To Those Who Would Vote No…

This is the third 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 two outlined the need for change and described what is MMP.

There are very powerful and convincing opponents of voting yes to MMP. In fact, as a general rule the people who are in power now do not want this renewal to succeed, because, as a general rule, people who are in power now have benefited from the system that put them there.

Knowing what we do about MMP, in some ways a “no” vote is a vote against more elected women and minorities, and against what most Ontarians and Canadians perceive as “fairness” in our voting system. Regardless, you’ll hear many arguments against. Here are some of the more common ones, and my responses to them.

MMP will give fringe parties lots of power.
Not true. First of all, only parties that pass a threshold of 3% of the vote will be able to win any proportional seats under the MMP system. In the last Ontario provincial election, no parties other than the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, and NDP passed this threshold. Second, even if a party receives 5% or 10% of the vote, they will still have only a small number of Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) compared to other parties. True, they may be a player in a coalition government, but their level of influence will be determined by how many seats they have, which is determined by how many votes they get. Finally, if you have a problem with a party who has received 10% of the vote getting 10% of the seats, then I’d suggest you have a problem with some basic principles of democracy.

MMP will result in unstable, minority governments.
Also false. It’s easy for us to forget that there’s a big difference between a minority government–where parties jockey for position and attention and the governing party does everything it can to secure a majority–and coalition governments, where political parties form formal alliances and agree to cooperate, for the common good, based on their common ground. The former is what we have now, the latter is what many of us would love to see more of from our politicians.

But countries who use Proportional Representation have unstable governments.
Some countries that use a pure list PR system have had some trouble with unstable governments, most notably Italy. However, a pure list PR system is quite different from the MMP system we’re considering adopting in Ontario. The most prominent countries using MMP are Germany and New Zealand, which have had very positive experiences.

MMP makes ridings bigger, which means people will lose representation.
Yes to the first part, no to the second. Ontario’s proposal would make ridings slightly bigger, but would also introduce another level of proportional representatives, meaning that each Ontarian would be represented directly by their riding’s MPP, and also by a group of list MPPs. The increased riding size is not so severe that it will interfere with an MPP’s ability to serve his or her constituents. At worst this argument could be considered one of the “trade offs” for acquiring the enhanced features of the MMP system, but if so, it’s certainly a minor and worthwhile trade-off.

MMP means that some Members (MPPs) will be appointed by parties instead of elected.
In fact, MMP means that the make-up of the legislature will more accurately reflect how people vote. The above argument refers to Members who will be elected from party lists, but since the number of list Members that get elected is determined by voters, it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise. MMP means voters have more say when it comes to who’s representing them, not less.

MMP is too confusing for voters.
It’s really not. You cast one vote for your local candidate of choice, and one vote for your party of choice. It’s that simple. There may be a slight learning curve, but if we don’t think voters can figure out how to mark two X’s instead of one, then why are we letting them decide the fate of our province? Let’s give voters some credit.

Our current system is traditional and has stood the test of time.
I’ve explained what’s wrong with our current system in a previous post. Allow me to add here, however, that 90% of the world’s parliamentary democracies have already abandoned our First Past the Post voting system in favour of some form of Proportional Representation like MMP. Our current system worked really well when there were only two main political parties and it was generally acceptable for only white men to be elected. Times have changed. We’ve matured, and so should our democratic systems.

MMP threatens the unquestioned political supremacy of white men.
There. Now you’re getting it.

12 thoughts on “To Those Who Would Vote No…

  1. Great post, Chris. I’m looking forward to the MMP referendum campaign and your insights are an excellent breakdown of the talking points that will dominate that debate.

  2. To the criticism that getting 2 votes/ballots/choices would be too confusing for Ontario voters:

    We already vote with 3 or more ballots at once in municipal elections: school trustee, mayor, councillor, and in some areas regional councillor, board of control, or other position. If we can handle 3 or more choices durning municipal elections, why can’t we handle only 2 on a provincial ballot?

  3. CT responds in italics.

    You have many good comments, but others where I cannot but disagree with your interpretation. I do not like first-past-the-post either. However, you very easily and, I think incorrectly, understate what’s wrong with MMP.

    First, MMP is less democratic. Voters go from choosing 100% of their representatives to 70%. The other 30% will be appointed.

    Repeating that ad nauseum doesn’t make it true. No one gets into the legislature unless voters have voted for them or their party.

    Second, there is no guarantee more women and minorities will get into the Legislature. That’s hypothetical and up to party bosses as to who they put on their list. As well, even if their intentions are good, it depends on support levels how many are selected from a list.

