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.