Monday, August 13, 2007

Open Thread on MMP

A lot of Libloggers are getting into the MMP debate. Since political geeks love nothing more than to debate electoral reform, I figured I'd toss open a thread on the topic for people to weigh in.

I personally don't have strong feelings on the topic. I've always had a soft spot for the first past the post system, but MMP would likely mean nearly permanent Liberal government in Ontario so I don't have a huge problem with it.



  • I like MMP and would vote for it if I had the opportunity but I sure haven't liked the way that the pro-MMP crowd has approached the debate. Basically if you dont like the idea of list candidates being coronated you are not just someone to disagree with--you are a lying half-wit moron who has some vested interest in the status quo. I personally think the benefits to democracy that MMP brings outweigh the negatives--but I also think the idea of list candidates is a serious black mark against the proposal. Its not sufficient IMO to just say that if the electorate doesnt like someone highly placed on the list that they can just vote out the whole party.

    By Blogger KC, at 11:50 AM  

  • I like some forms of PR, and I think there would be a few different systems which I would take above FPTP, but there are still a few things I'm not overly fond of with this proposal, mainly the all-but removal of a chance at a majority government. While I'm not a big fan of a party getting 35% of the vote and 60% of the seats, I really wouldn't mind a party getting 52% of the seats with 45% of the vote, for example.

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 12:26 PM  

  • I'm opposed to MMP for a variety of reasons I'll probably get into on my own blog, once Shuffle Fever has abated somewhat. But what I found interesting was your notion that MMP would lead to perpetual Liberal governments.

    First of all, you omitted 'minority' from that statement. The likelihood that any party could win a majority under the MMP system is negligible. So we're talking about minority or, at best, coalition governments from here on in, if MMP is adopted.

    But we're also looking at many more different parties on the political landscape. For sure the Green Party will be represented with a couple of MPs (which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned), but this also offers an easy toe hold for fringe parties like the Christian Heritage Party, the Libertarian Party, etc., not to mention new parties that don't exist yet. MMP lends itself particularly well to regional parties, since the 3% threshold is easier to reach if you can focus your campaign on a particularly sensitive issue. Toronto Party, anyone?

    So I think it's simplistic to predict how any individual party will do, since it's impossible to know who else will be on the playing field.

    By Blogger Steve Marsh, at 12:42 PM  

  • I'm no fan of MMP, and have been blogging to that effect for a while.

    I do support democratic reform. Electoral reform is a part of that, but I consider MMP to be regressive in its nature.

    The introduction of the list system and the reduction in the number of ridings while increasing the size in both geography and population of the remaining ridings is more than a black mark, it is a show stopper.

    MMP preserves FPTP and adds the problems of PR. I consider the biggest weakness in our voting system the fact that we are limited to voting for a limited number of candidates or parties, not that I might vote for the loser (if that never happened, what one earth would be the point of voting?). I therefore strongly support an alternative voting system in the form of a preferential, preferably Condorcet-based ballot, or the simpler but slightly weaker Approval Voting system, where strategic voting is nearly eliminated without the powerful negatives of list-based Proportional Representation.

    By Blogger cdlu, at 12:47 PM  

  • I support MMP.

    Steve, you are mistaken. Proportional Representation is bad for regional parties.

    In 2006, the Bloc got 51 seats with 11% of the vote and NDP got 29 seats with 18% of the vote. This absurdity cannot happen under any Proportional Representation system, Mixed-Member Proportional or otherwise.

    I don't mind the other side's fringe parties having a seat or two as long as everyone else is fairly represented. MMP works very well in Germany, and it works very well in New Zealand which used to have our First Past the Post. It's what Canada needs.

    By Blogger leonsp, at 12:50 PM  

  • but MMP would likely mean nearly permanent Liberal government in Ontario so I don't have a huge problem with it.

    That is totally false, and promoting it like this is exactly why it likely to fail passage.

    Electoral reform not only changes the way which we elect a government, but it changes the approach voters take to electing a government. Voters that want change and to be free of a bad Liberal or PC or NDP government will be more inclined to vote for change under the new system then they are under the current system.

    Just because they haven't had to under the current system...doesn't mean they won't under the new system.

    I support MMP because I think it will bring about better government and provide for more divergent viewpoints and interests to be represented. It will also make sure different views are represented in Ontarios geographic regions.

    Unfortunatel, I think too many PCs and Dippers are scared of the "perpetual Liberal government" argument to vote for what is a superior form of representative Democracy. Also McGuinty has decided to sit on the fence which assures failure. Its too bad.

