Friday September 29th, 2023 - 03:23:37 AM

Provincial Referendum - MMP or Status Quo?
Austin Wright, September 19, 2007

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. - Sir Winston Churchill

On election day, voters will also be asked to decide the future of Ontario's electoral system. The current system uses the "first past the post" method to determine the winner. Each riding votes for a single candidate, who normally represents one of the provincial parties, but may be independent. The candidate who receives the most votes becomes MPP for that riding, and the party that elects the most candidates usually forms the government. This can result in a majority government that secured less than 50% of the popular vote.

Under the proposed new system, each voter will elect the local member, who may or may not be a party member. In addition, the ballot will also list a choice of parties, so each voter will vote twice - once for an individual and once for a party. The party vote will translate into additional seats in Queen's Park based on the percentage of overall popular vote, ostensibly to "make every vote count." Supporters of this new plan, called MMP for "Mixed Member Proportional" representation, claim that this system will be fairer. Upon examining each system, we have decided to take sides.... more, click to expand full article

We're not so sure that the present system should be trashed without considering some of the implications understood to be parcelled with the new proposal.

In all recent elections, voter apathy is increasingly a problem, with fewer people reporting to the polls. The new ballot will request that voters place their 'X' in two places, once for the candidate and once for the party. This is likely to confuse people who are accustomed to voting only once, with multiple choices constituting a spoiled ballot. Municipal elections have often used ballots with several choices, and there's always some confusion about how to mark things. Using an electoral method that is difficult to understand, combined with a confusing ballot could just result in greater voter indifference, lower turnout, and less-informed voting.

There have been claims made that MMP is more fair because it makes every vote count. In reality, every vote counts now. It is a myth that a vote doesn't count if it doesn't elect the winner. By the same logic, having two votes still won't "count" if the party vote isn't useful towards the victorious party. The percentage of people voting for each party helps determine funding status as well. If the present system is somehow undemocratic, with the majority of votes wasted, let's ponder for a moment the result of, say, all Tories staying home on election day.

There is also concern about representation. By voting for a party instead of the individual, we don't know who we might be getting. Instead of electing individuals who may be known in the community, the party vote will elect people supplied from party lists. This could result in nepotism, with people being elected based on their connections inside the party instead of leadership qualities. Such members may not even have a personal investment in the community being represented. At least the present system allows for the inspection of each candidate's qualifications and reputation, allowing the voter to make an informed decision.

MMP is like electing a known public representative but ending up with the agenda of a different politician who's name was not subjected to public scrutiny on a ballot. It is a potentially risky proposition if all of a sudden the wrong person is holding a position of political influence without having to personally face the electorate first. How can we be guaranteed that individuals on the party list have the best interests of the community at heart, and are not self-serving party insiders who perhaps bought their way onto that list with contributions or membership sales?

Proponents of MMP claim that the lists of "party vote candidates" will be made available to the public by the parties. This assumes that the public will make the effort to seek and research names that should be on the ballot in the first place. It is insufficient to rely on the parties to advertise appointed names when the public will have to deal with keeping track of twice as many candidates on the campaign trail, or even more as special-interest parties sprout up to exploit the chance to win a seat. In any event, it is unlikely that these additional candidates will offer any unique vision or positions when they're simply campaigning under the party banner.

This proposal promises better representation by matching MPP distribution more closely with the popular vote. However, such a system will always seem more fair to the underdog, who could earn a disproportionate amount of clout for the fringe when faced with a minority situation. At least the present system would be working consensus with members who had their names on the ballot. It's unclear what benefits would be enjoyed if two MPPs were representing the same area, unless they constantly tried to out-do each other. This concept certainly doesn't seem to hold in Ward 6, where "pass the buck" comes to mind. Having members at-large could lead to power struggles and two-tiered democracy that might make governing or political access difficult.

All MPPs recently received a substantial raise. Perhaps this was deserved, their salaries having been frozen for many years. However, the cost of 39 new members is not insignificant, especially when these new at-large members could potentially incur higher expenses than MPPs of the regular variety who serve a smaller region. It is estimated by experts on the website supporting MMP that the cost of salaries alone could equal 2% of the total provincial budget, a figure which may not take into account the added bureaucracy that would be required to support additional members, (not to mention the additional party costs of running campaigns at election time). This purported percentage does seem excessive, but even if it's really .02%, Ontario can't afford additional administrative expenses.

Not enough facts have been presented with this proposal, which appears to leave many of the normal checks and balances up to the party. None of the political parties have really explained how they would adopt MMP, preferring to take a neutral stance on the referendum. Supporters appear to base its appeal on idealism, and what works in other countries such as Germany, while dismissing legitimate concerns and ignoring the countries where it doesn't work. The reliance on terminology such as "dictatorship" to describe a majority government under the current system is insulting and inconsistent with the repression and human rights abuses in existing autocratic governments found in the world today.

Many fine people put much effort in coming up with the MMP proposal, which included input from public meetings held in Chatham. Despite their good intentions, MMP offers to trade one set of problems for another. The notion of using unelected nominees to pad a party's overall tally when those names aren't listed where it counts in the voting booth, is seriously problematic and doesn't exactly paint a picture of fairness. Perhaps the existing electoral system is not ideal, but it's clearly not broken. MMP promises to fix it until it is broken. Should MMP go through, it will be interesting to see how many people attempt to vote twice federally.

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