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Ten lies about MMP revisited

Dawg's Blog last week posted a long entry ostensibly debunking myths about MMP. Having seen this rhetorical entry blindly flaunted just a few too many times, I feel it's time to debunk the debunker.

1) MMP will create unstable coalition governments.

This is not borne out by the record. Germany, for example, has had an equivalent system in place for decades, and has had the most stable governments of any democratic country during that time. The many other European countries with MMP have experienced no such instability either. Canada is one of the last holdouts in the world for Single Member Plurality (SMP), commonly known as First-Past-The Post.

As has been pointed out in the past, half of the population of the world that lives under a democracy lives under FPTP. Contrary to popular belief in the MMP campaign, Canada is not a European country. Our political culture is very different from Europe. Our Geography is very different from Europe. Our issues are very different from Europe. A list system in a Canadian province larger than PEI is completely inappropriate to represent the diversity needed.

It should be noted that the "many other European countries with MMP" are, according to the not always infalliable wikipedia, Germany, one of Serbia's provinces, Scotland, and Wales. In the rest of the world, Bolivia, Venezuela, Lesotho, and New Zealand round out the list, with South Africa using MMP at the municipal level. Clearly the bulk of the world has embraced MMP.

And before we get too deep into comparing ourselves with Germany and the "many" other European countries using MMP, I should note the following few facts that make its functioning very different from the proposal in front of us. In Germany, parties must win the lesser of 3 constituency seats or 5% of the vote to be considered for their lists. New Zealand also has a 5% threshold or one constituency seat requirement. Ontario has no constituency seat option and a threshold of just 3%. In both Germany and New Zealand, the MMP legislation also requires that in the event of an overhang, that is where a party wins more seats than its proportion allows, additional seats can be created to correct the proportions, something not allowed for in the Ontario MMP proposal.

We should look at the nature of a coalition, in any case. Many of the existing parties are coalitions in all but name; caucus bartering goes on all the time, attempting to reconcile varying interests across the country. Backroom dealing, which representatives of some of these very parties now profess to be afraid of, is an everyday fact of life in those parties, both inside and outside the legislature.

Internal caucus bartering will necessarily take place less, not more, under MMP. Under the current system, all members must take the interests of their immediate constituents to heart. As Bill Casey recently demonstrated federally, even a stalwart party supporter can understand the ramifications of voting for the party over the will of his constituents. In a case like that of Mr. Casey, his chances of being re-elected are improved by leaving the party. Under MMP, there is no such obligation for a list member to stand up for a specific constituency, only for the party line in hopes of getting back on the party list in the next election. If they vote against the party line, they have no constituency to return to to ask for vindication. With no such incentive to defend what is right versus the party line, one third of all MPPs will have no significant incentive to barter within caucus.

Backroom dealing is indeed a problem of our political culture that MMP not only makes no attempt to solve, but further entrenches. If we are serious about reform we will look for ways to reduce, not enhance, backroom dealing.

The necessity of forming formal coalitions will require a change in political culture, which is not a bad thing--more openness to compromise, more emphasis on win-win solutions. This is an attractive proposition on all sides of the political spectrum, but is frowned upon by those who simply want to impose their will on the province or the country with minority support.

There is an assumption in the MMP campaign, which I do not share, that coalition governments will necessarily flow out of MMP here. Coalitions, even in extended minority situations in Canada, are very much the exception. Per-issue alliances are the tradition in Canada and I do not believe that will dramatically change. There is no part of the MMP package that requires parties to form a coalition before they can be sworn in as a government. Compromise is not an inherently bad thing, and per-issue compromise is superior to coalition government at any rate.

In terms of public policy, MMP produces far more stability than does the present system. Under SMP, even a modest shift in the popular vote can result in massive policy changes, as one party or another acquires the necessary plurality to form a false majority (a majority of seats won with a minority of the popular vote). Under MMP, a modest shift in the popular vote simply produces an equally modest shift in the seat apportionment in the legislature.

