This new system removes the obligation of having to vote for a candidate you dislike to elect your party of choice, or vice versa.

Next, the candidate votes are counted the old fashioned way; whichever candidate gets the most votes in each riding wins, same as before.

That’s when MMP’s extra features kick in. After all the candidate votes are counted and all of those seats have been allocated, we get to take a step back and see if we’ve elected Members with proportionality to the party vote–that second vote you cast. Proportionality means that the number of Members elected from a party should be roughly equivalent to the percentage of the vote that party gets. That’s what people mean when they talk about proportional representation.

That’s accomplished through another group of seats–the party vote seats–that can be distributed to compensate for discrepancies in proportionality (eg, party X got 10% of the vote but no seats, while party Y got 40% of the vote but 60% of the seats). These “top-up” seats are filled with Members from lists that are supplied by the parties.

(It’s important to note that not only do parties have to make these lists public well before the election, for the sake of transparency they also have to make public the process by which the lists were generated. In other countries where MMP is used, parties often chose to “zipper” the lists so that they alternate male/female, ensuring greater gender parity. Also, only parties that receive at least 3% of the vote will qualify to elect list seats, so only parties with clear support will be elected to the legislature.)

At the end of the day we end up with a legislature that more closely reflects the diverse makeup of the province, and more accurately reflects the will of the electorate. By its nature, MMP also forces parties to be more cooperative, which leads to stable coalition governments (as opposed to the negative and combative minority governments our current system has been giving us at the federal level).

Still don’t get it or have other questions? Let me know by commenting below. I’m going to continually improve this post with your feedback as we move towards the referendum on October 10th. Also, some more technical details about MMP in Ontario are available here, and in the Citizens’ Assembly’s report, due May 15th.

The Need For Change

This is the first of what will be three posts concerning the the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform‘s recommendation that Ontario vote yes to adopt a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system in the October 10, 2007 referendum. The next two will cover what is MMP, and refute arguments from the “no” side.

Most of you probably already know this, but I thought that before we got into what MMP is and why we should adopt it, it would be useful to review what’s wrong with the system we’ve got now. (I’m taking much of the below information from Fair Vote Canada.)

Admittedly, there are flaws and trade-offs with every voting system. The system we (Canada and all the provinces) use now, however, is particularly ill-suited for the time and place that we find ourselves in. It’s known as First Past the Post (FPP) or Single Member Plurality (SMP), which basically means that whoever gets the most votes in a given riding wins that riding, even if they haven’t received the majority of votes. (In other words, they win even if most people voted for someone else.)

As this is applied on a provincial or national level, the result is that a party can win only 40% of the vote, but get 60% of the seats, and 100% of the power. What’s worse, is that if you happen to live in a riding where your preferred candidate doesn’t have a chance (for example, if you’re a Conservative in Toronto), your vote doesn’t count towards electing anyone. And in a democracy, every vote should count.

Here are some federal examples of the strange distortions that our voting system has created:

  • In 1984, the Progressive Conservatives win 50% of the votes but gain nearly 75% of the seats
  • In 2004, more than 500,000 Green voters fail to elect a single MP anywhere, while fewer than 500,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elect 22 Liberal MPs
  • The 2004 election produces a House with only 21% women MPs, with Canada now ranking 36th among nations in percentage of women MPs, well behind most Western European countries
  • In 1993, the newly formed Bloc Quebecois comes in fourth in the popular vote, but forms the Official Opposition by gaining more seats than the second place Reform Party and third place Tories
  • In 2000, 2.3 million Liberal voters in Ontario elect 100 Liberal MPs while the other 2.2 million Ontario voters elect only 3 MPs from other parties
  • In 1993, more than two million votes for Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservatives translate into two seats – or one seat for every 1,000,000 votes. Meanwhile, the voting system gives the Liberal Party one seat for every 32,000 votes

The biggest winners under our current system are regional parties like the Bloc, while the biggest losers are women and minorities (our current system is extremely good at electing white men, and less effective at electing everyone else). Ultimately, people feel like their votes don’t count, and/or that they can’t vote for the candidates or parties they truly believe in for fear of accidentally electing someone they’re truly afraid of.

The good news is, we can do better…

A Year of Blogging

In the fun and excitement of all things April, I forgot my own anniversary. One year ago this month (April 5th, to be exact), I began this blog because, well, it seemed like the thing to do. In my first post I outlined the hesitations I had, but so far it’s been a very rewarding experience. I particularly enjoy reading the comments people leave on my posts, because it helps me to understand when people agree with me, when they disagree, and why. In some cases, reader comments have actually changed my mind. Thanks for that.

Anyway, on this one-year-ish anniversary, I thought some of you might be interested in some stats (since I began tracking mid-May 2006):

Posts: 162
Comments: 176
Categories: 28
Absolute Unique Visitors: 3,535
Visits: 8,306
Page Views: 15,911

One of the other fun things I can tell is the keywords that people type into a search engine to end up at my blog. Aside from the obvious “Chris Tindal,” “Green Party Toronto,” and even “Elizabeth May,” here are some of my favourites. (I wonder if these people found what they were looking for. I’ve linked each term to the page where they would have ended up.)