Posts Tagged ‘The Democracy Papers’

Ten reasons for first-past-the-post voting.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

The following has been retrieved from the archives of Babel-on-the-Bay. It is part of the Democracy Papers and has been the most read item in our web site. Thousands of readers have searched for and presumably read the content. It was originally written for the Ontario referendum on mixed-member proportional voting in 2007. Co-ordinating the ‘No’ side in Central Ontario was one of the easiest tasks I have ever had in politics. Ontario voters voted ‘No’ by about two to one. The article has been edited for length.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter today to have a run-off election.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions.   An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be fun to watch.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your constituency. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person comes back for re-election and is accountable.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises. To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and holding power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of voters. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected.   To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

-30-

Copyright 2007 – 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

“Well here’s another nice mess, Ollie!”

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are probably too young to remember the 1920s to 1950s Hollywood comedy team of Laurel and Hardy but they seem to have a comparable act. It was Monsef’s turn on Thursday to dismiss the work of her own committee on electoral reform. She had given the committee an impossible task to complete in an impossible time frame and then took the committee to task for not working hard enough.

Playing the Stan Laurel role in the duo, Justin Trudeau got the shtick rolling during the 2015 election by foolishly promising that 2015 would be the last time Canadians would use first-past-the-post voting. From when he first said that many people knew he was headed for trouble. Choosing the inexperienced Monsef as the cabinet member to implement the change was likely his second biggest mistake on the file.

For Monsef to insult the committee, on the record, in the House of Commons was a mistake that cannot be expunged. The Minister obviously spent some time in the parliamentary woodshed for her mistake.  Those Members of Parliament not only deserved the multiple apologies the next day but they deserved some real contrition from the Minister after their hard work over the summer.

And they did a good job within the time limits and the parameters that had been set. What nobody noticed is that some of the by-the-ways of the committee’s mandate were a more difficult task than the original task. Internet voting itself needed more than a summer with all the misconceptions people have on the subject.

It was the Liberals on the committee that acted the most responsibly in the final report. The Conservative, NDP, Green and Bloc majority on the committee recommended that the government proceed with a proportional system of voting after a referendum on the subject. They knew it was a specious argument. They knew that there would be lots of time to argue about any proportional system the Liberals might design.

But that is what the Liberals on the committee actually suggested. They very honestly considered the next election in 2019 would be far too soon to consider using a different electoral system. They want Canadians to be far more engaged in the subject of electoral reform before anything is proposed.

But ‘democracy be damned’ as far as ‘Oliver Hardy’ Monsef is concerned. The ball has been played to ‘Stan Laurel’ Trudeau’s side of the net and he has to decide if he should save his Minister of Democratic Institutions. Or not.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Trudeau doesn’t know democracy.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

One of the promises Justin Trudeau made to Canadian Liberals before becoming Liberal leader was that he would restore democracy in the party. He lied. He is now asking us to give up any of the rights we had as members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Justin Trudeau wants the Liberal Party to just be his personal fan club.

At the party’s biennial convention May 26 to 29, Justin Trudeau is asking delegates to renounce their rights as Liberals and to approve a new party constitution. It is now a simple constitution for a top-down party. The details will be supplied by the national executive. Regions and electoral districts will be under the national executive’s direction.

Those Liberals who stuck by the party through lean years are to be cast aside as the fan club pays nothing and gets in line for their selfies with Justin.

This is certainly not liberalism. Party membership is not a cult. Party membership is a commitment by progressively minded people to contribute their time, their energy to working together to create the ideas, the public enthusiasm and promoting the candidates for public office to bring their progressive ideas to fruition.

Liberals do not work for their leader. They work with their leader. They choose their local candidates because they know who their neighbours will want to support. They send their policy ideas up the party hierarchy to be discussed and voted on, not to be edited.

Trudeau signed an e-mail to Liberals recently that said the new constitution would create a party that was more open, innovative and engaging than ever before. Why is he selling this crap? What has he got against us being hard working and opinionated? Does he have some special insight that makes him infallible? After all he is the one who stood up in the middle of an election and made the stupid promise that it would be the last time Canadians voted under first-past-the-post.