    By Blogger Remington, at 1:03 PM  

  • The problems most expressed about MMP or similar forms of PR are the dangers of perpetual minority governments probbed up by single-issue and/or fringe parties.

    The proponents of PR tend to respond to these criticisms with the claim that every democracy in the world save Canada, the UK and the US, use PR and their governments continue to sail along fine. That would be a good point if it wasn't so misleading.

    The fact is that, other than New Zealand, no Westminster-style government has a confidence bearing house elected by PR. Australia uses PR in their Senate, but not for the lower house. In New Zealand, where something a lot like MMP was introduced in 1996, they are still trying to work out the kinks and a lot of people are beginning to talk about switching back to FPTP. Why? Because the political culture of a Westminister-style house makes it very difficult to have constituency MPs and list MPs co-existing in the same chamber.

    The model we should try to copy is Australia which is, in my view, the best of both worlds.

    Since 1918, Australia's lower house has been elected on a preferential ballot. Rather than marking an 'X', you mark your ballot 1, 2, 3, 4, etc in order of precedence. A lot of Canadian partisans will be familiar with this sort of ballot, as most parties use it for either leadership or nomination votes.

    The result is the retention of stable larger parties - upon which Westminister is fonded - but also the elimination of vote splitting. Under this system, we don't see the Brad Trost's of the world in parliament. Mr. Trost won his seat in 2004 with less than 27% of the vote.

    Though you continue to get majority governments, lopsided majorities are rare. In an election like 1984, where Mulroney swept in with 211 of 282 seats, many more Liberals and NDPers would have been elected because the would have been no left wing vote split.

    Similarly, under preferential ballot, Jean Chretien would never have won a majority in 1997 with only 38% of the vote.

    I do not see the obsession with moving to PR which is really a radical change to our system.

    Students of history will note that Canada is relatively unique in chosing evolution over revolution in its growth from colony run by British appointee, to responsibly governed colony, to semi-autonomous nation, to autonomous nation with shared citizenship with Britain, to autonomous nation with its own citizenship, to autonomous nation with full control of the amendment of its constitution -- and a few more steps in between each of those.

    If we really wanted PR to work, we should be doing a lot more than changing our electoral system, our governance system would need to change as well. A means of government in which the administration of the day can declare any motion one of confidence, cannot be governed by minorities for long periods of time, especially when the opposition parties know that a swing of 2% will no longer mean the difference between dozens of seats and a handful but only a loss of a corresponding percentage.

    So, lets take a lesson from our own history, and evolve from FPTP to single member preferential ballot. Or lets completely rewrite the system.

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 1:43 PM  

  • You think the senate was bad with cronyism? Just wait until these "lists" of party representatives are put together under MMP with NO ACCOUNTABILITY!

    By Blogger hatrock, at 2:49 PM  

  • leonsp said: "Steve, you are mistaken. Proportional Representation is bad for regional parties. In 2006, the Bloc got 51 seats with 11% of the vote..."

    These numbers demonstrate only that PR would be bad for the BQ, which would certainly be weakened, but MMP offers regional parties an easy foothold. Not to gain the strength the BQ enjoys, but certainly to establish a presence in the the legislature, and one which is inherently divisive.

    In the 2011 election, under MMP, it will take fewer than 150,000 votes to get you a seat in the Ontario legislature. That's not a huge hurdle for someone who can get folks riled up about a single issue or small set of issues.

    And once you've got a seat, you've got a platform to build from.

    By Blogger Steve Marsh, at 2:50 PM  

  • Leaving aside the various merits/demerits of the system, one little aspect of the whole debate that really, really irks me is this whole Liberal-permanency thing. There seems to be this idea that being in the political centre makes you politically immortal in a coalition-driven system. That is totally not the case.

    Electoral records all over the world in countries that have PR show that at the end of the day, ideology will almost always lose out in the name of ganging up on the big fish. In an Ontario with MMP, you will see Conservative-NDP cooperation, be it a formal coalition or just confidence-and-supply, to keep the Liberals out.

    By Blogger Tom, at 2:52 PM  

  • In an Ontario with MMP, you will see Conservative-NDP cooperation, be it a formal coalition or just confidence-and-supply, to keep the Liberals out.

    Indeed, we've already seen that with the Davis minorities of the 1970s and even in 1985, Bob Rae offered Frank Miller the same deal he offered David Peterson. Miller rejected and it was only then that Peterson accepted.

    Certainly if you have a non-centrist PC Party, as was the case under Miller and Harris, it would be likely to see the Liberals in forever but, traditionally, Canada, and Ontario in particular, have had two centrist parties that dominate.

