Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why MMP Failed

Now that I have access to Elections Ontario's riding by riding referendum results, it is time for some analysis. We need to start by debunking some myths about why this referendum failed.

Myth #1: McGuinty and the Liberals wanted it to fail.

This is absurd. It is absurd on so many levels. First, why on earth would prominent Liberal cabinet ministers (Smitherman, Bryant, Gerretsen et al.) be working on the pro-MMP side if the Grits were plotting its demise? Second, there is NO proof for this. Zero. Don't talk about the threshold which was copied almost verbatim from BC. It is a) not McGuinty's and b) in keeping with the Constitution and the principles of the Clarity Act. This kind of conspiracy is usually relegated to late night talk shows.

Myth #2: The media ignored the issue.

This is blatantly false. Almost every newspaper and most columnists in the province put out an editorial. Radio talk shows spent hours debating its merits. The blogosphere was saturated. The debate was out there. People just had to listen. A major television debate (outside TVO) was the only thing missing. Given the low ratings of the leaders' debate I wouldn't call this all that important.

Myth #3: The No MMP campaign killed it.

Our Lilliputian efforts (all $12,000 of it) may have helped to shape the debate (I'll come to that later) but we did not cause a landslide. I'd love to say we did, but we didn't.

Myth #4: The information campaign left people uninformed and they voted out of uneasiness.

This on the surface seems like a reasonable hypothesis. The information campaign was pathetic (see my last post). However, it is disproved by the results that we got from across the province. In order for this theory to work, you must assume that information was distributed relatively equally across the province. Everyone received the same useless pamphlet. Almost everyone has access to the internet somewhere so they could view the website. In other words, people should vote the same way across the province. There should be no noticeable difference between ridings. In fact support for MMP ranged from below 30% to 59.2% (Trinity-Spadina). That kind of thirty point spread indicates to me that a large number of people knew exactly what they were voting on or at very least had formed an opinion. Even if you assume that people in the large cities were better informed due to higher media and campaign saturation, you still can't explain why people in wealthy (and therefore more likely educated) urban ridings rejected MMP. It is also worthwhile to note that people voted predictably. Steve Paikin nailed on The Agenda when he surmised that the pro-MMP ridings were in downtown Toronto. How did he know they weren't in Thunder Bay or Ottawa? The answer is the reason MMP failed.

MMP failed because it didn't resonate with what Ontarians value in their politics. In my first post on MMP I discussed the principles behind both systems and how the choice was basically a philosophical one. The results confirm that hypothesis. First, let's look at who voted for MMP. The ridings are: Trinity-Spadina, Toronto-Danforth, Beaches-East York, Davenport and Parkdale-High Park. First off, let's recognize that the four of these ridings are NDP strongholds and the fifth (Davenport) has been on the Dipper wish list for some time now. What do these ridings have in common that makes them vote NDP and for MMP (unlike the Northern NDP ridings which rejected en masse)? First, they believe that political decisions are moral decisions. No, not in the bible belt sense but in the compassion for your fellow human beings sense. People in these ridings believe that everyone should have an equal chance. The argument that FPTP is unfair resonated here. Secondly, they are imbued with pluralist views. What is common about these ridings is their diversity. The whitest is probably Beaches-East York but even then, there is significant diversity. There is along with that diversity a fierce belief in multiculturalism. There is a pluralist belief that society is best when it includes everyone in the discussion. This pushed them in favour of getting small parties more say in the legislature. Now, to a certain extent these views are present everywhere in the province but they are especially present and relevant in voting behaviour in the old city of Toronto. In other words, MMP was in keeping with the values that drive voters in these ridings.

Different motivations governed the rest of the province. A strong attachment to local representatives, I would argue is one of them. It is not unreasonable to assume that the people that voted for Kathleen Wynne in Don Valley West valued local representation more than the performance of various leaders. The easy re-election of Khalil Ramal in London Fanshawe is a better example. The pundits argued that London Fanshawe set up perfectly for the NDP. After all, if you combined the vote totals from the various polls in 2003 that were under the redistributed London-Fanshawe boundaries they would have won. Furthermore, the NDP was much more popular in 2007 than they were in 2003. Ipso facto, well, nothing. The NDP decided to go youth, which while commendable, is not usually the best strategy for getting elected. Voters stuck with the experienced Ramal. Local candidates matter. They matter a lot in certain ridings. Voters who thought this was important didn't like the lists no matter how democratic the advocates of MMP thought they were.