It should be noted that under Ontario's MMP proposal, it will still be possible for a party to win a majority government with a minority of the popular vote as we are retaining SMP for 2/3 of the seats. In the last election, our current government would have been within one seat of a majority under MMP if voting patterns were the same under that system, without a majority of the vote. Modest shifts in the representative vote can -- and should -- still change the direction of government. This is another MMP red herring.

2) MMP will allow small fringe parties to call the shots.

False. A threshold of 3% of the popular vote will keep out many of the single-issue extremists. And even if some achieve that threshold, it is far more likely that a major party will want to make coalitions with other large parties where compromise is both possible and more agreeable. There is no history of fringe parties holding the balance of power in European countries with MMP.

As always, it depends on the individual situation. As I mentioned above, in the last election, the Liberal government would have won one seat short of a majority, if the results could be overlayed on MMP (which isn't necessarily the case, but is for the sake of this example). With that in mind, any fringe party could hold the balance of power with the 3%/4 seat minimum which I understand requires only around 150,000 votes to achieve. Such a party could, as happens in the highly unstable pure PR countries like Israel, demand a single issue in their favour in exchange for their unqualified support on all other issues. This is an attractive offer for a near-majority party to accept.

Will it happen every election? Of course not. Is it likely to happen? It is only a matter of time.

3) MMP will elect members who represent no one and whom no one's ever heard of.

False. Those members represent those who voted for their party. They are in the legislature because electors put them there. They are accountable to those electors as a whole.

This is one of the most cynical myths of the MMP movement. Parties will provide lists to Elections Ontario when the writ is dropped and the media will pour over them looking for any sign of anyone controversial. No controversy, no coverage. Without the coverage, voters will be woefully underinformed about who will represent them when they vote for a specific party on the proportional side of the ballot. Who are they accountable to? Noone but the party that put them there. All they have to do is keep their heads down and stay out of the headlines while pushing the party line to keep their jobs.

Experience indicates that the vast majority of list members have also run in constituencies. In Germany, as Quebec scholar Louis Massicotte explains,

Typically, a list member starts out by running unsuccessfully in a constituency. To run, he or she has to become familiar with the local issues. The person tries again in the next election. If his or her party comes to power, its number of list seats will decline noticeably and the only way to get elected will likely be by running in a constituency. For this reason, such a person will remain active in the constituency during his or her term of office and give such activities almost as much effort as a "directly" elected member. . . the phenomenon is recognized in official literature for the public and some parliamentary websites even explicitly indicate the constituency in which each list member works. (Federal Parliament, provincial parliaments of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.) [74] For example, the 1998 federal election saw a major constituency shift. Victorious in 221 constituencies in 1994, the CDU/CSU won only 112 in 1998. Meanwhile, the SPD went from 103 to 212 direct seats. No fewer than 124 members changed category: 73 incumbent list members (all from the SPD, except 2) became constituency members, whereas 51 incumbent constituency members (all from the CDU/CSU) held their seats thanks to party lists. [76]

For one thing, I don't wish to entrust my electoral system to "typical" patterns in other countries. Even if this were to be the case, which I do not grant, with 39 list MPPs and 90 overgrown ridings, a maximum of 39 ridings will get additional representation from list MPPs seeking an alternate way into Queens Park. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the list-representative side of MMP. It leaves, at the very least, 51 MPPs with 20% more work to represent their constituents.

Further, list seats are inherently corruptible. Once parties figure out the public reaction to lists, it is only a matter of time until they are severely abused. Take the Russian example of how out of hand a list system can get. In Russia, the bulk of the parties openly sell entries on their party lists as a means of fund raising. It may be an extreme example, but the point is this does happen in list-using countries and there is no reason to believe it could not happen here.

4) MMP is less efficient that Single Member Plurality (First-Past-The-Post)

This frequently-heard claim is really code for, "We worked the system, we got our majority, and we can do what we like until the next election." If strongman politics is preferred, then SMP/FPTP is the system for you. Governments can rule with only minority support, and impose their policies upon the unwilling majority until the next ballot, when all that is needed to keep doing what they're doing is to get another minority share of the vote. The ruthless efficiency of a minority-supported dictatorship-between-elections is less preferable, however, than a system where nearly every elector's choice translates into seats. If these choices produce a variety of representatives, the democratic approach is to look for compromise and consensus. The latter is not make-the-trains-run-on-time efficient, but it works best in the long run, and is more conducive to citizen involvement in their governance.

