October 10, 2007

Ontario votes: last thoughts on MMP

After a lot of reflection and discussion, I really have to say I'm no longer comfortable with the Mixed-Member Proportional proposal for electing the Ontario legislature that's going to referendum today.

I think the whole thing is a bit of an overreach, frankly. The Opposition Leader's public defection this week is baffling to me: there's no way this proposal should haveever gone to referendum without being modified to the point where it would have the total, unconditional support of both the Opposition members of the House (the government party having obviously to stay steadfastly neutral on a referendum question). That's the problem with Citizens' Assemblies, of course... it's all or nothing for them, so they tend to try and solve everything with one go and roll the dice, rather than settle for a brokered solution.

And a simpler MMP proposal would certainly have passed, given the current discontent with politics. They could have said that the number of riding MPPs should be knocked down to 90, and have 20 members elected on a proportional province-wide basis (5% of the popular vote = 1 seat) and the idea would likely have had nearly everyone's support. Sure, it would only have made the legislature somewhat more proportional than it is now, but if it worked the numbers could have been easily adjusted by subsequent legislation.

Proponents of the proposal have been blaming the media, the government, etc. for poor promotion, but they haven't been exactly straight-up about some things either. Some have argued that the proposal will allow parties to "fill their hands" to represent the underrepresented (visible minorities, women, Northerners). Clearly that's completely orthogonal to their other promise, that parties would have to publish their list of selectees in advance of the election, since the parties would need the election results to tell what needed filling. Either you get backfills, or you get published party lists; you can't have both.

Now, assuming MMP fails with the voters today (as I now believe it should) it's going to be another 20 years before we go back down this road, I'm afraid.

Not that a victory for MMP would be a disaster, in all likelihood. In all Ontario's history, a fourth party has only met the minimum threshold defined in the current proposal of 3% of the popular vote twice: in 1919 and 1923, two elections when the emerging social democrat vote that would ultimately coalesce in the CCF and then NDP was split between the stronger United Farmers of Ontario, and the weaker Labour Party: it's a good question whether MMP back then would have given socialism a larger say in the pre-Depression years, or whether it just would have discouraged social democrats from merging under a single banner. Other close runner-ups would be Frank de Jong's Green Party in the last election (2.8%), and the pro-life Family Coalition Party in 1990 (2.7%).

Posted by BruceR at 02:45 PM