Ontario Referendum

October 5th, 2007 by Potato

The referendum (and election) is just a few days away, and I still haven’t seen much in the way of coverage on the referendum topic. I figured a lot of people were hungry for electoral reform, but there doesn’t seem to be much interest at all. And what I have seen worries me: there’s a lot of FUD out there about the proposed MMP system, particularly over two points. The first being the increase in the size of the legislature. People don’t want there to be more MPP’s who suckle at the taxpayer teat, especially given their propensity to vote themselves raises. However, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the larger legislature will allow for more proportional representation, and will still be smaller than it was in the pre-Harris days. Ontario will still have the fewest MPPs per population of any province.

The second is the idea of list MPPs. Many people dislike the notion of a party getting to pick which MPPs get to sit in the legislature without them facing the voters individually. They fear that it will give the parties too much power, without really giving more to the voters, which is what this whole electoral reform thing is really all about. I have to admit, that was one of my concerns as well (and why I wrote the Citizen’s Assembly to recommend STV). However, it looks like Elections Ontario will get some oversight in how the lists are created, and they must be public and open. Plus, the beauty of having two votes is that if you don’t like the way a party creates its lists, but otherwise like the party and/or the local candidate, you can vote for the local candidate, but not for the cronies on the list.

There have been other concerns I’ve heard with the list system, for example that a party that can garner around 3% of the vote could get an MPP into the legislature. That might lead to crazy fringe one-issue parties: one theoretical example was what if there was a “anti-abortion” party and they got an MPP in power, and that one MPP held the balance of power and teamed up with the already batshit-crazy tories to get their twisted agenda passed. Well… there’s not much I can say to that. Unfortunately one-issue fringe parties can be an issue with proportional representation, but if 3% of Ontarians want a one-issue party to represent them, then shouldn’t they have that option? IMHO, the ability to avoid the phoney, radical majorities we do have would be worth it. An increase in minority/coalition governments might result, yes, but again that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. It would probably help moderate some of the swings we have between left and right at the moment…

So, take a look at MMP before election/referendum day. Get to know it. Hopefully you’ll see that it is an improvement over the old first-past-the-post system. If you have any other questions or concerns about it, feel free to post them here, and see www.voteformmp.ca.

Edit: One more point talked about is that MMP will lead to more unstable/ineffective minority governments, rather than the stable majorities that we tend to see today. I have a few issues with this point of view. The first is that it is not the responsibility of our electoral system to create false majorities: most Ontarians can’t agree on a single party to rule them, so we shouldn’t be getting majority governments at all. If MMP brings more minority governments, then that’s probably what Ontarians want (or, at least, all they can agree to as a whole). Also, while majority governments can pass legislation willy-nilly, without any heed to the opposition, that’s really only stable in the short term. Sure, you get 4 years of decisive leadership, but if it’s leadership you don’t want, then you vote in a new government to do things differently. Is it really stable to keep flip-flopping between Liberals, Conservatives, and the NDP? Do we really save a ton of money if we cut deeply into healthcare, fire thousands of nurses, and then just hire them back a few years later with the next regime change? A minority or coalition government may take longer to get things done because they have to deliberate more to find a consensus, but it should be more effective in the long term because the legislation they come up with should be more agreeable to all, so it won’t get shit-canned after the next election. Also, part of the reason why minority governments in our current system are so ineffective is because it’s so easy to call another election and so easy to get a majority (indeed, most of the time we get a majority legislature, even when only something like 40% of the people support the party). So rather than try to work together to get things done, the parties instead focus on braying and posturing for the next election, hoping that they’ll be able to round up a majority then. But if a party can’t reasonably expect an election call to change anything because the electoral system tends to result in minority governments, then they’ll have to buckle down and get to work.

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