Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MMP, not really for me

I've been watching what has turned into quite the blog war over the Ontario MMP referendum with fascination. I'm fully aware that most people in the general population probably aren't very interested in the debate but, if you're reading this blog, odds are you're a political geek, in which case, West Wing reruns aside, you probably love nothing more in life than debating electoral reform (unless you stumbled across this by mistake on a weird google search).



Does Ontario Need Electoral Reform?

In general, I do think electoral reform is a good thing. Fixed election dates, more openness and transparency, maybe a preferential ballot...I can generally get behind a lot of moves aimed at "democratizing" the system (whatever that means).

But do we need to change the system? I dunno. First past the post has given Canada, and Canadian provinces, pretty good government over the past 140 years. Yes, there are some problems with a lack of diversity among elected officials, representation not directly related to vote totals, and low voter turn-out rates. For me, I think the system can be fixed with tinkering but I can at least see where people are coming from when they say that change is needed.


The Effect of MMP from a Practical Perspective

OK, so you're one of those people that wants change. But we could change the system to anything from a Monarchy to a philosopher king - there needs to be reason enough to believe that MMP would be an improvement. So what can we reasonably expect MMP to change?

Well, the smaller parties would get more seats, for starters. That's good news for NDP and Green supporters. It would also mean perpetual minority/coalition governments - whether that's good or bad is debatable. As for fringe parties, they'd need to pick up 3% to get seats so it only changes things if you think the "abortion party", "jewish rights party", or "NDP" could reach that threshold. My main fear is that there's no incentive to be a big tent party under this system. I could guarantee that the PCs would split within five years because it makes more pragmatic sense to have a PC party hugging the centre and a separate right wing party to bring out the hard right wingers.

As for being more representative, yeah, if the list candidates were appointed, you'd get more females and minorities for sure. Then again, if the list candidates were appointed, it could get consumed with patronage.

Then you get voter turn-out. I know the argument is that certain ridings are slam dunks so people feel there's no reason to vote because their vote doesn't matter. If you think about things, the odds that one vote, out of five million province wide for 39 seats will make a difference is nearly non-existent. Maybe there'd be a psychological thing that would encourage more people to vote, but I'm a little skeptical myself.

Since I'm not a huge fan of minority governments and MMP increases the odds of large parties fracturing, it doesn't do much for me from a pragmatic point of view.



MMP from a Theoretical Perspective

Liking the system because of actual benefits it would bring is one thing. Liking it from a theoretical perspective could also be a good reason to bring it in. You know, all that feel good "fairness" and "democracy" crap people seem so attached to for whatever reason. And, having the percentage of MPPs correspond to the percentage of votes certainly sounds fairer.

On the flip side, you have MPPs being elected indirectly. Like him or hate him, Rob Anders does get directly elected by the voters of Calgary West so there's a certain legitimacy to him being in Parliament. That gets blurred a bit once you start talking about lists. I personally think STV makes more sense from a theoretical perspective than MMP but I guess that's a preference thing - Coke or Pepsi, Marianne or Ginger.

The very least I can see where MMP supporters are coming from when they talk about it from a theoretical perspective.


Conclusions

MMP would be an interesting experiment but I just don't think the problem is big enough or that the solution would improve things. And I'm saying this fully aware that MMP would mean a lot more Liberals, both federally and provincially, elected in Alberta. For a counter-point, here's a good post on the New Zealand experience.

Labels:

54 Comments:

  • I find it strange you don't find the problem big enough, living as you do in a one party state (thanks to FPTP).

    By Blogger Greg, at 10:46 AM  

  • Either you've really been picking and choosing what you read about the issue, or you know better than to throw minority and coalition governments into the same pot. Why are you misleading people like that? Majority coalition governments under MMP are about as similar to our single-party minority governments as apples are to kumquats. Really.

    Also, if you're going to make the tired old argument about MPPs being "appointed" (which isn't true--they're elected by parties much in the way riding candidates tend to be right now) and this situation producing "patronage factories," I at least expect you to provide some evidence from other countries that use MMP that suggest that this actually happens. (Good luck finding some, because it doesn't actually work that way in real life.)

    As for big tent parties, the aforementioned majority coalition governments substitute rather handily for them. And no, this isn't about fracturing into fringe parties--if you look at the countries that use MMP, you can see that what you tend to get is three or four medium-sized parties. The voters then get to choose between several parties based on their actual policy preferences, and then the winning party gets to choose a coalition partner based on who they're most willing to make compromises with. The "big tent" is formed in government, not in the policymaking stage.

    As for MMP benefiting the NDP--well, let's just say that you're assuming the party structures would stay exactly the same as they are now. You talk about how the Ontario PC party would split in two, but based on the New Zealand experience I suspect it's more likely that you'd see an even more widespread restructuring of the three entrenched parties. Any New Democrat who's in this for "ooh, more votes for us" would be in for a bit more adjustment than they think--it's just not that simple. But the result would be a series of three or four midsize parties that would really represent the full range of policy preferences in Ontario, and a chance to work together in government. How can you be against that?

