This is the eighth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform. The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle. We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference. Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering. For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.
Chapter – 8 Referendum could spell an end to democracy.
Do you want to trade our democracy for a parliament of minorities? Probably not, but that is one of the possible results of a referendum on mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting. The people promoting MMP see it as the perfect opportunity for more minorities to have a say in the Ontario legislature. They say it is fairer. It is certainly more than fair to minority parties. It is just not as democratic.
People promoting proportional representation argue that it is not fair for a party that might have won 45 per cent of the popular vote to win maybe 55 per cent of the seats in the legislature. At the same time, they argue that a party that won 10 per cent of the vote but only 3 per cent of the seats should be given another 7 per cent of the seats to make up the difference. That is how they see proportional representation working.
But all they prove by this argument is that they do not understand or want our democracy. Evolving from the Parliament of Westminster, our democracy is not based around political parties. It is a representative-based system of responsible government built on the principle that the people rule. Added to the rule by the people is the protection of minority rights that makes democracy work. This protection of minority rights has evolved to a strong judiciary.
But now people want to throw out the very basis of our electoral system. They want it based on parties and not the representatives we choose. They argue against the first-past-the-post election system that can see someone win with less that a plurality of votes. These same people argue against run-off elections that could ensure that our representatives were all elected with majorities. They argue that because what they really want is a parliament of minorities.
This can occur when many smaller political parties are created to take advantage of a political system such as proportional representation. A recent example of proliferation of smaller parties occurred in the early 1990s when a number of new parties were formed to take advantage of changes in election funding. With the taxpayers picking up more than 80 per cent of the cost of campaigning, Canadians found they now had new parties such as the Natural Law Party that had people as candidates who claimed they could levitate.
Other federal parties that formed or revived in this time of opportunity, and are still with us, are the Canadian Action Party made up of people who claim they do not approve of large banks or supra-national corporations, the Christian Heritage Party that claims principles based on biblical ethics, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and the Green Party. These are all parties that would hope to have some of their people appointed to a proportional legislature.
In the proposed MMP system, a party needs at least three per cent of the party vote to be eligible for a portion of the appointments. With as few as 200,000 votes across the province, a party could have no elected seats but be appointed to as many as five seats in the legislature. From being a loser, this fringe party is being given a great deal of power. They could demand concessions from a minority government for their support. They could even demand seats in the cabinet.
What if the Green Party won enough party support across Ontario to be entitled to seats in a proportional legislature? What are they going to do now that they are there? There are few people who would complain about the Green Party’s objectives of preserving our environment. In fact, the Green Party platform is actually well represented in the platforms of all the major parties. Maybe not as prominent or as forceful but it is there.
The Green’s first choice might be to form a coalition with a party that needs a few extra bodies to form a majority government. That is a common solution for legislative bodies with proportional voting systems. The major party will promise to carry out some of the Green party’s ‘green’ promises, which are in its platform anyway, in exchange for the voting support to keep the party in power.
At the same time, consider how a larger party, needing a partner to form the government, accommodates a minority party with absolutely no similar policies? For the Conservative Party, for example, to find any common ground with the Marxist-Leninists or the Canadian Action Party would be difficult.
The problem is the narrow focus of most of these splinter parties. They can rarely win a riding because of that narrow focus. They bring nothing to the legislature but their narrow view. And they only represent the people who share their view. Given enough of these parties, the legislative body can descend into a parliament of minorities. Who then represents you?
©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry
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