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My submission to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

The current system of elections in Ontario known as the first past the post system is not inherently broken as some would lead us to believe. It could use improvements, but it is imperative that the electoral system not be jettisoned entirely and replaced with a system that has an entirely different set of faults. The problem that exists with our electoral system is simply that political parties are over-emphasised by it.

I ask that your recommendations include the following three points:

MPPs should be selected by Approval Voting, a means of selecting all candidates on the ballot who are approved by the voter using ballots identical to those we already use.

In first past the post, the citizens of each riding select their representatives by voting for their candidate of choice. The candidate most often chosen is the winner, regardless of second choices or whether any kind of majority has been attained by that candidate. The winner then goes on to represent the riding until the following election, being responsible for and answerable to their riding first and foremost.

The only widely discussed fundamental problem with this approach is that some people feel that their vote is wasted or that they are not represented when the person they have voted for to represent them is not elected. I disagree that this assessment is a flaw, as I find no system under which everyone can get their first choice of representation.

In my view, the only real flaw in this system is that we are limited to selecting only one candidate in each riding. If I would be perfectly happy with three of the six candidates seeking the seat in my riding, I should be free to vote for all three of them. An electoral system exists that provides this capability. It is called "Approval Voting."

This system is very simple. Our existing electoral infrastructure and ballots need not be changed. Each voter selects all of the candidates on the ballot who they would feel comfortable representing them. As is the case now, the candidate with the most votes is declared the winner, and representation continues as it always has. This simple change nullifies the age-old Canadian problem of strategic voting, it allows continued riding representation, and has other potential advantages not often discussed, which I come back to in a moment.

By way of explanation, with the Approval Voting system, if I approve of candidate A, C, D, and G in a field of candidates A through G, I can simply check off 'A', 'C', 'D', and 'G' on my ballot. During the count, each of A, C, D, and G would receive one vote on their tally when my ballot is counted. If my first choice candidate was 'D' then in the current system I would be forced to select only D, but with Approval Voting I could also approve of A, C, and G. Another person may have a first choice of candidate F, but also approves of candidate 'C', while neither of us would have chosen C in our current system, both of us consider C to be an acceptable candidate, and candidate C would win the election. The count for the election would be candidate A: 1 vote, B: 0 votes, C: 2 votes, D: 1 vote, E: 0 votes, F: 1 vote, and G: 0 votes, from two voters. The ballot used would be exactly the same as the one we use today.

In this system, it would be possible for candidates A, B, and C to be from one party, D, E, and F, to be from another party, and G to be an independent. No nomination process would be needed in the parties, and independent candidates would not be excluded from the electoral process.

Approval Voting, the selection of all candidates on a ballot who are acceptable to a voter, would be the most democratic practical system available to the province of Ontario and many other jurisdictions:

Is Approval Voting the best system available? No, but it is the best practical and most easily implemented system.

Approval Voting is not the best electoral system available, but it is far and away the most practical good system possible. The best system would be a system of preferential balloting known as Condorcet, where any number of candidates may be ranked in a preferential manner on any ballot, and where the election is counted as a series of pairwise elections between each candidate until one has won the most pairwise votes. This system is used extensively by Internet-based communities that use elections to select their leadership, but is far too complicated to explain to the average person or to count in a simple, effective, and accountable way.

Approval Voting, as mentioned earlier, is my suggestion for the system that is the most conformant to all the requirements in the Assembly's mandate but one. It is fair, it is simple, it creates the legitimacy and accountability of clearly selected members representing clearly delineated constituencies, but it does not make more effective parties, a requirement that makes the assumption in the Assembly's mandate that parties are indeed important.

Among the many advantages of Approval Voting is that party nominations would no longer be necessary, further opening the democratic process to anyone interested in participating. Anyone could run under any banner, and because constituents could select as many people as they would like, party members and riding associations would not have to pre-select a member to run on their behalf. This would further increase accountability and fairness in our electoral system, as members would be primarily accountable to their constituents far more than to their parties.

No form of Proportional Representation should be implemented in any way, as it strengthens parties and weakens democracy.

The system most often pushed by those seeking electoral reform is Proportional Representation or one of its many variants. If all candidates in any particular political party were exact carbon copies of their leader, this would indeed be the best system. But candidates for election are meant to be representatives of their community to the province and to their party, not representatives of their party to the province and to their community.

Any form of proportional representation, whether mixed member, or absolute, requires a new method for selecting candidates and MPPs. The simplest and most often discussed is the mixed member proportional system, or MMP, where an arbitrary number of additional seats are created and allocated to parties that are statistically short-changed in the election to fill with seats as the leader of the party sees fit, removing all measurable accountability from these party-tier MPPs to anyone but the party leadership. The lower tier would still be selected by the First Past the Post electoral system, giving us the worst of two systems together.

An alternative form of selection for members under the MMP system suggested at the Assembly hearing in Guelph was the 'best-loser' or 'second-past-the-post' system, where candidates who came in a strong second in their riding are selected for their party's list. This curious system makes coming in a strong second a quite comfortable place to be for candidates. There is no guarantee that an MPP selected using a best-loser system would have any responsibility to the riding from which they were selected and indeed in an asymmetrical MMP system, where there are more ridings than proportional seats, having the best-loser seats retain any specific regions of responsibility would be impossible, with responsibility for geographical areas not able to elect them.