Other areas vote because of regional preferences. This is particularly relevant in Northern Ontario. Why did NDPers in Toronto say yes to MMP but similarly NDP supporting people in the North reject it so fervently? This is because Northerners want to maintain a Northern voice. This is true in other rural parts of the province as well. I think the election of Randy Hillier last night is proof enough of that. No list can replicate the local representation provided by a FPTP based system.

The other reason MMP failed is because the referendum was about MMP. The debate ended up being about the merits of MMP which I think is appropriate. However, when Elections Ontario changed the yes/no question to an either/or question I feared that the debate would focus on FPTP. If the vote for MMP campaign had managed to make the referendum about that, they may have been more successful at overcoming the natural predispositions against this system. John Tory and the vote for MMP campaign have this problem of directionality in common.

Finally, the referendum campaigns did have a minimal impact. You can certainly see the impact of Michael Bryant and Carolyn Bennett's work in getting the usually small c conservative St. Paul's near 50%. Similar things can be said of George Smitherman in Toronto Centre and Hugh Segal and John Gerretsen in Kingston and the Islands. The impact of our No MMP campaign is hard to decipher in the landslide. I'd say we were successful in Nipissing, Ottawa and elsewhere but I don't know that we would have been less successful had we sat on our hands. As I've said, if we made any major contribution to the overall results last night, it was keeping the attention squarely on MMP. Both referendum campaigns and perhaps the referendum in general were impacted by Elections Ontario's decision to treat the referendum campaigners as third party advertisers. The lack of tax receipts robbed both campaigns of the cash necessary for a full out debate. However, I don't think this is a major cause of the defeat.


Andy said...

Very impressive post. I too was surprised by the degree to which the considerable variation in the MMP vote from riding to riding indicated considerable engagement with the issue.

The whole idea smacked of dreamy utopianism with no connection to the history or political culture of this province. When flaws were pointed out, the response was (all too often) that the details don't really matter and that, well, "ya just gotta believe" in the oracular powers of the "Citizens".

As a habitual Tory voter, I certainly prefer to see the province in the hands of Dalton McGuinty as opposed to a combination of Dalton and Howard or Dalton and a bunch of Greens from some list.

Good luck to my Grit friends in your second, and final, term in office. :)

Scott Tribe said...

The fact remains Aaron, that only 52% of Ontario eligible voters came out to vote last night, and only 50% voted on the referendum question.

Putting aside the referendum, the breakdown of the winning percentages means that only 22% of eligible Ontario voters voted for the Liberals - giving that party 66% of the seats, and a majority government to do as they wish. I don't care if thats the party I support or not, there is something seriously unfair with a system that a) allows that, and b) shows ever decreasing voter participation - the worst in Ontario history (beating the previous low of 54% 4 years ago)

Status Quo'ers and backroom party boys can try to cover their eyes wit their hands and claim everything is hunky dorey.. but a system that has gotten to this point needs repair. I kept hearing all these claims that all we needed to do was to tinker and fix the current system; so I'm waiting with baited breath to hear what those are.

The battle for electoral reform in Ontario may be lost for now.. but the war has just begun - both here and in the rest of Canada. This result of the election does nothing but convince me that the current system is a terrible one, and is in serious need of changes. Do not think we will be going away Aaron, or silenced.

cdlu said...

Scott effendi,

The connection between voter turnout and MMP is ambiguous at best. Evidence around the world points away from the relevance of the electoral system to the voter turnout. If we want to address voter turnout, then we should address voter turnout, but that was not the issue on this referendum.

22% of eligible voters, assuming the lists are accurate (they aren't, generally) voting for the Liberals is still higher than the 15% that voted for the Tories or the 4% that voted for the Greens.

And if you want to keep playing this ludicrous game, only 18% of voters voted to give MMP a shot.

Proportional representation was defeated yesterday and majoritarian representation prevailed. This debate is not new; the debate between majoritarian and proportional is as old as modern democracy. Only 42% of those who voted chose the Liberals, but 63% of those who voted said that the Liberals had the right to govern based on this result. If anything, the referendum increased the legitimacy of the system as the referendum, for better or for worse, had our existing system as the prevailing choice, not merely a rejection of MMP.

Our system is not broken, it just isn't the system that you want. There is a significant difference.

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