Saturday, October 13, 2007

How Did The Citizens Assembly Get It So Wrong?

It would seem reasonable that if you randomly selected 103 people from across the province, one per riding (plus the chair), and adjusted for age and sex, that their conclusions would be very close to those that the population as a whole would arrive at. And yet, the general population soundly rejected their proposal for mixed member proportional (MMP). How did they get it so wrong?

Let me begin by giving a big thank you to all those people who sat on the Citizens' Assembly. They did a lot of work on our behalf. However, they were far off the mark on what Ontarians wanted. In the dieing days of the referendum, members of the Assembly were speaking out that the reason voters were rejecting their proposal was because the government failed to provide an adequate education campaign. However, polling data showed that those most opposed to MMP were also the ones who knew the most about it; and conversely, those most in favour of MMP were the ones who knew the least about it.

From near the very beginning of the Assembly's work, one of the "guiding principles" for the Citizens' Assembly was, "Fairness of Representation". They defined this fairness, in part, as, "parties hold seats in proportion to the votes they receive". By accepting that definition of fairness the outcome was predetermined to be some form of proportional representation. And I believe that is where they got off track.

You see, that has never been a big issue with the majority of Ontarians - and the referendum helped prove that. Many political scientists have been bothered by that, but my personal experience has been that many political scientists support parties that would benefit from MMP (i.e.: NDP, Green Party, etc.) There is another interesting analysis that goes along with that. There were only five ridings where a majority of voters supported MMP. Of those five ridings, the NDP won four. The fifth has been described by political commentators of all stripes as a natural NDP riding with a popular Liberal MPP.

So it was inevitable that the Citizens' Assembly would pick some form of proportional representation. What they should have spent their time on is finding reforms that one could clearly demonstrated had majority support. Instead they went through a political science project that resulted in reforms the public never asked for, never supported, and ultimately rejected.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Mistake Of The Yes Side

Your heart has to go out to those who were supporting mixed member proportional (MMP)in the Ontario referendum. They had an option they believed would dramatically improve democracy in Ontario. It is very hard to see that defeated.

For the most part, they ran a good campaign - certainly the more sophisticated campaign. They had a better website, better literature, the only television ads, etc. On their television ads, however, I think they were an excellent introduction, setting the stage for people to consider a change. But they never drove home the specific value to the individual for this change. But I also think that this was only a minor point in the whole campaign.

The biggest mistake the 'yes' side made was getting off message. It seemed like any time someone prominent made a criticism about MMP the yes side was there to demand a retraction. First, that looked amateurish. Second, all that did was draw attention to weak points of MMP - and there are weak points. So when John Tory referred to the list candidates as "appointed" the yes side was quick to criticize and demand an apology. So first there was a quote from Tory near the end of an article about appointed candidates. Then thanks to the yes side the story was repeated the next day except in an article unto itself. And they repeated this process a few times. The truth is, no matter how much the yes side disagrees, it is possible for rational people to fairly describe the list candidates as appointed - that's why you had the likes of the Toronto Star, John Tory, etc. saying just that. Then the yes side went into the major lobby campaign to get all the parties to commit to a democratic process for the selection of their candidates. Once they achieved that they thought they had won that point. No, actually they only drew more attention to it. And besides, no one believes any process within the parties will truly and always be democratic.

I have run campaigns before, and been involved in dozens. The truth is that every campaign has its weaknesses and your opponents are going to capitalize on them. Your energy needs to be spent on their weaknesses and your strengths. There is even a strategy, which I have used, that you attack your opponents strengths. Whichever of these strategies you believe, one thing you do not do is focus on your weaknesses. And that is what the yes side ended up doing throughout most of the campaign.

(On Monday I will do an assessment of the Citizens Assembly)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Resounding Victory For No Side

The 'no' side won a resounding victory last night. The super majority that the 'yes' side said would be difficult for them to achieve was actually achieved for the first-past-the-post option. Approximately 63% of voters opted for the current system. A majority of voters in nearly every riding voted for the current system, only four or five may end up failing to achieve that majority. That is a victory for the current system, but it is also a victory for the no side.

They ran the less sophisticated campaign, but they clearly had the right message. From the outset their message was, "No to party lists. No to party deals." And throughout the campaign the most talked about issue was their first message and their second message probably ranked second or third, competing with the issue of perpetual minority governments.

Just as importantly, they stuck to their message. It was a simple campaign but they kept repeating the same message over and over. In the end, probably the single biggest reason, though there likely were many, for the defeat of mixed member proportional (MMP) was the voters' reluctance to embrace the idea of party lists.

I must admit that I was disappointed by the no side campaign - I thought they could have done much better. However, the results speak for themselves. They had a resounding victory.

(Tomorrow I will do a review of the 'yes' side.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I suspect most pundits are predicting that mix member proportional (MMP) will be defeated in the Ontario referendum today. As my final article before the close of the polls I will provide my own predictions. In the next three days I will also write three final articles: an assessment of the 'no' campaign, an assessment of the 'yes' campaign, and an assessment of the Citizen's Assembly.

