Monday, July 09, 2007

Why Traditions Matter or Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 8

Okay, this is not the strongest part of the argument against MMP. However, this is part 8 so forgive me. I do NOT believe we should keep on doing what we've always done just because. Once again, I sent a submission to the citizens' assembly advocating change. However, any change must be in keeping with the things that are important to Ontarian and Canadian democracy. So, it is therefore time for a brief history lesson.

The roots of Ontario democracy begin in earnest in the 1820's and 1830's by the Reform Party of William Lyon Mackenzie. Mackenzie sought power for the legislative assembly (elected) and power removed from the legislative and executive councils (appointed). Mackenzie et al. were frustrated by such things as the lack of public education for the poor and the horrible condition of Ontario roads. Mackenzie was constantly being kicked out of the legislative assembly for challenging the established Family Compact and was also constantly being sent back by the citizens of York. His popularity led him to become the mayor of the newly named city of Toronto. The Family Compact became so frightened of Mackenzie that they sent goons to throw the printing press of his popular newspaper in the lake. These tensions eventually led to the comically pathetic rebellion of 1837 (in Lower Canada the rebellion had some muster, in Toronto it was a joke). However, the rebellions so shocked the British (they apparently ruined Christmas 1837 for Queen Victoria) that they decided to give Ontario responsible government. In the new united governments of the 1840's and 1850's the system which would become the one used today took shape. Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in a dramatic show of unity ran in each other's ridings and won (remember the Heritage moment?). This partnership cemented Canadian democracy and was continued by the Conservative coalition of Macdonald and Cartier and the more uneasy partnership of George Brown and A.A. Dorion.

The point of this? Ontario's democratic urge came from a popular demand for accountability in their government. They insisted that the people (not the rich or the party bosses) determine who was in their legislature when they repeatedly re-elected Mackenzie. They showed the strength of Canadian unity by electing Lafontaine in Ontario. MMP is not in keeping with this tradition. MMP does not provide the level of accountability that Mackenzie demanded 170 years ago. Canadians may not like their history but we should not forget it. Ontario's democracy is the way it is because of our history. It is NOT a British imposition. It is an organic representation of what Ontarians wanted in their government. I don't care about the parliamentary mace. I wouldn't lift a finger to destroy or save the monarchy. However, we did not get our electoral system randomly. We fought for it both literally and figuratively. History shapes the kind of electoral systems which exist in almost every jurisdiction (my last post on electoral reform contains some examples).

Quick Debunk: There is an argument that PR systems produce higher voter turnout than first past the post. Please note that New Zealand has seen almost NO difference in voter turnout with some MMP elections producing higher and some lower turnout than those recorded before the reform. New Zealand is the only apt example for this in my opinion because they actually changed their electoral system. There are a lot of reasons that Germans vote more than Americans, the electoral system is low on the list. You could as easily argue that German speakers are more likely to vote or that voter turnout increases with Beck's beer sales. Once again two kind of lies: damned lies and statistics.


Erik Abbink said...

"MMP does not provide the level of accountability that Mackenzie demanded 170 years ago. "


"It is an organic representation of what Ontarians wanted in their government. "

Sticking to tradition is neither progressive nor organic.

"Please note that New Zealand has seen almost NO difference in voter turnout with some MMP elections producing higher and some lower turnout than those recorded before the reform."

The idea that people start running to the voting booths because of a change in electoral system is ludicrous. Most good things take time. Besides, New Zealand has always had a good voter turnout and voter turnout wasn't the reason to switch to MMP in the first place

PR countries (like the Netherlands) or MMP countries (like Germany) have had their systems for at least several decades and their turnouts excede almost all other systems; better representation generally results in more citizen involvement.

It's really not rocket science.

Linuxluver said...

Your objections seems to be that you're concerned that "party bosses" will "appoint" people to Queens Park.

