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MMP contradictions keep adding up

As the Ontario provincial election and referendum campaign wraps up, it's time to address some of the endless contradictions and illogical conclusions of the MMP campaign as they try to foist an undemocratic and divisive electoral system on the province.

Do party leaders control party lists?

The Yes side has comically admitted that party leaders will be in control of the process for party list nominations. All four major party leaders have come out to say that they believe a democratic nomination process should take place. Is that not an admission that it is their decision to make? So much for party membership controlling the lists.

Are party lists democratic or are they demographic?

We are told that party lists will be created democratically, provided the leaders of the day think that is a good idea. That is to say, each party will democratically select through nomination processes a list of people to represent the party to the legislature in the quantity the electorate allows. We are also told that party lists will result in more women and minorities being represented at Queen's Park. In order for this to be true, the party nomination processes cannot be fully democratic. A party cannot say "you won the vote, but you're white -- we have enough white people on the list" and still claim that the process is democratic. It cannot be both democratic and demographic. In spite of this, this election has around 1/3 female candidates, and even MMP-supporting Equal Voice notes that FPTP can increase female participation.

If the names on the party lists are important enough for voters to vote for or against a party, what is the purpose of the platform?

We are told over and over again that if a voter does not like a name or some of the names on a party's list, they should vote against that party. While it is wildly imaginative to believe that the average voter will be able to name any names from any of the party lists, why should the names on the list have more bearing on a member's vote than the party, its platform, its leadership, or its history?

If the makeup of a party list is going to be important to the electorate and emphasised by opposing political parties, and if MMP and its proponents are serious about improving demographics, why do none of the three political parties currently holding seats in the legislature point out that the Green party, MMP's most fervent proponent, has just 17% female candidates? Surely this demographic imbalance should be an election issue now if it is to be one in the future?

If an MMP MPP cannot vote against their party, what difference does the demographic balance make?

Let us say for a moment that some parties do choose diversity over democracy. If a list MPP is unable to vote against their party line without fear of being excluded from a future party list or evicted from Queen's Park altogether and replaced with a more loyal list entry, what good is their diversity of experience? Does the quota system for demographic balance exist for any more reason than to create a diverse group of people to rubber stamp the party's policies?

If an MMP MPP quits caucus, are they entitled to keep their seat?

MMP proponents will tell you no, it is the party that is elected, not the individual, and therefore any list member who does not toe the party line and is ejected from the party's caucus should lose their seat at Queen's Park. Yet we are also told that we should base our vote based on who is on the party list. If who is on the list is, by the assertion of the MMP campaign, the most relevant factor in deciding who to vote for, does it not make sense for the members elected from those lists to be considered legitimate MPPs capable of leaving the caucus from which they entered on their own? And if not, is it not an admission that voters will not in fact be basing their votes on the names on the lists? And if that is the case, is it not also true that list MPPs represent noone but the party that sent them to Queen's Park? If an MMP MPP is forced out of caucus for voting against their party, and then forced out of Queen's park for not being in their party, is that not a strengthening of the power of political parties over its members? What is democratic about a system where a party's power supersedes that of its representatives?

If an MMP MPP quits caucus because they would like to keep their party's promise, even though the party is breaking it, as Bill Casey did earlier this year federally, who has the legitimacy to keep the seat? The list MPP or the party that is not fulfilling its promises to voters?

If FPTP is so bad, why are we keeping it with MMP?

The single most significant problem with FPTP is the strategic vote. In a riding where there is a close race, a voter will vote for a candidate they are not fond of to block a candidate they really can't stand from winning. In a riding where there is not a close race, a voter feels that voting for the candidate they want who has no chance of winning is "wasted". While I take issue with the very concept of a "wasted vote", strategic votes are troublesome as voters find themselves unable to vote for the candidate of their choice. There are electoral reform options that solve this problem, namely preferential ballots, but they are not on the ballot. And that's just it: the options on our ballot are FPTP, or FPTP plus parties representing themselves. If FPTP's vote-wasting opponents are so adamant that FPTP is bad, why are we proposing to keep the system for 70% of our seats?

Doesn't MMP get rid of strategic votes?

Strategic voting, of course, is not limited to FPTP. Under MMP, while we will still be forced to vote strategically in our ridings to select the MPPs we want, as who represents us actually matters, we will also be given several new levels of strategic voting. The most egregious form is the highly evolved strategic voting system commonplace in Germany, MMP proponents' favourite example of MMP utopianism. In Germany, there are four main parties. Two major representative parties generally form coalitions with two major list member parties. If voters generally vote for one party in their riding, and that party's natural coalition partner on the list, the effect is to create a party system nearly identical to what we have here, now, where two parties instead of one always work together to form a majority. Occasionally the balance doesn't work out right, and you end up with a system where the country's two largest parties, usually opposed to eachother, are forced to form a coalition together to govern, nicknamed the "Grand Coalition".