First, I too am predicting a defeat for MMP. While this is only a guess, I would estimate that those voting in favour of MMP will total 46% (+/- 3%). Geographically, I believe that the 905 belt and 416 area will show the strongest support for MMP. Look for numbers in the low to mid 50s for these ridings. Urban areas outside of the 905/416 area will be closer, probably around 50/50. The exception will be the urban areas of Northern Ontario. Expect a big defeat for MMP there; expect the numbers to be in the low 40s. Also expect a big defeat for MMP in rural Ontario; those in favour of MMP will be lucky if they top the 40% mark in these parts of the Province. The overall pros and cons of MMP did not balance out well in the eyes of most of those living in Northern and rural Ontario.

As for the general election, I have not provided comment thus far. However, being the political junkie that I am I have to make some predictions: Liberals 43%, PCs 33%, NDP 19% (all +/- 2%). I also predict that Don Valley West will end John Tory's misery tonight and will not elect him.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Where The Parties Stand On MMP

The Conservative Party now appears to be formally against mixed member proportional. An email distributed from the Conservatives is encouraging its members to vote against MMP because, "the alternative proposed system known as MMP will increase the influence and power of the political party and its leader while decreasing the independence of MPPs." John Tory, the PC leader, also came out yesterday stating he will be voting against MMP, "because I don't think we need more politicians, because I don't think we need appointed politicians and because I think we should get on with parliamentary reform first." There are, however, prominent Tories on both sides of this debate.

The Liberal Party in Ontario and its leader, however, have been very quiet on this issue. If self-interest and power were the only guiding principles one would expect that the Tories would be the most opposed to MMP since historically they would have had the most to lose while the Liberals would have gained more over the last 50 years but not more over a shorter period of time. This may explain the Tories opposition and Liberals silence. However, there are prominent Liberals on both sides of this debate.

The smaller parties such as the NDP and Greens have strongly endorsed MMP in the Ontario referendum. The Greens would certainly be a big benefactor of MMP. The NDP believe they would also benefit from MMP, but in the longer run I am not as certain about that. There do not appear to be many, if any, prominent NDPs or Greens in opposition to MMP.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional Headed For Big Defeat

The most recent SES/Sun Media poll indicates that mixed member proportional (MMP) is heading to a big defeat next week. Of decided voters who will cast a ballot, 64% intend on voting for the current system and 36% intent on voting for MMP. That is a big drop from an Angus Reid poll of nearly a month ago that I covered here that indicated 56% would choose to keep the existing system while 44% would choose MMP. Momentum is very important in politics, and it would appear that not only is MMP polling at about 1/3 support but it also does not have any positive momentum.

It is not over yet, though. It will be interesting to see if the undecided split the same as the decided or whether they will be more inclined to vote for change. Even if they are, it will still mean certain defeat if the SES poll is accurate, but they may be able to climb higher than 1/3 support.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Yes Side Best Campaign, But Should Have Stayed On Point

The VoteforMMP side is feeling the frustration. These are a group of people who have lost faith in our electoral system, at least to some degree, and have an option they believe will improve our democracy - mixed member proportional (MMP). One can imagine the frustration when the media has not been entirely supportive of their change agenda and the public has not risen up in mass numbers in defense of it. And that starts the blame game.

The "yes" side has issued a press release that, in part, states, "Elections Ontario's information campaign does not adequately inform voters why the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform - after eight months of work - recommended the MMP system." However, it is not up to Elections Ontario to do a sales job for MMP. They have sent a pamphlet to every home and provided information online that more than adequately explains the mechanics of how the two systems work. They have also run television and newspaper ads making sure voters know there is a referendum this election.

They also complain that, "Media coverage on how and why the Assembly proposed the new system has been lacking." Actually, there has been an abundance of news coverage on this issue. I believe every political columnist and commentator has done an indepth coverage of this topic more than once. Really, what more could you want?

I know that one article I ran here contained two lines from the Toronto Star's editorial against MMP and the entire rebuttal from the yes side. One MMP supporter stated the article was biased. Yesterday's article mentioned that a poll showed more Canadians supported the current system than either proportional representation (PR) or a mixed proportional. MMP supporters felt that since mixed proportional is a form of PR the numbers for PR and mixed proportional should have been added together. Another comment rightly pointed out that mixed proportional, being "mixed", was also a form of first past the post (FPTP) so you could add the support for the current system with mixed proportional to show majority support for FPTP. The bottom line is that the pollster has an expertise in this area without any agenda, and yet their poll was labeled as "curious" because it wasn't more pro MMP.

One thing that becomes apparent in their press release, and has been an element of the yes side campaign, is that since a citizens' assembly overwhelmingly endorsed this there should be a presumption that this is a good proposal. That presumption has not been given to MMP. While columnists and commentators have covered this topic over and over many have dissected MMP. That's what happens.

The bottom line is that the yes side has run an excellent campaign, the best of the two sides. With the limited funds they have they should be proud of what they have done. However, one has to expect that those advocating change are going to be put under closer scrutiny than those advocating status quo. That has happened, and we have seen the warts of MMP. That does not mean it is a bad system, because we also better understand the warts of our current system. The only mistake the yes side has made throughout this campaign is that they have too often gone off message to be critical of the media and Elections Ontario. By doing so they have at times made it seem like they feel they are loosing and at other times only drawn more media coverage to the negatives of MMP - and there are negatives. They should have religiously stayed on point, without waivering.

