Thursday, 4 October 2007

Thor Takes On The NoMMP's "The Truth About MMP" Page

The following Question and Answer session is from the site's "The Truth About MMP" page.

After reading it, I decided that, yes, readers should be supplied with the truth. That is why I've followed each Question and Answer here with my answer from the Yes for MMP perspective. My answers are in square brackets and red text.


What is the Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP) proposed by the Citizens' Assembly as Ontario's new electoral system?


The Mixed Member Proportional System (MMP) is an alternative to the First Past The Post electoral system currently in use in Canada and every province, as well as in the United Kingdom and United States. It is also sometimes called the Single Member Plurality system.

First Past The Post is used by the most people - about 45% - in the world living in democracies, in about 45 countries.

MMP is currently in use in Germany, New Zealand, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Lesotho.

[Notice that NoMMP says "used by most people" instead of "used by most countries". Most democratic countries use a form of proportional representation (which MMP is a form of). FPTP or SMP is used by far less countries. Proportional representation is used by 81 countries.]


How does the MMP proposal differ from our current electoral system?


The MMP proposal that all Ontarians will vote on in the October 10 referendum will mark a great change in the way citizens of Ontario elect their representatives.

Under MMP, the voter will be given two votes. They can vote for a local candidate as they would do under our current system, and they also vote for the individual parties as well.

Under the proposed model, the Ontario legislature will consist of 129 seats. Local constituency races will determine 90 of those seats, as it is under the current electoral system. But the other 39 seats will be proportional or list seats and will be used to top up parties' seat totals so that the proportion of seats that each party gets corresponds to the proportion of votes that each party gets in the party vote. If a party fails to get 3% of the overall vote, they will not receive any seats in the legislature.

[Yes, agreed]


Does MMP give us better representation?


No it does not. In fact, the strength of our representation would weaken dramatically if MMP were to become our electoral system. Ontarians, compared to citizens in other provinces, are already the most poorly represented citizens in Canada.

[Yes, MMP does give us better representation. With MMP we would have 129 elected representatives. Currently we only have 107 elected representatives. So, our representation would increase by 22.]

It is not entirely certain who the 39 proportional or list MPPs that come from party lists represent. They might be considered to represent their political parties in the legislature. But we at NO MMP think that MPPs should represent citizens - people like you and me - from a real constituency, not the political parties who already have too much power in our democracy.

[Once elected, list MPPs will set up constituency offices in different regions so as to represent and be available to constituents in the area. When people vote, and they vote for a party, they will be electing these 39 members. They will represent citizens who have voted for the parties. Polls and history consistently show that the vast majority of people vote for a party rather than a specific individual.]

Some consider these list MPPs "at-large representatives" or "regional representatives". This will leave us with several MPPs who represent large and densely populated regions, but do not represent clearly defined ridings as it is under our current system. This makes it very difficult for citizens to identify which of the party list MPPs represents them. This will certainly dilute representation here in Ontario.

[A citizen, for local issues, can either contact their local MPP, or the closest constituency office of a list MPP of the party they prefer. For larger regional/provincial issues, the citizen can contact either of these 2, or, the member of the party they prefer who is dealing with the issue at hand.
Again the No MMP group seem to be focused on the local representative issue, when polls and research have shown that this is not what is most important to people. What is much more important to the people is to be represented by the party they prefer, to have someone with the same views as them, speak in parliament for them.]

Who exactly do these list MPPs represent? MMP has no real answer. They sort of do not represent anyone, which means that there is less accountability and weaker democracy in Ontario.

[The list MPPs represent the people who voted for them. Locally/regionally, they will represent people in their region where they set up office. Obviously, for a party that gets a small percentage of the vote, there will be fewer covering larger regions than for a party that gets a large percentage of the vote. Having these party members representing people regionally, means that if the local candidate they voted for does not win, then they can turn to someone from the party they supported for representation. This adds another level of accountability and allows for all voices to be heard in parliament - thus making the system more democratic.]


How does the proposed MMP model distribute the list seats?


The list seats will be distributed on a province-wide list tier. This is different from other MMP countries like Germany that divide up their lists into regions.

This means that the list seats can be distributed in any way that political parties deem necessary or politically expedient. They can decide to put all their seats in Toronto, or any other part of the province. There is no provision in this proposal to make political parties distribute the 39 seats evenly across Ontario.

