Do You Trust Your Fellow Citizens?

People on both sides of the MMP debate (as well as those who are undecided) have spent a lot of time over the past months dissecting the details and nitpicking at specifics of Mixed Member Proportional. That’s somewhat appropriate, since we obviously need to ask tough questions before we can make up our minds. In doing so, however, we’ve lost sight of the big picture. So while I fully encourage everyone to learn as much as they can about the referendum, the ballot question can actually be distilled as follows. Do you believe that, as a collective, the citizens of Ontario can be trusted to make the right decisions for our province?

I say that because, as you hopefully know, the recommendation before us was created using a process of unprecedented (for Ontario) transparency, openness, and democratic engagement. 103 citizens were randomly selected and represent the diverse makeup of our province. In addition, they held public consultation meetings across the province, and solicited written submissions though their website. They worked for eight months to become the authoritative group on electoral systems in Ontario. They took their jobs very seriously, and I was extremely impressed and humbled whenever I had the opportunity to meet with one of them. (As the joke went, “you mean we randomly selected one person from each riding and we didn’t put them in charge of the province?!“) In the end, they voted 94-8 in favour of recommending MMP as better than our current system.

While I can find fault with the system they recommended (no system is perfect), I can find almost none with the process that was used to create it. While you may not agree with every detail of what they’ve done, I can’t imagine how we would get a better recommendation that would serve all voters. Especially when one considers the obvious truth that democratic systems, by definition, must be designed by the people through democratic means.

That’s why this is really a vote on democracy itself; not because MMP is more democratic than the status quo (though I think it is), but because if we believe that citizens, as a group, will make the right decisions for our province, then we must recognize that that’s what the Citizens’ Assembly has done in recommending MMP.

If we don’t believe that, on the other hand, then we are faced with something very troubling. If we don’t believe that citizens, as a group, make the right decisions, then we shouldn’t be letting them pick governments in the first place. We’d need to rethink democracy itself. And I, for one, am not prepared to go there.

6 thoughts on “Do You Trust Your Fellow Citizens?

  1. I lament your loss. However, you have to accept that the voting sample size was considerably larger than 103; making a more accurate result. Perhaps the method proposed was viewed as superior only by those intimate with details and nuance. Perhaps the average voter needs a method which produces a result more easily understood. This would mean the larger sample size got it right yet again.

    Clarification: haven’t lost or won yet. The vote’s October 10th. -CT

  2. “Do you believe that, as a collective, the citizens of Ontario can be trusted to make the right decisions for our province?”

    I am deeply troubled that more than one person I know would honestly answer “No” to that question. While there is some truth to Winston Churchill’s line that “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” it implies the worst kind of elitist, quasi-aristocratic attitude.

  3. I just feel the need to add that while Churchill indeed said that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” (which, let’s face it, is TOTALLY true!!!) he also said “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.

    On the “democracy or not” debate, I’d place Churchill on the democracy side I think!

  4. I am intrigued by MMP. I don’t completely understand it, or it implications.
    I understand instant runoff. Why wasn’t that part of the referendum?
    One thing I find immediately concerning is the notion of voting for a party and its selected list of representatives. If we are going to go through the effort of electoral reform I want some assurance that my vote is going to be exactly representing my voter intentions. Releasing my vote to a party to choose my representative, even if they publish a list, I may be forced into supporting a candidate I do not want to support.
    Instant runoff gives this to me. clearly voting my preferences and expressing my mandates. The eventually winner – represents me – and I have had the chance to express my mandates.
    MMP further obscures my representation. Not against it – I just think there need to be some changes. And we are in a new world – maybe a proxy system is better – are there any in the works?

  5. Hi Eric,

    The BC Citizens’ Assembly recommended a type of instant runoff voting called Single Transferable Vote (STV), which involved ranking candidates. The Ontario Citizens’ Assembly also looked at this model, but decided to recommend MMP instead on the grounds that it did a better job of meeting the things that they’d identified as being most valued in a voting system.

    I’d also point out that your concern about “being forced into supporting a candidate I do not want to support” under MMP is actually even greater under the current system, since you have no say in who your party’s candidate is and you only have one vote. At least under MMP you have more choice in who you support and why.

    Regardless, if you’d like to continue to press for electoral reform in Ontario and Canada then I’d encourage you to join Fair Vote Canada.

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