Below is the entire release from VoteforMMP.

Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform got it right: Ontario voters urged to go directly to the source for the facts

    Media urged to print text of "One Ballot - Two Votes"

TORONTO, Oct. 3 /CNW/ - Today, the campaign and several
prominent Ontarians from differing political backgrounds backed a Citizens'
Assembly on Electoral Reform call to Ontarians to take charge of their own
learning process for the upcoming referendum. The group also called on the
Ontario media to step forward and provide more substantive information on the
Citizens' Assembly's proposal for electoral reform.


"We urge all Ontarians to take personal responsibility for casting an
informed vote on the proposed mixed member proportional (MMP) voting system in
the Ontario 10 electoral reform referendum," said Anderson. "Elections
Ontario's information campaign does not adequately inform voters why the
Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform - after eight months of work -
recommended the MMP system. We strongly urge all Ontarians to go right to the
source - - and learn why this Assembly of
103 Ontario voters, from all backgrounds, all regions of the province and with
no axe to grind, proposed MMP as best for Ontario."
Media coverage on how and why the Assembly proposed the new system has
been lacking.
"Unfortunately, instead of informed public discussion, we're seeing
extensive misinformation being presented as fact, and emotional debate
crowding out thoughtful learning and deliberation," said Anderson.
"Before this referendum is held on October 10, at the very least, every
voter should have read Citizens' Assembly's summary leaflet "One Ballot - Two
Votes". The content of that leaflet - explaining why the Assembly chose MMP -
has information not being provided by Elections Ontario," said Anderson.
"Today we are calling on Ontario's media to make an extraordinary commitment
to fill that gap. We are calling on every daily and community paper to print
the contents of this 800 word leaflet from the Citizens' Assembly so that
everyone who casts a vote on October 10 has had opportunity to read exactly
what the Assembly recommended and why."
Anderson stated that those who have more time should read the full
27 page report from the Citizens' Assembly, available at is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the mixed
member proportional (MMP) voting system proposed by the Ontario Citizens'
Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Poll: Current System Has Greatest Support

An Angus Reid poll provides some support for the current electoral system but does not speak well for democracy. We can take heart in the fact that a majority, 52 percent, are satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada. However, 41 percent are dissatisfied. To have such a large minority dissatisfied with democracy is a very sad situation.

When given a choice between three different types of electoral systems (the current system, a proportional representative system, or a mixed member system) the current system comes out ahead. That would indicate that changing the system will not solve most of the problems people have with democracy. However, the current system did not receive majority support so clearly there is room for improvement with it.

In my own opinion, if the Ontario referendum passes and we adopted a mixed member proportional (MMP) system we should not consider this the end but we should move on to a serious discussion on other necessary changes. If MMP is not adopted let's not get weighed down discussing the whys and why nots. Let's immediately move forward with a discussion on other necessary changes such as greater accountability, strengthening the role of backbench MPPs, and other reforms to the system that will improve our democracy.

Polling Data

Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way democracy works in Canada?





Not sure


As you may know, the Province of Ontario is holding a referendum next month on whether to change its electoral system. Which of these electoral systems would you prefer to use for federal elections in Canada?

The current first-past-the-post system, where candidates win seats by getting more votes than any other rival in a specific constituency


A proportional representation system, where parties win seats in accordance with their share of the national vote


A mixed-member proportional voting system, which would allocate some seats on a constituency basis, and others by proportional representation


Not sure


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Will Mixed Member Proportional Be Better For Women?

One of the arguments in favour of mixed member proportional (MMP) is that it is better for women. It is an argument that has been used during the Ontario referendum fairly frequently, so I thought I would give it some analysis.

In Canada and the United States there are far fewer women in elected office than in the population as a whole. Women make up approximately 50% of the population (actually a bit more) but only make up roughly one in five of all politicians. Studies have indicated all sorts of reasons why this is the case. Political parties have made some attempts at trying to deal directly with these problems while others have tried to make it easier for women to become candidates in order to balance out some of the problems. One means of balancing these problems would be to change the system, which many would argue is indeed one of the problems in the first place.

The evidence around the world is very clear, it is possible to increase the number of women in politics by changing our system. There are many comparators we could use but there are also many variables besides the political system in use (i.e.: culture, economy, politics, etc.).

Personally I believe that the Netherlands is a reasonable comparison. One in three of their politicians are women compared to one in five for ours. The Netherlands uses a system of multi-member districts (the proposed electoral reform voted on recently in British Columbia used a system with multi-member districts) and open lists (the proposed MMP in Ontario would be a closed list - the parties appoint candidates to the lists and voters vote for the party as opposed to the voters being able to vote for and select the candidates).

Those opposed to MMP would argue that the system is not the main problem with why women are not better represented among our elected officials. They would argue a less dramatic change without the negatives they see in MMP could be just as effective at increasing the number of women. They have also been arguing that the prospect of fringe parties such as the religious right forming the balance of power in Ontario would be detrimental for women and other groups.

