Saturday, October 06, 2007

Deconstructing The Case Against MMP

The Record (which is owned by the Liberal house organ, Toronto Star), came out against MMP this morning. Let's take a look at their editorial and examine the reasons behind their decision.
There's only one good reason to dump the way Ontario voters have elected provincial politicians for over a century. There's only one good reason to gamble on a new system of selecting the government that leads and rules this great province. That reason is democracy -- the government of the people.
So far, so good, that is exactly the reason we should dump FPTP. It creates false majorities out of regionally concentrated minority voting blocks. Such a system is undemocratic because it ignores the wishes of the majority of voters province wide.
If the electoral reform being offered in next Wednesday's provincewide referendum can strengthen democracy, if it can transfer into the hands of the people of Ontario more political power, more authority over their lives and their land, then they should embrace it. But if the change being proffered fails this most important test, if it does not demonstrably bolster the health of Ontario democracy, if, in fact, it threatens to vitiate that democracy by granting more power to political cliques, then the proposed electoral reform should be roundly rejected.
Here is where I begin to get off the train. The editorialist is implying we have a democracy to "vitiate", when in fact we live in a four year dictatorship of the minority, punctuated by elections. Also, it is impossible to grant more power to "political cliques", as all power in this province is already concentrated in the office of the premier. Any reform that would cause power to flow away from that office, would be an improvement. Any system that would cause the ruling party to negotiate with the other parties to get legislation passed would be a step forward in our democracy.
So how does the system being proposed -- mixed-member proportional -- stack up? Ontario voters will, as is their right, make up their own minds. But for our part, we at The Record have concluded that democracy would suffer badly under a mixed-member proportional system because such a system would quickly and inevitably cede political power to political parties and their unelected elites, at the ongoing expense of ordinary people.
I will leave alone the idea that we live in a democracy, but the second point that power will flow to parties needs examining. In our present system parties control the political process. Voting no will not change that fact. Political parties are not in and of themselves bad things (as this editorial implies). Political parties are the collective expression of voters with differing ideas and nothing more. Furthermore, they are not going away any time soon. Is the editorialist suggesting that in his vision of reform, there will be no parties? An interesting thought, but I doubt it.
If Ontarians choose mixed-member proportional, the number of members of the provincial legislature (MPPs) elected to represent geographic ridings will fall, from the current number of 107 down to 90. Meanwhile, there will be a new class of MPPs -- 39 members who are not directly elected by voters but are, instead, appointed by political parties to the enlarged, 129-seat legislature.
Ah, the big lie of the no side finally appears. In the first place, the list MPPs will be elected province wide in the general election and will in no way be appointed. In the second, all four of the main parties have declared that their lists (which by law will have to be published before elections) will be created by transparent and democratic processes.
The laudable goal of the mixed-member proportional system is to have a legislature that matches as closely as possible how citizens actually vote. And it is true that under our current first-past-the-post electoral system, political parties that capture far less than half of the popular vote typically win elections.
At last he says that the goal of MMP is laudable and he admits that the present system is undemocratic. Does this change his position? Does he now reconsider his rejection of reform now that he has had an epiphany about the undemocratic nature of our present system? Not on your life. In fact, that is last you will hear about the ridiculousness of FPTP. Why? Well, you would have to ask the editorialist, but the answer to me is self-evident. The present system cannot stand up to even the most cursory of analysis and so he concluded that the best line of defense is a good offense.
Critics of the status quo say it lets a minority of voters enthrone a majority government that rules with total power. And that smacks of unfairness. Advocates of a mixed-member proportional system praise it as more fair because the number of seats a party gets in the legislature reflects as closely as possible the number of party votes it receives. There would be two votes on the ballot, remember, one for a local representative, one for a party.
We don't just "say" that a minority of voters enshrine a majority government", that is the reality. Again, the fairness of MMP is not just a claim, but a fact. Unlike FPTP, every vote will be used to create a legislature reflective of the wishes of the voters.
The 103 Ontarians who joined the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform and proposed adopting this mixed-member proportional system deserve applause for their hard work, thoughtfulness and civic responsibility. However, our respect for them does not diminish our strong opposition to what they recommend.
This is what we call a pat on the head/slap in the face. Afterall, what do 103 of your neighbours who spent 8 months studying electoral reform know, compared to an editorialist who spent a long half hour reading the no mmp website? Silly Citizens Assembly, the elites of Ontario know what's best for you. Thanks for your service now go away and let them run the province like they always have and always will.
