The Long And The Short Of It

Yesterday saw another intellectually dishonest attack against MMP (following Claire Hoy’s earlier misguided missive), this time published in the Globe and Mail. My letter to the editor in response to Christopher Holcroft’s column, which was not published, reads as follows:

In attempting to argue against the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) recommendation arrived at by our peers in the Citizens’ Assembly, Christopher Holcroft provides no evidence to back-up his four main arguments. In fact, all existing evidence points to the contrary. Countries that currently use MMP such as Germany and New Zealand have seen increased accessibility and engagement (there are more representatives to answer public concerns), fairer election results (40% of the vote means 40% of the seats), more responsive government (making every vote count encourages all parties to compete for all votes in all ridings), and more voter choice (Ontarians would vote once for a candidate, and once for a party).

I can agree with Holcroft on one point, however. He writes that, “Ontarians [must] learn as much as possible about a proposal that would mark a historic change in the way we govern ourselves.” The 103 randomly selected members of the Citizens’ Assembly spent eight months doing just that. And after learning almost everything there is to know about all of the advantages and shortcomings of both our current system and the proposed alternative, they voted 92% in favour of recommending MMP as being the best voting system for Ontario.

Instead, today’s paper contains one letter in opposition to Mr. Holcroft’s column from Janek Jagiellowicz in Wellesley, Ontario, which reads, in its entirety:

A long-time Liberal activist is against electoral reform in Ontario? Hmm. That’s all the proof I need: I’m voting for electoral reform.

Brevity counts, my friends.

3 thoughts on “The Long And The Short Of It

  1. That letter “A long-time Liberal activist is against electoral reform in Ontario? Hmm. That’s all the proof I need: I’m voting for electoral reform” is hardly persuasive among voters who need MMP as much as anyone: Liberal voters.

    Why do they need it?

    1. Today a voter who wants to vote for the good local MPP they’ve had for the past four years, but wants to vote against the government or for a party they prefer, will have to vote against the Liberal MPP they like.

    2. In 1995 and 1999 the Liberals saw a majority of voters vote against Mike Harris yet he got a strong manufactured majority. While some elections in Canada have given a party with 40% of the votes 60% of the seats and 100% of the power, in 1999 40% of the vote gave Dalton McGuinty only 34% of the seats.

    3. In the five Georgian Bay ridings — Simcoe County, Grey County, Muskoka — and several surrounding ridings, Liberal voters elected no one. With MMP and a decently balanced list, those voters would have had a couple of list MPPs to speak for that region in caucus and in cabinet, and those couple of MPPs would be prime contenders to win local seats there this October.

    4. Liberal women would have been better represented, with a province-wide list that would have been better balanced by gender than happens when candidates are nominated one at a time.

    5. There’d be no chance of 1995 happening again, when no Liberals were elected between Scarborough and the Ottawa Valley except in John Gerretsen in Kingston, no Liberals were elected between Downsview and Sudbury, and from Parkdale west to Essex you found only two Liberal MPPs: in Hamilton East and in St. Catharines.

    6. We’d have more inclusive government, which Liberals like. To quote Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen “Nobody is ever 100-per-cent right and nobody is every 100-per-cent wrong. Governing is the art of compromise. There’s nothing wrong with having the governing party take into account smaller parties.” An MMP supporter, he says he’s advocated for electoral change since being elected in 1995 because it would force governments to compromise more with other parties in order to pass legislation.

  2. I’m no fan of first-past-the-post, but I have serious reservations about the MMP proposal for Ontario.

    For those of us who strive for better accountability from our representatives, ON-MMP has one enormous Achilles heel – the closed party list. As the term implies, each PARTY chooses the order in which the list candidates will be chosen, and the juicy spots on the list will not necessarily go to candidates that the VOTERS want to see elected.

    For smaller parties that elect only list candidates, this means that voters can throw their support behind a particular party, but they have no say at all as far as which individuals will be elected. For example, in a small party polling 8%, the first 10 on the list will get seats, no ifs and or buts. Voters supporting the party might have favoured the 20th candidate on the list much more strongly than the 5th, but it doesn’t matter; #20 is out and #5 is in because the party says so.

    For larger parties that will elect some combination of riding candidates and (usually) some list candidates, the list can be used as something of a safety net for influential party members. Candidates will be allowed to run both in a riding and on the list, so it would be foolhardy for a candidate not to do so if given the opportunity. So, if a prominent Liberal incumbent somehow manages to lose in his riding, he still has an excellent chance of keeping his seat, so long as he convinces the party to give him a decent spot on the list. The lucky holders of the top few list spots are very nearly GUARANTEED re-election, no matter how unpopular they might be as individuals in the eyes of voters.

    What this all means is that a candidate needs PARTY support first and foremost, and VOTER support thereafter. Voters ultimately do have some influence over the candidates, but mostly through the parties and not direct accountability.

    Should you care? I suppose it all depends on how much you’re willing to trust that the parties and their leaders will have their interests aligned with those of the voting public. If all you really care about is which party wins, and aren’t really bothered about which Liberal bums sit in those Liberal seats, then you should love ON-MMP. On the other hand, if you feel very strongly about each individual member being directly accountable to the voters, then the decision is not as easy.

  3. Jamie Deith expresses concern that a party may use the at-large candidate list as a safe haven for unelectable or undesirable candidates.

    I have the same concern, but after some thought have realized that it’s just an aspect of the party’s policy, and as a voter I should treat it as such. If I think a party’s platform contains planks I find abhorrent, I ought to think twice about whether to vote for them–to weigh the value of any planks I favour against those I oppose. The party’s choice of list candidates is just another such plank: if a party lists candidates I find abhorrent, I ought to think seriously about whether I’m willing to vote for that party.

    It’s really not much different from the status quo, in which voters’ impressions of the party leader’s competence and charisma influence the vote. That will still happen under MMP, and nobody pretends it won’t. Impressions of the list candidates are just more of the same. The difference is that now I can separate my feelings about the party at large–the leader, the list candidates, the published platform, the hair styles–from my feelings about the MPP who is to represent me directly.

    So in the end I don’t think it makes any difference.

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