Monday, October 01, 2007

MMP referendum

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in Canada in electoral reform, in replacing the ancient "First Past the Post" (FPTP) system with another that would more proportionally represent the preferences of the electorate.

Right now if you are an Ontario voter you cast the local candidate in your constituency; if a plurality of your neighbors agree with you, your candidate goes to the legislature. If your candidate's party also wins a plurality of seats, then you've helped elect the next provincial government. If not, not. Your vote, as some people say, is "wasted." In my area, you can vote for the NDP till the cows come home, or well after, and you won't get a local MPP who suits you. And in fact, it would be possible for a party with a significant percentage of the vote to gain no seats in the legislature. More importantly, perhaps, with three major parties, it's not unusual for one of them to win a majority of seats even though a majority of voters did not vote for that party.

An Ontario Citizen's Assembly proposed that the province adopt a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, used in a number of places around the world. As an Ontario voter, you cast one ballot for a local candidate, and the candidate with the plurality wins, as before. However, you also get a second ballot where you vote for a party, and these votes are used to elect a certain number of extra legislators. These seats are distributed to all parties that got more than 3% of the vote to bring the number of total seats per party more-or-less in line with the proportion of the total vote they received. That means a relatively small party with a number of votes in every constituency, like the Greens, might actually win some seats.

I consider this a very important issue, and I think that many people, if the case is made to them, agree. I think it comes down to whether you think it's very desirable for there to be majority governments, or whether you prefer minority governments. If the first, and you think the present system is more likely to produce decisive majority governments, then you'll want to stop MMP in its tracks; if the second, and you are tired of minorities electing majority governments with little need to compromise, then this is perhaps your best chance to get rid of FPTP.

In either case, if you are an Ontario voter, get out and vote your judgment. The referendum is taking place in conjunction with the provincial election on October 10.

If you want more information, go to the Web. Or, if you are near North Bay, there will be an information session at Nipissing University on Tuesday, October 2. Dr. David Tabachnick, professor of Political Science at Nipissing University, will be giving a special presentation about electoral reform at 7 p.m. at the university in the Weaver Auditorium (B200).

Update: For more discussion, see Andrew Coyne's column from the National Post. He's pro-MMP, but the commenters are on both sides and in their arguments demonstrate that people seldom completely agree on basics: like what a vote represents, and what constitutes political representation. Thanks to the Vanity Press for leading me to this.

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