To MMP or not to MMP – that is the question

By Casey Lessard

How will the legislature look in a few years? It’s a question voters have to take seriously at this election call as they face a referendum on the future of the electoral process.
A move to elect members of provincial parliament (MPPs) using mixed member proportional representation, or MMP, could see more MPPs in larger ridings, with 30 per cent of our elected representatives being chosen from a list.
The pros and cons are currently being debated by voters and pundits, some of whom prefer the current system of first-past-the-post. It’s a system that frequently results in majority governments that can make decisions without consulting the opposition parties.
“The big benefits of MMP are that we get – for the first time – something approximating a general form of proportional representation in Ontario,” says Paul Nesbitt-Larking, chair of political science at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario. “Everyone benefits from this, irrespective of party stripe.”
Joseph Angolano disagrees. He’s the media director for a campaign to fight the adoption of MMP called No MMP.
“There are accountability issues that have to be looked at with this proposal,” Angolano says. “It takes 30 per cent of seats and makes them filled by a list. Voters won’t know who fills a seat – it could be the first or fifth person on the list. In a democracy, the voter should choose who represents them, not a party choosing them. It hurts the average Ontario voter who does not have a party affiliation. At best, the makeup of the list would be made up by the party members, but at worst it could be created by the party leader. The cititzens’ assembly made no provisions for how that list is created.”
Nesbitt-Larking believes those concerns will be a non-issue.
“The citizens’ assembly has said the list must be created in a transparent way,” he says. “Parties that don’t do this will suffer at the polls as a result. This will guarantee the list is a balanced mix of representatives.”
But there’s also the issue of distribution, Angolano points out.
“While we are getting more representatives, we are losing ridings and that’s a problem. That sort of representation could be a problem for rural and Northern Ontario especially.”
Nebsitt-Larking sees the other side of the issue.
“If you live in an area where the party and ideas you favour are the minority,” he says, “you’ve been out of luck for 100 years. Under the new system, you can vote for the person and the party. Some element of your choice will end up being represented at Queen’s Park.
“With MMP, women’s representation does better because the makeup of the list will be more proportional with women. Minority groups can also expect to be represented on the list as well.”
Angolano is concerned about the possibility that fringe parties – if they get enough votes – will control a minority government.
“Any party that can rustle up three per cent of the vote – which is about 150,000 votes – will get a seat,” he notes.
Nesbitt-Larking says this is a good thing, noting that most voters want their MPPs to have more power.
“Some form of cooperation will be necessary,” he says. “You avoid the propensity for executives and premiers driving too hard in extreme directions. Voters don’t want backroom people running the province.”
But that’s where Angolano predicts MMP will lead, noting that it will become impossible to beat the leader of a major party because he or she will always be at the top of the list. Since they will always get more than three per cent of the vote, they’re guaranteed a seat in the legislature.
“It will be very hard to get rid of the top four people on the list for a large party because this system allows for dual-candidacy – the candidate can run both locally and be on the list.”
There’s a lot to this issue, and you should do your own research to make up your mind. Visit //www.yourbigdecision.ca (official government information site), //www.nommp.ca (pro-FPTP site), and //www.voteformmp.ca (pro-MMP site) before you vote October 10.