Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Toronto Star Endorses First-Pass-the-Post

 
Vote for MMP

Today's editorial in The Toronto Star speaks against the mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system and in favor of the status quo [Electoral reform a backward step].

The editors note that John Tory, the Progressive Conservative leader, is cool on the idea of MPP. The editors say,
Although the new system promises to deliver a legislature that mirrors the voters' intent, Tory notes it would also create two classes of members of the Legislature. Some would have a direct mandate from the voters; others could simply be appointed by party bosses.

If that is a democratic gain, it is hard to see.
Under the current system, nominees are appointed by a tiny number of dedicated people in each riding. Sometimes there are nomination meetings attended by a sizable crowd but those meetings are prone to stacking and all kinds of other abuses. The point is not that this is evil, the point is that the current system isn't as pristine as the first-past-the-post advocates claim.

The selection of party lists can be done in many different ways. It could be by party bosses in some dark room or it could be a much more open process. We don't know how it will work out under the new mixed member proportional system. I tend to think that a more open process will prevail since all of Ontario will be watching to see who's at the top of the list. In the case of the Green Party, for example, it will be interesting to see who the four new members will be if they pull 3% of the votes. It will certainly influence whether I cast a vote in their direction.

The same thing applies to all other parties. I won't be inclined to vote for a list of stooges, and you can be sure the other parties will be certain to point out the defects in party lists.

I think this argument against MMP is almost completely bogus. It's scaremongering and nothing more. One of the advantages of the MMP system, in my opinion, is the opportunity to get people into the legislature who might otherwise have little chance of getting elected. People who aren't wealthy enough to personally finance a campaign or a contested nomination, for example, or people who aren't good door-to-door campaigners but who would be an asset to Parliament. (Scientists, who aren't good at spinning framing sticking to the party line?)

The other argument used by the editors is more of the same whining we've heard dozens of times before.
Jurisdictions that have adopted some form or other of proportional representation – think of Italy, Israel, Germany, Belgium – have become notorious for chaotic politics and legislative gridlock.

While the occasional minority or coalition government beats the odds and performs well, far more commonly they are bitterly divisive, short-lived and paralyzed by conflict. Routinely, whoever heads the leading party is forced to cater to the demands of small, sometimes radical special-interest parties that enjoy no wide support, just to stay in power. That in itself is a distortion of the voters' will.
Let's get one thing straight, an inconvenient truth that's often ignored by all those who oppose MMP; as noted in the editorial, the last time a government of Ontario was elected by a clear majority was 70 yeas ago. Ever since then it's been the will of the people to cast their votes for a number of different parties such that no one party gets 50% of the votes. In other words, the people don't want majority governments. Nevertheless, majority governments are what the first-past-the-post system delivered in almost all elections. The Toronto Star editors are arguing that the real will of the people should be ignored in the interests of "stability." It's an argument that's often used against democracy.
No one suggests that first-past-the post is perfect. But Ontario's current system is democratic and robust, delivering strong, stable government that works. Why strain to "fix" what isn't broken?
If you're going to use this argument then please grant us the courtesy of explaining why you think "stability" should trump the clear preferences of the electorate and tell us just how far you're prepared to go in that direction.

There's no point in creating worse case scenarios in order to frighten people. I could just as easily bring up cases under first-past-the-post where a majority government, elected by less than 50% of the votes, thwarted the expressed will of the majority. "Stability" isn't always desirable at the expense of true democracy.

Yes, there are examples in foreign countries of legislatures that are gridlocked because the people want it that way. This happens under all kinds of electoral systems but it is more likely under true proportional systems and less likely under the mixed proportional system that we are considering. Will it happen in Ontario? I don't know, and neither do the editors. Personally, I think it's very unlikely given our history. It seems to me that there's very little chance that the government of Ontario would end up becoming beholding to a small party of four or five members.

Incidentally, all four of the countries mentioned (Italy, Belgium, Germany, Israel) are modern progressive countries with histories of social reforms that Canadians have emulated, or envied. The idea that nothing gets done in the legislatures of these countries does not stand up to close scrutiny.


[Photo Credit:Top: Police demonstrating how to maintain stability during the Queen's Park anti-poverty protest on June 15, 2000. Bottom: An example of the results produced by a first-past-the-post electoral system. "Thousands of teachers rallying at Queen's Park in the fall of 1997 were dismayed by government's lack of respect for the teaching profession." (Catholic Teachers Association) In 1995 Mike Harris' conservative government got 45% of the popular vote and 64% of the seats. In the 1999 election Mike Harris got 45% of the vote and 57% of the seats.]

2 comments :

  1. I think this argument against MMP is almost completely bogus. It's scaremongering and nothing more. One of the advantages of the MMP system, in my opinion, is the opportunity to get people into the legislature who might otherwise have little chance of getting elected.

    Agree completely.

    Ever since then it's been the will of the people to cast their votes for a number of different parties such that no one party gets 50% of the votes. In other words, the people don't want majority governments.

    On the other hand, I find this to be just silly. "The people" don't vote on whether they want a majority government. Some undoubtedly do ... some undoubtedly don't ... some don't care. This sort of armchair second-guessing is as bad an argument for MMP as any of the ones you've been criticizing in favour of FPTP.

    (Scientists, who aren't good at spinning framing sticking to the party line?)

    Oh, for goodness' sake. Don't you tink you're overusing the silly strikethrough snottiness? I'm almost tempted to point out the many examples of framing in your various posts in favour of MMP ...

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  2. Scott says,

    On the other hand, I find this to be just silly. "The people" don't vote on whether they want a majority government. Some undoubtedly do ... some undoubtedly don't ... some don't care. This sort of armchair second-guessing is as bad an argument for MMP as any of the ones you've been criticizing in favour of FPTP.

    When I used "will of the people" I meant the collective will, not the individual will of a single person. I didn't think this would be difficult to understand.

    Oh, for goodness' sake. Don't you tink you're overusing the silly strikethrough snottiness? I'm almost tempted to point out the many examples of framing in your various posts in favour of MMP ...

    As far as I can tell, "framing" is something you have to do deliberately in order to achieve a desired result. It's very much like sticking to the talking points during a political campaign or not going "off message." That's why it seems so closely related to "spin" in my books.

    When someone speaks or writes what they honestly believe to be true then it isn't "framing." They may be wrong but that's something else entirely. I do not deliberately hide or distort my true beliefs in order to make a point.

    You can't accuse someone of "framing" whenever they speak their mind just because you don't agree with them. Choose another word, otherwise you're accusing me of lying.

    ReplyDelete