What he does not seem to understand is that the Canadian people are forgiving. He had no problem with his numbers of Syrian refugees in Canada by New Year’s Day. Nobody needs to criticize him for saying he might have been over-reaching with his promise on voting systems. It all needs far more study and Canadians need to be more fully informed on the possible changes. He needs to create a bi-partisan commission that welcomes dialogue and meets with Canadians to discuss options.

He also needs to let the Liberal Party muddle along in writing its own constitution. Justin Trudeau can exercise his one vote as he wishes.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

Without it, how do you reform democracy?

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Minister Maryam Monsef has been heard from. The maybe minister of democratic institutions has announced a committee of MPs will spend their summer studying changes to Canada’s election system. What the minister does not seem to understand is that changes in our democracy have to be done democratically.

This is not a democratic committee. It will have 12 members and fully half of them will be Liberals. The other members will be three voting Conservatives, one voting New Democrat and one each from the Bloc and Green parties who will not have a vote. Green Leader Elizabeth May is the only eligible Green and she is wondering why her summer should be wasted when she cannot vote on the committee’s deliberations.

And is there any point to this undemocratic fiasco? We already know that the Greens and NDP want proportional representation in parliament, the Liberals want preferential voting and the Conservatives do not want either. This is not a subject suitable for classic political compromise.

The government is ignoring the host of variables in each choice. Even in the status quo there is choice. When you realize that the present system came down to us from our agrarian land-based ancestors, there are many ways we could change our first-past-the-post system. With today’s technology, voting need not be tied to a physical district, it frees us to consider voting blocs of trades or professions. What if all the doctors picked their own MPs? That idea would give the committee a bone it could really chew on.

Have we ever considered that a person’s chronological age has nothing to do with their maturity? Maybe we should consider a voting test in the same way as we test people for driving licenses. We could have bright 16-year olds voting and maybe dumb 25-year olds could have one more chance. And our dear senile granny might finally miss her vote this year.

But we should not be dogs in a manger over this silliness by the Liberal government. If the committee wants hold a town hall meeting in Barrie this summer to test the waters here, we should welcome them graciously. Heck, we could even invite them to a barbeque. Barrie is an hospitable little city.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Are they damning democracy?

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

It is appalling the number of Canadians who say they want voter reform without bothering to research or understand the subject. Sitting in an audience recently with apparently a high percentage of New Democrat supporters, it was surprising how eager they are to reform how we vote. The speaker made an inane claim for proportional voting and they applauded wildly.

What these enthusiasts do not understand is that to adopt proportional representation in this country is to give up on democracy. We have this tradition of electing our best and brightest to our provincial capitols and our nation’s capitol. It is a system that has suffered greatly the last couple decades but we can hardly give up on it without a fight.

Proportional representation was initially designed to accommodate illiterate voters. The voter only needs to make a mark for a party by name or pictograph. The various parties are then entitled to choose members of the governing council according to their share of the vote.

Canada’s First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system came to us from England where it started with people gathering at the village square to shout out their preference for a member of parliament. It is our ability to choose our member of parliament that is the most precious part of our system of government. This person answers to us.

Admittedly we have far too many people in this country who just vote for a party without considering the individual. Thankfully there are still some who do not want to vote for the village idiot just because he or she represents their favourite party.

What we are considering is that in as much as the same people pushing voting reform want to do something about the Senate of Canada, they can make the senate proportional according to the FPTP vote for the House of Commons. While the negotiations for that with the Province of Quebec would be interesting, there might just be a formula that would work.

This suggestion would give us the opportunity to renew the senate after every federal election. That would reduce its sense of entitlement, increase its energy and reflect a more contemporary attitude. And since the FPTP system can produce majorities of seats in the commons without a majority of the popular vote, the government party would not necessarily have a majority in the senate. This would ensure a more balanced examination of legislation by the senate and give the country better government.

