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…