In the end I think it is safe to say that the MMP system being proposed will almost certainly result in more women. However, one will need to balance the net negatives and benefits with this to determine whether MMP as proposed will be better for women. And that is an analysis that can really only be done by each individual.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Appointed List Candidates Still Dogs Yes Side

The issue of 'appointed' list candidates continues to dog the VoteforMMP campaign. The Toronto Star yesterday came out against mixed member proportional (MMP) in their editorial entitled "Electoral reform a backward step" and is encouraging voters to vote against MMP. Their opposition is detailed, but includes, "The other 39 [MPPs] would be selected from lists of politicians drawn up by the parties", and "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."

Below I have included the full rebuttal from the VoteForMMP campaign. In it they focus on The Star's assessment that the list candidates will be appointed rather than directly elected. It is not The Star's only argument, but it is one that the pro-MMP side cannot seem to shake. Given that the limited polling done on this issue shows that urban voters are more likely to support MMP, The Star's opposition to MMP is going to be a setback for the 'yes' side.

Reality Check: calls on Toronto Star to clean up misleading referendum reporting

    TORONTO, Sept. 30 /CNW/ - is accusing the Toronto Star of
fear-mongering and inaccurate journalism in the Star's editorial today against
electoral reform.
In today's editorial, the Toronto Star repeated the misleading claim that
under Ontario's proposed new MMP system, the new province-wide candidates
"could simply be appointed by party bosses."
"This argument is regularly being used falsely by unthinking defenders of
the status quo to deter support for needed electoral reform," said Rick
Anderson, campaign chair of "It's a shame that a media
organization with the Star's credentials is not more careful with the facts
regarding such an important question confronting voters."
After eight months of careful study, Ontario's Citizens' Assembly on
Electoral Reform recommended that Ontarians adopt a mixed member proportional
(MMP) electoral system, in which:

(a) a redesigned ballot allows voters to vote once for their preferred
local candidate and a second time for their preferred party, and

(b) future legislatures are composed of a mix of 90 locally-elected MPPs
(elected as today) and 39 new provincially-elected MPPs elected by voters
proportionate to the party votes cast on the second part of the new

"The Citizens' Assembly did not recommend that any MPPs be appointed, nor
is that the practice in other democracies which use MMP," said Anderson. "It
is misleading and unacceptable to characterize that as part of the MMP
In today's system, parties are left to determine their own methods for
democratically nominating local candidates. Likewise, the Citizens' Assembly
left it to the individual parties to determine their own methods of nominating
both riding and provincial candidates in the future, with the provisos that
the parties are required to nominate their candidates publicly before voters
vote and to publish the details of their candidate nomination processes in a
clear, democratic and transparent fashion.
"In the other jurisdictions which use MMP all parties have adopted
democratic candidate nomination processes for proportional candidates, just as
they have for local candidates. Moreover, even in advance of the new system
being adopted three of Ontario's four parties have already made public
statements affirming they will follow democratic practices to nominate MMP
candidates." (See backgrounder below.)
"The notion that under MMP candidates would be appointed is simply
hogwash," said Anderson. "Star readers should demand greater accuracy from
their paper. Informed voters require a higher standard than this inaccurate
sloganeering." is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the mixed
member proportional (MMP) voting system proposed by the Ontario Citizens'
Assembly on Electoral Reform.


John Tory, Leader, Ontario PC Party (National Post, September 25, 2007):
"The Conservative leader went on to say that if the referendum passes, his
party will likely find a democratic way to develop its list of candidates:
'The history of our party is that the party insists on choosing its candidates

Howard Hampton, Leader, Ontario New Democratic Party (Ontario Today, CBC
Radio, September 26, 2007) "We believe we should nominate the at-large
candidates according to a very democratic process. We would want to ensure we
have more women, more visible minority candidates, more First Nations
candidates...a lot of people who make up the Ontario mosaic."

Frank de Jong, Leader, Green Party of Ontario (GPO press release,
September 27, 2007): "Democracy extends to choosing candidates in a
transparent and equitable manner...We are committed to using a transparent and
equitable process to produce a slate of qualified Green candidates who
accurately reflect Ontario's diverse population."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Does MMP Mean Appointed MPPs and Fringe Parties?

On the TVO debate last night, and in one or two of my articles, it has been said that fringe parties will be elected under the mixed member proportional (MMP) system and that the 'list candidates' of this system will be appointed by the political parties. Both those comments have been strongly criticized by those in favour of MMP. I stand by those comments but I want to use this article to try to do a neutral assessment of them.

Will fringe parties get elected?
Under the MMP system a party that can gather 3% of the votes will receive 3% of the MPPs. The existing and MMP systems have fully demonstrated that there will be parties that receive more than 3% as well as less than. According to Wiktionary, the definition of fringe is as follows: Outside the mainstream. Based on that information, you can decide whether it is likely that a party will receive just over 3% of the vote and whether it is a fringe party.