    You also left out several other arguments in favour of MMP, such as the fact that FPTP can do (and has done) some pretty scary things, like give regional parties like the Bloc a disproportionately large number of seats, and completely demolish formerly entrenched parties like the Progressive Conservatives simply because their vote was scattered across the country. Such as the fact that MMP would prevent upsets like the 1990 election in which the NDP got a "majority" government with only 37% of the vote. Such as the changes that it would promote in our political culture in favour of more civility and cooperation. Et cetera.

    I'd love to see a real argument against MMP from you that addressed all the issues, but this post wasn't that.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 10:53 AM  

  • In response to the IDEALISTIC PRAGMATIST, here is an example of the patronage factories in other countries that you were talking about. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2003/12/04/russia031204.html
    Perhaps one of the most heinious exercises in democracy that I have ever seen. MMP is a farce, somehow giving the same vote in the legislature to people chosen off a list as people who actually represent PEOPLE in ridings, hence the name representative democracy! FPTP ahs problems, but MMP is even worse (read the article!)

    By Blogger Shaun, at 11:02 AM  

  • I think it's pretty funny that so many people oppose MMP because it leads to minority governments. Because there's no evidence that our current first past the post system could do that...

    Also, i was initially concerned about the list system and patronage, but if the responsible and democratic riding system can produce Rob Anders, I don't think a list system could do much worse.

    And just remember, this is democracy we're talking about. If people want majority governments, then a majority of them will vote for one party. If people hate patronage they will support a party without a list of hacks.

    By Blogger Toby, at 11:03 AM  

  • I'm not entirely convinced that we'd see a tremendous jump in voter turnout under MMP, I dunno, I just think most Canadians would rather stay home and watch reality television for some reason. I also believe that we need FPTP to enable majority governments to provide some measure of political stability in up to five year increments, and I just don't see a lot of stability under any form of PR. Finally, would the NDP strongly support PR were they the government of the day with a strong majority? Somehow I doubt it.

    Whatever happened to the good old fashioned notion of a political party (this means you NDP and Greens) working their tails off, building a strong base of support, fundraising their keesters off and selling Canadians on their vision for the country/province/territory?

    That's what Liberals and Conservatives have been doing since Christ was a cowboy... don't see much need to change things.

    Of course, I can understand why MMP is attractive to some... it falls in line with out true national character: "lets all be inclusive as all hell and form a damned committee to talk an issue to death and never take a stand on anything lest we offend someone."

    MMP is a group hug approach to allowing the NDP, Greens and other fringe parties to somehow forgo the process of building a national party that is saleable to Canadians.

    Finally, has it ever occurred to those vocal supporters (mostly NDP supporters and those on the left) of PR that maybe, just maybe, Canadians aren't terribly interested in electing a national government under the NDP banner?

    There MUST be a reason why the NDP can't form a government... I wonder what it could be?

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 11:14 AM  

  • Shaun,

    Russia has a different system from the one proposed in Ontario. Try again. (Hint: you'll have to turn to either Germany or New Zealand.)

    Sean Cummings,

    I'm as uncertain as you are about voter turnout, incidentally. But the American electoral reform scholar who maintains the blog "Fruits and Votes" commented on my blog post about just that and told me that the research actually does show an increase in voter turnout. I'm not going to be making that argument in favour of MMP anytime soon, but it's worth checking out.

    And as for this: There MUST be a reason why the NDP can't form a government... I wonder what it could be? Umm...you know they have in Ontario, right? As well as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and British Columbia? Not that this has anything to do with electoral reform, of course, but just saying.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 11:31 AM  

  • Whatever happened to the good old fashioned notion of a political party (this means you NDP and Greens) working their tails off, building a strong base of support, fundraising their keesters off and selling Canadians on their vision for the country/province/territory?

    Because that good old notion is flawed. If you work your tail off for a regional special interest (Hello Bloc) you can get yourself elected easily, but if you have a vision that is heartily and broadly endorsed by a great number of citizens (let's say 49% of them) you can't (yes there's some exaggerating).

    And since when is it the electoral system's job to create stable government? We should just have an enforced 2 party system and 8 year terms if that's what we want. And, I'll reiterate: It looks quite possible that FPTP will give us those dreadful minority governments for many years to come at both the federal and provincial level.

    By Blogger Toby, at 11:41 AM  

  • I don't think anyone is advicating for a system where minorities are virtually non-existant, but sometimes in a political system, it is nice to have some continuity. The MMP system proposed makes it nearly impossible to elect a majority government (when was the last time more than 50% of the voters of Ontario voted for a single party?)

    Coalitions aren't necessarily a bad thing, but it would take some massive re-working of political alignments of our system for these parties to officially work together, which I really don't see happening.

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 11:52 AM  

  • Federally, I'd go with the Australian system:

    Single member STV in the lower house (instant run-offs in every riding still promote majority gov'ts like FPTP)

    Multi member STV in the upper house (avoids majorities in the house of second thought)

    By Blogger anonymous, at 12:01 PM  

  • Well said. I agree with your take on the issue. On paper it looks allright, but it's doubtful to increase democracy, and will very possibly dilute it. And then there's patronage appointments.

    Everything sounds better before it's implemented. Remember David Miller's "transparent" governance? Yeah, it hasn't been going so well recently.

