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?
With 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.