Less efficient? I'm curious where you got that one from.

Less effective, yes. A government that is rarely in a majority, as noted by the Prime Minister of New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, has a good deal of difficulty getting things done even if they are in the best interests of the country.

Citizen involvement in governance requires having an effective MPP the citizen can go to to express their concerns. Reducing the number of ridings by almost 20% necessarily reduces the number and by extension availability and effectiveness of representative MPPs.

5) MMP does not require parties to explain how their lists are put together.

This claim, made recently by Jason Cherniak and others, is simply wrong. The Ontario Citizens' Assembly specifically recommended that parties be required to make public their method of list creation by submitting their selection process to the non-partisan Elections Ontario, which would then publish that information widely. Electors could see, for example, if backroom party hacks or cronies of the Premier have been awarded the list positions, or if, on the other hand, the parties have a more democratic and open process, that does something, for example, about the representation of women and minorities, geographic balance, and so on.

I am less concerned with the colour of someone's skin or the way in which they pee than I am in their ability to be effective representatives of the people to the government. A minority representative can be just as much of a shrill for the governing party as your typical white male party hack.

As I noted earlier, the vast majority of the population are not going to be reading over the backgrounds of the 39 people on each party's list, relying instead on the media to do it for them. The media won't be particularly interested in a member who is not overly controversial, and parties are quite good at mixing controversial people in with decidedly uncontroversial people, as evidenced by the appointment of then-recently embarassed Art Eggleton and Romo Dallaire together to the senate. Guess which one got more coverage? I don't honestly believe the make-up of the lists will have a huge impact on the elections and I think parties will figure this out fairly quickly.

6) MMP will make contact with your representative more difficult.

It is worth noting that at present the vast majority of citizens a) never contact their political representative, and b) vote for the party, not the candidate. But MMP will not make contacting one's MLA more difficult--indeed, the reverse is true.

For those with short memories, Ontario had 130 ridings until Mike Harris sliced that back to 103 in 1996 with the Fewer Politicians Act. The current MMP proposal would restore almost all of those seats (129). The number of ridings would be slightly reduced (to 90 from the current 107). The rest would be apportioned to create a legislature that actually reflects the way people voted.

If part of our reform package restored Ontario's electoral map to pre-Harris representation levels instead of reducing an already sharp decline by an additional 20%, I certainly would not object. Calling the 39 list representatives anything other than party representatives, as opposed to representatives of the voters, is somewhat brain damaged.

Under MMP, citizens who want to contact their representative between elections now have a choice: to go the riding MLA, or, if that person is not to their political taste, to approach a list member from their party of choice.

An MPP is intended to represent all their constituents, not only those who voted for them. This turns that basic concept of representative democracy on its head on two counts. The implication here is that the riding representative should only represent those who voted for them, while the list representative should also only represent those who voted for them. These are both troubling notions that are contrary to the principles of democracy.

7) MMP is confusing.

Wrong. What's confusing is the welter of lies, distortions and misapprehensions emanating from the special interests who oppose MMP. MMP is in fact simplicity itself: an elector gets two votes, one for the party of choice, and one for the riding candidate of choice. Once the riding contests are decided, the popular vote determines how list seats are handed out. End of story. Not rocket science, but common democratic sense.

The special interests who support MMP, on the other hand, would never twist reality to leverage support for MMP, as evidenced by your completely factual, totally unbiased, and completely objective look at MMP... I look at MMP objectively and I see serious problems. I represent no special interests other than my own interest in an honest democracy, which MMP takes us further away from, not closer to.

It should also be noted that, according to the same wikipedia entry linked earlier, voters in Scotland are rather baffled - and increasingly so - by what MMP actually means. Clearly clarity has prevailed.

8) MMP will produce two tiers of political representative.

