Where’s The “Yes To FPTP” Campaign?

The ballot question for the October 10th Ontario referendum on electoral reform will ask voters to choose between “The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post),” and “The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional).” A number of grassroots campaigns have sprung-up to argue that MMP is the best voting system for Ontario, including Vote For MMP, Equal Voice In Politics (women for MMP), Liberals for MMP, and more.

So, where’s the campaign to argue that FPTP (the current system) is the best for Ontario? It doesn’t exist. Instead, we get this, the “No MMP” campaign. Some of their criticisms are legitimate (no one ever said MMP was a perfect system), others are intentional distortions of the truth. (Isn’t there a word for when someone intentionally distorts the truth? I’m sure I’ll think of it later….) What the campaign doesn’t do, however–because it can’t–is defend or advocate for our current system, which the majority of Ontarians and Canadians acknowledge is no longer serving us well. If we actually had a province-wide discussion that pitted the merits of MMP against the merits of FPTP, MMP would win hands down. The “No MMP” folks know this, which is why they’re instead basing their campaign on fear of the unknown and misinformation.

By the way, who are the “No MMP” folks? We don’t know. While Vote For MMP and other progressive referendum campaigns are comprised of grassroots citizens and politicians of integrity from all political parties, the No MMP campaign has decided to remain anonymous (they announced their campaign through one unknown spokesperson, and have placed no detailed “contact” or “about” information on their site). How much credibility should they therefore be granted? Until they can demonstrate that they’re a legitimate group with at least some popular support and backing, next to none.

Update: Cam helpfully points out that the above sounds to him as if I’m saying that individuals who don’t support MMP lack credibility. That’s absolutely not my intention. (As I do mention above, some criticisms of MMP are legitimate.) I am, however, suggesting that we deserve to know what kind of support and membership the No MMP campaign has so that we can assess their credibility as an organization.

11 thoughts on “Where’s The “Yes To FPTP” Campaign?

  1. Chris… I really have to take exception with the way that you are laying this issue out there. While this referendum might be a yea or nay question, this issue is not a black and white one. I personally want to see electoral reform, but I have major problems with MMP. The way that you wrote this blog, it comes off like anyone who has a problem with MMP has no credibility. Personally, I’m not going to choose another voting system that’s no improvement or worse than the current one, and I have yet to meet someone who has been able to answer my concerns about MMP.

    This issue is divisive enough, and it doesn’t need to be further divided by this “us” against “them” stance. That seems to be what you are suggesting (i’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but that’s the impression that I am getting here), and that doesn’t move the debate forward. We need to debate the good and bad points of both systems and allow people to make their choice from there, and that won’t happen with a divisive campaign.

  2. Hi Cam – Sorry if the tone sounded overly divisive, that was not my intention. Aside from that it sounds like we agree, since I would like nothing more for us to “debate the good and bad points of both systems and allow people to make their choice from there.” That was exactly my intended criticism of the No MMP site, since they make no effort to demonstrate why MMP is worse than the current system, they simply criticize it in a vacuum.

    I also completely agree that this is “not a black and white” issue. Unfortunately, the vote we have to cast is that simple. At this point in the debate, therefore, it’s critical for us to focus on evaluating MMP vs. FPTP.

    As for my claim that this campaign currently lacks credibility, there was more context in my head than I wrote down. I’ll try and work them into a future post for clarity. In the mean time, I want to clarify that I did not mean to suggest that individuals like yourself who have legitimate questions about MMP lack credibility. Instead, I’m suggesting, in part, that we deserve to know what kind of support and membership the No MMP campaign has so that we can assess their credibility as an organization.

    As for your concerns about MMP itself, I’d love to hear specifically what they are, either here, or in the comments of this post, or by email, so that we can discuss them. (I’ll also check out your blog.)

  3. This whole “debate” is a replay of the MMP referendum in 193 in New Zealand. There, the so-called “Campaign for Better Government” tried the same bait and switch approach of offering “democratic reform” (same words!) instead of electoral reform. There, this same group resorted to seriously vile scare tactics to frighten voters………naked crying babies in B&W on steel trollies with jagged video effects and disturbing music telling people to think of their children’s future…and vote no to MMP. Not a verifiable fact in sight…and certainly NO case for keeping the present system.

