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Feature Article - August 2, 2007

Mixed member proportional representation

by Jeff Green

When voting takes place on October 10 this year, Ontarians will have an opportunity to do more than choose the government for the next four years; they will also be given a chance to change the way politics is done in the province.

A new electoral system will be on the ballot as well, and if 60% of voters choose the mixed member proportional representation system that is being promoted by yes committees across the province, then the subsequent election in 2011 will bring in a much different provincial parliament than Ontario has ever seen.

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Under the new system, the number of ridings would decrease to 90 from the current 106, and another 39 MPPs would be chosen from at large lists provided by the provincial parties.

The new system borrows heavily from the current system, and election campaigns would be similar to the way they are run currently. On Election Day, voters would receive a ballot that lists all of the candidates in their riding, just like the current system, and given the opportunity to vote for one of them.

In addition, there will be a second list on the ballot, a list of parties, and voters will also have the opportunity to select a party.

The party votes will be tallied, and the results will be used to select the 39 at large MPPs.

In the end, the parties would each end up with the number of MPPs that reflect the percentage of votes they received. Each party receiving at least 3% of the vote would have representation in the provincial parliament.

At the recent kick off meeting for the Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington Vote Yes MMP (Mixed Member Parliament) campaign, Steve Withers was the guest speaker. Withers was involved in bringing a mixed member system to New Zealand, and he said that the mixed member system has been a success in that country, delivering a more effective government.

The two main criticisms of the current first-past-the-post system are that it encourages partisan politics, and that most of the time a single party has a majority of the seats. The system effectively gives that party absolute control of the agenda, even though, for example, they may only have received 40% of the votes, leaving 60% of the voters without a say in the direction of the province.

Not surprisingly, the New Democrats and Greens support the proposed changes. The NDP, with one notable exception, have never received the number of seats that correspond to the percentage of votes they receive in each election, and the Greens have never won a seat in Ontario. Under the mixed member system, they would have between 5 and 10 seats if current voting patterns continue.

Ross Sutherland, the NDP candidate in LFL&A this time around, has expressed his support.

“We usually have majority governments that do not have the support of the majority. Yet they can impose their will on everyone. Worse, most of these governments have preferentially supported the interests of big business, and often ignored the voices of youth, women, pensioners, workers, farmers, natives and the poor - the majority of the population. It is no wonder that people feel hopeless about government. MMP, proportional representation, will make it harder for the government to ignore the will of the people,” he wrote in recent newspaper submission.

Randy Hiller, the Conservative candidate in LFL&A, has been critical of the way Ontario governments have acted in recent years, but he does not favour electoral reform.

He sees the proposed reforms as being designed to foster improved voter turnouts, but says they “treat the symptoms (poor voter turnout) without diagnosing the disease that ails government. Hillier says that for the system to improve “politicians must first represent constituents honestly and party discipline must take a back seat.”

In his view, the at-large MPPs would be “a new class of 39 unaccountable list politicians based on the party’s percentage of the popular vote. These list members will be selected by, and owe complete allegiance to, their party, as they have no constituents or riding to represent.”

Proponents of the MMP system counter that the party lists will be public, and if the lists are seen by the public as being populated by corrupt officials it would hurt that party at the polls.

Liberal candidate Ian Wilson has not taken a position on electoral reform at this point, and the Liberal Party as a whole is taking a neutral stand, citing the fact that as the party in power, they initiated the process.

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