    By Blogger Raphael Alexander, at 12:29 PM  

  • Idealist Pragmatist wrote:

    >>Umm...you know they have in Ontario, right? As well as in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and British Columbia? Not that this has anything to do with electoral reform, of course, but just saying.<<

    Oopsie... I forgot to insert the word "national" when referring to why the NDP can't form a government. That being said, what are they now in Ontario... 18%? Hold me back baby Jesus! That's phenomenal! Wasn't Bob Rae the Premier of Ontario during the early 1990's? Didn't he do a kick-ass job of that?

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 12:29 PM  

  • The thing to remember about MMP, or any electoral reform: its importance shouldn't be exaggerated. It might even out things out a bit, but in the end, parliaments are formed from the basic economic and geographic factors of the region it governs. I bet a MMP system could form an Alberta-style one party province, if the demographic factors fall into place. Alliances that take place between parties in a multi-parties systems occur intra-party in one-/two-party systems.

    By Blogger Babbler, at 12:30 PM  

  • uwhabs,

    The MMP system proposed makes it nearly impossible to elect a majority government

    Not true. Since MMP was instituted in Germany, for example, nearly all of the governments have been majority governments. They have simply been majority governments of more than one party--and yes, this is VERY different from the single-party minority governments you find in Canada. Much more stable, for one thing--Canada has in fact had more elections since 1949 than either Germany (with MMP) or Ireland (with a different sort of proportional representation called STV).

    sometimes in a political system, it is nice to have some continuity.

    Actually, the comparative research suggests that there is a lot more continuity in countries that use proportional representation because their "changes in government" often only change one coalition partner, making it more like a Canadian cabinet shuffle. Under FPTP, on the other hand, you start from scratch with everything every time a new government is elected. That's hardly efficient.

    babbler,

    I bet a MMP system could form an Alberta-style one party province, if the demographic factors fall into place.

    That's true--a single-party majority government happened in Germany under Helmut Kohl. It's pretty rare, though. And the Germans actually are kind of scared of the idea--they think too much power for too long in the hands of only one party will tend to lead to corruption.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 12:53 PM  

  • IP; There's no rule for coalition governments - Canada has sometimes had coalitions, sometimes minorities. I presume things would continue under the same system although if we got perpetual minority gvts, I guess people would eventually adapt to coalition governments. A coalition could break and I don't think you'd ever see a coalition government making the kind of neccesary hard choices you sometimes need (ie. cuts of early 90s by Liberals).

    The list thing IS an issue. There are two options:

    a) lists are appointed - in which case the point stands

    b) lists are elected - in which case they don't do anything to address the issues of gender or minority imbalance

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 12:55 PM  

  • CG, the list is elected by province wide vote. If people don't like the NDP list for example (say they go nuts and put every hack you can think of on the list), they can vote for some other list. Parties aren't stupid, if they put together an unappealing list, they won't get the party votes needed to add list members to the legislature.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:27 PM  

  • Heaven forbid that the electorate be allowed to cherry pick the party lists. Doing the right thing should be left to party hacks.

    By Blogger anonymous, at 1:45 PM  

  • "That's true--a single-party majority government happened in Germany under Helmut Kohl."

    Adenauer, yes (many years earlier) -- but I don't think Kohl ever governed without the FDP.

    I fully endorse all your other comments, and commiserate with you for single-handedly taking on a lot of uninformed posters here.

    I would much prefer that power-sharing agreements and the formation of a "big tent" take place in the open after the voters have spoken.

    By Blogger gantenbein, at 1:52 PM  

  • "I would much prefer that power-sharing agreements and the formation of a "big tent" take place in the open after the voters have spoken."

    Don't coalitions usually happen in the back rooms?

    I think the biggest downside of and proportional system is the fracturing of brokerage parties.

    Also, the ability to hold a party to account for the policies it ran on in the previous election.

    If the citizen change the system, and the parties say they can't keep promises due to continual back rooming between the parties is the government really more accountable?

    By Blogger Kyle G. Olsen, at 2:04 PM  

  • Let's forget all the red herrings about unstable minority governments. Go look to Germany. What you'll see is a long succession of stable coalition governments, very often lasting 8 years, sometimes more. As long as there's a minimum threshold (I like 5% or even 7% better than 3%) the legislature will take the form of a small number of parties engaged in sophisticated policy programme negotiations. That's a good thing, not a bad thing. As for list MPs, well, it's easy to design open-list systems or better primary systems for choosing candidates -- something we should do in any case, given that candidates chosen under the existing system are often of mediocre quality (sometimes less). The reason this can happen is that, in the great majority of cases, people don't really vote for the candidate in general elections -- they vote for the party and the party leader. Hence, whether MPPs are elected from Party-generated lists or in individual ridings (or both, as in MMP) makes very little real difference. The argument against MMP that cites this "can't throw the bum out" concern is a bit disingenuous, seen in a pragmatic light.

    Here's the real reason so many people (nearly always Libs or Cons) oppose electoral reform: FPTP unfairly rewards their own party. It's that simple. There's no honest argument against prop-rep [or for FPTP], either 'theoretical' or 'pragmatic', that stands up to scrutiny if one is coming from a place of true commitment to democratic principles and democratic procedures.