Will MMP lead to Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) being appointed by political parties?
Under the current system all MPPs in Ontario are elected in their ridings during general or by-elections. Under MMP those parties that receive fewer seats than their percentage of the vote will receive additional seats from 'list candidates' until the party's number of MPPs approximately equals their percentage of the vote. That is, additional MPPs for these parties will be selected based upon a list submitted by the respective parties. For each party the selection will start at the top of the list and work its way down, with the order of the list also to be determined by the political party. Parties are required to make public how they selected the candidates on their list and who these candidates are. There are any number of options on how the parties may select their candidates but the more likely ones, and in fact it could also be a combination of some or all of these, would include: selection by the Party Executive, selection by delegates to a party convention(s), selection by the party's political leader, etc. Based on that information, you can decide whether these list candidates are appointed by political parties or elected by the voters.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ontario Referendum: The Pros and Cons

Benefits of MMP

There are many divergent views in Ontario and many of those views are neither heard nor represented in the Ontario legislature. The MMP system would ensure that any party with the support of at least 3% of the legislature will have at least some representation.

Benefits of Current System

With the current system if a party wishes to form a majority government they need to appeal to moderate voters. This creates an incentive for parties to moderate their views and appeal to a larger number of voters.

Negatives of MMP

Under MMP, 30% of the legislature will be appointed by the political parties rather than elected directly by voters. These Members are more likely to strictly abide by the ‘party line’. Also, fringe or radical parties will elect seats to the legislature. A party with only 5% of the vote could hold the balance of power. MMP systems have demonstrated ‘grand coalitions’ are possible, two major parties forming a majority coalition, but they have also demonstrated one major party will form an alliance with one or more fringe parties to form a majority coalition.

Negatives of Current System

Under the current system, one party will typically form a majority government with less than 50% support. Indeed, there have been cases in Canada where the party not only has less than 50% support but they have the second highest support amongst all the parties and still form a majority government. The current system also tends to exclude certain viewpoints. Because of the ‘rewards’ of moving to the centre, not all views of Ontarians are represented in the legislature.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rebuttals of Pro-MMP Inaccurate

In rating the effectiveness of the two campaigns for the Ontario referendum I definitely would give the lead to the pro-mixed member proportional (MMP) side. In fact, they are the hands down winner. Their website has been the best, for reasons I mentioned in previous posts. Their commercials are funny, and the only ones to be seen. However, I hope the commercials are only the first of a series. They are effective at opening people's minds to the possibility of change. Now they need to sell the value of the change they are proposing. How will I be better off? They have set the stage for that and need to hit the ball out of the park with a new series of ads that do that. I might add that the current ads would be more effective if they were less negative, but it is also fair to point out that the "no side" of the debate is nearly all 'negative'.

Where I give the 'yes side' zero points is their rebuttals to the no side. In fact, the misinformation they have presented in some of their rebuttals is frustrating. I am going to dissect one as an example:

MMP, Inaccuracy

By Chris Tindal, the Democratic Reform Advocate for the Green Party of Canada

Somewhere, there must be opponents of MMP who are able to argue their case without resorting to misleading statements and inaccuracies. The Sudbury Star’s Claire Hoy does not appear to be one of them. In yesterday’s paper he writes a frsutratingly irresponsible attack against MMP that contains numerous fallacies which beg to be corrected.


First, he claims that MMP would result in “considerably more politicians.” What he doesn’t say is that under MMP Ontario would still have fewer representatives than we did before the Harris years, and still less political representation per person than any other province or territory in Canada. Either way, most Ontarians will recognize stronger representation as a positive thing.


Second, he makes the equally inaccurate but often repeated claim that the list representatives under the new system would not be elected, but would rather be chosen in secret. In fact, it is our current system which allows parties to choose candidates in back-rooms without any transparency; the new system requires them to open up the process so that voters can make informed decisions. Parties will nominate their list candidates as they nominate candidates under our current system, but they’ll also be required to make public the process by which their list is chosen, making it all but impossible for “party hacks” to control the list in secret.


Third, Hoy inaccurately claims that MMP leads to minority governments. In reality, countries that use MMP (like Germany and New Zealand) experience coalition-majority governments that have proven to not only be stable (Germany has had exactly the same number of elections since adopting MMP as Ontario has had in the same time period), but also to do an extremely effective job of reflecting the will of the electorate.


Finally, Hoy feels the need to mock the Citizens’ Assembly itself, which is most objectionable. The Citizens’ Assembly–103 every-day Ontarians chosen at random from each riding–worked for eight months on our behalf learning, consulting, and deliberating about all of the world’s many electoral systems, including our current system and France’s system that Hoy favours. This represents an unprecedented exercise in democratic engagement for our province and should be applauded. The citizens who made up the assembly know more about the advantages and faults of MMP than any other group of people in Ontario, and yet they voted over 90% in favour of recommending MMP as being the best system for Ontario.


Of course, Mr. Hoy is free to disagree with them. However, he should do it using facts, and with a respect for the overwhelmingly democratic process that was used to arrive at the conclusion that Ontario should vote for MMP.



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fiercely Protected By An Old Guard?