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 3:18 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Mushroom, at 3:45 PM  

  • "A means of government in which the administration of the day can declare any motion one of confidence, cannot be governed by minorities for long periods of time"


    Do fix election dates guarantee that? It provides the time frame in which coalition governments can implement their agenda.

    By Blogger Mushroom, at 3:46 PM  

  • From a purely theoretical perspective, STV seems like a better system than MMP. Sure, it's complicated, but it would certainly open up the political process, keep riding representation, and you wouldn't have to worry about the whole problem with list candidates.

    Personally, I'd rather see smaller measures like a preferential ballot, fixed election dates, or something else first, before jumping head first into a new system when ours, by and large, works fairly well.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:50 PM  

  • nbpolitico,

    Do fix election dates guarantee that? It provides the time frame in which coalition governments can implement their agenda.

    No. Any fixed election date legislation still allows for an election if a government loses confidence. What if the coaltion falls apart? Then there are new elections.

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 4:04 PM  

  • Here's how I look at MMP - it's like patching a hole in a sinking ship with a poisonous goop.

    You're solving one serious problem and giving yourself another one.

    The serious problem with the existing system is the massive disproportionality of the results. MMP solves that problem more or less effectively. In exchange, though, you have to get a large number of individuals in legislative roles who were put there through internal party mechanisms that are not open to public participation and are lacking in transparency.

    That's not democratic.

    So the question for me is this: Is there a way of mitigating the disproportionality problem without creating any other problems.

    The answer is yes. The BC-STV proposal does exactly that, and was selected specifically because it gave no more power to the political parties. Condorcet-style preferential voting also makes the results of single-winner elections more legitimate and reduces the influence of parties.

    Now you can argue that having a more complicated ballots is a downside to STV and Condorcet voting, but the fact is that MMP confuses the balloting, too.

    Plus, you'd have to argue that giving more power to political parties in our system is worth having a simpler ballot.

    Good luck making that argument.

    MMP is trading one problem for another, and voters deserve to have their problems solved, not just changed.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 5:07 PM  

  • Gauntlet, that was the most eloquent argument for the 'No' side that I've heard yet.

    it's like patching a hole in a sinking ship with a poisonous goop.


    By Blogger Joanne (True Blue), at 5:14 PM  

  • I don’t like MMP for reasons stated elsewhere (esp. it means party flacks get appointed to office without really facing any voters in particular.)

    Why can’t we just slightly modify the current system so it becomes a limited preferential system – that is: mark your ballot with a first choice and an optional second choice. If no one candidate gets 50% or more of the first choices, the two candidates leading the first choice count get the second choices votes added to their totals.


    Candidate AA gets 40 1st choice votes
    Candidate BB gets 30 1st choice votes
    Candidate CC gets 20 1st choice votes
    And Candidate DD gets10.

    AA doesn’t have a majority of the first choices. CC and DD are eliminated. The 30 second choices are counted revealing: No second choice: 5; 5 of DDs secondary votes are for CC; and 5 CCs secondary votes are for DD; leaving 15 transferable second choice votes. If BB gets at least 13 of them BB wins, else AA wins.


    Voters will be able to vote with their heart on the first choice and vote with their head on the second choice. You'd get a few more Liberals elected out west. You'd get a few more Federalists from Quebec. You'd get a few weak MPs (see Calgary West) out of office, because opposition has a better chance of coalescing.

    Of course this system has zero chance of being adopted. The Man wont allow it.

    By Blogger crescent_heights_guy, at 7:31 PM  

  • With all due respect, Gauntlet, you're completely wrong about that. You've just given the Jason Cherniak argument, and the opening press statement of the No side that stated definitively that this would be the result.

    No specific process has been chosen yet by any party how to pick their party lists - that was left up to the individual parties to decide after a yes vote. If you look at other democratic countries with MMP, those delegates are picked democratically by the party - its not a darn lot different from our nomination meetings of MP's.

    It's POSSIBLE of course that parties could or would pick cronies, but the electoral consequences of that move would be obvious. They'd be hammered by the media and the other parties.

    In addition, by law, the parties would have to publicize not only their lists but how they chose those list candidates.. so there's nothing "hidden from the public".

    I think the reality is a lot of Liberals (and Conservatives) are more afraid of the fact that rather then ramming their agenda thru for 4 years with no way to stop them, they'd actually have to compromise or listen to other parties and people - the majority" who didnt vote for them.

    I've read a lot of falsehoods and misconceptions on here about MMP - I suggest you folks start reading some material - first the brilliant 10 Lies of MMP for starters, and then I'd suggest my old boss Wayne Chu's commentary On MMP

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 9:12 PM  

  • It's not true that New Zealand is the only place in the world that has moved from Westminster FPTP to Westminster MMP. Scotland and Wales have done the same thing and neither of them are moving back to FPTP either (they aren't countries, but then again, neither is Ontario).