-30-

Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

First-Past-the-Post debate ignites Brits.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

A sudden influx of hundreds of readers can make any blogger’s heart go pit-a-pat. Since last week, Babel-on-the-Bay’s readership has reached new heights. It was not because of our sage advice on Canadian elections but something written eight years ago at the time of the Ontario referendum on voting reform. Our latest surge of new readers is from Great Britain. Now that they have had their hard fought general election, it seems that some Brits want to change the rules on how they vote.

Admittedly, a Canadian’s knowledge of the British parliamentary system is somewhat coloured by the satire of Gilbert and Sullivan and the comedic commentaries of films by the Boulting Brothers. We have never been too sure of how the British parliament managed to survive after the days of David Lloyd George.

Not that we think the Canadian parliament owes anything to the mother of parliaments beyond a nosegay on Mothers’ Day. The parliament in Ottawa has gone its own way now for almost 150 years and many of the worst aspects of the British parliamentary system are only now besetting its poor occupants.

But it is in the choosing of the denizens of the Commons Chamber that is causing the current controversy. Yes, the Brits invented the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system in the days when the villagers met in the town square and shouted out their preferences. The first thing you notice about those demanding change is that they are not proposing any specific system. They are starting by tearing down FPTP.

And, in many ways, they are right. Yes, FPTP is an anachronism. While it is old and creaky, it has served us well. There is not always a relationship between share of votes and share of seats in parliament. Minority governments can happen. A shift of voting patterns by a strategic block of maybe ten per cent of voters can turn parliament on its collective head.

But before counting FPTP out for the count, one really needs to understand what is being posed as a replacement. Does any educated citizen who respects democracy want to vote for a party list? Or would we condone systems of transferable votes or mixed member systems that cannot be understood by all the voters?

Where we are failing in this entire exercise is our miserable performance in developing better voting systems. We are reaching a point today where we can trust the Internet for secure voting and for cost-free instant run-off elections. Why are we not moving in that direction? Why are we not thinking about it?

-30-

Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Walking with the workers.

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Watching the Liberal convention in Toronto last weekend, there was lots of time for other thoughts. The mood kept switching from being glad not to be there to being annoyed that we were not. There were many old friends popping up in the crowds of Liberals—some that we had not seen in years. We saved a lot of money by staying in Babel but it would have been so good to say hello.

There was a camera shot from a helicopter during the day of Carlton Street in front of the old Maple Leaf Gardens site. It showed a massing of an estimated 15,000 workers who were protesting the use of the draconian Bill 115. If we had been there for the convention, we would have gone out to be with the workers. It would have been in honour of the late Senator David Croll who said in 1937—as he resigned from Mitch Hepburn’s Liberal Cabinet—“I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors.”

Babel-on-the-Bay hit a milestone in readership on Saturday and we noticed when looking at the figures that this site is still one of the major sources for information on first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting. The Democracy Papers from 2007 are archived on the site. The Democracy Papers were prepared in answer to the McGuinty government’s very foolish attempt at changing Ontario to a Mixed Member Proportional voting system. Thankfully, Ontario voters rejected the suggestion by about two to one.

There seem to be as many opinions about this blog as there are readers. We have never been able to get over it that the best read postings are the ones about Stephen Harper’s hair. It is the wife’s fault. We got into a discussion of politicos with hairpieces one day when it was pointed out that former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory would probably look more distinguished without his rug. And then the wife said, “Well, what about Harper’s hairpiece?”

While Google Analytics tells us quite a story about the blog’s readership, it does not tell you that the lone reader in the United Arab Emirates yesterday is probably a Canadian consular officer. What helps are the e-mails we get from people telling us how much they enjoyed or maybe hated a particular posting. And there is a particularly attentive bureau of accuracy out there ready to let us know if we make an error. They are also welcome.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Ten reasons to support first-past-the-post voting.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #10- Revised  This is now the tenth and final of The Democracy Papers that were originally written in 2007 to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree with you. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters.   If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter to have a run-off election or, to save money, even easier to have voters indicate a second, third or fourth choice in a preferential vote.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest.   There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a plain simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth.   The one with the most votes wins.   No questions.   An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be as much fun to watch as a close horse race.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet.   And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians.   There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your riding.   Parties do not have to keep their word.   It is difficult to hold a party accountable.   A person, your MPP, comes back for re-election and is accountable to the voters.