Under this MMP proposal, there is no mechanism to ensure that the 39 party list MPPs are distributed evenly throughout Ontario, thus ensuring weaker accountability. The only way to ensure that is to fix representatives to a specific constituency, just like in our current system."

[What a silly idea. Do they seriously think that a party would put all their list members in one city, instead of spreading them out to make them available to constituents who voted for them across the province? This would be political suicide, since the people across the province would most likely not vote for that party next time. Political common sense dictates that parties will distribute these members across the province so as to be most accessible to the public who voted for them.
There is no provision currently preventing party leaders from appointing all the party candidates in FPTP. But this is not done (they are nominated and elected at riding meetings) as it would be political suicide as well.]


I heard that the people who get the 39 proportional seats would be names from a list provided by political parties. Is that true?


Yes, that is correct. If the results from the party vote, let us say, show that the Liberals get five seats, then the top five people on the Liberal list who have not already been elected at the constituency level will get those seats.

[Yes, the 39 proportional seats will be allotted from the party lists to top up the party's seats so the proportion of total seats each party gets in parliament is the same as the proportion of overall votes they received.]


So who gets to determine the makeup and order of these party lists?


The political parties would be solely responsible for the composition of the party lists under the MMP proposal. They can either be determined by direct orders by the party leadership, or they might be determined by a vote by party members. The proposal from the Citizens' Assembly does not have any provision for this whatsoever.

No matter what, the composition of the party lists will be in the hands of members of political parties, who make up a tiny part of the population of Ontario. Non-aligned voters do not get a say at all.

[The Citizens' Assembly made the recommendation that the list members be chosen similarly to how local candidates are currently chosen - by nomination and election by party members. All 4 major parties (Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green) have officially stated that this is how these members will be chosen.

Currently, with FPTP, the choosing of local candidates is in the hands of members of political parties who make up a tiny part of the population of Ontario, and non-aligned voters get no say at all in their choosing. So, there will be no difference - from FPTP to MMP - in how candidates are chosen by parties.]


If I do not like the candidates at the top of the party list that I want to vote for, can I alter the list so I can put my preferred candidates at the top when it comes time to vote?


No, you cannot. The MMP proposal allows for closed party lists only. This means that voters cannot cross off names or change the order of a party list in the ballot box, as is allowed in countries such as Switzerland. The only choice given to the voters under MMP is to choose between lists.

[It will be in the interest of parties to not only democratically and openly chose who to put on these lists, but also to put competent people of diverse background, gender and ethnicity similar to the constituents of Ontario. The major parties have said that this is what they will do. And, as with current system, if a party does not field good candidates, then people will vote for another party.]


Isn't giving political parties total control over the makeup of the list undemocratic?


It certainly is. It is important to be highly ranked on a party list in MMP. If a candidate is highly ranked, then he or she is pretty much guaranteed a seat at Queen's Park, so long as that party gets 3% of the vote. So if you want to vote for a party but do not like whom they have at the top of the list, you are pretty much stuck. Not only is this undemocratic, it is also unfair.

[Parties, under the current system of FPTP, have total control over their choosing of all their local candidates. Why should they not have control over their list candidates under MMP? List candidates will be made public well before the election is held, so you will be able to see who is on the lists. Just like with the current system, if you don't like the party candidates, you can vote for another party. Not only is this democratic, but it is also fair.]


If I don't like the candidate who is first on a party list, how can I make sure that he does not get into office?


You can vote against the party list. But the only way to be certain that the candidate does not get a seat is ensure that 98% of Ontarians vote for someone else, thanks to the 3% threshold proposed.

Under our current FPTP system, a candidate can lose his seat if another candidate gets more votes than him. It is that simple. For a list MPP to lose his under MMP, if he is first on the list, 98% of the population have to vote against him.

How would you like an electoral system that puts in a representative that has 97% of the electorate voting against him?

[Again, it would be political suicide for parties to chose list candidates that had proven to be very unpopular. A party would not do this unless they didn't want votes. It makes no sense that they would do this.
Under the current system, sometimes something similar happens - a party drops in a special candidate against the wishes of the local riding association and there is much friction. And the local riding association does not like this new candidate. But the new candidate recruits a lot of new members and ends up being elected by the riding association. The members who were against the new candidate vote for him/her in the end anyway because they support the party, regardless of the candidate.
So, as you can see, things like this happen in the current system already.

