Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The MMP Referendum in Ontario

I offer my following opinions about the Ontario MMP referendum for the benefit of any Ontarion that happens to chance by before Wednesday's election. It's a dumb blog in a way because it's too long and uninteresting for the average passerby but not really long enough to explain the referendum really well. I'll do my best to hit the highlights and assume that any Ontario elector would know enough to fill in the blanks. I'm doing this because I don't think we've been provided with very good information, and I'd like to do my bit, albeit rather late in the day. It's confusing but worth following if a resident hasn't really digested this stuff yet.

Ontarions go to the polls tomorrow to elect their provincial government for the next four years. As far as I can see there are two unique things about this election. The first is that the date was set approximately four years ago. Up until now, elections have been called arbitrarily by the party in power at a moment that they deem opportune — opportune for them, of course. The second is that we also have a referendum to vote on.

The referendum is to determine whether we want to embrace a different model for electing members of the legislature. It's called MMP which is short for Mixed Member Proportional. In a nutshell it's an attempt to elect representatives more fairly. I love the concept and was all for it until, with the election on our doorstep, I decided to look at the proposal more carefully. Now, I don't like it.

Basically and briefly, the idea (if this referendum were to pass) is that we would elect 90 members of parliament in the traditional way: that way being that whoever gets the most votes in a riding would then represent that riding in the legislature. It follows that the party that wins the most ridings forms the government.

There are several problems with this first-past-the-post system, but a major one is that, because there are at least three parties in almost every riding in Ontario, someone can be elected with only 40% or fewer of the votes. By extension, a party can win a majority of seats and form the government by gaining only 40% or less of the total provincial vote. Under this system it is also possible for a party to get, let's say 10%, of the total vote but not win even one riding and, therefore, not be represented at all in the legislature. It doesn't seem right.

And so, on Wednesday we will be offered the option to change the system. Unfortunately, I find this proposal terribly awkward and unattractive. Under the MMP referendum proposal, we would now vote twice: once for the local candidates and once for our general party of choice. Ninety of the 129 legislature seats would be filled by these candidates. The other 39 seats would be filled by a new group of at-large members.

I don't mind the idea in general, but I don't like how it plays out in this specific proposal. I don't mind the concept that an additional 39 seats would be filled by a second at-large, party vote. But there's a twist that I don't like. You see, in a way, the second party vote would trump the riding vote. Let me try to explain that as briefly as possible with the following example that for the sake of simplicity assumes a two-party system. Yes, I know we have three fairly major parties and a number of minor ones, but I really want to keep it as simple as possible.

Let's say that Party A elects 60 members from the traditional riding votes, but Party B only elects 30. However, let's also say that in the second ballot, the at-large party ballot, the electorate decides to split the vote evenly by giving both parties exactly 50% of the vote. It would mean that Party B would be given an overwhelming share of the 39 at-large candidates, and here's how.

It's because the second vote kind of trumps the first, for it's the second vote that will be used to determine as much as possible the actual number of seats that each party will obtain. (It's confusing, I know, but stick with me here.) If the electorate really split the at-large vote 50/50, then one half of the whole legislature of 129 and not just the additional 39 members should go to each party. Party A, therefore, would only get 5 more members (of the 39 remaining) to bring them up to 65 total seats, which is one-half of 129 (or as close as we can get) while Party B would get be granted 34 (I assume) of the at-large members to give them a grand total of 64 seats.

It doesn't seem right to me for one party to obtain an overwhelming share of those 39 at-large seats when the vote split evenly between the two. I fail to see how this particular MMP system solves more problems than it creates.

If the proportional presentation were to only apply to the 39 at-large seats, I would most likely feel differently. What I mean is that if the two parties (in the above example where each received 50% of the at-large vote) were to split the 39 at-large members evenly, I'd vote for it, for that system would allow for some fairer distribution and representation but still weigh local riding votes more heavily. But I can't buy into this extremely odd proposal, and I'll be voting NO.


Ruth said...

I have been very confused by this issue and am glad you too the time to express your views. People I have spoken to are "black or white" on the issue but seem unable to rationalize their choice, as you have. Both sides do have pros and cons. You make your point well.

karla said...

What I don't like about this proposed system (if I am understanding it correctly) is that say 12 of those 39 seats go to the Liberals, Dalton gets to give those seats to 12 of his buddies and now there are non-elected officals presiding over those seats. They will always vote along party lines rather than voting based on what is in the best interest of the riding they represent.

I guess this sort of system is good for smaller groups like the Green party because they just can't win a seat but it's also way more costly to the tax payers (more parties with offical party status = more salaries, pension benefits to pay for.)

I vote NO as well.

Coll said...

Living in Manitoba, I am fairly ignorant about this Ontario MPP referendum, but maybe I should be studying it a little more closely. For.. what happens in Ontario is sure to trickle down to the other provinces.. probably sooner than later.

Anvilcloud said...


That bit about always voting along party lines doesn't bother me too much as that's what they always do anyway. And I don't worry about the non-elected aspect of it as I believe each party has indicated that they will hold open elections within their ranks, and I also believe that it is thought that quasi constituency offices would be opened where there is a a shortage of otherwise elected MPPs. This is stuff that can be worked out. I really do like the idea of more proportional representation. It's just that I cannot buy this particular model with the popular vote almost seeming to be more important (in a way) than the riding votes.

One other thing that I don't like is that the popular vote triggers MPPs at 3%. That's too low IMO. It should be 5% or even a bit more.


Catherine said...

I'm not even going to pretend to have enough info to say something useful here so instead I'll say - Raindrops AND Snowflakes. I love it.

Anyway, I came here via your comment on Thailand Chani's "Heaven or Reincarnation" post. The question and comments so fascinated me that I wrote a post about it. I'd love your feedback - you can find it here

Nice to "meet" you. :)


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I was leaning toward supporting the MPP system now I am inclined to agree with you.

Does your simplfication of using only two parties in the example make it seem less useful. Proportional representation is meant to work best in multi-party systems. I certainly would like a system that saw small parties get seats closer to proportional to their popular vote. We would always have minority coalition governments. (Not necessarily bad) Some have been very creative in the past.

I don't think it will pass as it requires 60% (I think) and no one seems to have been out their selling it's virtues.

PBS said...

That's quite confusing but your vote makes sense. Good luck with the outcome!