Why I support MMP, and what the heck is it anyway?

On October 10th a provincial election is being held in my home province of Ontario, Canada. In conjunction, a referendum is also being voted on – the subject of which is Ontario’s (and by future extension, Canada’s) voting process. Generally it’s being hailed as the most important electoral reform of “our” lifetime, and the most significant since the reform that allowed women to vote back in 1919.

What is being called for is a change from our current Single Member Plurality (SMP) system, which is more commonly referred to as First Past The Post (FPTP) to a “fairer” system based on proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

Is it just me or does the overuse of acronyms in the modern world just make you want to kick yourself in the teeth.

Regardless, I figured I’d share with you all why I am going to be crossing my fingers that Ontarians set the stage for MMP to blossom as Canada’s new electoral method – despite having now long lived outside of Canada, and now not being eligible to vote myself.

This is what we call democrazy

First, I think I need to give a real quick run-down on the shortcomings of our current system, and why this referendum is happening.

As any non-apathetic 18+ year old knows, when you vote in the provincial (or federal, for that matter) elections, you are voting for a local candidate. Which ever candidate gets the most votes in the electoral district (aka riding), is elected as your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and their party gets a seat at the big decision making table called the Provincial Legislature. The party with the most seats makes up the government.

The problem with this is that the winner doesn’t have to have the majority (50%+) of votes, just more than the runner-up. Lets use an arbitrary example of election results for a riding:

  • Liberals get 35% of the vote
  • Progressive Conservatives get 30%
  • NDP get 20%
  • Greens get 15%

Well, 35% is more than 30%, so the Liberal candidate is the winner. But only 35% of the electorate voted for them, and that now means a whopping 65% of the riding is represented by a candidate or party they don’t support. This then compounds when those riding wins are tallied at the provincial or federal level and handed out as seats in parliament. Democracy at its finest folks.

So, why is MMP better?

mmpballot.gifWith the proposed MMP system, you get two votes on your ballet. One for the political party you support, and the other for the local candidate.

The Parliamentary seat makeup will be changed from having 107 electoral districts (ridings) to having 90 electoral districts (local candidates) and a further 39 seats for province-wide candidates (list members).

One of the M’s in MMP stands for “mixed”, this is because this system uses a hybrid of the current FPTP system and an integration of proportional representation.

The initial 90 seats will be chosen the same way as they are now, using the FPTP system, whereby you select the local candidate you feel deserves your vote.

Beside this vote, you’ll have the choice of which political party you support. This vote is the proportional representation bit. It is used to decide what percentage of the 39 “at-large” (meaning, not tied to a electoral district) seats the party deserves. These seats are then filled with candidates (also called ‘list members’) that have been put on a publicly accessible ordered list decided by the party pre-election.

Perhaps another example will help clarify this:
The Liberals win 45 ridings, the Progressive Conservatives win 35 and the NDP win 10 (for a total of 90 seats).

The Liberals get 35% of the “party” vote, the Progressive Conservatives get 30%, NDP 20%, and the Greens 15%. This then decides how those 39 “at-large” seats are distributed.

The Liberals will get 13 of the 39 seats to fill with their list members, the PCs 12, NDP 8 and Greens 6.

So, as you can see, under this system a party that has 15% of public support (as the Greens do here), but wasn’t able to oust any of the big boys under the FPTP system, gets a chance to have representation in the legislative assembly with the proportional representation method.

It’s not perfect

Of course MMP isn’t the be-all end-all political system, but that’s not what Ontarians are voting for. They’re voting for a better system, not a perfect one. A system that better represents who the people want governing them, and often more importantly, who they want governing those governing them.

The trade-off of full on proportional representation is that you sacrifice local representation. Using the Mixed Member Proportional method of deciding election results, you get 69% of your government chosen based on the person you want as your local representation, and 31% decided by who you want running things overall. On paper, these two things usually match, but under the current system, they’re often way out of whack. MMP goes a long way to fixing that.

