#10 Our citizens’ assembly could have done better
Think of something important to you. Suppose a decision needs to be made about it. 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, ever decide to get a bunch of lottery winners to make the decision for you? That is what has happened in Ontario.
And what is worse, most Ontario citizens are not even aware of it. Surveys, in August this year, showed that less than 30 per cent of the population know of Ontario’s citizens’ assembly on electoral reform and the referendum that is to be put before the voters during the October 10 election. Ontario citizens have been 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 can we not consider the pros and cons with people who understand voting systems and the political scene? Why are we instead being force-fed a single option? This is 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 is the voters who are left to sort it out in the referendum that comes with the October 10 provincial election.
And so far they have not been getting much help. Elections Ontario has been told by the government to spend what is necessary to educate Ontario voters. Luckily, Elections Ontario has promised to spend less than $7 million on the task. They are leaving the job to the various groups organizing pro-MMP/pro-FPTP campaigns and the news media.
The battleground up until September has been the Internet. The news media are slowly getting into the fray, relying mainly on their own political columnists and talking heads. The one thing for sure is that nobody has been showing off their expertise. One newspaper column solicited from an assistant professor in Victoria, 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 hasty 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 real proof of that statement.
While proportional representation is considered the most common voting system in the world 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 have been quite 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 Mexico?
The most vigorous pro-MMP campaigns to-date have been by the Green Party and NDP. These parties are under the impression that they will benefit the most from MMP. The supposedly non-partisan Fair Vote Ontario MMP campaign has been organized riding by riding by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The pro-FPTP campaigns have been slower to emerge because of the ease with which the pro-MMP groups label you as reactionary. The first site was representativedemocracy.ca posted by Canadians United for Representational Democracy (CURD) which has recently established an Ontario base for its activities during the referendum. The web site nommp.ca has the nicest graphics and is stridently anti-MMP.
Hopefully, more and more informed people will continue to join in on the discussions. October 10 will be the day we decide.