Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Six Reasons to Vote For MMP

You may have noticed a new logo on my sidebar:

Like most Ontarians, I had no idea that we had a referendum coming up on adopting a Mixed Member Proportional voting system until I was handed some literature at the Milton Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago.

If you don’t know anything about MMP, please take the time to read about it here.

In essence, it is a system that allows the popular vote to be more accurately reflected in the percentage of MPPs from each party, while still ensuring that each riding is represented by the candidate elected by the majority in that riding.

What this means in practical terms is that, instead of a party with 40% of the popular vote having the power of a majority government and smaller parties like the NDP and the Greens having little or no representation, in most cases you would end up with a minority government forced to form coalitions and work together with a larger number of other parties.

Canadians tend to balk at the idea of minority governments, but the fact is that this country has functioned perfectly well under federal minorities many times throughout its history. We went for most of a decade under Diefenbaker and then Pearson minorities and still managed to get ourselves a snazzy new flag and a pretty damned good healthcare system out of it. Hell, Martin got same-sex marriage through with a minority government.

This is, in fact, how things work in most of Europe, where a lot of countries have some variation of proportional representation. We are only unfamiliar with it here because our two biggest historical role models have always been England and the U.S., and they both still use the old ‘first-past-the-post’ system. And we’ve all seen how well that’s working for the U.S.

There are a whole lot of reasons why I think MMP is a good idea, but these are the particular ones that mean the most to me personally:
1) A stronger voice for minorities. Under the current system, the major parties go for the broadest appeal they can get, and majority rule is frequently absolute. Under MMP, smaller parties can speak for the poor, the environment, women, human rights, cultural and visible minorities, and other people and issues often ignored or marginalized by the major parties. In order for the governing party to govern, they will have to address these issues. And before you bring it up, a party would need at least 3% of the vote to get representation, which would prevent narrow ‘fringe’ parties from filling up the seats.

2) Separate votes for the party and the local representative. If you really like a particular candidate but not his party, or love the party but hate the asshole they have running in your riding, you can have your cake and eat it too.

3) Less mess for the next government to clean up. Can you imagine if Mike Harris had had to work with a minority government? Or Bob Rae? Instead of having their way with us for years and years and letting their successors foot the bill, they would have had to run their more dumbassed ideas past the other parties first. Of course the same would apply to parties and policies you might like, but such is the nature of compromise.

4) More cooperation, less confrontation. Already in this country we are starting to see the same sort of angry, divisive, ‘Red Team vs. Blue Team’ mentality that is slowly destroying democracy in the U.S. I believe that MMP would reverse that trend.

5) On most issues that I personally care about, the Conservatives are generally all on their own against, well, everybody else. Progressives win, conservatives lose - assuming the leader of the NDP doesn't become drunk with power.

(ok, that one sort of contradicts #4)

And finally,

6) Cherniak has come out against MMP. That says it all right there.



  1. I don't think MMP is a right versus left issue. It's more of a political centre (i.e. those who hold power) versus the political periphery. It's the people who stand to lose who oppose this. Those who stand to gain generally favour it.

  2. Great post! Thanks for your support!

    A couple of quibbles:

    You said:

    ". . . while still ensuring that each riding is represented by the candidate elected by the majority in that riding."

    Under the crrent system, candidates are NOT elected by the majority in their riding. The winner is whoever gets the most votes. Sometimes they get 60% or 70% of the votes. On average, winning candidates, in Ontario and federally, get about 40% of the votes in their riding. Sometimes they win with 30% or less. So 40% of us are voting for someone who gets elected, and the other 60% of us might as well have stayed home.

    Conservative voters are as badly served as anyone else. As Suzanne points out, this is not a right-left issue.

    This is also not a big party-little party issue. Although the system makes it difficult for minor parties, most wasted votes are cast for Liberals and Conservatives.

    But this is not about what is good for parties at all. It is about making all political parties accountable to voters, by giving every voter a vote that counts every time, because every vote helps somebody get elected.

    Wayne Smith

  3. The only drawbacks to MMP that I've come across so far is that it may not translate well into a geographically broad country like Canada with decidedly different regions like rural, remote, and urban. I hope the system is tailored in a way that urban voters can't squash the voices of representatives from rural and remote regions for instance.
    Also, MMP reaffirms party politics, which is a drawback in some peoples eyes.

    Aside from those points, MMP is great compared to the antiquated FPTP.

  4. "Under the current system, candidates are NOT elected by the majority in their riding."

    Quite right. I should have left out the 'majority' part.

    As for the left vs. right issue, yes, I was being a little facetious there (this is what comes of posting in the wee hours of the morning :)

  5. "Running ideas past the other parties first . . . such is the nature of compromise." Right on, and we should give credit to Minister John Gerretsen, one of the cabinet's MMP supporters, who said it even better. According to the Kingston Whig-Standard he's advocated for electoral change since being elected in 1995 because it would force governments to compromise more with other parties in order to pass legislation. "Nobody is ever 100-per-cent right and nobody is every 100-per-cent wrong," he said. "Governing is the art of compromise. There's nothing wrong with having the governing party take into account smaller parties."

    On what it takes to win a local seat, here's another quote you might like, from the Citizens' Assembly report:

    "The more common practice in MMP systems is for list candidates to run locally as well. In the 2002 German election, over 90% of the elected list members also ran locally. In the 2002 New Zealand election, 84% of list members ran locally. This gives these candidates more visibility and strong connections to particular areas or regions. Parties that have general support across a country or province, but little likelihood of winning many local seats, may still want to run candidates in local districts. This gives parties a local presence in the election and allows their candidates to gain political skills and experience by running locally.

    "Permitting dual candidacy recognizes that there can be only one winner in local ridings under a Single Member Plurality system. Candidates who have strong public support can lose local races. For example, in the 2003 Ontario election, the winning candidate in one district received 35.87% of the vote. In another district, a losing candidate received 45.16% of the vote. As this example shows, candidates who lose can actually have more support than other candidates who win."

  6. What I find most amusing - amongst bloggers anyhow - is the fact that if Jason is against it, that must mean its a good system.

  7. Sigh. Yeah.

    I'm sure Jason is a very nice person and has the best of intentions. But he's a perfect example of how thin the line is between political bias and uncritical adulation. Hell, I'm a card-carrying Liberal and even I think he's been drinking a little too much kool-aid.

    One of several reasons why I never joined Liblogs. I don't pretend to be impartial, but I never want to feel beholden.