Once again, this has not been the case in Germany, with its long history of MMP. As Louis Massicotte points out,

The assumption, that the two-vote system produces two kinds of MP, the constituency MP and the Landesliste MP, is empirically refutable. Contrary to widespread opinions, it is of absolutely no importance whether a mandate is obtained through the constituency and the Landesliste. Double candidatures are the rule. The voters do not perceive the difference at all. [61]

Whether a voter perceives the difference is not the issue. Whether there is a difference is. Like it or not, admit it or not, there will be two tiers of MPPs. The argument that should be debated is whether or not that is a good thing. I do not believe it is.

When the speaker recognises a member, he does so by the member's riding. Under MMP, this will not be the case for list MPPs who will be flagged, perhaps as the "seventh member from the NDP list" every time they rise to speak. This is a second tier. Their responsibilities will also vary. Whether one tier has more or less work is a matter of debate, but that they will have different workloads is not disputable.

9) MMP is undemocratic.

"MMP gives parties too much power!" This is a bit rich, coming from those who represent parties that prefer to go on ruling with minority popular support, whose candidates can be shoehorned by the party leader into constituencies over the objections of the local riding associations, and all of whose riding candidates in any case are selected by the party.

Nowhere do I or most of my peers state that we are not interested in some level of reform. The nomination process as a whole is something that I would like to jettison entirely, which is something that could be accomplished with a preferential or approval ballot, which in turn would represent reform I could support while MMP does not.

That said, MMP does give parties still more power than they have now. The nomination process will not go anywhere. The FPTP ridings will not go anywhere, they are just being reduced in quantity. The parties will be given the nomination-process like ability on a macro scale to create its lists, further empowering parties to appoint its representatives without even having to then face its individual representatives against the electorate, but only the list as a whole.

So now the party lists will also be selected by the party--no change there. And the parties, as noted, will have to make the public aware of their process of choosing list candidates. Any Ignatieff or Anders shenanigans on a list-wide basis will almost certainly meet with elector resistance. A system that produces majorities in Ontario that since the early 1930s have had only minority support is not democratic. A system that allows the party that gets fewer votes than their rival to form a majority government (as happened recently in New Brunswick) isn't democratic. A system that prevents political views held by a substantial number of electors from being represented in the legislature because they aren't concentrated in a handful of ridings is undemocratic. A system that produces wide swings in policy when only a minor shift in public opinion has taken place is undemocratic.

A system in which representatives who do not represent anyone but the party that appointed them is undemocratic. It begs the American Revolution slogan "taxation without representation is tyranny". There are solutions to a lot of the problems with the plurality system that do not require an evisceration of the principles of representative demoracy, namely in the form of a preferential ballot where voter intentions can be made far more clear and honest without the risk of vote splitting and with a reduced risk of strategic voting.

MMP, on the other hand, is a significant move in the direction of democratic governance. An elector's vote will make a difference: even in a solid Liberal riding, a vote for the Greens or the NDP will count. The legislature, as noted, will come much closer to reflecting the range and the relative strengths of the political views held by the electorate. So-called "strategic voting," in which electors are tempted to vote for a party they don't want to keep out another party they want even less, will become unnecessary, and they can vote for the party they do want, knowing that their votes will be counted. Now, that's democratic.

Strategic voting is one of the greatest flaws in both FPTP and MMP. MMP does absolutely nothing to solve strategic voting, even introducing another whole level of it.

It will still be necessary to vote strategically in your riding, unless the MMP campaign's contention is that the riding MPP is completely irrelevant. Further, it will now be possible and tacitly encouraged by the electoral system to vote strategically to give your chosen party a boost by voting for a clear winner in the riding and by a coalition ally on the party lists. It will be possible to strategically vote our way back into majority governments with minority interests dominating as per point #2.

10) MMP is divisive.

This claim is based upon the false notion that a large number of parties will create chaos in the legislature--something not borne out by actual experience. But let's look at the divisiveness created and fostered by the present system.

... which MMP does nothing to correct.

