Ontario referendum 2007:
Electoral reform or not?

By Emily Chung
CBCNews.ca | Updated Sept. 21, 2007

Referendum Ontario Ballot Referendum Ontario

In the general election on Oct. 10, 2007, Ontario voters will for the first time be asked a referendum question that isn't about beer, wine or liquor. It's been more than eight decades since the province last held a referendum — and each of the five held back then were about alcohol regulations.

This time, citizens will decide whether to change the province's traditional electoral system — known as first-past-the-post (FPTP).

The alternative is a system proposed by a provincially appointed citizens assembly on electoral reform — mixed member proportional or MMP.

Referendum roundup
Referendum date:

Oct. 10, 2007

Number of eligible voters:

8.5 million

Years Ontario has used FPTP:

215 (from back when it was Upper Canada)

MMP votes required to change the system:


Ridings with a majority of MMP votes required to change the system:

64 of 107

Provincial funding for referendum education:

$6.83 million

Cost of referendum administration:

$1.65 million

Deadline to legislate change if Ontario votes for MMP:

Dec. 31, 2008

Years since last Ont. referendum:


Topic of Ontario's 5 previous referendums:

Alcohol regulations

The two systems

In both electoral systems that voters can choose, each candidate usually represents a political party.

Under the First-past-the-post system, each voter casts a vote for a candidate in his or her own electoral district. The candidate with the most votes wins. Each party receives one seat in the legislature for each winning candidate from their party, and the party with the most seats forms the government. The percentage of overall votes cast for the party is not relevant.

Under the Mixed member proportional system, each voter casts two votes:
  • One for a local candidate to represent their electoral district.
  • One for a party to represent their interests.

Each party receives a number of seats that is proportional to the percentage of party votes (unless they receive less than three per cent of the total). These will include the local seats won by members of their party in specific ridings. The rest will be given to legislators who will not represent specific ridings but rather the party as a whole. These legislators will be drawn from the top of a ranked list of candidates chosen by each party. The parties are required to make the lists public and explain how they came up with them.

For example, suppose the Poodle Party gets 10 per cent of party votes. That means it will get 10 seats in a 100-seat legislature. If its local candidates win in eight electoral districts, it will get those eight seats as well as two extra seats for the top two candidates on the Poodle Party list.

that use FPTP:
that use MMP:
Barbados, Canada, Gambia, Kenya, India, Micronesia, Oman, Samoa, U.S. Albania, Bolivia, Germany, Hungary, Lesotho, Mexico, New Zealand, Venezuela

What's recommended for Ontario

Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government first announced in November 2004 that it would be forming a citizens assembly to figure out whether Ontario should keep its current electoral system or adopt a new one.

At the time, the government billed the initiative as "part of an aggressive agenda to strengthen democracy in the province" that included other changes such as fixed provincial election dates.

Ontario's first-past-the-post system had been criticized by groups such as Fair Vote Canada, which argued that it allows parties to form majority governments even when a minority of voters cast ballots for that party.

In 2006, Ontario appointed 103 voters aged 18 to 78 — one from each riding — to a citizens assembly on electoral reform chaired by George Thomson, a former judge and justice deputy minister.

The assembly studied various electoral systems and held public consultations across the province.

Meanwhile, Ontario passed legislation in April requiring the province to hold a referendum on the assembly's recommendation, if the assembly recommended a system different from the current one.

The citizens assembly released its final report on May 15, 2007. It recommended an MMP system under which the number of ridings would be reduced from 107 to 90, while at the same time adding 39 legislators who would be chosen from party lists.

Under the proposed system, any party that receives less than three per cent of the party vote wouldn't qualify for extra seats.

How Ontario would add up under two systems:

Number of votes per voter



Number of ridings



Number of legislators



Proportional representation vs. FPTP

The first-past-the-post system is used in federal elections in Canada, the United States, Australia and many other countries around the world, but most European countries, New Zealand and Japan have either mixed or proportional representation systems.

In proportional representation, parties receive a number of seats that is proportional to their share of the popular vote — the percentage of votes they receive.

MMP is a particular kind of proportional representation that maintains local electoral districts and is used in places such as Germany and Scotland. Proportional representation typically results in more power for parties with a smaller share of the popular vote and is more likely to produce a minority government.

For example, here is the difference between the actual seat counts from the 2003 Ontario general election and the seat counts that each party would have got under MMP (in the 103-seat legislature, assuming that the popular vote would be equivalent to the party votes rather than the votes for a local candidate, assuming that no party won more local seats that it was entitled to based on its share of the popular vote, and adjusting for the fact that parties with less than three per cent of the vote do not get any seats):

How the parties would have fared in 2003


Popular vote*

Actual seats under

Seats it would have won under MMP













(*Adjusted to show percentage won once parties that got less than three per cent of the popular vote were excluded)

In this theoretical example of MMP, the Liberals would have held 49 seats instead of 71, so they wouldn't have had a majority government. On the flipside, the NDP would have had 16 seats instead of seven, so they wouldn't have lost their official party status. (Parties had to have eight seats to retain official party status.)

