Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One More Thing...

I will return to my preview in my next post (probably), but I just thought of another problem with MMP. You'd think I'd run out of problems by now? Okay, so this might not happen in every election but bear with me. The proposal allows for "dual candidacy" meaning that candidates can run both locally and on the list. If the candidate wins locally, "[t]he candidate’s name is crossed off the list, and that position is taken by the next candidate on the list who has not won in a local district" (Citizens' Assembly Report). This seems logical but leaves the system open to a fairly major problem: what happens when the list runs out? This is not as unlikely as it seems. Assuming parties follow modern trends and use a fully democratic (ie one member, one vote) means of nominating list candidates, who will be better positioned to get on the list than candidates who already have enough support to win local nominations? Therefore, it is entirely likely that party lists will be dominated by candidates who have strong support from a large riding association and are therefore more likely to win election. If you are wondering why someone with a strong riding association would want to be on the party list, just ask yourself, when is the last time a politician didn't take every possible measure to try to get re-elected? This makes it entirely possible that large parts of the party list will be crossed off. This means there is a distinct possibility that either during the election or in susbsequent by-elections there will be no one left on the party list.

Here's a simple scenario where this would happen. Party A wins 30 local seats but earns 45 seats meaning they must receive 15 list seats. However, 25 of Party A's list members have been crossed off after winning locally. That leaves only 14 people left on Party A's list to fill 15 seats.

The means of solving this problem are simple, but decrease accountability substantially. Parties in all likelihood will have more than 39 people competing for the list seats. Therefore, it would be relatively simple to simply take the person who finished 40th and put them in. However, that person would never have been presented to the people in any way shape or form. They would be literally appointed by the party. Of course, that method only works if the process is democratic. If parties appoint parts of their list for the sake of diversity, we could have a party leader/president just choose a person on little more than a whim.

The point of drawing out this nightmarish and very possible scenario is to demonstrate how incomplete the proposal from the Citizens' Assembly is. We know exactly how First Past the Post works. We know every possible contingency. We don't know how MMP works and no education campaign is going to teach us about contingencies they haven't thought about yet.


Matt said...

Interesting concern, but in reality your 'nightmare' scenario would never quite happen.

Here's why.

Parties that win elections will elect many riding MPPs. Because the party won the election, they won't receive many if any list MPPs.

In 2003, if Ontario had had MMP, the Liberals would've received all of their MPPs from ridings and wouldn't have been eligible for any list seats. So therefore the duplication wouldn't have been a problem.

Parties that lose elections elect fewer riding MPPs. The Tories only won 24 ridings in 2003. So they had many of their candidates defeated in ridings. However, they would've been eligible for a top-up and therefore all those defeated riding candidates who made it on the list would then be eligible for a seat.

The NDP only elected 7 MPPs in 2003. Under MMP they would've been eligible for 14 or 15. You're saying out of a list of 39, they can't find 8?

Your math skills are wanting.

Hopefully one day you'll come up with a reason that actually stands up under scrutiny.

Also I'm still waiting for an explanation why First-Past-the-Post which gave the PQ (with 43%) a majority gov't over the Liberals (with 44% support) is better and more democratic.

The rest of Canada had to suffer under the threat of five extra years of separatist government in Quebec thanks to First-Past-The-Post, even though Quebecers favoured a federalist party.

Perhaps you could address how MMP would fix that kind of REAL-LIFE NIGHTMARE SCENARIO in your next posting rather than trudging up the crap you continue to bring up.

Andy said...

To the commenter above, I'd observe that our political system involves two types of entity: people (politicians) and parties. When we vote we (literally) vote for people, not parties at all, and (in a less literal sense) most of us vote for both. Therefore, an analysis that simply assumes (without argument) that *all* that counts is the respective sums of the votes cast for the candidates of each party is defective. We are not voting for parties. We are voting for representatives (partly or largely on the basis of their parties, but not entirely). In a response to a post below I posited a situation in which Party A runs a minority of excellent candidates, sweeping those ridings, and a majority of terrible candidates, doing poorly in their ridings. Is it necessarily "undemocratic" that Party A wins a minority of seats (and thus fails to form government) even though (let's suppose), its candidates' huge wins in the minority of seats gives "it" the majority of the total popular vote? I don't see why, and I think the thought experiment shows that the argument you're making doesn't pay adequate attention to the complexity of what we are doing when we cast a vote.

In other words, it is not only important that the government is formed by the party that is the most popular, but also that it consists of representatives that are actually wanted, as individuals, by the voters whom they represent.

The last point is one of MMP's many weaknesses. As you admit in your response above (indeed, you seem to consider it rather a virtue of MMP), in many cases we won't be able to get rid of MPPs we don't like -- we can vote them out as local candidates but as long as the party organization puts them on the list (and one can only imagine the fights that are going to go on among incumbent MPPs for positions on the list) they spring back to life, making the ranks of the opposition look like the Land of the Living Dead.