First-Past-The-Post encourages a narrow regionalism rather than national or provincial consensus. In order to have a chance against an established, entrenched party like the Liberals, another party will lean towards a strategy of concentrating its riding votes by exaggerating regional differences. We have seen this clearly on the federal stage in the case of both the Reform Party and the Bloc Qubcois. In the former case, a coalition came into being, but the Conservative Party of Canada still trades on Western alienation. In Ontario, we have northern vs. southern and urban vs. rural; even in Toronto we have the "905" folks vs. the "416" people.

Not to mention those of us in the 519/705/613 belt who are likely to be ignored by the feuding 905/416/647 folks as they make up their party lists.

MMP does nothing to correct this. We will still have 90 ridings that use the plurality system to select its representatives. Regional parties will still be possible, with the further addition of inteluctual-regional parties as opposed to geographical-regional parties through the list system. These issues are not solved by MMP.

MMP, on the other hand, will yield roughly proportional results that make riding concentration unnecessary. The efforts of political parties could be re-directed towards the actual issues and towards consensus instead of division. None of this is to say, of course, that genuine regional differences and interests will disappear--only that they will be less likely to be opportunistically used and abused by parties vying for seats.

This is a myth. Once again pointing to the New Zealand example, New Zealand Central District police commander Mark Lammas complained that MMP has not changed the political culture in the country in the decade since its introduction just last week. Political parties will not look at MMP and say "oh my gosh, we'd better all get along and start playing the harp," the parties will each look at how to leverage the system for its own adventages, as they would under absolutely any system. What we need to do as a public is provide them with a system that is gamed in favour of the population over the will of the parties.

Concluding note:

MMP is not a panacea, and will not produce a democratic utopia. There are far too many other aspects of our system of governance that would have to be looked at--for example, why should the Premier be chosen by the party instead of by the electorate? Why should the Cabinet be appointed by the Premier instead of by the legislature as a whole? How can Aboriginal interests be effectively represented in the legislature under either the current system or MMP? These are other questions, for other debates, but in the meantime MMP is clearly a step in the right direction. To let this opportunity slip through our fingers because of the deliberate prevarication of entrenched special interests would be a tragedy. Let's not let that happen.

This exposes one of the key contradictions of the MMP movement, "why should the Premier be chosen by the party instead of the electorate?" Indeed. But instead of putting us on a path toward this eventuality, MMP pushes us further from this goal, empowering the party to select its own MPs not only through a relatively easily contestably nomination process, but also now through an uncontestable party list system.

Personally I believe the Premier should serve at the pleasure of the legislature as a whole, selected in the same secret ballot manner as the speaker, while retaining the ability to appoint his or her own cabinet, from and only from within the legislature.

MMP is clearly a step in the wrong direction. It moves us away from the very democratic reforms its change-for-the-sake-of-change proponents seek. This "opportunity" to empower parties at the cost of the electorate and of democratic reform should be shot down with extreme prejudice.

There are solutions for our electoral system that stand a better chance of leading to meaningful democratic reform. A multi-vote representative ballot, ie a preferential (Condorcet, preferably, or Instant Run-Off) ballot, or an Approval Vote (where the voter simply checks off all acceptable candidates in their riding) would do a great deal more for reform than giving political parties their own representatives in the legislature.

There are indeed special interests in this debate. Three parties have a great deal to gain from MMP at the expense of the fourth. The Liberals, more than any other party, stand to gain from MMP with their tradition of centrism allowing them to much more easily form coalitions with the left wing parties itching to get MMP through so they can hold this balance of power, with the Tories standing to lose the most.

I, for one, am fighting this campaign on its merits, not out of partisan interest, and MMP has no merit.

Posted at 13:09 on August 14, 2007

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The myth of the Kiwi Utopia | elections reform | A Dawg's bone


doug newton writes at Tue Aug 14 15:24:20 2007...

"This "opportunity" to empower parties at the cost of the electorate and of democratic reform should be shot down with extreme prejudice."

Thanks for articulating my concerns. I want my elected MP or MPP to represent me or at least the majority in my riding rather than representing their party line to me. I would rather see reforms that increased their accountability to me like plebiscites, yearly progress reports and a recall mechanism.