There is an element of the pro-mixed member proportional (MMP) campaign that I just do not understand. Their website, when I last checked it, stated, "Ontario politics is being driven by an old system, fiercely protected by an old guard." To the left of that statement is a quote endorsing MMP jointly signed by Senator Hugh Segal, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, and Liberal MP Carolyn Bennet. The quote even talks about how they represent three "partisan traditions". It is certainly fair to say the current system is an old system. However, it is hardly true that this system is being fiercely protected by an old guard. Indeed, most of the "old guard" seems to like and is endorsing MMP.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Different Landscape With Mixed Member Proportional

If the mixed member proportional (MMP) system is adopted we will see a very different political landscape in Ontario. As I mentioned in a previous article, the current system encourages compromise and alliances within the party structures; MMP shifts those compromises and alliances to the legislature.

The result will be the creation of new parties and the decline, at least somewhat, of our existing parties. Take for example the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. It is an informal alliance of farmers, red tories, fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. It can be an uneasy alliance, in fact we saw this uneasiness split and destroy the federal Progressive Conservative Party. What happened federally also demonstrates the value of seeking out compromise and alliances within the party structure in our current system. With an MMP system one or more of these groups is likely to split off. And you will see the same thing happen with the NDP, whom I would say is an alliance of labour, environmentalists, socialists, and progressives. If the right groups split off from those two parties it will inevitably draw Liberal supporters as well. For example, the environmentalist and progressive movements would appeal to Liberals as well as the red tories.

In my last article I described a good reason why a party would not run local candidates and would only compete for list candidates. It is almost certain that some of these new parties would only compete for list candidates. The bottom line is that there is no benefit for a smaller party to run local candidates; every local candidate you win is subtracted from the list candidates you are entitled to. That will encourage alliances between parties similar to the "sister" party relationship I described. It will also distort, to some degree, what MMP is hoping to accomplish.

The end result can only be described as better or worse depending upon your own perspective. However, I believe the NDP party is the one most likely to split apart, with the Conservatives having some splitting of their base as well. The Liberals will probably become the dominant party in a new MMP system and will need to seek out the support of two or three other parties to form a majority coalition.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Hack's Guide To Distorting Mixed Member Proportional

The challenge: Could I manipulate the mixed member proportional system so that a party with less than 50% of the vote could still form a majority government? The answer is a surprising yes, and this article describes how. However, please note that this article is neither pro or anti MMP. It is simply one political hack's obsessive interest in doing things he should not be able to do.

Okay. Let's suppose I am a backroom hack for the popular Ontario People's Party (OPP). The OPP can usually count on between 40 to 45% support. They have historically been the dominant party and usually win a majority government, with between 2/3 to 3/4 of the seats, even though in their history they have never received a majority of the vote. (Sound familiar?) These majority governments with less than majority support have been achieved because of the dynamics of the first-past-the-post system. However, with MMP they should only receive 40-45% of the seats. But there is a way to circumvent that.

First, a sister party to the OPP is created - the Ontario Canada Party (OCP). The OCP shares all of the same principles and platform of the OPP except that they are more hardline federalists. Essentially, the die-hard federalists of the party have created their own wing of the party and branched off. They represent about 1/3 of the party. As such, they have about 13 to 15% of the general population. Their campaign is focused primarily on die-hard federalist issues.

The second step is that the OCP decides they will not contest a single local riding. Instead, they will only run province wide for the list candidates. As such, an acceptable alliance can be formed between the OPP and their new "sister" party the OCP. Indeed, the OPP encourages its supporters with OCP leanings to vote for OPP local candidates but to cast their second vote for the OCP, for reasons that will become apparent later.

The results. For the 90 local seats up for grabs, the OPP wins their typical 2/3 to 3/4 of the seats. Lets say they win 63. The OCP did not win a single local seat because they did not contest any of them. However, they received 15% of the vote and are therefore entitled to 15% of the 39 list seats. That gives them six seats. In the legislature the OCP caucuses with their sister party, the OPP, and they form a majority government with 69 of the 129 seats. They are able to form this majority government even though between the two of them they have less than 50% of the vote.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Toronto Mayor: Mixed Member Proportional Good For Toronto

Toronto Mayor David Miller stated on TVO's The Agenda this week that mixed member proportional (MMP) will be good for Toronto. He believes that rural Ontario is currently overrepresented in the legislature and a MMP system will bring things into a better balance by providing more representation for Toronto. He also believes that if the provincial government does not support the needed demands of Toronto that a City Party would innevitably be created under the MMP system. Presumably a City Party would be a party that supports the interests of larger urban centres in Ontario like Toronto and Ottawa. He also dismissed critics of the "list candidates" of the MMP system, these would be appointed by the political parties, stating that voters would not vote for a party with a bad composition of list candidates.

It is hard to say exactly what impact the Mayor's comments will have on the Ontario referendum. It will undoubtedly increase support for MMP in Toronto. However, will it have the opposite effect in rural Ontario?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

VoteforMMP the Best Website

The Ontario referendum on mixed member proportional (MMP) is well underway and few voters know it is happening, let alone understand it. I am somewhat surprised by how little presence the no and yes side have had. I presume that their funds are limited and they have made the decision to have a concentrated effort in the last two weeks of the campaign rather than a dispersed effort throughout the whole campaign. At least I suspect that is true for the pro MMP side. For those opposed to MMP, I suspect they will not have enough funding to mount any effort.