I agree with aginsberg that, while the Quebec situation you cite is something of a PR (public relations) problem for FPTP, we have raised enough concerns about MMP and its conceivable consequences in the Ontario situation to make "better the devil you know" reasoning pretty attractive. And in any event parties know what the rules are...trying to win the most ridings is no less "democratic" an endeavour than trying to win the most votes.

Anonymous said...

If the party organization puts people on their list - especially high on the list, who are dead weight to the public (for any number of reasons), then people would not be inclined to vote for that party on the second ballot.

Also, a party does not always get to pull from their list. If they win individual seats to cover their percentage of party vote (or more), none of their party picks get selected.

It's not like being on the list guarantees they'll be chosen.

It's not like they are reinventing the wheel. But it does at least allow a party like the Greens to achieve some representation.

I wasn't sold on the idea at first, but I think it has real merit. Canada's strength is its multiple parties. I think this will help ensure it stays that way, instead of sinking to the us or them (or no chance in hell) parties down below.

I hope Ontario approves it so it can be an example for the rest of the country.

Andy said...

Okay, but what is it realistically going to do to the internal cohesion of parties when organizations or leaders (or whoever) start picking and choosing from sitting MPPs the lucky ones who are basically guaranteed a trip back to the legislature and telling others that they're not getting on the list because they're deadweights? Or maybe some won't want to be right at the top because that'll look desperate. And then there'll be the "diversity" picks that will have to be stuck up near the top as well, ahead of people who are working hard to win constituency seats and are wondering who this guy is that they've never heard of who is coasting in as a "list" candidate ahead of them. The potential for problems at the party level seems rather substantial.

For the NDP or Greens, being near the top of the list will pretty well guarantee election. Same for a government party that is plainly going down to defeat (the results for party renewal will be interesting when most the top cabinet ministers of the discredited government saunter in on the list even though they've mostly been defeated in their ridings).

MMP seems likely to change the dynamics of politics in Ontario in many ways, probably many more than we can predict. Given that, I don't really see that it offers enough to risk the relatively stable and successful system that we have.

Raymond Lorenz said...

It's a fools game trying to predict which democratic method each party will use to nominate its list members.
I can think of multiple possibilities off the top of my head:

1. Provincial nominating conventions.
2. Regional nominating conventions with the results merged into a provincial list.
3. Best loser system.
4. Some parties may use a "delgate" system, others may prefer that voting is open to all party members.
5. Some parties may encourage new memberships & "instant members", while others may have more restrictions.
6. Some parties (like the NDP) may prefer to "freeze" the list selection process in order to encourage women or minority candidates to enter the race.

The important point is that there is COMPETITION between the parties to create attractive processes & attractive lists to the voter.

There is plenty of incentive for a party to make sure its lists are plenty long enough (and more) to make sure it elects all the members it is entitled to.

Andy said...

Although the longer the list the more it ends up being a pig-in-a-poke choice since I as a voter am not really going to be able to compare ten lists of 30-100 names (or whatever the maximum would be).

I doubt that the average voter is enough of a political junkie to get into the minutiae of how the lists are assembled. It's going to be hard enough to communicate the basic existence and rules of the new system. And however they're assembled, the potential for creating massive internal party fights seems substantial. As a blogger I can only sit back in anticipation.

Could a party actually use a "best loser" system? Doesn't the order of the list have to be specified in advance? How can I as a voter compare the lists at all if I have no idea which of the list members are at or near the top?

Raymond lorenz said...


Good point about the "best loser" system not being compatible with transparent party lists. Maybe the results of the PREVIOUS elections (incumbent candidates) could be used to influence the ordering of the lists.

Once a party policy is established for list creation, internal party fights are not necessary. Once a party agrees what its democratic values are, the list process should be easier agree on.

P.S. The CA used a values-based approach to electoral design, and was able to create a 94-8 consensus. Party members can agree to use a similar "values-based" & "consensus-style" of an approach to their decision making processes re: lists.

Linuxluver said...

Ontario's model, with 90 local candidates and 39 list candidates per party, makes it almost impossible to run out of candidates. If the 90 local candidates were on the list, then the party would have to win in excess of 70% of the vote to "run out"...and that assumes ONLY local candidates would be on the list. That's unlikely for minor parties as they won't have any / man local seats. Other parties will use the lists to address gaps in skill / ethnicity / gender / regional base. Local nominations tend to be a Conservative things in MMP systems....as they tend to pay least attention to addressing gender and ethnicity disparities. I'm not being insulting. That's how it has gone. Voters clearly prefer more blanced slates as the NZ National Party - formerly the natural party of government in New Zealand - has spent the last three terms in Opposition...and would have spent the 4th term there, too, had not one of the minor party leaders reneged on a promise to support Labour (to his party's serious cost at the next elecion!).

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