Matt writes at Tue Aug 14 16:49:37 2007...

Why don't you try refuting these on Progressive Right? I'd be curious how you rationalize how FPTP tends to give the second place party a majority government.

http://progressiveright.blogspot.com/2007/08/truth-about-fptp.html


Steve V writes at Tue Aug 14 18:25:50 2007...

Good post David :)


Dr.Dawg writes at Tue Aug 14 18:39:01 2007...

My response to your comments:

http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com/2007/08/another-kick-at-mmp-cat.html


Wilf Day writes at Tue Aug 14 22:33:30 2007...

Elsewhere in your blog you write "The simplest, best, and least likely ever to happen, is the outright abolishment of parties in Canada. Our first past the post representative electoral system was built around the principal that each community would send one person to represent their local interests in the government. That person would be answerable only to the people who elected them and would sit in the Commons on their behalf."

Yes, that was the principle before the period 1837 - 1848 when Responsible Government was introduced. Since then we have a government responsible to the House, so voters mostly vote for or against the government.

The Citizens' Assembly Report notes "Political parties play an essential role in our political system. They develop policy, promote public debate, and bring together people who support them. A Mixed Member Proportional system maintains this role." Supporters of all parties will see this. If FPTP can be defended only by attacking parties, MMP will win over 80% support.

But the CA members heard that "Ontarios current system is limited in the choices it offers voters: The ballot allows us to mark only a single X. Many voters have been faced with the dilemma of wanting to support a local candidate but not his or her party, or wanting to support a party but not its local candidate." The two-vote system corrects this: "The new system provides two kinds of accountability: At election time, voters can hold their local representatives accountable and hold parties accountable by directly determining the share of seats each party wins."


Eddy writes at Thu Aug 23 13:40:31 2007...

In general, your entire post seems to boil down to your belief that list members would not accountable to the people and only represent parties. This seems indefensible.

First, let me note that even legislators elected in single-member ridings "represent" parties - they come with a party label attached, and it is often that party label that determines whether a voter votes for a particular candidate. Thus, all (non-independent) legislators elected under the current system (as well as your favored systems like Instant Runoff) are representatives of both parties AND the people. This would not change with MMP.

Second, I simply don't understand why you think that list members would be unaccountable to the people. You state, "a system in which representatives who do not represent anyone but the party that appointed them is undemocratic". The representatives will represent Ontarians, not just a party. And voters will ultimately decide which party they want to have representing them, and therefore will decide which list members will represent them. If the members of a particular party are acting in ways the electorate disapproves of, the electorate will vote for a different party, and therefore a different set of candidates. Party control will be subservient to the choice of the people. In fact, MMP would make party control MORE subservient to the will of the people than it is now.


Jamie Deith writes at Thu Sep 20 01:40:14 2007...

Nice coherent arguments. I wholeheartedly agree that MMP - the closed list in particular - would do nothing to shift power away from parties in favour of the voters, and may in fact do the opposite. (Although you would hardly think it possible given the current state of things.)

The only element of this that I would nitpick is that you seem to suggest (intentionally or otherwise) that the party lists would each have 39 candidates - one per list seat. I think there would be a lot more and there are some significant consequences.

Under ON-MMP candidates are entitled to run both in the ridings and as list candidates, and we can expect that as a rule most candidates will take advantage of this. After all, two ways to get that seat are better than one, right? Exceptions that I can imagine might be candidates for smaller parties, who have little hope of winning any ridings (and may not care to expose themselves to a rather poor showing in a riding), and may choose to run as list-only. Large party candidates might also be list-only if they happen to be more popular at the party list-making session than they were at the local riding nominations.

With ON-MMP, the first-past-the-post (FPTP) riding seats are decided first, and then the list seats are distributed to correct (if possible) the disproportionate first-past-the-post outcomes. With dual-candidacies, many list candidates for the large parties will already be elected in the ridings. When that happens, it will be as if the candidate in question wasn't on the list at all, and everyone below him (or her) moves up one spot. This has three important effects, which I'll try to explain:

1) The lists for large parties will be MUCH longer than 39 members, probably some number between 90 and 129.