The good news is that under MMP this won't happen. Iknow it is a popular myth be put about by MMP critics, but please do actually LOOK at how candidates are chosen in countries that use MMP. Nowhere will you find people apointed by party bosses. I'm frankly amazed that so many people will parrot this myth and - apparently - not ONE of them bothers to verify it. That sort of intellectual laziness is frankly disturbing.

I've lived in New Zealand during the 11 years they have had their MMP system. I've voted in 4 MMP elections and participated in the democratic (D E M O C R A T I C - for our lazy folk and slow learners) selection of both local and party list candidates. They are not "appointed". If people actually stopped to THINK about it, they would realise that the very idea of party bosses appointing people to the lists is silly.

What party activist or supporter wold tolerate such a thing? Particularly as, under MMP, they will have a wider choice of parties they can join (or start - you only need 3% of the vote to win seats) so won't have to put up with a party leadership that takes them for granted. If you think about it a bit further, you'll realise this concern is one rooted in the PRESENT system where party activists very often do NOT have much choice if Party Head Office wants someone selected as the local candidate....or no candidate at all (as in the Federal Liberal Party accommodation with the Greens Elizabeth May).

I haven't read your other objections to MMP, but if they are factually wrong like this one is, you won't have a case at all.

Anonymous said...


1. We no longer have a non-partisan or two-party system. FPTP may have worked under those historic conditions, but not under today's multiparty system. A population in the multi-millions needs to accomodate a greater role for parties, especially when you consider that our present system is disenfranchising enormous numbers of voters.

2. Today's stifling "party solidarity" requires a new kind of accountability... a separate party vote.

3. We are all aware of our arbitrary nature of riding boundaries, the somewhat "random" election results, party "strongholds", the "swing ridings", vote-splitting, unprincipled & strategic campaigns, etc. This needs to be "cleaned up".

4. Historic discussions wealth & party bosses have evolved to today's principles of the equality of parties, campaign finance reforms, and equal opportunity.

5. Party conventions today are transparent & easily accessible to the voter. There is a public expectation of open party democracy, and its expansion into government.

6. Co-operation, compromise and greater representativeness are also expected of our legislatures.

Raymond Lorenz

Anonymous said...

There is a traditional part of our electoral system that definitely needs to go. That is the redesigning of constituencies by governments in power to influence voting results. Also, we certainly are far from rep by pop as smaller populations in rural ridings are favoured.

Anonymous said...

Most Ontarians favour some sort of increased representation for sparsely populated northern areas.

The problem is that the north is primarily a Liberal-NDP stronghold and the rest of Ontario is somewhat more PC-friendly . Northern representation has become a "political football" between the PC's who favour stricter adherence to rep-by-pop, and the Liberals & NDP, who favour greater accomodation.

MMP takes this "partisan" element out of the hands of the politicians and puts it into the hands of the voter, where it belongs.
(see: Analysis by Region)

The ability of the governing political party to dramatically alter the number of representatives in parliament through the stroke of pen also needs to be reconsidered. Without public consensus, such draconian & arbitrary measures (as the "fewer politicians act", 1996 & the "electoral boundaries commission act", 2005) can lead to continual "policy lurch" from one government to the next.

Raymond Lorenz

Andy said...

Given that "diversity" is touted as one of the chief advantages of MMP, can we really expect that there will be genuinely "democratic" voting for list candidates when democratic candidate selection in the constituency system has resulted in such supposedly poor results with respect to diversity?

Perhaps what we can expect is slates of hand-picked candidates to be voted on or something, but if "democracy" entails individuals freely voting for individuals, with no attempts to rig the results to increase diversity, why would we expect the addition of "list" candidates to lead to more diversity than the same process produces among constituency candidates?

As I've noted on my own blog, the added diversity (if any) won't extend to the governing party, since it will typically not have many list MPPs, and often none at all. The result will be a government of MPPs that actually represent specific people and an opposition of MPPs many of whom are unknowns, defeated MPPs and other losing constituency candidates.

Paul Nijjar said...

Do you have an index page for this series of posts? It would be useful for those of us who want to link to you.

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