Again, the NoMMP camp are putting undue emphasis on individual candidates, when research and polls show that people overwhelming vote for the party as opposed to the candidate.]


Is it true that MMP will make it virtually impossible for political parties to form majority governments?


It wouldn't be impossible, but very rare. Under MMP a political party has to secure over 50% of the vote or win 72.2% of the local seats in order to get a majority. Since this rarely happens in Ontario, we can pretty much be certain that we will always have minority or coalition governments if MMP were to pass.

[Yes, it will make it difficult for political parties to form a majority government on their own. With MMP, we will most likely see parties work together more to get things done.]


Is it better to always have minority governments? Wouldn't that be better for Ontario?


The Yes Side is telling the public that minority governments are better and will lead to improvement in politics in Ontario. Here's a quote from the Yes Side's literature:

"...because parties will be required to work with one another in coalitions to pass legislation, the system will reward cooperation, compromise and accountability in place of partisan rigidity, trivial bickering and narrow thinking".

Anyone with any common sense knows this is ridiculous. We have had minority governments at the federal level for some time and many people in the media as well as ordinary Canadians are complaining more and more about the rancour and uncivilized behaviour in Queen's Park.

It is a mistake to think an electoral system will change the nature of politics and politicians. As recent history has shown, minority governments have not taken away the bickering and partisan rancour that Canadians have been used to from our politicians.

Also, let us not forget that majority governments have produced very positive achievements, most notably the patriation of our Constitution.

[Minority/Coalition governments would be better for Ontario. Most of the best, most commonly-liked policies that have been passed through Canadian history have been from minority/coalition governments.
The NoMMP group mentions that "majority governments have produced very positive achievements, most notably the patriation of our Constitution."

Minority governments have brought in many far reaching reforms greatly valued by Canadians - The Canada Pension Plan, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, the Canada Student Loan program, increased federal transfers to the provinces, and Canada’s most cherished social program - our Health Care system. Recently, during a Liberal minority government, they worked together with the NDP to get these issues passed in a budget: lowered costs for education, cut pollution, built affordable housing, more funding for transit, increased foreign aid, and new protection for pensions in the case of employer bankruptcies.

What about Ontario minority governments? Minority Governments in Ontario have: expanded public health and education systems, expanded the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and expanded bilingual services.

With the current system, FPTP, minority governments are often unproductive because the parties spend their time bickering and finger-pointing to try to one-up the others so as to get an edge in support and then gain a majority in a new election. Due to the nature of FPTP, a party does not need a majority of votes to get a majority of the seats. It is the volatile nature of FPTP that encourages such behaviour by parties in a minority situation.
However, with the new MMP system, parties' voter bases will be more stable (as people will be more apt to vote for the party they prefer as opposed to strategic/swing voting since they will always get proportional representation in parliament) and this will reduce wild fluctuations of seats at the polls. This will discourage parliament from being so unproductive during a minority government and encourage coalitions and compromise - since the parties know that the electorate will not be as volatile.]


I have heard that voter turnout would go up if we implement MMP. Is that true?


No, there is no way to guarantee that. Low voter turnout is a problem all over the world. And while it is true that MMP countries have higher voter turnout than FPTP countries, their voter turnout levels are falling as well. However, voter turnout in the United States and Canada, two FPTP countries, went up in recent elections

The best example is from New Zealand. In 1996 they changed from our FPTP system to MMP. They have had four elections under MMP, and three of those elections have had the three lowest voter turnouts in New Zealand history.

[Many people in Ontario and in Canada have stopped voting mainly because they can't get representation in parliament. With MMP, representation will be proportional - the proportion of seats a party gets in parliament is proportional to the number over province-wide votes the party gets. This means that people will get representation in parliament, even if their choice of local candidate loses.
Voter turnout is higher in countries with proportional representation.]


The Yes Side is saying that MMP will get rid of tactical voting. Is it possible for electoral reform to stop citizens from voting strategically?


Absolutely not. No electoral system can eliminate tactical voting. To suggest otherwise is completely erroneous.

Tactical voting is when a voter supports Party or Candidate A, but instead votes for Party B to stop Party C from winning. This happens all the time in FPTP, but it can still happen in the 90 seats that will still be contested in the same way as we have in our current electoral system.