2) A list candidate won't necessarily need an especially high spot on the list to get a seat, just a moderately good one.

3) Larger parties can choose to nearly guarantee a riding incumbent's re-election.

Now to explain:

Why such long lists? Parties will need to have extra list candidates available to replace those riding candidates who win their ridings. Furthermore, all riding candidates will want a list spot in order to maximize the chances of winning. Making a longer list doesn't cost the party anything, and even the worst spots can be used to signal at least symbolic support for a candidate, and symbolic confidence in an overwhelming victory. So for parties that run a full slate of 90 riding candidates, expect at least 90 list spots, and possibly as many as 129 (the total number of seats).

Dealing with the second point, you might ask "What's a moderately good spot?". If you consider the Liberals in 1999 under ON-MMP you can get some idea. Using a few assumptions, the Libs would have won 31 ridings plus 22 list top-ups to take 41% of the 129 seats. (They actually took 40% of the vote but would be awarded a small bonus because of smaller parties not making the 3% cutoff.) You'd be tempted to think that only candidates 1-22 on the Libs' list would make it, but in all likelihood a good number of those first 22 already took their ridings. (This is especially true if riding incumbents are handed top spots on the list.) Even if only 1 out of the first 22 on the list won a riding, then list candidate #23 is in - virtually guaranteed. List candidate #24 in turn needs only 2 riding winners out of the first 23, which is only a little less likely. Likewise, #25 needs 3 out of the first 24 to win their ridings, #26 needs 4 out of the first 25 to win their ridings, etc. In the limit, even #53 on the list has a small chance of taking a list seat. (For this to happen, the 31 riding winners would all have to be ranked #52 or better - not likely but not impossible either.) For my money, even #35 in this situation would be a very comfortable spot.

Now what I'm NOT saying is that #35 on the Liberal or Conservative list will always take a seat. In the 2003 election for example, the Libs would have taken 63 ridings plus only 1 list top-up (because they won so many ridings). Under these circumstances (i.e. when the party does exceptionally well at the polls) a candidate really needs to win the riding.

Now for the (possibly more contentious) point about major parties being able to practically guarantee spots for its riding incumbents. First you have to assume that we're talking about a riding member who's very popular within the party (an 'insider' if you will, and one who's not necessarily popular with the voters). The party will grant this candidate a high spot on its list. Once they've done this, the incumbent is pretty much locked in for another term in office. The logic is as follows:

- If the party wins more ridings than last time, then the incumbent is very likely to keep the riding seat. (This is very typical of the current FPTP system, and there's no particular reason to think ON-MMP would be much different.)

- If the party wins fewer ridings than last time, then its share of list seats will probably increase. This is a natural consequence of FPTP usually granting a disproportionate share of seats to the most popular party. The high spot on the list comes through for party insider.

Only the most uncommon of scenarios would ever see the party's favourite riding incumbent failing to keep a seat; immunity from the voters is nearly assured.

What makes this so disturbing for me is that this provides the major parties with a mechanism to shield its own favourites from direct accountability to the voters. Really the only way for voters to get at the top tier of candidates is to banish the whole party and its policies, and it seems highly unlikely that the odd crony candidate here and there will alone be enough to provoke a major shift in party support. It's true enough that some voters will factor in list-making shenanigans when deciding how to cast their party votes, but in the end it's only one of many potential issues. It's not even a big stretch to imagine that ALL the parties might abuse their list-making powers, and then it pretty much becomes a non-issue. At that stage it's a real problem because parties will understand that they don't necessarily need to put voters' opinions first when it comes to who sits in the seats.

This highlights the major problem with ON-MMP; individual candidates are only very weakly dependent on the electorate. Voters can surely hold entire parties accountable, but this isn't so different from the system we already use. While nearly all of us who want electoral reform stress the need for proportionality (myself included), my sense is that what Canadians really want to see is better accountability, and the proposed system simply fails to deliver on that score.

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