In an MMP system, there are two tiers of MPPs. The first tier is the current, riding representative members whose primary accountability is to their riding. They must work for their riding and their constituents or they will fail to gain re-election. The second tier is the tier that is elected either through the above-mentioned second-past-the-post or by an arbitrary party list who have no riding accountability and therefore less responsibility to their riding. Being a proportional-tier MPP would be a quite enviable position as all the powers and none of the responsibilities of a normal MPP would be present.

Proportional representation, in all its forms, emphasises parties over individual representatives or individual viewpoints. To support PR or its variants is to support a system of uniform thinking and top-down politics, the very things the citizens of this province want to get away from. It would eliminate independent MPPs from any proportional portion of a governing system, a critically important capability of our electoral system. MPPs should not be forced to be a member of a party to have access to all the seats in the provincial parliament.

I refuse to consider Proportional Representation in any form to be an acceptable or democratic electoral system for this province. It does not solve any problems, but rather it changes and adds to our problems.

The triple-majority requirement for passing any changes should be retained: No change in our electoral system should be implemented without a decisive opinion across the province.

Proponents of PR suggest that the triple-super-majority requirement for selecting our electoral system is unfair, that only 50%+1 should have to endorse any changes to the electoral system. I disagree on this point. PR proponents say that the purpose of PR is to allow everyone's vote to count, a myth as no-one's vote would count much any more with the total lack of any meaningful accountability PR would cause, yet suggest that 50%-1 of Ontario's vote should not count, and would even be wasted, in the discussion of a change of electoral system. I lived in Quebec in 1995, at the time too young to vote, but not too young to understand that my country was on the chopping block, subject only to a 50%+1 requirement, with a 49.4% for-50.6% against result, and from that experience, I will never accept that any radical change should be implemented with only a one-vote majority in a referendum.

On the importance of parties and of members crossing the floor

People who complain about members crossing the floor are missing the point of our representative-based electoral system. Crossing the floor or becoming independent should be encouraged, not discouraged or frowned upon. All MPPs should be selected on their own merits, not that of their parties, and should be free to sit with the party in which they feel the most comfortable, even if it means changing part-way through their term in office. If their constituents do not agree with their representative's shift in ideology, it is their right and obligation to vote them out at the next election. An MPP who shifts parties and expresses independent thought should not be criticised, but condoned for putting their constituents before their own party's demands.

Parties provide a mechanism by which a selection of people can control the agenda of the province in an undemocratic way. It is not that parties don't have adequate representation in government, it is that they have too much.

The party system we have could be phased out or deformalised over time. Every riding could select an independent MPP via Approval Voting who would then head to Queen's Park and to the parliament of independent MPPs. The MPPs would then get together and select a premier, in much the same way the speaker is selected. The premier would then seek a cabinet from the independent members and all governing would be more or less consensus based, much the way nearly every city council across the country and at least one of the Territories work. The premier would be accountable to the entire provincial parliament, not only his or her own party or constituency, and could be fired and replaced at any time by the very same parliament that selected him or her to lead.

In summary

Ontario's electoral system is not inherently broken, but its party system is. There is a system available which can fix both called Approval Voting and I strongly recommend it for the province of Ontario.

Our electoral system should allow all voters to select all candidates in their ridings who they would consider appropriate representatives for their local needs. Proportional representation puts the priorities of the parties well before the priorities of the people. The current, first past the post system also requires voters to select one single individual to represent them without having a chance to express their opinions on all of the candidates, allowing parties to dominate the electoral process. There is one system that strengthens the people and removes the handicap of the single vote. The Approval Voting method is simple, easily implemented, and meets all the priorities of the Citizens' Assembly while empowering citizens.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for conducting these hearings across Ontario.

Respectfully submitted,

David Graham
Guelph, Ontario

Posted at 11:03 on January 29, 2007

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

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Drew Adamick (A PG Liberal) writes at Mon Jan 29 13:40:01 2007...

Your submission sounds a lot like the STV system proposed by the BC Citizens' Assembly. That proposal was rejected (narrowly) in the 2005 Provincial Election (57% approval, needed 60%)

While I myself support BC-STV, I would like to comment on some concerns that many people in more rural regions of Ontario may voice if such a system were to be implemented (last Oct, the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission visited Prince George to gain citizen's input on riding redistribution- STV was a hot topic):

-concerns about actual representation in terms of MLAs/MPPs: people in more rural communities will worry about loss of representation to more urban areas; to them, democratic renewal is more about actually keeping seats than about how the representatives are chosen.

-riding sizes and boundaries: concerns that any redistribution could change boundaries that would create conflicts between various rural communities who each have different needs/agendas, but only have 1 MPP/MLA (ex. Prince George, BC, provincially is divided among three ridings with a distinct rural/semi-urban divide between various communities- could be conflicts between PG and Vanderhoof and/or Valemount).

cdlu writes at Mon Jan 29 13:52:49 2007...


There are no similarities between Approval Voting and Single Transferable Vote. STV is an esoteric and complex system involving the pooling of ridings, and still restricts voters to one single vote.

Approval Voting is identical to FPTP in all procedural respects except one: that voters are not limited in the number of checkmarks they may put on their ballot.

I share your other concerns which is largely why I do not support STV.

Saskboy writes at Mon Jan 29 15:22:00 2007...

How many percent of voters have to be ignored before the system is fixed? We know about 15% isn't enough, because the NDP are roundly cheated by FPTP, while the Bloc is rewarded. If we went to straight PR it would be such an improvement, and have great spin off effects like wiping the floor with the Bloc/separatists.

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