    If you really believe in democracy, you won't support a system that allows a 37% slice of the electorate supporting a particular policy prejudice [right wing, left wing, whatever] to determine 60% of the seats in the legislature and 100% of government policy. Mumbling about "stable government" is a red herring. Coalition governance will emerge automatically, and experience in Germany and elsewhere shows that coalition governments are as stable as you could want. What opponents of PR systems are really saying [with phrases like "pretty good government over the past 140 years"] is this: "We like the cozy system we have now, where our party [the Liberals or Conservatives] has for many years been able to get into government without having to compromise with Greenies and lefties. Let's keep the system we have, which has historically disenfranchised the Left federally and in most Provinces too. That's more important to me than real voter enfranchisement or genuinely representative democracy."

    Fess up. That's what all you anti-prop-rep people are saying. You're not fooling anyone who understands this topic.

    I suggest to Calgary Grit, a thoughtful blogger I have much respect for, that he might want to get off the fence and show some real commitment to democratic principle by supporting electoral reform - to say nothing of showing a commitment to keeping Alberta in Confederation; if we stay with FPTP, we're staying with a system in which most Albertans feel they have no say in federal governance whenever there's a Liberal government in Ottawa (i.e. most of the time), which is a terrible strain on national unity -- as is the way FPTP inflates 40% of the popular vote in Quebec into two-thirds or more of federal seats for the Bloc.

    By Blogger Jasper Sky, at 2:28 PM  

  • CG,

    A coalition could break

    Could, sure. Does it actually tend to happen under MMP systems, though? Very, very rarely. There's simply no evidence to support this. In New Zealand it happened...I think once?...while they were still getting used to the new system, but it hasn't been the norm. In Germany it's almost unheard of. Even in the current government which wasn't at all the government they wanted (you've essentially got the equivalent of the Conservatives governing together with the Liberals), there are spats but it's holding firm.

    and I don't think you'd ever see a coalition government making the kind of neccesary hard choices you sometimes need (ie. cuts of early 90s by Liberals).

    I'd like to see some evidence for this, please. You mean to tell me that you don't think Germany--which has had MMP since just after the second world war and has nearly always had majority coalition governments--has never had to make necessary hard choices like deep budget cuts? I beg to differ (as someone who lived there).

    lists are elected - in which case they don't do anything to address the issues of gender or minority imbalance

    Please provide some evidence from jurisdictions that actually use MMP before making these claims. This actually doesn't tend to be true at all. Party lists in Germany tend to be elected by the party membership (there are a few exceptions that I won't get into here), and yet they still have more women (most minorities aren't citizens in Germany so that's a different situation). Same in New Zealand, where that's true for both women and minorities.

    gantenbein,

    You're right, it was Adenauer. Sorry--it was all before my time, so sometimes I mix things up!

    kyle g. olsen,

    Now we're actually getting into some of the real issues. Thank you for asking such informed, thoughtful questions.

    In a newly forming coalition government, common policy is indeed ironed out in the backrooms in the first couple of weeks after an election. So is common policy in a "big tent" party that wants to govern all on its own. The difference, though, is that the compromises formed by a majority coalition government are compromises between party platforms that between them have the support of the majority of the population. The compromises formed in a big tent party that governs on its own under first past the post, on the other hand, hardly ever have that same level of support.

    If the citizen change the system, and the parties say they can't keep promises due to continual back rooming between the parties is the government really more accountable?

    The thing is, the party platforms were available to the voters before the election, and in a majority coalition government, the common policies aren't picked out of thin air, but are based on bringing together the two platforms in a way that leans toward the party that got the most votes. So you're right that no party could deliver on every single thing they promised because of these compromises, but keep in mind that under MMP, coalitions are usually formed between ideologically similar parties, so you're not trying to reconcile black with white.

    Let's take a hypothetical Canadian example. If, say, the Liberals were to win the next election but fall four seats short of a majority, and the Greens got four seats, they could easily choose to form a coalition government with the Greens. The Liberals would be in a much stronger bargaining position because of their much higher seat count, so they wouldn't have to compromise on very many things (and most of them would probably fall into the jurisdiction of environmental policy). In addition, the Greens would probably demand that they get one cabinet minister (again, probably the environment minister). The Greens would have to compromise a lot more because of their relative weakness, but I can't really see a situation where Green voters would say "you didn't [do this one bit of the Green party platform]! you suck!" They would be aware that a coalition government means compromise, especially as the smaller partner, and in order to have a stronger bargaining position next time, they would simply have to work harder to elect more Green MPPs.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 2:43 PM  

  • "Don't coalitions usually happen in the back rooms?"

    Not in Germany, at least, where each party appoints a negotiating team, the meetings are very high profile, and the process results in a "coalition contract" (Koalitions- vertrag), which is available to the public (in the early days it was even published in the newspapers).

    By Blogger gantenbein, at 2:45 PM  

  • P.S. A bit of gratuitous self-promotion: a lot of these issues are getting into things I've written about in my blog, so if you find your interest piqued by the arguments I'm making, you might be interested in having a look at my proportional representation FAQ and my post myth #1: proportional representation leads to minority governments.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 2:50 PM  

  • CG - as always thanks for the very helpful commentary. I also appreciated the link to the good run down on the New Zealand experience.