A mixed-member proportional system would hurt democracy because it would reduce the number of directly elected MPPs by more than 15 per cent. There would be significantly fewer ridings in Ontario and they would be bigger. Riding MPPs would be responsible for thousands of more constituents. It is easy to see how this would impede the direct access of constituents to their representative as well as their ability to influence that representative.
MMP will not reduce anything. All MPP's will be directly elected by the voters. The number of ridings will go down but if the experience of New Zealand is any guide, the 39 list MPP's will be drawn from all areas of the province and give voters even more options for interacting with their government. The bottom line is we will have more representation rather than less under MMP.
Then, there is the troubling matter of the 39 non-riding or at-large MPPs. Directly elected by no one, they would be directly accountable to no one -- at least to no one outside of the party cadre that put them on a list. True, the parties would offer some explanation for their slates of potential appointees. But it would be difficult in the extreme for voters to examine the many names on a slate for an ever increasing number of political parties.
This is the "democracy is too hard" argument. Firstly, all of the parties have now agreed that their lists will be created democratically. Second, the editorialist is suggesting that if people have to put any effort into voting, it just isn't worth the bother. And he is supposed to be defending democracy? Give me a break.
It is questionable how much legitimate campaigning such potential appointees would do in future elections. But what would that matter? Once installed in the legislature, they would be beyond the reproach or touch of voters. Future legislatures would be home to two classes of MPPs, one the traditional riding representative, the other, in all but name, a senator. Spare us this.
These MPP's will, by and large be running in ridings as well as on lists. They will campaign just as hard as anyone else. Again, using New Zealand as a guide, list MP's are not seen as second class MP's, in fact they tend to take on issues of wide importance to the country at large. Finally, when was the last time you got to vote for a senator? There is no analogy to be found here. If the Record wants to talk about an elected senate, fine, but the list MPPs will be elected province wide and are in no way appointed.
In the past 22 years, each of the three major Ontario parties has managed to win one or more elections, govern and then be evaluated by voters under the first-past-the-post system. Governments have been stable and often accomplished much, but they have also, out of necessity, been forced to heed the wishes of the people.
The majority of voters wanted nothing to do with Bob Rae. We got 5 years of unopposed rule from him anyway. The majority wanted nothing to do with the "Common Sense Revolution" and all of the upheaval that went with it. We got ten years of that rammed down our throats. Finally, the majority wanted nothing to do with Dalton McGuinty, but we are on the verge of having him rule over us like a king for 4 more years. Hey that sure is some system we have here, where the majority don't want the government they have, but have to endure it anyway. What do we call it anyway, because it sure isn't democracy.
To contemplate mixed-member proportional system is to consider a future of instability, of fragmented and only partially accountable legislatures fumbling their way under the leadership of perpetual minority governments. It is also a future in which political parties, including party hacks, hangers-on and failed politicians, would gain in influence and power as the already limited authority of ordinary voters wanes.
This is the "pulling it out of the air" portion of the editorial. Is New Zealand unstable? Is Germany unstable? No, but who cares because the editorialist isn't worried about reality, but fantasy. If the editorialist is worried about party hacks having influence, he should be going after the present system, which is completely dominated by those hacks. And when he says that voters have limited authority in the present system, he means they get to cast votes every four years knowing that the will of the majority will be ignored and distorted by a system of voting created before his great grandfather was born. To contemplate retaining a system is to look forward to the continuation of undemocratic rule by the self-satisfied elites in the Premier's office and their allies among the corporate press. Sure its not as messy as democracy, but let's not pretend it is democratic either.

To be sure, the way Ontario elects MPPs today has flaws. It could be improved and perhaps, after this election, Ontarians should continue searching for a better system. But mixed-member proportional is, in the final analysis, not a better system. On Oct. 11, please, say no to this proposed reform.
Finally, the biggest of the big lies in this referendum. Vote no and we will get it right next time, they say. Well, I have a prediction for you. If we vote no this time, the next time will not come in our lifetime. The elites in this province will proclaim loudly (especially if McGuinty gets his false majority) that we have tried it and "the people" rejected it and besides it is much too expensive to go through this process again, while there are taxes to cut and other such lofty priorities to prioritize. Why endure another 40 years of undemocratic rule? We have it in our power to seize control from the elites. Let's do it.

Update: Go read the Dawg. He and I are on the same wavelength this morning.

Update: I changed the title of this post because there are some Liberals who are truly trying to change the system.
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