| Oct 04, 2007


Feature Article - October 4, 2007 Feature Article - October 4, 2007

Electoral Reformby Jeff Green

In addition to electing a government, Ontarians will be voting in a referendum on electoral reform when they go to the polls next week. If 60% of the people who vote in the referendum support it, the next Ontario election will be held under a new system, the mixed member proportional representation system (MMP).

Fortunately, the new system is easier to use than it is to pronounce.

Currently, the Province is divided up in 107 ridings. Under the current system, which has been in place since Ontarians have gone to the polls, candidates from the different political parties will be contesting each of these ridings. The candidate in each riding that receives the most votes will represent the riding at Queen’s Park. The party that elects the most representatives will form the government, and if one party elects more that half of the members (54 of more), which happens more often than not in Ontario, they will hold majority power.

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This will enable that party to pass legislation that they deem to be in the interest of Ontario for the next four years, when they will face the electorate again.

If the leading party elects less than 54 members, they will form a minority government and will need the support of at least one other party in order to get legislation approved at Queen’s Park.

A Citizen’s assembly that studied the electoral system concluded that it was flawed, and proposed a new system, MMP, to replace it.

The major flaw that the Citizen’s Assembly identified was the fact that all of the people who do not vote for the winning candidate in each riding end up casting a meaningless vote. In Ontario’s multi-party system where candidates often win their ridings with 35% to 40% of the popular votes, the majority of voters in most ridings do not end up with their choice being represented at Queen’s Park.

On a province-wide level the current system, which has been dubbed “first past the post” has particular implications for smaller parties. The most striking example of this is the Green Party, which receives up to 5% of the votes, but none of these votes has ever translated into any representation.

On the other hand, a party often wins a majority with well under 50% of the total vote. The Liberals won 72 of the 107 seats in 2003 on 46% of the vote. In 1990, the NDP formed a majority government with only 37% of the popular vote.

The Mixed Member Proportional system is the vehicle the Citizen’s Assembly chose to remedy this inequity. MMP is a modification of the current system. It proposes 90, larger ridings in place of the current 107. These 90 representatives would be elected in the same way that current representatives are elected, and the election ballot would contain the names of the nominated candidates in the riding from all of the parties, just as it does now.

In addition, the ballot would contain a list of parties, and voters will have the opportunity to cast a second ballot, a vote for their favourite party. The second vote, the party vote, will be used to determine the other 29 representatives at Queen’s Park.

Weeks before the election, each party will publish a prioritised list of 29 names as their candidates for “list members”.

When the votes are tallied on election night, the winners of the 90 riding elections will be determined using the regular ballot.

The second ballot will be used to bump up the number of seats for those parties who receive less seats than the popular vote would entitle them to.

If the results were the same as the 1990 election, for example, the NDP would only end up with 37% of the overall seats, and would have formed a minority or a coalition government instead of a majority government.

If the people of Ontario are determined to give one party a majority, over 50% of the voters would have to choose that party. Otherwise, when all is said and done, the most popular party, which usually receives around 40 - 45% of the votes, will end up with about 45 seats in the 129 seat legislature and will have to find 20 votes from other parties if they want to form a stable coalition government.

One of the major points made by critics of the MMP is that the list members will not be accountable to a direct vote of the Ontario public, they will be chosen instead by the parties. This tier of party chosen representatives will be, they say, beholden to the party that selected them, and not to the general public

Proponents of the system counter this argument by saying that each party will publish the list in advance, and that the media will be able to scrutinise the list. They say the electorate would penalize those parties that do not come up with their list members in an open and democratic fashion.

(There is more information on the web about the Mixed Member Proportional Representation System www.yourbigdecision.ca.).

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