For more information:

  • Referendum Ontario: An excellent visual presentation on what the referendum is about, and what the current system and proposed systems mean.
  • Vote For MMP: A pro-MMP site with lots of information on why to vote MMP on October 10th, including semi-humorous (definitely Made In Canada) videos.
  • 10 Lies About MMP: A good blog post that describes some of the misconceptions and misinformation about MMP.
  • NoMMP: A site that, as its name suggest, is anti-MMP. I couldn’t find anything here that really swayed my opinion (and I’m easily swayed). Their #2 point is that MMP would cause “39 politicians chosen by other politicians … not you”. It should be noted that ALL politicians (ie. candidates) are chosen by other politicians – you just choose between them. Dorks.

6 Responses

  1. Excellent summary!

    Just one thing. We don’t “sacrifice local representation” under MMP. Our current system gives us lousy local representation. As you pointed out, most of us are “represented” by someone we voted against.

    Under MMP, every vote counts, no matter where you vote or how you vote. Even a few votes in a region will help a party elect list MPPs. Parties have to pay attention to voters in every part of the province, instead of just a few swing voters in a few swing ridings.

    Under MMP, every party will elect MPPs in every part of the province. Most list MPPs will be opening constituency offices where they live. Every voter will have access, not just to one MPP, but to MPPs from every party, in your region.

    Every voter, every constituency, and every part of the province, will be better represented under MMP.

    Vote for MMP on October 10.

  2. Hey Wayne, thanks for the comment and further explanation.

    I do understand that there is the possibility of having two or more MPPs in a electoral district, but that chance isn’t high (39 to 90).

    The reason I think local representation will be lower is that to get those 39 list-filled seats they’ve had to cut the electoral districts by 17 – and therefore make them larger areas.

    The truth is, I’ve yet to hear of an elected politician that did an exceptional amount locally after being elected – so to me which party gets in power is a bigger deciding factor on my vote than which local boy (or girl) is kissing babies in my neighbourhood.

    Every voter, every constituency, and every part of the province, will be better represented under MMP.

    I agree, however, I don’t feel it’s perfect – just ‘better’, and ‘better’ can have a whole lot of gradations.

    I respect that a certain amount of hype needs to go into something to get people to gravitate to the idea – but I also feel that without a clear picture people can’t make a clear decision.

  3. Excellent news, and good luck to Ontario’s pro-MMP people. We made the switch in New Zealand back in the mid-90s, and of course there was grumbling from the knee-jerk conservative crowd when politicians did their jobs and negotiated to form coalitions. It should be noted that one huge advantage of MMP is it allows smaller parties easier access to parliament. This is good because smaller parties represent smaller interest groups which would normally struggle to make themselves heard, and smaller parties serve to “keep the bastards honest”, or prevent the big parties from riding roughshod over the people. Of course, there is a risk in opening up access to smaller parties, and that is why we have the 5% limit in New Zealand- to enter parliament, a party must one either an electorate/voting district/riding seat or win 5% of the vote. That way we don’t get random neo-Nazis in parliament.

    And one huge, huge disadvantage to FTPT which we had major problems with in NZ before the switch is that an FTPT government is all too often an “elected dictatorship” that does not have the support of a majority of voters- the inconsistency at the local level that you pointed out often translates into parties having a majority of seats in parliament despite having one less than 50% of the vote.

    Of course, under MMP, if a party won more than 50% of the party vote, that party would be able to function like an FTPT-style elected dictatorship, but a) they’d have the support of a majority of the people- that’s how they got more than 50% of the party vote; and b) that is highly, highly unlikely to actually happen.

    It should be noted that the job of a list MP is to represent their party, not any particular constituency or local area. Of course, many of them will set up offices in the local areas and claim to be the “Ontario Sasquatch Hunting Party representative for Toronto” or whatever, but they are in fact only in parliament to represent their party. As a result, anything they say or do must be taken with a hefty grain of salt, especially when they claim to represent a particular area or constituency other than their party.

    You’re right, it’s far from a perfect system, but MMP is vastly superior to FTPT.

  4. And both are vastly superior to the American system of course :). Being a political dork I sometimes fantasize about which political parties would exist in the US were we to have a MMP system. I can’t think of anyone who can say with a straight face that they’re proud to be a Republican or a Democrat, and everyone ends up voting for the “least bad option” in every election.

    Then again, I’m of the belief that all politicians are necessarily venal so the least bad option probably exists in any system.

    Anyway…hope the referendum passes!

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