Monday, September 17, 2007

MPPs to be elected by MMP?

At the upcoming Ontario provincial election on October 10th, we also get to participate in the first provincial referendum since 1924, this one not on the prohibition of alcohol (as in 1924) but on the introduction of proportional representation in Ontario elections.
So, an electorate which is hard pressed to decide who should govern the province, also has to decide on the relative merits of the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system and the proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) system.
My feeling is that a huge majority of people will have no clue what it is they are being asked to decide. Elections Canada apparently has television ads, an ad on YouTube and a website devoted to the issue, but the animated ad on YouTube, starring Billy Ballot and Nina News, produced by the Citizen's Assembly which proposed it, is probably the best explanation of how the proposed MMP system would work.
However, I have to wonder how many will either watch or understand it. And having watched and understood it, how many will be able to make a confident and informed decision between two different systems, each of which has something to recommend itself?
I think most people understand the current system, even if many do not consciously think about its implications when casting a vote.
The proposed MMP system, very briefly, would work as follows:
  • The election ballot would be in two parts: one to vote for a "local member" for that constituency, and one to vote for a political party (which may or may not be different from the local member's party).
  • The number of members in the legislature would be increased from the current 103 to 129.
  • 70% of these seats (90 seats in total) would go to local members elected under what is basically the same as the current FPTP system (the constituencies would be redrawn to reduce their number from 103 to 90).
  • The remaining 30% (39 seats) would go to "list members", who would not be responsible for a particular constituency area, but who would represent the values of their political parties. These members would be elected based on the overall popular vote each party achieves in the election. For example, if Party A had an overall popular vote of 35%, they would be entitled to 35% of 129 seats, or 45 seats. If they only won 40 of the 90 constituencies, then the top 5 members from that party's list would be included as list members, to top them up to 45.
Still with me?
In the last provincial election, the Liberals ended up with 70% of the seats with only 46.5% of the popular vote, the Conservatives earned 23% of the seats with 34.7% of the votes, the NDP 7% of the seats with 14.7% of the votes, and the Greens no seats at all despite accumulating 2.8% of the popular vote.
So, under the MMP system (which is being used with varying levels of success in Germany, New Zealand and Mexico), there is much more chance for smaller parties such as the Green Party to achieve representation in the legislature though their share of the popular vote, and the leading parties are not excessively represented. The cause of democracy does appear to be served by it.
However, in practice it would be almost impossible for any one party to achieve a working majority, leading to the kind of bargaining, horse-trading and legislative paralysis inevitably associated with minority governments. And the whole idea of a member of parliament who does not represent a constituency of voters (and does not actually have to "win" his or her election) sits slightly awkwardly with me, as does the idea that political party leaders could designate "yes-men" as party list members. Is this democracy?
The referendum requires a 60% overall adoption of the proposed new system (as well as at least 50% in each of 64 constituencies) to pass as law. Recent proportional representation referendums in PEI and BC have both failed, and I can't really see this one flying either.
I think that on the whole I am in favour of the change - although I am not 100% convinced, I am more than 60% convinced.

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