    One of the big things in this debate and campaign is going to be the difference between the 'theory' of closed lists in MMP and the actual practice of it.

    So are MMP closed lists regressive poisonous undemocratic goop? Phew it's a wonder that Germany and New Zealand haven't completely collapsed by now yeah?

    That's because they really aren't and in fact MMP closed lists work pretty differently from pure list MP closed lists which everyone here seems to be confusing them with.

    To start with in MMP candidates from one of the big three parties would be completely stupid to run purely from the list. That's because any party that manages to do well in the local seats won't earn any list seats and any list only candidate will be swept out of parliament through no fault of their own. Thus all serious candidates run on the local side.

    Which means that all serious candidates who are in list seats are preparing to run in local seats in the next election and thus do the same things their local counterparts do, which is open up constituency offices and provide service. And this is one of the most amazing features about MMP that everyone seems to miss. competition to provide local services. This happens in Germany, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand. Voters are no longer tied to their local rep for service as list reps are biting at the chaff to provide more responsive service and steal votes. Hell here's a quote from a local Scottish MLA on what the brand new list MLA's were up to in his riding.

    "It makes my day-to-day work much more demanding and pressurised. However, it also makes me work harder and improves the working of democracy in my constituency. Good for the people, bad for the politicians"

    Sounds good to me.

    (Google html cache, dunno how long it'll be around).

    In the end I really urge you guys to not be content with the 'theory' of how MMP system with closed lists might perhaps maybe work. Take a look at how it actually works in the real world. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

    By Blogger Aamir, at 10:40 PM  

  • Scott, you and your fellows on the 'yes' side need to stop assuming that everyone who opposes MMP is either stupid or acting out of narrow self interest. There are two legitimate sides to this argument and a great deal at stake.

    MMP isn't something we can try out to see if it works. If we choose to adopt it, there's no looking back, and if it turns out that your predictions about how it will work are wrong, it will likely be decades before it can be fixed.

    The truth of the matter is that there's no perfect voting system. FPTP isn't perfect, but it's not as fundamentally flawed as it's often made out to be. And MMP isn't perfect either, so let's be honest about the fact that October's vote is on which flawed system we prefer.

    By Blogger Steve Marsh, at 7:26 AM  

  • Steve: Indeed there is a legitimate debate to be had. No system is perfect after all.

    However getting to that legitimate debate is hampered by the really obvious mistakes people make when talking about the new system (of the poisonous goop and endless elections variety). Once we get past them each system can be compared to each other based on their true workings.

    To your concerns about regionalism. Let's set aside which system has 'more' regionalism. Both systems allow regional parties of course but they do so in completely different ways.

    The 3% threshold in Ontario-MMP makes it much easier for a regional party to start up.

    FPTP by valuing concentration of support much more than amount of support ensures that new regional parties have a tougher time breaking out but when they do, they do so in a big way.

    There are two key differences to my mind.

    1. MMP ensures that the amount of seats a regional party gets is proportional to the amount of seats it gets. So it reflects accurately how many Canadians actually support the party. FPTP has no such priority aS evidenced by the BQ, leading to a pretty skewed view of Quebec by the ROC because of FPTP (bad FPTP!).

    2. MMP treats the small regional parties and small broad based parties the EXACT same way in terms of determining amount of seats. FPTP gives a concentration of support bonus to the first while punishing the other harshly for not having any concentration of support in a riding.

    That's illogical and arbitrary to my mind but also dangerous. Broad based parties after all speak to values that Canadians from across a province or country hold in common whether it be environmentalism or social conservatism whereas regional parties come from regional concerns that are by nature divisive especially in areas with a lot of space and low population density (Something that is true for both Canada and Ontario). Regional concerns are still completely legitimate however and I like MMP giving both the same weight.

    And I do not think I am exaggerating by saying FPTP punishes broad based parties with no concentraion of support harshly. Just take a look at the '93 elections. Reform got 2.5 million votes (18% support) and elected 52 MPs while the PCs got 2.1 million votes (16% support) and elected... 2. Now Reform earned more votes than the PC and definetly should have had more representation than them, but not 2500% more support.

    Heck Reform should have been the official opposition in that parliament, not the BQ which somehow got 2 more seats than Reform while having 700,000 fewer supporters.

    By Blogger Aamir, at 10:42 AM  

  • Joey Smallwood's family was my great grandmother's tenants. They were deadbeats. Just say no to Joe!

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 5:31 PM  

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