    I am all for reform, but this is not good reform. We have, as you point out, used this system for one and a half centuries and it has worked fairly well, it is not time to throw the baby out with the bath water. A more gradual reform as required is warranted.

    The Australian lower house model of single member preferential balloting is far more reasonable and less dramatic than an MMP or STV proposal but would alleviate many of the problems that electoral reform proponents point to.

    Indeed, in studying electoral reform models the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy found that New Zealand had serious problems within their parliament because riding MPs viewed MMP MPs as second class without the moral authority of a directly elected member. Polls show if a referendum were held it is quite likely New Zealanders, knowing and having experienced the system, would prefer to switch back.

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 2:51 PM  

  • nbpolitico,

    Polls show if a referendum were held it is quite likely New Zealanders, knowing and having experienced the system, would prefer to switch back.

    This is simply not true. Lord Kitchener's Own debunks that argument in his commment over here. (Short form: it was one poll, not polls, and it didn't show that anyway.)

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 3:07 PM  

  • Here's a reason to go MPP: Bloc seats will be halved.

    By Blogger C. LaRoche, at 3:47 PM  

  • C. LaRoche,

    Well...not in Ontario, where there are no Bloc seats in the first place. :-)

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 3:58 PM  

  • Right — I mean if these ideas ever eventually boiled over into a federal context.

    By Blogger C. LaRoche, at 4:07 PM  

  • Idealistic Pragmatist - the poll to which you link shows that those favouring MMP and those wanting to switch back are within the margin of error.

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 4:10 PM  

  • On an aside, there's brief article about MPP in this month's Walrus, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I used to work at.

    By Blogger C. LaRoche, at 4:10 PM  

  • nbpolitico,

    The point is that it's not about wanting to switch back. That wasn't the question that was asked. Have another look.

    By Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist, at 4:36 PM  

  • Before reading any comments, I want to thank you for putting forward a well-reasoned and articulate argument against MMP --- I've been generally swayed towards it, but I appreciate your thoughts in making up my mind.

    I too prefer the STV system. I'm far less impressed with the MMP idea.

    I *do* think a change is good - I'm ****ing fed up with not being able to vote for Premier/Prime Minister, and with our unelected Senate (and Cabinet being made of MPs, but I'm not going to blow a gasket over it).

    I guess that like you, I'm definitely pleased with the government the FPTP system has given us all these decades. What a fantastic piece of Earth we live on - the system has generally worked. Still, it does seem "wrong", in some sense, that less than half the votes can get you for more than half the seat tally. In my view, if you believe that Al Gore should have won in 2000 (and I did) (and I thought Bush was just fine at the time), then you believe that you need more than 50% of votes to take more than 50% of the power.

    I expect to vote for MMP, because I think it's probably somewhat better than FPTP. It's a hard decision, and I'm not happy with the option. In my view, STV should at least be included on the referendum ballot.

    But that would confuse *way* too many people, I guess.

    looking forward to reading the comments as I try to make up my mind for certain.

    PS it could get consumed with patronage. This is my absolutely biggest bone to pick with the whole thing. It seems really, but REALLY, stupid - just begging for the Liberals or PCs to come along and screw it all up for everyone just so their friends can get a slap on the back. Ugh, my mistrust of the parties is probably the biggest factor in my serious hesitation.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 4:41 PM  

  • Idealistic Pragmatist - there were three questions asked:

    1.) Do you favour a new referendum on the electoral system, to which the vast majority said "yes".

    2.) Do you prefer MMP or FPTP, to which there was a statistical tie

    3.) Do you think MMP has been good, where "neutral" led by a large margin

    By Blogger nbpolitico, at 4:55 PM  

  • "First past the post has given Canada, and Canadian provinces, pretty good government over the past 140 years."

    Spoken like a true Liberal. :)

    I'd like to see less regionalization of parties so we can get away from the Reforms and Blocs which encourage factionalization within the country. The NDP and Greens suffer far too much due to the diffuse nature of their gepgraphical support. While this is a lesser problem provincially, the urban/suburban/rural regionalization is very much in play. Regionalization has had very real impacts on the governance of our country, from provincial agreements, regionally targeted policies, or outright neglect, so while there's been much good, there's been a lot of bad also. MMP can keep the good while alleviating some of the bad.

    The patronage issue is overblown, particularly since the Ontario recommendation is for those list positions to be elected. The list seats will represent less than 30% of the total seats and will be scattered across multiple parties, so these "hacks" can't exactly take over things. We can get away from appointed candidates as they can be satisfied through the list seats rather than being parachuted into ridings. The current system allows unelected officials to be put into Cabinet positions, so there's no change here - and list candidates are elected, just not directly. I also agree most voting is by party and not local candidate - I can't remember most of the candidates I've voted for over the years but I can tell you they were all Liberal.

    STV is better than FPTP but I hesitate at the idea of eventually having to vote for someone I don't like if my party gets bumped off the ballot. I'd rather my vote still go to the party of my choice.

    I have the NDP in all 3 levels of govt and my vote goes for nought every election, which is tremendously discouraging.

    FPTP is the worst of all electoral systems, rejecting change because the choice at hand isn't perfect still leaves us with a lesser system, and closes the door for future opportunities for improvement and change.

