#7 Asking the ‘Why’s’ of the referendum

In the upcoming provincial election, Ontario voters will be presented with a referendum question that is not just a choice between one electoral system and another.   It is a challenge to the democratic principle of one person: one vote.

The referendum question is whether you favour our present first-past-the-post electoral system or would you like to have something called mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting that has been proposed by Ontario’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform?

Superficially, the citizens’ assembly proposal could be seen as fairer.   It is not.

The first and most basic difference about the proposed system is that voters will get two votes, one for an individual candidate and one for a political party.   If you vote for the individual, are you not, in fact, voting for that candidate’s party?   Think about it. Under what circumstances would you, as a voter, want to vote for a candidate and then vote for another party?

This can produce a frown on a thinker’s face.

‘Ahh but,’ a little ‘idea light’ comes on.   ‘Maybe,’ you think, ‘I can vote for the individual and then for a party that I would like to see represented in the legislature.’

That idea produces an even deeper frown.   This ‘why’ is confusing.   It is ‘why can’t this party get anybody elected to the legislature?   Will their members not be as good legislators as the candidate I already voted for?   Are they going to be a second class member of the legislature, members with seats but who do not report to any constituents other then the party bosses?   Do these appointed people represent their party or me?’

And the questions continue.   They become even more complex.   And there is really nowhere to turn with questions where you might expect an unbiased answer.

To be fair, and Ontario voters are fair, they might ask questions of some of the cheerleaders for the citizens’ assembly idea.   The citizens’ assembly web site can explain that now a party with ten per cent of the popular vote can be topped up to have ten per cent of the seats in the legislature.   ‘That is generous,’ you respond, ‘but why does your proposal, in turn, take the win away from a party with 53 per cent of the elected seats but only 40 per cent of the party vote?

The mathematical implications of MMP voting are staggering.   There are many permeations and scenarios that can be as intriguing as they are frightening.   The conclusion is that the most likely split of candidate and party vote is where there is a strong candidate who has earned a personal following but whose voters usually support other parties.   This scenario can only work against the smaller parties.

The MMP cheerleaders such as Fair Vote Ontario will also tell you that more women and minorities can be appointed to the legislature from the party lists.   That evokes a very big ‘why?’   If you look around the legislature as it is at the present, you will see women and various minorities already there.   Many of these people will be insulted if you suggest to them that they could be appointed instead of elected.

The MMP cheerleaders also tell you that the at-large, supernumerary appointees to the legislature under MMP will be eager to represent voters in ridings that are not represented by their party.   That is a very nice fairytale but reality is that there is no incentive for persons who are representing a party to waste time looking after voters’ needs.   (In Germany where a mix of proportional representation is used, they had to create a petitions committee of the Bundestag to make sure voters’ concerns were heard.)

The appointed members under MMP are chosen by their political parties.   They would probably be chosen in very much the same way as Canadians choose the Senate of Canada.   They are just not as likely to be as useful.   These are the losers in the ridings and party hacks who do not want to have to run for election.   Under MMP, they would be mixed in with the general population of members.   We would never know if they do anything.   If we simply gave the party leader the number of votes to cast as these people would have exercised, it would be a far cheaper solution.

But the cheerleaders tell us that in the new MMP legislature, the parties will have to work together in coalitions and that the system will reward cooperation, compromise and accountability.   This seems based on the supposition that there would no longer be majority governments.   They think that minorities spell an end to partisan rigidity, trivial bickering and narrow thinking.   They obviously have not been to Ottawa lately to see how that minority government is getting along!

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