When you think about it, politics is about people.   That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people.   Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises (or, even worse, promises they kept that they should not have kept).   To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives.   Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and power.   It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP:   It gets things done.   An election is a call to action.   It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term.   It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control.   It means, the voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of the voters.   Both left and right wing parties have felt the wrath of voters inOntarioover the years.   The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call.   Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding.   They can ignore you, if they dare.   They can even disagree with your ideas.   They might have to tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable.   They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’   There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us to examine.   They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP:   It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected. To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task.   The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust.   Should we ever ask for less?

-30-

Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #9- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

There are many assumptions made about proportional voting. It is a panacea to some people to solve the ills of our society. It is a harmless change according to others. For people who know Canadian politics though it is neither a panacea nor harmless. It can send Canadian politics into a spiral from which it might never recover.

In Canada, we use first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting that we imported from England more than 200 years ago. Proportional voting has been used in many other societies that allow voting for almost as long. The basic difference between the two voting approaches is that FPTP is considered idealistic. It attempts to create a government of our best and brightest. It is designed to select the people whom we believe best represent us. It means we select the people to govern who are preferred by the largest number of voters.

The option proposed to Ontario voters in 2007 was mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting. It is a form of proportional voting that allows some members of the legislature to be elected in enlarged FPTP constituencies and others to be selected from party lists based on the votes for each party. An even simpler explanation is that FPTP voting is based on individual candidates and proportional voting is based on political parties.

The proportional part of the voting process seeks to represent society as it exists. In that sense, it is more realistic. It seeks to try to create an image of society in government by reflecting the make-up of the society. The proportional system allocates seats to the various parties according to the votes for each party.

But the problem with this attempt at mirroring of society is that it is being done with political parties. Political parties in Canadado not all try to mirror segments of their society. Parties such as the Conservatives and Liberals had some of their roots in demographics in the past but today are based more on ideology.

Federally, the two best known parties with demographic bases are the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party. The Bloc is regional and tribal, based on the threat of separation from Canada. The NDP is socialist and union based and originated from an earlier class struggle in what has become a mainly class-free society.

Factions such as the Green Party see proportional representation as their only entrée into Government and make it their cause. Proportional representation is also supported by some unionists who see it as an opportunity for short-term gains for the NDP. The requirement for a minimum of three per cent of the popular vote before seats are allocated would probably keep out parties such as the Communists and Libertarians.

Most political observers see one result in the long-term of proportional representation as a potential splintering of the right-of-centre parties.   They expect with proportional voting, the hard-line religious right will give up on the Conservatives and Liberals and form their own parties. With the dominance of Roman Catholics in the Right-to-Life movement, this could mean a separate party being formed by the Protestant religious right.   A growth in this factionalism could also lead to religious parties for the more extreme Muslim, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox sects that would put an entirely new complexion on Canadian politics.

While demographically based parties on religious or tribal lines are common in the rest of the world, this is not a road that most Canadians want to travel. Despite the bad example of ethnic infighting over riding nominations in the Toronto area in the last 20 years, Canada’s political parties have tried to stay away from ethnic or religious manipulation.   A recent lapse in this regard was Conservative Leader John Tory’s ill-conceived offer to support non-Catholic parochial schools in 2007.

Much is made of the desire of some people to have gender equalization in the Ontario Legislature. The NDP have promoted this by trying to have equal numbers of male and female NDP candidates. Nobody expects the results in the election will be gender equal. Hopefully, we will be represented by people of both genders, chosen for their abilities.

In a speech by a one-time political pundit many years ago, he made the point that political parties needed to make room in their ranks for all segments of Canadian society. To illustrate this, he made a somewhat tongue-in-cheek plea to have more stupid people in politics. His case was that there are likely to be some stupid people in Canada and they deserved to be represented just as much as anyone else. His entire argument fell apart when it was pointed out that the stupid faction was already well represented. For proof, one just had to sit through a late-night session of the Ontario legislature after some of the members had enjoyed their dinner hour in the press gallery bar.