    By Blogger Davey's Politics, at 5:45 PM  

  • rejecting change because the choice at hand isn't perfect still leaves us with a lesser system, and closes the door for future opportunities for improvement and change.

    Bro, you hit my nail right on the head... Ontario's not likely to ever get a shot at any different system, this is pretty much the only chance we'll get. And despite my misgivings, I do feel it's an improvement.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 5:58 PM  

  • Re STV and MMP. I hope STV is adopted in BC and MMP in Ontario. That way we can see both systems in action, before we tackle electoral reform federally.

    By Blogger Greg, at 7:05 PM  

  • if we stay with FPTP, we're staying with a system in which most Albertans feel they have no say in federal governance whenever there's a Liberal government in Ottawa (i.e. most of the time), which is a terrible strain on national unity -- as is the way FPTP inflates 40% of the popular vote in Quebec into two-thirds or more of federal seats for the Bloc.

    I tend to think Albertans won't be feeling any more at home in a Liberal-NDP coalition government...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 7:42 PM  

  • greg; Yeah, it would make for an interesting case study to try the two out. And, like I said in a post before, MMP in Ontario suits be fine since it would likely set us up with Liberal/NDP/Green coalition governments for quite some time.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 8:14 PM  

  • The Australian lower house model of single member preferential balloting is far more reasonable and less dramatic than an MMP or STV proposal but would alleviate many of the problems that electoral reform proponents point to.

    Would it?

    How many people here would be surprised to know that a preferential ballot was implemented in BC 50-60 years ago by the Liberal-Conservative coalition government? The thinking was that the Coalition would be at least the second-choice of most people, thus keeping the socialist hordes of the CCF out of power. Well, with the advent of the Socreds, they became the most popular second-choice, destroying the coalition, and ushering in 20-odd years of Socred rule (who changed the system back to FPTP).

    There is no perfect system, but preferential balloting does nothing so much as ensure that the government is the run by the generally most inoffensive party, while sidestepping the real first preferences of voters.

    Anyhow, I'd take issue, CG, with your claim that only FPTP provides an incentive for so-called big tent parties to exist. On one hand, we have clear examples of polarized party systems in BC, Sask, and Manitoba, not to mention Quebec, which show plainly that FPTP hardly implies much less guarantees the presence of brokerage parties.

    To take some further examples, FPTP did not prevent the polarization of British politics between Labour and the Tories, nor did it permit Congress in India to maintain its dominant position - in the latter case, messy coalition politics are the norm, and that's without any electoral reform at all.

    In short, I think you need to prevent some persuasive arguments that brokerage "big tent" parties are an inherent feature of FPTP, assuming such parties are desirable in the first place. It seems quite plain that the electoral system is rather peripheral to the structure of the party system. At most, I'd say that FPTP - as a winner-take-all system - worsens the relations between parties, since they are all scrambling to win the coveted majority government and, hence, nearly all the power.

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 11:18 PM  

  • I tend to think Albertans won't be feeling any more at home in a Liberal-NDP coalition government...

    Well, let's imagine for a moment what MMP might look like on a national basis. We would do well to follow the German system, in which each Land has its own open list, from which voters can rank their preferred candidates in their preferred party. That way, the proportional element occurs on a provincial or regional basis, so that "list seats" would still be identified with Alberta or Manitoba or wherever.

    Hence, the CPC would not win 100% of the seats in Alberta, and instead those perennially unrepresented Liberals in Calgary (not to mention the NDPers and Greens!) would have their very own party represented - from Alberta - in Parliament.

    Now, how does that sound?

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 11:21 PM  

  • Perhaps you could clarify why the splitting of big-tent parties 'is your main fear' This fear seems to be the primary driver behind your opposition to MMP but I'm not sure what it is exactly that you are afraid of.

    Also, you seem to be randomly classifying things as practical and theoretical without any organizing principle. For example, in your view, higher voter turnout is a practical benefit, but a legislature which accurately represents the views of the population is a theoretical one.

    Hard to say for sure, but it seems as though you are classing things you care about (turnout, representation of women, having one party firmly in charge, etc.) as practical (i.e. important) and things you don't care about (crap like democracy, fairness and accurate representation) as theoretical (i.e. unimportant). Perhaps I have missed the reasoning behind the distinction.

    For me, knowing that my vote counts towards the results and is being counted in a system which makes (theoretical) sense is a practical (i.e. real) benefit, but that may vary for others.

    Anyway, a few things you didn't consider in your post.

    Ability for new ideas to be raised and represented - FPTP tends towards centrist big-tent parties as you note, this often means that voters are unable to express a viewpoint on issues because all parties have the same stance (lots of folks face a situation like Greg Staples). Of course, given Canada's record of 140 years of good governance, considering new ideas may be a risk not worth taking, but I still like to try and make things better all the same.

    Perverse outcomes - Voting for a party further left (e.g. the NDP instead of the Liberals) shouldn't lead to the election of a party further right. Or vice-versa.