It is also possible to vote tactically for the party lists. Remember that the ratio between constituency seats and list seats is about 70% / 30% under this proposed MMP system. This means that the larger parties that pick up more seats than their vote proportion at the constituency level will usually not be entitled to any list seats.

This means that smaller parties are more likely to get these lists seats. This gives voters, especially those who support large parties, a strategic incentive to vote for a small party that could be a potential coalition partner with the large party they might support.

This happens in Germany all the time. Supporters of the conservative Christian Democratic Union often vote for smaller like-minded parties so that they get list seats, since they realize that voting for the CDU list will work to elect small parties that would not be interested in forming a coalition with them.

This is an example of tactical voting. Some Germans support the CDU but vote for small conservative parties to stop other small parties from winning seats. MMP does nothing to get rid of tactical voting.

[Electoral reform to a proportional representation system like MMP can remove pretty much most of the incentive for strategic voting. With MMP, people are going to get seats proportional to who they vote for. Since they won't have to worry about wasting their votes by voting for their party in a riding that it wouldn't or might not get in, they won't need to do strategic voting.]


Will MMP eliminate vote wasting?


If no vote were to be "wasted" that would mean every voter's candidate of choice would have to win an election - it's not possible or sensible. Elections are to select which candidate in each constituency has the most support and then which parties across the province have enough support from elected members to form a government.

Under First Past The Post, your vote goes to one candidate and is counted clearly. Regardless of your choice, that's not a wasted vote.

[Yes, MMP will eliminate vote wasting. Elections are to select people to represent you in parliament. MMP elections will be far more fair and democratic as the number of seats alloted will be proportional to the number of votes the party received.
Under FPTP, only those who voted for the winning candidate in their riding are represented in parliament by a party of their choosing. The other people who didn't vote for the winner do not gain the representation they desire and their votes are wasted. In a large province like Ontario, when you add up all the votes for candidates of parties that did not win, that is a very large number - about 60% of all the votes in the election.
The policies of one party compared to another can be quite extreme. For example: in the election that Bob Rae's NDP won, try telling someone who voted Conservative that he did not waste his vote when he ended up with a local NDP representative. I don't think he would agree with the opinion about vote wasting made by NoMMP.]


Will MMP make it easier for smaller parties to get seats?


Yes it will. The MMP system, by introducing proportional representation, will make it much easier for smaller parties to get seats. Under this MMP proposal, any party that has at least 3% of the vote will be guaranteed seats in the Ontario legislature.

Larger parties will then have to make deals with smaller parties to form government. This means that the balance of power could be held in the hands of a party that does not have support from 97% of Ontarians.

es, it will be easier for smaller parties to get seats, but they need to get at least 3% of the vote to get any seats at all. For a party to get this much support, they will need to have a platform with enough common appeal. This will make it very difficult for small extreme, single-policy parties from gaining any seats.
Also, once MMP passes, the finer details, like this 3% threshold, will be discussed in parliament to determine whether it should be higher or lower.
A large governing party with a minority won't be aligning itself with a tiny party with extreme views. In most cases in other countries with MMP, the large, minority, governing party aligns itself with another large moderate party with fairly similar policies and views. This way, the government passes policies with the widest appeal to the people.]


Will MMP put an end to backroom politics in Ontario?


Quite the opposite! MMP would encourage more backroom wheeling and dealing than there is now.

Under MMP, if no party has a majority there will have to be deals to form a minority government supported by several parties. MMP does mean that potentially a party with just a few MPPs who may represent a very minority view will have the balance of power and can dictate policies in the backroom to the other parties who want to form a government. This can only be a bad thing for democracy in Ontario.

[No, there will always be backroom politics. But, I disagree with the assumption about the party with a few MPPs (see my answer to the previous question).]


Isn't MMP a lot more complicated than FPTP?


Yes it is. One of the greatest advantages of FPTP is that offers voters a simple choice to make in the ballot box. MMP gives the voter a more complicated choice to make in the ballot box.

There is empirical evidence that voters often do not understand MMP. In elections to the Scottish parliament, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in 2003 found that less than 40% of their respondents were answering questions about key aspects of MMP correctly. We feel that voters deserve an electoral system that all can understand so to help stop elites from getting further control of our democracy.