    Just fear.

    Looks like we’re in for a re-run here.

  4. Be fair now. There is a name on the No MMP site, and it’s that of Joseph Angolano.

    He’s said to be a doctoral student at the London School of Economics — and I think you have to be pretty smart to get in there — but at the moment Mr. Angolano appears to be very, very confused.

    His doctoral thesis, according to his advisor’s web page, is on ” A New Justification for Participatory Democracy.”

    He plans to vote for Dalton McGuinty, he says in a June blog post, because:

    “Firstly, let us look at the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. McGuinty took one very important issue, that of electoral reform, and said that he would leave entirely up to the people of Ontario to decide what kind of electoral system they want. Political elites did not get involved. This, folks, is called true empowerment of the citizens. By creating this assembly, McGuinty has done more to advance democracy in Ontario that any other premier before him. I think he should be re-elected for this act alone.”

    His opposition to MMP, as far as I can see from a couple other (rather confusing) blog posts like his comment here, appears to be that it doesn’t go far enough toward participatory democracy!

    Mr. Angolano seems to think he has a choice between MMP and some participatory model of direct (as distinct from representative) democracy.

    He doesn’t deal at all with the reality that his only choice is to embrace the advantages of MMP, ‘warts and all,’ or be stuck with the same old FPTP.

    That’s like saying, “Given a choice between one piece of pie and three pieces of pie, I’ll vote against three because what I really want is a whole pie.”

    No pie for him!

  5. Chris, there are a lot of reasons why the No MMP campaign is not a Pro-FPTP campaign. The main one being is that our organization does not necessarily support FPTP. If you want, you can look up my submission to the Citizen’s Assembly where I advocated change. I believe that MMP is wrong for Ontario, and that is why I will vote against it on October 10th. Unfortunately, Elections Ontario contravened the wishes of the Citizen’s Assembly and that forces me to vote for FPTP. I am not alone in my position and we wanted our campaign to be inclusive. We have received a number of e-mails from people expressing their distaste for MMP while also pointing out the flaws in our current system. We are a grassroots campaign and we want all the help we can get.

  6. The question that Ontarians have to ask themselves is not: “Is MMP perfect for Ontario”, the question is “Is MMP better?”. To me, it is.

    The goal of a legislature is to get the best ideas into law & policy. This is best accomplished with having a diversity of views in cabinet and in the legislature.

  7. Aaron – I can appreciate that you might prefer a different electoral system. If that’s what the No to MMP group actually means (rather than Yes to FPTP), then I believe you need to present a clear analysis of why you think the Citizens’ Assembly failed to make a correct decision and what steps should be taken to correct it. In particular, you should take a very firm stance on what actions you will commit yourselves to in the event of a No vote – that is, will you advocate for a reconvening of the CA, and, if so, what changes in its composition, mandate or process will you push for? You also have to clearly explain why you think that further electoral reform is better served by a vote FOR FPTP (since that’s what’s on the ballot this time) rather than by a vote for MMP, followed by the advocacy for further reform that you say you support. I also think you owe Ontario voters a clear statement of what fraction of the No to MMP group actually supports further reform vs the status quo – is the majority actually in favour of reform? Here in BC, Bill Tielemann cynically used the argument that a No vote to STV would lead to further reform efforts when he himself was implacably against reform. In the absence of these commitments and explanations, I think Chris is right in asking why you’re not a ‘Yes to FPTP’ group because I’m pretty sure that the politicians will take a ‘Yes to FPTP’ vote as a mandate to leave things as they are. If you’re truly committed to reform, I recommend accepting this proposal and then organizing to improve it – I know that lots of advocates for the proposal see ways that it could be further improved, so you would certainly have broad support for that path – a Yes vote does not mean the end of reform either!

    Incidentally, I don’t understand what you mean when you say that Elections Ontario contravened the CA’s wishes. All that EO is doing is informing the electorate about the CA’s recommendation.