    Stability - The wild swings from Liberals to NDP to Conservatives that hit Ontario in the 90's would have been far more muted and far less damaging under a system of proportional representation. This would also likely lead to MPP's having longer average tenure and thus being more experience and competent as well. I think of my home riding and some of the people (from various parties) who simply 'rode a wave of change' favouring their party even though they were well known locally to not be the most competent candidate. If people could have split their personal and party votes, they could have supported their preferred party and also elected the best local candidate.

    Effective Opposition - While it hasn't happened in Ontario recently, in many provinces you get situations where there are only a handful of opposition MPP's in the legislature, which makes a mockery of how parliamentary democracy should work.

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:28 AM  

  • Declan,

    I am going to focus on one point to avoid clutter, and people ignoring my overly long point.

    "stability"
    The wild swings from the Liberals to NDP to the Tories, and moreover the wild swings in policy are an example of the fallacy of taking a small slice of history and claiming it to be the norm. That is particularly true when you are talking about a period characterized by the largest recession since the Great Depression, and the deficit reaching crisis levels. That is the kind of setting where you get extremists (look at Tom Flanagan's recent article on Conservative strategy - a core part of it is "swerves to the right don't work without a crisis").

    In doing this, you have ignored the incredibly stability of Ontario politics from 1943-1985, when the same party governed the province - ruling as moderates (sometimes running left of the Liberals) just as median voter theory would predict.

    Indeed there is an inherent disconnect between two points made by MMP advocates. They complain that:

    1. A small number of voters in a few ridings have all the power.
    2. FPTP creates massive swings from the left to the right.

    If you look at the ridings that tend to be very close, they are generally ridings that are moderate, and the people that could go either way in those ridings are themselves moderates. Thus even if the right comes to power, it will do so through its reliance on moderate swing voters.

    In your exuberance to reform the system, you need to take a breath, and avoid cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately people on both sides of the debate tend to start their own cognitive processes with the notion that their preferred policy is right (usually because it will benefit their party - or their subsection of the party, in the case of Hugh Segal or left-leaning Liberals).

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 2:01 AM  

  • Bro, you hit my nail right on the head... Ontario's not likely to ever get a shot at any different system, this is pretty much the only chance we'll get. And despite my misgivings, I do feel it's an improvement.

    Okay, I have to strongly disagree with this. If MMP fails, but the appetite for some form of electoral reform - or more aptly, reform to how government and the provincial parliament works - incremental to large scale change is still possible. A large scale change won't happen immediately, but could be brought back within 5-10 years.

    Now...if you approve MMP, you're stuck with it for a long time. The average voter isn't going to care, because they're going to think "didn't we just vote on this a few years ago", and proponents of MMP are going to say that you have to give the system a while to iron out the kinks and for parties and voters to figure out how to adapt to it.

    So if you're voting for MMP, you better be pretty certain it's the best deal you're going to get, and enough of an improvement over the current system to rule out the option of any further electoral reform for the foreseeable future.

    If I lived in Ontario, I would vote No to this. I think we need to reform the way government operates (if not the system itself), but my strong preference would be to move towards a system where individual representatives have more freedom and importance, not one where parties are entrenched as the central figures.

    By Blogger Alex, at 10:44 AM  

  • Alex, you must be joking, surely. Public desire for Senate reform hasn't gotten us anywhere in a very long time, so I think it's very obvious that the opportunity comes around pretty rarely. Anyone can see that.

    If the public appetite in 5 years is high for electoral reform, then it really doesn't matter if they're post-MMP or still FPTP.

    It's not even that high right now, however - so I still think that this is the only shot Ontario's going to see in a long time.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 11:35 AM  

  • Now...if you approve MMP, you're stuck with it for a long time. The average voter isn't going to care, because they're going to think "didn't we just vote on this a few years ago"

    Won't they be asking the exact same question if MMP gets rejected this time around? Regardless of how nuanced some voters' reasons for voting against MMP may be, the public perception would be that of an endorsement of the status quo.

    By Blogger gantenbein, at 12:58 PM  

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    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 1:19 PM  

  • This is a provincial electoral system referendum we're discussing, but we can apply this federally as well as provincially when I say there would be a lot of Albertan Liberals as well as Conservatives in Toronto who have had no heck in Hades of electing a local candidate that their vote WOULD count under an MMP-type system, or any PR system for that matter.

    Getting to Ontario, there are plenty of Conservatives in the same aforementioned Toronto ridings and Liberals in ridings like Lanark in Eastern Ontario who would find they no longer have a wasted vote under MMP - and it just MIGHT spur a rise in voter turnout when that realization hits home, which is good for our democratic system.

    So to say this only benefits "small parties" isn't factually accurate. Some of our establishment politicos need to look at the bigger picture here.