 -30-

Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Ontario could have done better.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

THE DEMOCRACY PAPERS #8- Revised  It was in 2007 that The Democracy Papers were written to make the case for our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting in North America. Despite changes being rejected firmly in Ontario and twice in British Columbia, people still complain. The complaints are understandable. No system is perfect. Neither is democracy but it is better than the alternatives.

Suppose a decision needs to be made about something important to you. And that decision is being made for you. Who do you want to make that decision? Do you want people whom you know and trust to make it? Do you want people who are experts in that field to help? Do you want extensive public discussion on the issues? Do you want to consider all the options? Or would you, in some wild state of insanity, decide to get a bunch of lottery winners to make the decision for you? That is what happened in Ontario running up to the 2007 election.

And what is worse, most Ontario citizens were not aware of it. Surveys, in August that year, showed that less than 30 per cent of the population knew of Ontario’s citizens’ assembly on electoral reform and the referendum to be put before the voters during the October election. Ontario citizens were mugged.

In one of the most capricious acts of government in Ontario since the Harris Conservatives decided we did not need to be so rigid about checking the safety of our drinking water, the McGuinty Liberals set a group of lottery winners to play with our electoral system.

Not that there is anything wrong with examining our electoral system.   First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is no sacred cow. Examine it all you like. It took centuries to develop. Nobody thinks it is perfect.

But would it not be better to have such things studied by people who know what they are doing? What is wrong with learned discussion? Why could we not consider the pros and cons with people who understood voting systems and the political scene? Why were we instead being force-fed a single option? It was wrong.

The McGuinty government picked one voter from each of 103 ridings in the province and said ‘you decide.’ They turned this befuddled group of citizens loose without even a leader who knew about the question. Judge George Thomson had presided over family court before going to work for Ontario’s civil service at Queen’s Park.   He was on the same learning curve as his flock. The results show how little they knew.

The lottery winners voted for a system called mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting. This is a somewhat confusing system of voting where political party appointees can be appointed to the legislature to ‘top up’ party representation. Their job done, the lottery winners went home to their ridings.   It was the voters who were left to sort it out in the referendum that came with the October provincial election.

And they did not get much help.   Elections Ontario had been told by the government to spend what was necessary to educate Ontario voters. Luckily, Elections Ontario decided to spend less than $7 million on the task. They left the educational job to the various groups organizing pro-MMP/pro-FPTP campaigns and the news media.

The battleground turned out to be the Internet. The news media were slow getting into the fray, relying mainly on their own political columnists and talking heads. The one thing for sure is that nobody showed off their expertise. One newspaper column solicited from an assistant professor inVictoria, B.C. gave a glowing report on MMP, mentioning how it has been used in Germany with excellent results. The academic needed to extend his research a bit and he would have also found that MMP was a reluctant compromise in 1949 because of how Hitler’s Brown Shirts took advantage of proportional voting in the Wiemar Republic.

But then everyone needs to improve their research on this question. Platitudes such as ‘MMP will help more women and minorities get in the legislature’ are all very nice but nobody has offered any proof of that statement.

Proportional representation is the most common voting system in the world. The reason is because it is easier for illiterate voters to vote for a party symbol than a name. Mixed-member proportional is not as common. Mixed member means that some people are elected directly and some are appointed by their political parties. The pro-MMP people are usually selective in their examples.   Using New Zealand is a guarantee that not many Ontario voters would know much about that country’s politics. Far more Ontario residents would be familiar with the results of MMP voting in Mexico. Now why does nobody mention the Mexico experience?

The most vigorous pro-MMP campaigns was by the Green Party and NDP. These parties are under the impression that they will benefit the most from MMP. The pro-FPTP campaigns were slower to emerge because of the ease with which the pro-MMP groups label you as reactionary. Hopefully, more and more informed people will join in on the discussion.  We need to protect our democracy.

-30-

Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me