[MMP is not a lot more complicated that FPTP. You vote for the local candidate and you vote for the party. Very simple.]


Doesn't an MMP system mean political parties have less influence over candidates and that candidates can be more responsive to voters?


No. If anything, political parties gain more power over candidates, making them more responsible to the party brass than the voters of Ontario.

All candidates will want a high rank on a party list, and will have to rely on substantial party support to get that. This is over and above the party support and finance that a candidate needs to get elected at the constituency level.

[With MMP, political parties will have the same influence over candidates as they do now with FPTP. Candidates are chosen by the party the same way for local and list candidates as now with FPTP. And candidates will have to deal with the voters the same as currently. List candidates as well as local candidates both rely on party support, just as local candidates do now with FPTP. It is the party membership that chooses them (in MMP and FPTP) to run in an election.]


Will MMP allow for more women and minorities to be elected?


That is entirely up to the political parties. If political parties do not want to field more women or minority candidates, they are not compelled to do so. There is no guarantee that political parties will put more women or minority candidates on their party lists.

As it stands now, the Liberal Party of Ontario have promised to have women make up 1/3 of their candidate slate, and the Ontario NDP have managed to have women make up 50% of their candidate list for the upcoming election. MMP will not make political parties step up their efforts in this area.

[Yes, MMP will allow for more women and minorities to be elected. It will give the parties more lee-way in using the party list to come up with a more diverse and representative group of candidates than the local candidate method. Major parties have already begun stating their plans to do so in the case that MMP passes.]


In short, why should I vote against MMP?


Because it is a convoluted and confusing system that dilutes representation, weakens accountability, and gives more power to political parties at the expense of voters just like you and me. In short, MMP makes democracy weaker in Ontario. Just say no to MMP!

[You should vote for MMP. It is a simple, more fair, more representative, more accountable and democratic system that will always give you a voice of your choosing in parliament. It gives the voter more power in parliament by giving the electorate proportional representation. MMP will give you a much more powerful democratic voice in Ontario. Just say YES to MMP!]


I am concerned with some problems in FPTP but I do have some concerns with this MMP proposal. What should I do?


You should vote NO to MMP! We are a big tent movement. A lot of us feel that FPTP is fine, but a lot of us also feel that changes would be beneficial to the electoral system. But we all feel that this MMP proposal is a step in the wrong direction for Ontario. We must get democratic renewal right in Ontario, and not make a mistake by implementing this MMP proposal!

[You should vote YES to MMP! The number of people in favour of MMP is much larger than those opposed, and getting larger every day as people learn about it. As people learn the facts about MMP, they are seeing that it truly is a more fair, democratic and sensible system, and they are deciding to vote for MMP. Our numbers are growing every day. In a recent Angus Reid Poll, they found that 40% of Canadians currently prefer some form of proportional representation, while only 29% preferred our current FPTP system. As of Oct 3rd, on Facebook, there were 29 groups supporting MMP in Ontario with a total of 7580 members, and 17 groups opposing MMP in Ontario with only 2098 members. Thats a difference of 78% for MMP to 22% against. (If you translate that to FPTP values, that is 100% to 0% - not fair, is it?)
Supporting MMP will mean supporting a giant historic step up for our electoral system. We must get democratic renewal right in Ontario, and not get left behind with the old unfair system of FPTP.]

[For more details about MMP, please visit the site.]


Anonymous said...

Okay, who's the jackass that said Ontario is the most under-represented province in Canada? WTF? That just makes his/her whole non MMP argument moot.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone with any common sense knows this is ridiculous. We have had minority governments at the federal level for some time and many people in the media as well as ordinary Canadians are complaining more and more about the rancour and uncivilized behaviour in Queen's Park."

You might also wish to point out that the NoMMP argument here points to minority governments at the federal level and then switches to media and citizens complaints about Queen's Park (Ontario's provincial legislature), as though to suggest they were the same level government. Sneaky, sneaky spin.

I don't know why this sort of spin doesn't actually cause more concern for people. The NoMMP campaign has actually stirred me to promote the YES side harder and harder. I even gave thanks for the referendum at dinner last night, which prompted a discussion about MMP among my 17 family members present and a simple discussion brought everyone to a point of agreement that MMP is a much fairer system.