    Also.. I'm rather amused at all these people saying "we don't need to do something so radical as this - we can just tinker with the current system"

    Well.. how many reforms have you seen lately in the FPTP system in the last 50 years, tinkering or otherwise? If you can give me more then 3, I'll tip my hat to you... but as far as I'm concerned, all that is code-speak for from electoral reform opponents is "we dont really have any intention to do reform on this system, but we'll say that to try and stall for time on keeping this system as it is"

    Look at Paul Martin's Minister For Democratic Reform during his reign to see evidence of that attitude.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 1:22 PM  

  • As for parties splitting, the PCs would have to fracture under MMP. Let's say they can get 35% of the vote now. Well, if you had a right wing party and a centrist party, both would probably get more votes separate than they would combined (just see the Alliance/PC merger federally as an example). That's because the right wing party can appeal to the fringes and get them out to vote, and the other party can hug the middle. Faced with perpetual NDP/Liberal coalitions, they'd need to try something like that. Now, maybe you say it's not a big deal if they fracture, but it seems clear to me they would.

    josh; Yes, having Liberals and NDP elected from Alberta would be a good thing. But the argument I was responding to was from someone who said that Alberta feels alienated when Liberal governments always get elected.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 6:49 PM  

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    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 7:39 PM  

  • "Faced with perpetual NDP/Liberal coalitions, they'd need to try something like that."

    This is like saying that the Labour-Lib Dem coalition in Scotland will last forever (it was not forged) and that the German Christian Democrats will co-operate with the Bavarian Christian Socialists. Things do end, politicians become arrogant etc. etc. etc.

    Is the Westminister system inherited from the UK, the best system? No, it is antiquated and leadership centred. The only thing FPTP is good for is creating a parliamentary system good for war mobilization and I for one would be happy if Canada never becomes involved in another military conflict.

    By Blogger Mushroom, at 9:08 PM  

  • As for parties splitting, the PCs would have to fracture under MMP. Let's say they can get 35% of the vote now. Well, if you had a right wing party and a centrist party, both would probably get more votes separate than they would combined (just see the Alliance/PC merger federally as an example). That's because the right wing party can appeal to the fringes and get them out to vote, and the other party can hug the middle. Faced with perpetual NDP/Liberal coalitions, they'd need to try something like that. Now, maybe you say it's not a big deal if they fracture, but it seems clear to me they would.

    All I can say is, so what? If a group splinters off the PC Party in Ontario, then it will be no different from the emergence of Reform and the Bloc from the federal PCs in 1993. Repeat after me: Party splits are not intrinsically related to the electoral system. What's more, FPTP can actually exacerbate the effects of party splits, as occurred in 1993. Consider that if we'd had some type of MMP in 1993, the Bloc would never have become the Official Opposition, and the subsequent history of the "unite-the-right" movement would be rather different, since vote-splitting is effectively irrelevant as a factor under a proportional system.

    Haven't the Alberta PCs already suffered some small scale offshoots? They might have been more successful under MMP... maybe. Yet Germany still only has five parties in the lower house.

    josh; Yes, having Liberals and NDP elected from Alberta would be a good thing. But the argument I was responding to was from someone who said that Alberta feels alienated when Liberal governments always get elected.

    Of course, such comments sound more like the product of a narcissism that suggests that the government must be that of your preferred party at all times, and that anything else is "alienation". Such claims would be a lot harder to take if 20-25% of Alberta's seats were Liberal-held.

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 10:09 PM  

  • I don't think it's "narcissism" to be in a province that only elects Conservatives during a long period of time in which Liberals mostly rule. Your province is shut out of Cabinet - how is it narcissism to be discontented with that situation?

    If Ontario or Quebec was constantly not able to be represented in Cabinet, I find it hard to believe anyone would chalk someone's grumbling up to narcissism alone.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 11:25 PM  

  • I don't think it's "narcissism" to be in a province that only elects Conservatives during a long period of time in which Liberals mostly rule. Your province is shut out of Cabinet - how is it narcissism to be discontented with that situation?

    How was Alberta shut out of Cabinet from 1993-2006? Does the name Anne McLellan ring a bell?

    If Ontario or Quebec was constantly not able to be represented in Cabinet, I find it hard to believe anyone would chalk someone's grumbling up to narcissism alone.

    See above. Nova Scotia was the only province to shut out the Liberals during the 90s... do you hear endless complaints about Nova Scotian alienation? To me it just sounds like complaining because everyone else voted differently... in any case, you'd be hard pressed to show that Alberta in particular lacked influence during the last Liberal government - or did Reform have no impact at all?

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 11:56 PM  

  • if you had a right wing party and a centrist party, both would probably get more votes separate than they would combined (just see the Alliance/PC merger federally as an example). That's because the right wing party can appeal to the fringes and get them out to vote, and the other party can hug the middle. Faced with perpetual NDP/Liberal coalitions, they'd need to try something like that.

    You're assuming that the newly reformed PCs in this case would always be interested in forming a coalition with the rightwing party left over. If that were indeed the case, they wouldn't splinter off in the first place. The fact is, most red Tories disdain Reformers as much as Liberals and NDPers do. I think PC/Lib and PC/NDP coalitions would be as common as Lib/NDP coalitions, and far more common that PC/Reform coalitions.

    This is like saying that ...the German Christian Democrats will [always] co-operate with the Bavarian Christian Socialists.

    Not quite the same thing as a coalition, since these are "sister-parties" which form a common "Fraktion" (caucus) in Parliament, and do not run candidates against each other. For all intents and purposes, it's one party.

    By Blogger gantenbein, at 1:40 PM  

  • Does any one know what the results in prior Ontario elections would have been like under this new scheme (and yes, I realize that you would have to use assumptions along the lines of party vote = popular vote)? Could you post the URLs?

    By Blogger n, at 1:08 PM  

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