Having said that, I thought I would provide a review of the two websites again: VoteforMMP and NoMMP.

Suprisingly, neither site has changed. The VoteforMMP site is well laid out presenting a professional image. The NoMMP site gets across its message, but it looks far less professional. I had expected the two sites to evolve over the campaign. Neither have. So VoteforMMP keeps its title as the best website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional Not Received Well By Voters

An Angus Reid poll last week showed that the mixed member proportional (MMP) system is not being received well by Ontario voters. Of decided voters, 56% would choose to keep the existing system while 44% would choose MMP. Equally telling is that 38% are undecided. With only a few weeks left there will need to be a massive shift for the pro MMP side to win. But even one week is an eternity in politics, so we will see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is The Liberal Government Secretly Supporting Mixed Member Proportional?

There has been an interesting peculiarity to the referendum on the mixed member proportional (MMP) system that has had my attention since the beginning. Namely, that there is no referendum on MMP. Instead, the question gives you a choice between first-past-the-post and mixed member proportional (the question is reproduced verbatim in the poll to the left). That is highly unusual. The only Act in Ontario that gives reference to how a referendum should be worded is found in the Municipal Elections Act:

"It shall be capable of being answered in the affirmative or the negative and the only permitted answers to the question are 'yes' or 'no'."

That is very clear ... and very common. How many times have you seen an advertisement on American television during their elections stating something like, "Vote YES on proposition 33." The no side in this debate clearly has an advantage in framing the debate into a yes/no question (see: Victory for "No" Side?). But the reverse is also true. So why did the Liberals frame the context of the debate in a way that gives mixed member proportional an advantage when that context is not the standard? Could it be they have been the victims of the current system far more than the victors? Perhaps MMP for the Liberals stands for: More Members from our Party.

Victory For "No" Side?

There is an interesting dynamic that is developing. There are two sides to this referendum, each with their own websites. One site is while the other is Take note of the "No" in their site. Then also take note that on this site they refer to the other side as the "yes" side. Frankly, I think that is an appropriate reference. However, if successful, it can be an important victory for the "No" side. Why? Because it will frame the debate into a defense of the mixed member proportional (MMP) system rather than a comparison of MMP to the first-past-the-post system. It is far better for those opposed to MMP to frame the context of the debate into a yes/no question. There are problems with the first-past-the-post system that its supporters would rather avoid having to deal with.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

VoteforMMP Needs To Get A Grip

There is an article at the VoteforMMP site that has finally inspired me to write this. Those supporting mixed member proportional (MMP) in the referendum need to get a grip. They keep bitching that the government is not doing enough to promote the referendum and the media is not giving it enough coverage. It is the dog days of summer! The media coverage has been appropriate. The government's promotion has been appropriate. And it will all ramp up as we head into October. Until then, go to the beach, have a cooler and relax.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Real Debate Over Mixed Member Proportional

Let us just cut through all the spin both sides are putting out there. There is only one basic difference between the mixed member proportional (MMP) system and the existing first-past-the-post system. Surprised? Well you shouldn't be. The MMP is "mixed" because 90 of the seats are going to use the exact same first-past-the-post system we already have in place for 107 seats. The difference is for the balance of the seats, which due to a larger legislature with the MMP system will be another 39 seats.

Parties that receive at least three percent of the vote in Ontario will be guaranteed a seat in the legislature with MMP. If a party wins a smaller percentage of the 90 local seats than their percentage of the vote then they will get additional seats from the 39 "list" seats. The Members that will hold those seats will be determined by each political party, while the Members holding the local seats will be elected by the local voters.

So the debate about the first-past-the-post system is not as relevant as some might have you believe. In the current system 107 seats will be determined that way. In the proposed system 90 seats will be determined that way.

The real debate in this referendum is whether the addition of 39 "list" seats, and the Members of Provincial Parliament selected by the parties to fill those seats, will improve our democracy or not. Some say voters will have more choice and the legislature will better reflect the public, and will therefore be better. Some say fringe parties will certainly be elected and that it is not good for democracy to have politicians choosing 30% of the MPPs.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional Yes Side Better Get Their Facts Straight

There is a weakness in part of the yes side's strategy that is going to come back and bite them hard if they do not change it. The weakness comes in how common the plurality voting system is (the first-past-the-post system is a type of plurality voting system and is the most common type in use). How many times have you heard the yes side say that Canada is one of the few democracies left using this voting system? Did you know that 43 of the 191 members of the United Nations use a plurality voting system? Did you know that only eight countries use a form of the mixed member proportional system? Now I am not proposing that the most common system is the best, and yes the plurality system is in fact the most common voting system in democracies, but that is the argument that many yes side supporters are promoting and the facts do not support their argument - quite the contrary in fact.