More fascinatingly, while MMP proponents tell us that MMP will end strategic voting because we are all slaves to political parties who will never vote strategically to ensure the MPP in our riding represents us reasonably well, they also tell us that the reason we have two ballots when we vote under MMP is so that we can vote for a candidate and a party separately. The candidate's party, of course, will continue to show on the ballot. The effect of this is to encourage strategic voting as described above and as exists in Germany, effectively ingraining it in our very electoral system.

Why does an MMP supporter's wasted vote matter if mine doesn't?

MMP supporters will often claim that voting for a losing candidate under FPTP is a wasted vote. Under the Ontario MMP proposal, a threshold of 3% of the vote must be met before a party will be given any seats. At 3%, the party receives 4 seats. For anyone who votes for a party that receives under 3% of the vote, but enough votes to win a seat, their vote is wasted by MMP proponents' own definition of a wasted vote. Why does one person's wasted vote matter and not another's? What credibility does the wasted vote argument have if we are just changing whose vote is wasted?

Most of the world uses MMP, doesn't it?

While around 70 countries use some form of proportional representation, barely 10% of those use variations on MMP. It's one of the rarest electoral systems in the world. Around 50 countries, representing the majority of the world's democratically-ruled population, use FPTP as their electoral system. That it is limited to the US, Canada, the UK, and India is completely false.

Of that small handful of countries that use MMP, how are things working out?

MMP's proponents will have you believe that the system is the panacea of electoral systems, especially in New Zealand and Germany, with Scotland occasionally being mentioned in a similar light. Scotland, it is worth noting, has a lower percentage of women in its parliament than Ontario, with a greater proportion of them coming from the FPTP riding seats than from the party list seats.

New Zealand's electoral system has shown that, in spite of claims to the contrary here, MMP has done nothing whatsoever to alleviate voter cynicism or improve voter turnout. Under MMP, the country's voter turnout has dropped to its lowest in the island nation's history. Aside from the above-mentioned strategic voting chaos in Germany, it bears pointing out that MMP was adopted in the country to get away from proportional representation, a dangerous electoral system that facilitated the election of fascist governments in both Germany and Italy prior to the second world war. Both Germany and New Zealand, unlike the CA proposal in Ontario, by the way, have laws requiring political parties to use a democratic process to generate their party lists. Unlike what we are being asked to do, those countries don't take party benevolence on faith.

Belgium had its election on June 10th, nearly four months ago, under proportional representation and has yet to have its parties cobble together a coalition. The country has no government, and proportional representation has served to emphasise and widen divisions between groups in the country. PR and MMP is all about small-tent politics, where differences and disagreements, regionalisation, and issue-based parties are encouraged and empowered.

Won't MMP increase voter turnout?

Voter turnout is already up this election in Ontario going by the advanced polls, and it's dropped in New Zealand to its lowest level in the country's history with the adoption of MMP. There is no correlation between the electoral system and voter turnout. Turnout is a function of public interest in the process. On the plus side, though, Algeria's voter turnout climbed to around 120% following their adoption of MMP.

How is giving parties their own representation equivalent to women's suffrage?

"Vote for MMP" would have you believe that MMP is the equivalent of women's suffrage, and that therefore, by implication, anyone who votes against MMP is against women's right to vote. This is as offensive as it is non-sensical, and it is entirely worth noting that all the progress listed in their press release...

... was accomplished under FPTP, an inclusive and progressive electoral system.

If MMP passes, was my vote wasted?

Finally, if MMP passes in this referendum, was my vote and the votes of all those who voted against it wasted? Our votes will not have applied toward a winner and the referendum is a winner-take-all system.

Is it time for electoral reform? There is room for improvement. But if MMP is the solution, the answer is a definite NO. MMP is a step backward, away from the principles of our democracy of representation and accountability. If you believe in democracy, vote against MMP this Wednesday.

Posted at 08:23 on October 08, 2007

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

On wanting the Third Way | elections reform | Ontario overwhelmingly defeats MMP; declares Liberal majority perfectly legitimate


Shoes writes at Mon Oct 8 18:55:28 2007...

cdlu, Another great post. Congratulations for presenting this.

I was particularly struck by the democratic vs demographic. Another example of the MMP defenders wanting (to claim) both. I guess it could be done eg parties select delegates to leadership conventions to get a representative representation BUT...whose to force this issue on the parties.

I was always opposed to MMP (not electoral reform) you just keeping making it clearer why this should be rejected. And it will be....


D-weis writes at Wed Oct 10 11:00:33 2007...

The real question for debate on electoral reform for MMP should be, do minority governments work in Ontario, and do you believe that coalitions benefit governments? If your answer is no to both vote against MMP, otherwise you know what to do.


cdlu writes at Wed Oct 10 13:07:50 2007...

D-weis,

Those questions are important, but the question of: do you want MPPs who represent their parties to the house rather than you to the house is critical one as well.

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