A painting of me

Some thoughs on Mixed-Member Proportional

    1 October 2007, lunch time

[ed. This is an edited version of a message I originally posted in response to a comment on the DigIn mailing list. If you haven’t been following the MMP debate on the news, it probably won’t make much sense.]

I’d like to say there has been a lot of discussion on the voting referendum taking place during the upcoming election, but really, there hasn’t been.

We’ve had how many governments in a row now where a 40% popular vote returns a huge number of seats in parliament? In 2003 the Liberals had 46.4% of the vote, which earned them 70% of the seats. We’d be moving to a system that would temper this sort of thing.

People opposed to MMP seem upset by the party lists. We (the people) currently don’t get to pick which politician chooses to run in our ridings. The party lists represent a new group of people we also don’t get to pick. That said, if you want a say in who is running for the NDP, you do have an option: join the NDP party. More so, to pretend we don’t get to vote for this new set of people is misleading. You see the party lists before the election. You know who your “party vote” is going towards. All this talk about “non-elected” members making it to parliament is straight up scare mongering. If these people do a bad job of things, the party will need to think hard about including them on their party list for the next election, lest voters decide to give their party vote to someone else.

More so, from voteformmp.ca we learn:

“Conservative Party leader John Tory, NDP leader Howard Hampton, and Green Party leader Frank de Jong have already stated their parties would used democratic processes to nominate their at-large candidates should the MMP system be adopted in the referendum.”

The 3% popular vote barrier to get the party seats does shut out fringe parties for the most part, but this really is no worse than the current system, which gives fringe parties absolutely no venue to address this. Chances are the Green Party will break the 3% barrier this coming election. In the current system, that doesn’t matter, because they’ll probably never win a riding with those numbers; under the new system, this would get them a seat.

Also keep in mind that straight-up proportional representation is not without its issues, and would generally not be considered a democratic system of government. We don’t have referendums on gay rights for a reason.

I don’t think MMP is perfect, but it is certainly a step forward.



  1. Well put. I also agree with your rationale. Not perfect but better. It’s surprising how little this is being discussed outside of the usual places.. It’s kind of a big deal.

  2. True, MMP would eliminate the crazily skewed majority governments. But..

    1. Isn’t there some kind of benefit to having stable, majority governments? Arent there european countries out there that go for months without any party being able to form a government? Is a series of minority governments a recipe for very conservative policy making? (I don’t know, Im asking).

    2. I don’t agree with you that if the list mps do a bad job the parties will carefully rethink whether to include them in the list next time. What mechanism is there to keep the lists from becoming another senate, a patronage seat where people do bad jobs and are never removed regardless of the outcry? I dont think that leaders promising to be democratic about it is a good enough. And isn’t it a bit disturbing having elected mps without any particular constituency to answer to beyond “all of Ontario”?

    3. The family coalition party supports mpp, and they scare me. Doesn’t the current system encourage a sort of political moderation among the major political parties? (I guess you could argue that Harris and Rae weren’t moderate, but they really are compared to the other smaller parties).

    4. Has there been much research into what kind of changes a move to mpp creates? Does it create more parties? Does it move politics to the right or left?

    5. Would you support mpp if it guaranteed that the political culture of the province would move sharply to the right? It has been hard to tell whether people are supporting mpp because they think their parties will have a better chance or because they genuinely think it is better, or more democratic or representative.

  3. Isn’t there some kind of benefit to having stable, majority governments?

    I suppose, but we get them at the expense of true representation. McGuinty doesn’t represent the majority of Ontarians, but he gets to legislate as if he does. And really, if stable majority governments are the goal there are other systems worth looking at, like turning the legislature over to a Military Junta.

    Doesn’t the current system encourage a sort of political moderation among the major political parties?

    As you point out, Harris was hardly a moderate. More so, to actually win a majority you need to win ridings. To win ridings, presumably, you’d need to have a stance that appeals to a broad voter base. I don’t think the new system discourages moderation.

    The Crazy-Ass Family Coalition may one day have enough support to get a seat in the legislature, and if that is the case they deserve the seat. Just because I don’t agree with all the crazy-ass people that support them doesn’t mean they should be shut out of the political system.

    Does it create more parties?

    It gives fringe parties a slightly better chance of getting a seat in the legislature, but really, the 3% barrier to entry prevents the kind of proliferation of parties one sees in other countries.

    Would you support mpp if it guaranteed that the political culture of the province would move sharply to the right?

    If the provincial culture swung right currently, we’d end up with a right wing government. We’ve already seen that. And when the Tories one last, they didn’t even need that many votes to get all the seats. The new system would require a real shift to the right to garner serious power. The current system can swing things to the right without actually having the voter base to back it up.

  4. Okay. Good point(s). You have my vote!

    Can I put your sign on my lawn?

  5. It’s not really put this way, but on the simple terms, MMP gives smaller parties a voice, but at the cost of stability (as addressed in the prior comment). Really it’s down to the majority party vs. everyone else. The breaker in the vote is if you think you’re party of choice will stay in power, because when they don’t you’ll want them to have a presence.

    I was surprised at how many people caught this immediately when we were talking about it at work. At first people thought MMP was interesting, but on discussion most people that vote for majority parties independently said, no, it’s not good to have the risk of minority parties. I haven’t really made up my own mind, and I don’t know what would happen here in Ontario with a MMP, but hey, that’s why we have the vote I guess.

Don't be shy, you can comment too!

Some things to keep in mind: You can style comments using Textile. In particular, *text* will get turned into text and _text_ will get turned into text. You can post a link using the command "linktext":link, so something like "google":http://www.google.com will get turned in to google. I may erase off-topic comments, or edit poorly formatted comments; I do this very rarely.