| Apr 12, 2007

Feature Article - April 12, 2007

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Feature Article - April 12, 2007

Electoral reform:easier said than doneby Jeff Green

For the past eight months, a Citizens’ Assembly made up of 103 people, one from each current Ontario electoral riding, has been meeting periodically to consider two related questions: Should the current electoral system be changed? And if so, what changes should be made?

The argument for changing the current system centres on the concern that in each riding the voters who don’t vote for the winning candidate end up having no impact with their vote. This concern is compounded in most ridings, where due to the multi-party nature of Ontario politics it is common for the winning candidate to receive something less than 50% of the popular vote. In these cases the votes of most people in the riding lead to no representation whatsoever.

In their final report, due on May 15, the Citizens’ Assembly will make a final recommendation on the question of whether reform is necessary. They are widely expected to say it is, and in the past couple of weeks the system they will ultimately be recommending has been revealed.


Riding redistribution that will take effect in this fall’s election will mean that 107 Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) will be elected, representing 107 geographic ridings. Any party that wins 54 of these individual ridings will form a majority government, and if the leading party wins less than 54 seats they will be forming a minority government.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommends that in future elections the province be split into 90 ridings, each with roughly 135,000 people. Voters will vote for candidates in their own ridings in the traditional way, but in addition, the election ballot will include a list of parties, and voters will also cast a vote for one of the parties. This second vote will be used to tally up the popular vote for each party, and 29 extra seats will be allocated to the parties based on the popular vote. The representatives who fill these seats will be drawn from a prioritized list of names that the parties will put forward before the election.

The 90 winners will all hold seats, and the other 29 seats will be used to ensure that each party has the number of seats corresponding to the percentage of votes they received in the province-wide election.

This system has been dubbed a Mixed-Member System and a version of it has been in place in a couple of European countries for years.

Since the Citizens’ Assembly announced that this is the model they will likely be recommending, it has received criticism from two camps. Some, including prominent members of the two largest parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, express concern over the proposed increase in the number of politicians, from 107 to 129, a 20.5% increase. More pointedly, they expressed concerns over the likelihood that the mixed member system would likely lead to minority governments, which have been rare in Ontario over the past 100 years.

From the other side of the ledger, electoral reform advocates have a problem with giving the parties the ability to come up with prioritized lists of candidates.

Greg Morrow, an electoral reform advocate who operates a popular website Democraticspace.com/blog on the subject, is critical of what he calls the “closed list” aspect of the proposed system.

Morrow, who is originally from Cloyne, does not think it is democratic for each party to come up with their own list, which effectively gives votes that have been cast for the party as a whole to hand-picked candidates. He proposes that instead of each party providing a list of candidates from across the province, they provide lists for each of nine regions, with voters getting a say in which of these candidates they prefer.

Under this scenario, voters would also vote twice. They would make their traditional vote for a candidate from their own riding as they do now, as well there would be a separate list of names of regional candidates from each party. The voter would cast a second vote, for a single candidate from this long list of names.

Under this system, we would have riding as well as regional representatives. The results would be tabulated so that each party would end up with the number of seats that correspond to the overall number of votes they have received on a province-wide basis, provided the party receives at least 2% of the popular vote.

Whatever recommendations the Citizens’ Assembly comes up with in their final report, the McGuinty Liberal Government has said they will bring them to a referendum in conjunction with the October 10 provincial election.

But the bar will be set pretty high. For the new system to take effect in subsequent elections it will need the support of 60% of voters; a simple majority will not lead to electoral reform. In the most recent election in British Columbia, a different electoral system was proposed. It was supported by 58% of the voters in a referendum, but in B.C. the bar was also set at 60%, and the much maligned “first-past-the-post” system remained in place.

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