The pros and cons of MMP
CBCNews.ca | Updated Oct. 5, 2007
Ontarians are being asked to choose between two voting systems in the Oct. 10 referendum. The choice is either the status-quo first-past-the-post electoral (FPTP) system, or a new proportional system called mixed member proportional (MMP), which was recommended by a special citizen's assembly.
In the first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes in a riding wins a seat in the legislature. The party with the most seats, not necessarily a majority of votes in the province, then forms the government.
Under mixed member proportional, voters get two votes, one for a candidate and one for a party. The election of 90 (rather than the current 107) local candidates would be done in the same way it is now, but an extra group of 39 seats would be distributed among the parties based, as closely as possible, on their share of the votes for parties. As a result, a party that received 10 per cent of the party vote would hold roughly 10 per cent of the seats in the legislature. The extra seats would be filled from party lists of candidates made public before the election.
In order to change the electoral system, mixed member proportional needs to receive more than 60 per cent of the popular vote across the province, and a majority in at least 64 of the 107 ridings.
There's a lot of confusion surrounding this proposed change. Elections Ontario said only a quarter of Ontarians understood the question with two weeks left in the campaign.
So, to help clarify, we got members of the NO MPP and Vote Yes for MPP campaigns to each answer 10 questions and duke out the pros and cons of mixed member proportionality.
Michael Ufford is the chair of the NO MPP campaign, a multi-party lobby group opposed to changing the electoral system to mixed member proportional. Ufford is a retired city planner who is concerned about accountability if the system changes.
Steve Withers is a campaign organizer for the "Vote for MMP" campaign, an umbrella group that supports electoral reform. He spent 11 years living in New Zealand electing politicians using MMP.
1. What are the most important reasons for voting for/against electoral reform?
Ufford: MMP is the wrong reform for Ontario. It creates problems far more serious than the proportional problem it wants to solve.
Withers: The failings of the present system are the most important reasons to vote for electoral reform. For example, the present system does a very poor job of translating votes into representation. FPTP provides political representation only for those voters who support the most popular party in their riding.
2. Why is this particular reform important/not the right one?
Ufford: MMP is fundamentally anti-community. It shifts political power from the voters in local ridings across the province to party headquarters at Queen's Park.
Withers: If we do not support this reform, then nothing will change and the problems we face under the present system, such as the corrosive cynicism about politics, will remain with no apparent way to resolve them.
3. What one thing in particular would you like people to know about MMP?
Ufford: MMP would introduce 39 "list" members of the legislature. One-third of the legislature would be made up of politicians accountable only to political parties.
Withers: Under MMP, every voter's ballot will always contribute to representation by the party of their choice, provided that party wins at least three per cent of the vote provincewide.
4. Do you feel MMP would lead to more or less stability in the electoral system? More or less representation for under-represented groups?
Ufford: The existing system produces both majority governments and minority governments. MMP is deliberately designed so that majority government would be extremely rare.
Withers: In places that use MMP, like Germany and New Zealand, governments are stable and run the full term. For example, Germany and Ontario have both had 16 elections in the 60 years since the Second World War.
5. Are there misconceptions about MMP? If so, what are they?
Ufford: That it is fair.
Withers: The biggest misconceptions about MMP revolve around one of its best features, the provincewide list candidates. Firstly, all parties in Ontario have now committed to democratically choose all their candidates, so grassroots party members will vote for whom they wish to stand for their party. There is no picking and choosing by party bosses. Also, this list of candidates will be announced publicly well before the election. Voters will be able to see who is on the list and also see how they were nominated.
6. What is the most persuasive argument for the opposing side?
Ufford: The only argument for MMP is that it would prevent governments from being elected with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
Withers: The most persuasive argument of the opposition is based on misinformation about list candidates and how they are elected.
7. How would you address concerns about "second class" legislators from party lists?
Ufford: Hard to do.
Withers: This is a prejudice that the evidence does not support. In New Zealand and Germany, for example, at-large or list representatives are routinely active in their local communities.
8. In what ways would MMP change Ontario's political landscape?
Ufford: It would weaken Ontario in its relations with the federal government and the other provinces. Even MMP supporters admit that coalition government moves much more slowly. Ontario may not be nimble enough to respond quickly in a crisis.
Withers: MMP would result in voters being able to elect people from the parties they support in direct proportion to their fair share of the votes cast. MMP and the three per cent threshold for representation will effectively introduce "market forces" into politics and politicians.
9. Do you feel the referendum process itself is fair?
Ufford: NO MMP is a grassroots organization. Because the citizen's assembly has used public funds to produce and distribute its elaborate pro-MMP materials and website, they have had the clear advantage in the referendum campaign.
Withers: The official information campaign has been a dismal failure. It has been prohibited from communicating the substance of the recommendation made by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly, preventing voters from making an informed choice.
10. Are you or have you been affiliated with any of the political parties?
Ufford: I am a member of my local Liberal riding association. But members of NO MMP come from all three major parties and many have no political affiliation at all.
Withers: I am not currently a member of any political party. The only Canadian political party I have ever been a member of is the Progressive Conservative party.