This is the third 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 3 – Vote for a new system without knowing cost?
If ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting had come to Ontario, it is taxpayers who would have had to pay, and pay, and pay! The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform that came up with this aberration seems to have ignored the costs. And you do not just multiply the number of appointed members (39) by $110,775 per year that was the current annual pay for MPPs. (They had recently given themselves a nice 25 per cent raise.) The salaries for the unelected supernumerary legislature members would only be the beginning.
To $4.2 million in salaries, you have to add far more for the care and upkeep of these party stalwarts. For example, if you have not parked a car in downtown Toronto in the past few years, you might have no idea how much it costs to park all the MPPs’ personal autos at Queens’ Park. Suffice to say, if they all travelled to the legislature by Toronto Transit Commission, we could probably buy each of them a nice compact car every couple years from the savings.
And do not forget that they have a subsidized lunch room and paid meals if the legislature sits late. This is even a better deal when the legislature is not sitting. The MPPs collect additional pay and expenses for each day of committee meetings they attend during those times. If the chair of the committee can arrange it, they also can get excellent perks by holding meetings at luxury locations with decent golf courses.
Nobody should complain about the cost of constant travel by members of the legislature if they are going to and from their ridings. They represent the people in those ridings and need to meet with them on a regular basis. The proposed political appointees to the legislature will only represent their party. Can we hope the 39 political appointees will all be from Toronto?
The really expensive travels for our MPPs are on what are called ‘fact-finding missions.’ These are often arranged by the party whip after the doors are locked at party caucus meetings. Imagine, if you will, the whip or party leader asking, “Who hasn’t been to Europe yet this year? We have a lovely cruise down the Rhine for those who want to look as though they are checking on municipal sewage solutions.”
The party stalwarts get their pick of these plums. Conversely, the caucus bad apple that made the mistake of arguing openly with the party leader will get offered a fact-finding mission to examine policing for unauthorized weapons on the streets of Baghdad. (This probably explains why so few politicians are seen to argue with their party leader.)
As the 39 party appointees would obviously all be good party people, we can assume that they could get first pick at the travels if they are not kept busy with cabinet appointments. That is its own expense item as cabinet members are not only paid more but do not have anything as mundane as parking problems. They are driven at the taxpayers’ expense by government-paid chauffeurs. No cabinet member is allowed to worry about things such as having toonies and loonies for parking meters. (Mind you, what you really need for parking in downtown Toronto is a paid-up, no-limit American Express card.)
The good news for party leaders with the citizens’ assembly proposal is that they can list all their potential cabinet ministers at the top of what the citizens’ assembly calls ‘list seats. (Political people are calling them ‘loser seats.’) That way, if the cabinet hopeful loses in his or her riding, the leader still gets a chance to get them into the legislature.
Mind you, if out of the 90 members to be elected from ridings, your party gets 50 seats, you would expect to feel like a winner. Yet, you might be a loser if you do not get as high a percentage of the party vote. If the voters perversely only gave your party 40 per cent of the party vote, the complex formula might refuse you any list seats. You need to have 65 members in total for a majority government.
Obviously there is endless speculation among political junkies about what could happen under MMP voting. It is a potpourri of ‘what-ifs?’ Luckily for them, the citizens’ assembly did not have to worry about any of this. The assembly members were chosen by lottery on the basis (one voter from every riding in Ontario) that they probably knew nothing about politics or voting systems. And it appears that they really knew nothing. They were indoctrinated and since they did not want to appear to be wasting the taxpayers’ time and money, they chose one of the options presented to them.
It was left to the voters to reject the concept. During the 2007 election campaign, neither the Liberals nor Conservatives commented. Most backroom politicos had other fish to fry at the time. The NDP and the smaller parties embraced it. That was understandable.
©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry
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