Of course, people would likely have cast their ballots differently if the MMP system had been in place in 2003.

Under the first-past-the-post system, people have more incentives to vote "strategically."

For example, let's suppose Vern is a voter who supports the Cat Party and doesn't like the Dog Party. The Cat Party is unlikely to win in his riding, but polls show the vote will be close between the Dog Party and the Bird Party.

Under FPTP, Vern might cast his only vote for the Bird Party to try and stop the Dog Party from winning.

Under MMP, Vern might choose his local candidate the same way, but would probably cast his party vote for the Cat Party.

Under some circumstances, he might use a different form of strategic voting. Suppose the Lynx party, which has similar policies to the Cat party, is just under three per cent in the polls. If it receives that level of support on voting day, it won't get any seats in the legislature. But with a few extra votes, it could get three seats. Under those circumstances, Vern might cast his vote for the Lynx party to give the Cat party a potential coalition partner.

What if parties win extra local seats?

There is a special case that can arise if a party wins more local seats than it is entitled to based on its share of the party votes. In that case, the votes cast for that party and the seats they won are taken out of the calculation, and only the remaining seats are distributed to the other parties, based on their share of the remaining party votes.

For example, let's suppose there is a 100-seat legislature with 70 local seats, and the Cat party wins 40 of those seats with 35 per cent of the party vote:


% popular vote:

Won this many local seats:

Would get this many extra seats:

Total seats it would have:
















In this case, the number of seats for each party is not completely proportional to its share of the party vote, but is more proportional than it would be if all seats were local seats.

Electoral reform in other provinces

Ontario isn't the only province considering electoral reforms: voters in B.C. and P.E.I. considered and rejected electoral reform in 2005.

In B.C., citizens voted 57 per cent in favour of a single transferable vote system (STV) — three per cent short of what was needed to make the change through a referendum.

The STV system is used in countries such as Australia, where voters must number the candidates from most to least favourite. The B.C. government has promised to hold a second referendum in 2009.

In P.E.I., citizens voted only 36 per cent in favour of MMP — the same system being considered by Ontario — during a plebiscite.

Meanwhile, Quebec is also reviewing its electoral system.

Heated debate

Here are some arguments for and against MMP that have been put forward by proponents and opponents:

Against MMP: For MMP:
It's undemocratic because legislators chosen from party lists, who might even include the premier and cabinet ministers, are not elected directly by voters.
It's democratic: all representatives will be elected by voters either directly or through the party that gets the most votes. MMP will produce results that more closely reflect what voters want.

Legislators chosen from party lists won't represent specific ridings and therefore won't be accountable to voters.
Legislators chosen from party lists can focus on big issues instead of local ones, and will be accountable to citizens who voted for their party. Also, they can represent voters in areas where their party won no local seats.

MMP is too complicated and some voters in some countries have had trouble understanding it.
Voters in other countries seem to have understood it.

Because there will be 17 fewer ridings in Ontario, each voter will have less contact with his or her local legislator.
Having both party list and local legislators that voters can contact will increase each voter's representation.

Allowing candidates to be elected from party lists will give politicians and political parties too much power in the choice of legislators.
Publishing party lists of candidates in the order that they're ranked and giving descriptions of how the parties came up with the lists will ensure voters know who they are electing. Party members are already the ones who choose who will run in each riding. As well, these party members aren't necessarily politicians themselves.

MMP will allow "fringe" parties to hold the balance of power with two or three seats.
MMP will allow people who vote for smaller parties to have their voices heard in the legislature.

MMP will result in minority governments that change their policies after the election to gain needed support from other parties.
MMP will result in minority governments that must debate and gain the support of other parties instead of ramming legislation through.

Canadians don't like minority governments and feel they are weak and indecisive.
Canadians are comfortable with the balance of power in minority governments.

MMP allows politicians to be elected who have no support in their own communities.
MMP encourages parties to seek votes in all parts of the province and not just their strongholds.

22 extra legislators will cost more.
Extra representation is worth the cost of 22 more legislators.

Go to the Top

Electoral reform
Question: Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the legislature?
Mixed member proportional36.61%
Ridings in favour of MMP5/107
Last Update:October 11, 5:43:11 PM EDT
To change requires 60% of the popular vote and majority approval in 64 of the 107 ridings.
About these figures:
Unofficial results were updated at the time shown. For more recent results, visit Elections Ontario. The CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external sites. External links will open in a new window.

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