Tomorrow is election day in Ontario. Once again the people of Ontario will be faced with the prospect of a "majority" government elected with a minority of the popular vote. It will be an unappealing resulting from an unappealing electoral system. If we pull together, this will be the last election created by the vagaries of the First Past The Post System. There is, as some of you know, an alternative system under examination during this election. In the next few paragraphs, I will outline my reasons for supporting that alternative, MMP.
First, what is wrong with the status quo? The First Past The Post system was developed to do one thing and that is to create majority government. In theory, when there are two parties running in an election, in a geographically compact area, FPTP is a perfectly adequate system. It measures the will of the population quite accurately. The party with the most votes will, in the vast majority of cases, have a majority in popular vote. If however, you introduce more parties into the mix, the FPTP system continues to deliver a majority of seats for the government, without a majority of the popular vote province wide. This has been the case for Ontario, for most of the last 70 years.
Majority government without majority support is a recipe for alienation, apathy and cynicism. If, election after election, people see that more people voted against the government than for it, they will rightly conclude that their vote does not matter.
FPTP distorts the popular will by rewarding parties that are regionally based, rather than appealing to the province as a whole. That's so because FPTP reliance solely on ridings rewards concentrations of support in a small area. Pity the Dipper in Oxford, the Liberal in Welland, the Conservative in downtown Toronto. They will go to the polls (if they bother), knowing absolutely that their vote is useless and will have no bearing in the outcome of the election.
Worse still are the supporters of the Greens and NDP, who are told constantly that not only will their vote not matter overall, but that by voting their conscience, they risk "helping to elect" Conservatives through vote splitting. This leads to the distinctly Canadian phenomenon of "hold your nose" to vote for another party to stop someone else.
How will MMP correct these defects? MMP is designed for a multiparty system. It more accurately reflects the voting intentions of the population. It keeps local representation in tact by keeping the riding system, but also uses a party vote to gage political opinion, province wide.
I hear a lot of talk by the no side about the party lists. This is in my opinion a red herring. It is effective however because it projects the worst aspects of FPTP (fixed local nominations, insta-members, appointed candidates) on to the lists. All four of the main parties have stated publicly that they will use democratic processes to create lists. If one of them is lying then no one will vote for their lists in the next election and they will suffer as a result.
The lists will, if the experience of the other jurisdictions using this system are duplicated here, give parties representation from all parts of the province. Those parties without riding representation in the North for example, will use the lists, if they are smart, to elect members from those areas of weakness, to prove they are pan provincial parties.
MMP is superior to FPTP in that it breaks up the monopoly of regionally based parties and rewards parties who are able to garner support from all parts of the province. The party vote will be taken at a province wide level (that is the second vote on all ballots from now on). This will encourage parties to think of the whole province when creating policy, rather than handing out plums solely to its regional base.
MMP in other jurisdictions has created much more stable government than FPTP. Germany has had few federal elections than Canada since WWII. This seems counter intuitive give the fact that no party gets a majority government in the German system without a majority of the popular vote. Why then have they had fewer elections? The difference is in the nature of minority government in FPTP and MMP.
In FPTP, a change of a few points in the polls can mean huge changes in the seat outcome. In MMP, you get what your poll numbers say you will get and so a shift from 35% to 40% is no incentive to pull the plug on parliament and run for that "majority". This means more stability.
A word about the most insidious argument put forward by the no side. That is the "tail wagging the dog" argument. This goes that it is ok to ignore the voters of the smaller parties because if we let their voices be heard in the legislature, they will somehow come to dominate. Again, you have to look at the histories of Germany and New Zealand to see that this is just not the case. The major party in the coalition governments still sets the agenda in the government. But, and this is crucial, it cannot run roughshod over the opinion of the other parties in the coalition. It has to be remembered that the bigger party may be bigger but it is not a majority. It will have to craft its policies in such a way to get majority support in the province. Never again will a "majority" government be able to ram through bills, unless it is supported by the representatives of a majority of the population. It will lead to a more thoughtful legislature.
The FPTP system is an anachronism whose time has come and gone. Tomorrow, we have it in our hands to usher in a new era of pan-Ontario politics. Don't be afraid. We may not create paradise on earth, but Ontario will still be better for the change.
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