Assessing the Mixed Member Proportional Websites

Well, the yes and no sides of the mixed member proportional (MMP) debate have now both launched their websites. Here is my early analysis:
A very well designed and professional looking site. They hit their key selling points well. Sometimes it can be a bit over the top, though. They had a poll recently, which has since been removed, that basically asked if you have ever had an Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) that did not represent your views. In that is an implication that the new system will change that when in fact the changes that will be brought about by MMP have nothing to do with that. Although they will struggle with financing, the yes side is going to be better financed with many special interests groups providing support since the MMP will give them a better voice. That will mean a more prominent marketing presence from the yes side.
This site has already been criticized by the yes side for presenting the negatives of MMP. It seems a bit obvious that this site would do that, so that criticism should not be taken seriously. In the same context they have been criticized for not presenting the positives of the first-past-the-post system. This criticism is also unfair. The no side, as I have been calling it, is not necessarily saying the first-past-the-post system is the best or even that good. The no side is saying that the MMP system is not a change we should be making. The site makes some valid criticisms but it is no where near as good as it should be. The no side is not going to be financed any where near as well as the yes side but they can at least have a better website than they currently do.

The winner in the website war is currently:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional - The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease

Proponents of the mixed member proportional (MMP) system take issue with the fact that a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) can be elected with less than 50% of the vote. Rather than deal with that issue head on, which many alternative electoral systems could solve, they decide to add additional MPPs that will be selected by the parties. So they do not like that some MPPs do not have the support of the majority of their residents and their solution is to have MPPs added to the legislature that will be selected by politicians? They have not solved the problem by doing this, they have made the problem worse.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Fringe Voices Will At Least Be Heard With Mixed Member Proportional

Some have dismissed the mixed member proportional (MMP) system because fringe parties with the support of only three percent of the population would get approximately three percent of the seats. However, they miss the obvious benefits this provides. The voiceless become frustrated exactly because they are voiceless. They see a system where their views are not even presented. With the MMP system these fringe elements will have an opportunity for their voices to be heard. Where they are reasonable they will have a chance to see their views impact public policy in Ontario. The fear is that some of the less reasonable views will be adopted by the major parties in their attempts to build a majority coalition. However, the overlooked benefit is that these fringe elements will see that their voices are being heard. Providing them a voice is likely to reduce any anger they have at the system and encourage them to engage in a democratic way.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional Not Good For Rural Ontario

Under the current system, if a political party can get more than 50% of the vote in any riding in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) it does not produce any more Members of Parliament (MPPs) for that party. That is because each riding only elects one MPP. Therefore, a political party in that situation would shift its attention to other ridings in order to gather support. That is the essence of the first-past-the-post system.

However, that is not true with the additional 22 'list' MPPs that the proposed system will create. There will be much more emphasis on vote rich GTA because now every vote, even in a riding where you have more than 50% of the vote, brings you closer to an additional MPP. And that is one of the cons of the mixed member proportional system (MMP) - and it is a big negative for democracy.

Moving towards a MMP system will not be good for rural Ontario.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What Does Mixed Member Proportional Really Mean

It has been said that politics is the art of honourable compromise. Essentially, the mixed member proportional (MMP) system alters how that compromise is achieved.

Under the current first-past-the-post system, political parties must develop a party platform that has appeal to a large number of voters across the many regions of the province. Support in only one region, no matter how high, will help the party elect Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) but they will not elect enough MPPs to form the government. Support in all regions but without a large number of voters in any one of them will not elect a single MPP. So, using the art of honourable compromise, parties develop a platform that can attract a large number of voters across many regions.

Under the MMP system, there is a shift in how this compromise occurs so that more of it happens in the legislature. Because 90 of the MPPs are elected on a first-past-the-post system, the major political parties will still need to practice the art of compromise in developing their party platforms.

With 39 additional MPPs selected from lists created by the political parties, parties with a small base of support will not need to broaden that base of support in order to elect MPPs. If a party can appeal to three percent of voters in an election then they will get three percent of the MPPs, even if they cannot garner enough votes to elect one local candidate. This will happen because MPPs will be added to the legislature from the list submitted by that party. So a smaller party can elect MPPs by appealing only to a concentrated base, with that concentration either being geographic or issue based. Under the current system, political parties with such small appeal would not elect MPPs.

That does not mean the end of compromise, however. If no party can form a majority government, which is more likely in the MMP system, then they will need to practice the art of compromise in gaining the confidence of a majority of the MPPs. That is, they will need to seek out alliances with other parties, big or small, so that combined they will have a majority.

How Will Mixed Member Proportional Work In Ontario

The mixed member proportional (MMP) system being proposed will increase the number of representatives by adding 22 additional Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs). The current number of local MPPs will be reduced to 90 and continue to be elected by the voters in each riding. The additional 22 MPPs plus the 17 MPPs from the reduction of local MPPs will be referred to as "list members" and will be drawn from a list of candidates created by each political party, with the candidates listed in order of priority for the party. If the MMP system is adopted, voters would have two votes at election time: one vote for their local candidate, the same as currently occurs, and one vote for the political party of their choice. Once the tallies on local candidates is completed across the province, additional MPPs will be added from the lists submitted by the political parties until the percentage of MPPs for each party is equal to the percentage of the vote they received - the vote for the political party of your choice.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mixed Member Proportional Referendum In Ontario

On October 10th, 2007, during the regular provincial election in Ontario, voters will be asked to consider an important change to the way we elect our Members of Provincial Parliament and how that Parliament is constituted. This site will be a forum for those opposed and in favour of the proposed new system - mixed member proportional.