#2 The wasted vote and other myths
There are many myths being told as to why you should vote for mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting in Ontario. This form of proportional representation will be on the ballot for the October election. The referendum question is whether you favour our present first-past-the-post electoral system or would you like to have MMP voting that has been proposed by Ontario’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?
The first of the myths told by the pro-MMP people is the suggestion that you have been wasting your vote when your candidate did not win. This myth is spurious. They are saying that your opinion has been treated as worthless. You went to vote so that your voice would be heard. You went to vote to express your belief in democracy. You went because you and the other people in your area had a choice to make as to who would represent you. Win or lose, you were expressing your democratic opinion.
You can be pleased when your candidate wins. You can be disappointed when your candidate loses. Your vote is never worthless. Candidates, politicos and statisticians spend many hours pouring over those results. Winning and losing candidates learn from them. They can help the loser to be a winner next time. They can show trends. They can be extrapolated by parties to forecast results in newly formed ridings. They are used for years to help academics learn from the past to forecast the future.
The most seriously flawed myth is that the selection of list candidates (the 39 people whom they want to appoint to the legislature) will be open and democratic because the parties have to disclose their process of selection. The process of choosing all parties’ candidates has been corrupted for years.
The rule in Ontario is that no person can be a candidate for a party without the signed approval of the party leader. That means that despite the occasional attempt by a riding association to make the decision on their own, the leader’s campaign committee is the de facto selection committee. Any other explanation is nothing more than window dressing.
In most cases, you can count on a list that consists mainly of persons running for election in ridings. These are people the party leader and advisors want to be sure are in the legislature. If they lose in their riding, the list will be their second chance. It guarantees that most of the list candidates who are selected are losers. They have been rejected by the voters in their riding and are now available to be appointed.
The silliest myth of all is the one that the selection of list candidates will bring more women and minorities into the legislature. The implication is insulting. The political parties have done a much better job in recent years of encouraging women to run for office. The financial barriers have been mainly overcome with the use of taxpayers’ money. Many well-qualified women have run for office and won in their ridings. If you think there should be more, get to work and be sure they are nominated and then work even harder to make sure they are elected.
Minorities are a different matter. This has good and bad implications. There are no barriers. Ethnic background, race, religion, sexual persuasion or physical handicaps are not a problem but only representing a specific group is a problem. Every group is welcome to send people to the legislature but, in the legislature, these people must deal with many issues and they must represent everybody.
The myth that is the most confounding is the one that proportional voting systems such as MMP promote broader participation in government and more ready acceptance of government policies. That, they believe, would seem to make it very worthwhile. It would if we really want a lacklustre, do-nothing government.
The myth continues that MMP-type government will feature bargaining, will be inclusive and will include compromise. There are a few ingredients of good government that are missing. They forgot about ideas, drive and ambition. And they forgot about leadership. If you want this bland, non-competitive type of representation, you could have got the same thing by making the citizens’ assembly that selected it the Ontario government. They would do just as good a job.
The citizen’s assembly was chosen by lottery, one member per riding across the province. They obviously did not know much about democracy or politics. Luckily, the government supplied them with a leader for the experiment. Judge George Thomson, the former civil servant led them. The judge let them listen to myths and let them choose an alternative voting system. The judge took Ontario’s citizens’ assembly down the proverbial garden path.