  8. CT responds in italics

    The link is at the bottom of their page: http://www.nommp.ca/about.shtml

    This page has been updated with much more information since my post, thanks for pointing it out.

    And the link to the sudbury star article in your linked posting ( http://www.christindal.ca/2007/07/05/mmp-inaccuracy/ ) does not work.

    Correct, the Osprey sites don’t archive their articles past a week or two.

    It is not a distortion to say that MMP will result in “considerably more politicians.” If you think that we need more then say so, but to suggest that it is a distortion to make note of the fact that several more politicians will be added.

    I suppose we could get into an endless argument about the definition of “considerably,” but it’s interesting that you chose the word “several” instead. To my ear, “several” sounds considerably less than “considerably.”

    And while Hoy did distort the party list creation argument, so did you. The referendum site accessible through Elections Ontario’s site says that the creation of the list will be up to party rules. Either you or Hoy could be right. I do know that Dion recently appointed a woman MP to run for the federal Liberals. Are you saying that such activities will be impossible in Ontario?

    I just re-read the post–not sue what you could consider a distortion. Everything I wrote about lists is factual, notably that parties will “be [legally] required to make public the process by which their list is chosen.” Hoy’s claim that this will happen “in secret” is therefore either ignorant or a deliberate mistruth.

    “If we actually had a province-wide discussion that pitted the merits of MMP against the merits of FPTP, MMP would win hands down.”

    You are missing half of the argument in the above quote. To simply compare the merit is not enough. You also have to compare the negative aspects too.

    Just as the Citizens’ Assembly did, and still concluded that MMP was a better system for Ontario.

    John M Reynolds

  9. The total number of politicians will rise from 103 to 129. To quibble over whether or not 26 more MPPs is considerable does not equate to a distortion.

    The fact that the process will be legally required to make the process public does not guarantee that the process will be democratic. The Federal Liberal process is public, but it is not always democratic — appointments are still possible.

    “Just as the Citizens’ Assembly did…”

    There is nothing wrong with us going through the motions and proving to ourselves that the assembly got it right.

    John M Reynolds

  10. My take on the referendum, (which I have had to research on the net due to my percieved lack of discussion or information in the broadcast media) is that although I want to have a more representative (proportional) electoral system, I am not at all sure that what we are being offered is the best way to go. The whole MMP recommendation process seems to me to be too well orchestrated and scripted, too controlled by the major parties and gives the electorate a “take it or leave it” choice.

    David, the recommendation comes to us from the Citizens’ Assembly, a randomly selected group of 103 Ontarians, who worked hard learning, consulting, deliberating and finally reporting for eight months. They were not beholden to any political party or special interest. This proposal has been designed by people, not politicians. – CT

    I am moving toward the idea of “boycotting” the referendum by abstaining rather than voting in favour of MMP. The MMP choice has too many flaws to satisfy me, but I don’t want to pass up a chance to get the electoral system changed. What I want to know is this. If the MMP initiative is defeated in the referendum, will the Ontario Government then say that “The people have voted in favour of the status quo” and that will be the end of reform, or will they go back to the beginning and develop a better, more acceptable alternative? If the MMP vote wins, will there be any chance to change or improve that system once it is adopted?
    Count me “Undecided, in a quandry”.

    While we can’t know for sure, if MMP is defeated by a wide margin the parties in power (who have benefited greatly from the current system) will likely heave a sigh of relief and declare the issue closed for generations. If it’s only narrowly defeated, it’s possible we might get another vote on the same proposal (as is happening in BC). I honestly cannot imagine a scenario where we would receive a different proposal to vote on, or what process could create one. While I agree with you that MMP has flaws, the Citizens’ Assembly process used to create it was, in my opinion, nearly flawless, and any other consultative citizen-driven process would produce a nearly identical result. While we all have our own preferences about details we would change, or about other voting systems we would have preferred, the Assembly took all that into account and produced what I believe is the best recommendation Ontario could have hoped for. I appreciate your dissatisfaction at having been given a “take it or leave it” vote, you’re correct that that’s what this is. We need to decide not if MMP is perfect, but if it is an improvement. If we reject it, we’re unlikely to see any reform at all.

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