    All countries that use MMP have a higher percentage of elected women. If there’s any reason to think this wouldn’t be the case in Ontario as well, I’m not aware of it.

    Third, ridings will be bigger. That may not make a difference in many urban ridings, but it matters when it’s more than an hour’s drive from one end of a riding to the other.

    They will only be slightly bigger–six ridings will become five. This will not make a noticeable difference in most people’s experience with their MPP. In fact, New Zealanders I’ve spoken with feel even more represented under MMP, since they can go to their local representative or any party’s list representative for help.

    Fourth, I recently explained the system to a group of people. Most were confused. It is not as simple as voting twice, as determining the proportional vote could be quite challenging.

    Our current system is actually complicated to explain as well (How do candidates get nominated? How do leaders get chosen–aren’t they just “appointed” by the parties? If a party gets 40% of the votes, why does it get 60% of the seats and 100% of the power?), but we’re used to it so we don’t notice. In order to participate effectively, voters just need to understand that their candidate vote will be counted towards electing their local representative, and their party vote will determine how many seats each party gets.

    Fifth, I would say that it is possible for small parties to have support beyond their real influence. In New Zealand, a small party managed to force the Prime Minister to give it both the positions of Deputy PM and Treasurer (senior to Finance minister) in exchange for support.

    Parties that get 10% of the vote deserve 10% of the seats. I won’t always like which parties get elected, but if I want to live in a democracy I have to accept that there are other people who think differently than I do who deserve fair representation as well.

    I would prefer greater time for Ontarians to consider their options. The report of the Citizens’ Assembly came out in May, and people are generally quite distracted in summer. If MMP is their preferred choice, let’s make sure with a significant, provincewide debate, not 5 weeks during the middle of an election.

    This issue has been studied for 8 months by the Citizens Assembly–our peers, randomly selected to do this work on our behalf–and they voted 94-8 to recommend MMP as the best voting system in Ontario. Every single one of their meetings was open to the public and all of their reports and interim decisions were posted to their website as the went. When we vote we will have had five months to study their report. How much more time would you suggest? How many more elections can we allow to go by without making every vote count?

  4. Given that any electoral change will not take effect until the 2011 election (should we have a majority government), I think we could spare a year or so to let Ontarians more fully discuss the matter. After all, we will likely have to live with what we choose for decades, so the most thorough hearing is needed. And, with all due respect, this subject is of a great deal more interest among the “chattering class” than regular people. Many I have talked to have no idea what the whole exercise means.

  5. You may be right, but it seems highly unlikely that those in power, who have benefited from the current system and stacked the deck against change, will allow for another vote if this one fails.

  6. Dear Sir Ill vote yes is there were less people than there is now in the legistature but seeing that there is a gross amont more is a rejection of parliament traditions for prideful reasons VOTE NO FOR MMP is a vote for tried a true method of government Sorry if this offend your pride Dan Lumley

  7. What we do not need are more politicians!

    This feeling of prejudice and distrust of all politicians that many people feel is, I would suggest, at least party to blame on the current voting system. We keep getting government we didn’t vote for, while the governments or candidates we do vote for don’t get elected. It’s profoundly frustrating, and leads us to believe that no matter how we vote it doesn’t matter, since we always seem to end up with the same, unintended result.

    MMP would add 22 seats to the legislature, and at an avg salary of $110,000 per and that doesn’t include benefits, constituency office costs, etc – the cost to the Ontario taxpayer would be likely greater than $3 million – at least.

    The cost of MPPs makes up less than 1% of the total provincial budget. On the other hand, more elected representatives means more publicly accountable people scrutinizing expenses. Fewer elected representatives would mean more unelected, unaccountable staff doing that work instead.

    And since no politicians can ever balance “our cheque book” in a responsible way, say hello to higher taxes – no way around it, this will cost us more.

    While I don’t disagree that times have changed and new ideas need consideration, this MMP is not one of them.

    The Citizens’ Assembly that recommended this proposal (103 randomly selected Ontarians just like you and me from all across the province) studied and consulted and deliberated for eight long months, and recommended MMP as the best system for Ontario. We won’t get a better recommendation (or any other recommendation at all).

    We need smaller, more nimble governments that can truly be effective advocates for their ridings and deliver the services we are paying for. Less is more.

    Reducing the number of elected representatives overall would mean fewer people to go to for help with government services, and fewer people to be “effective advocates for their ridings,” which would then be much larger. (Under MMP ridings grow only slightly–6 ridings will become 5.) I’m not sure how you think fewer people can spend more time with more people.

    Pls encourage people to vote against the MMP proposal.

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