DO WE NEED A FAIRER VOTING SYSTEM?

Next Wednesday Ontario goes to the polls. It would seem the McGuinty Liberal government will be returned, with about 40 per cent of the popular vote, mainly because of Conservative leader John Tory’s controversial promise to extend public funding to religious minority schools.

But there is also a referendum on the ballot asking Ontarians whether they want to move to modified
proportional voting.

The system Ontario (and the rest of Canada) has now is popularly called first- past- the- post (FPTP). This system leads to some remarkable anomolies. For example, suppose there are four candidates in your riding, and one gets 10 votes and the other three get nine votes each. The winner takes all, even though 73 per cent of the voters didn’t choose him. Put another way, 73 per cent of the citizens have the vote but they have no representative for the next five years.

Look at how this FPTP system plays out at the federal level. In 26 federal elections since 1921, there have been 16 “majority” governments elected but only two received a majority of the popular vote.

Small start-up parties like the Greens lose out badly in this system. In the last federal election the Greens obtained more than 660,000 votes, nearly five per cent of the popular vote, but they didn’t win a single seat. The majority of Quebeckers who voted for federalist parties since 1993 watched helplessly while the Bloc took the majority of the seats. Quebec anglophone ridings pile up huge majorities for federalist candidates but in a sense these excess votes are “wasted.” Incidentally, this first-past-post system now survives in only three countries: the United States, Britain and ourselves.

So what’s the answer? In their referendum Ontarians will be voting on a modified proportional system. This means there will be two ballots. On the first, the electorse vote for their local candidates the system we have now. On the second you vote for your preferred party. Each party would then be able to name members (30 in Ontario) in proportion to the number of votes it receives. In the event the Liberal party received 50 per cent of the vote on the second ballot, that party would be able to name 15 members (50 per cent of the 30 in Ontario).

It so happens that in Quebec at the moment the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights has a suit in the courts to dump the first-past-the-post system and replace it with a modified proportional system.

Do you agree our first-past-the-post (FPTP) is really quite undemocratic?

Would you favour moving to a modified proportional system such as the one being proposed in Ontario?

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7 Comments »

  1. 1
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    I will have to vote in the referendum next week and I am not sure what I am going to vote. I agree that the FPTP system is not exactly fair. It does eliminate a large segment of the vote. However, some of my questions regarding MMP havenot been answered.

    I understand that there will be a segment of the House that will have been elected by representatives in the way we do it now. That, I get.

    But then the section that will be appointed based on the percentage of popular vote is where my questions arise.

    These are people who will be appointed by the party and a list is to be published and these people will be chosen in the order that they will be published. How will this order be decided? Will this simply become another level of patronage appointments?

    While my MPP has a responsibility to act on my behalf (no, I ma not naive enough to think that that happens often–they do have to toe the party line) at least I can argue that they are my representative and they have an obligation to me. Will the appointed MPPs have an obligation to anyone other than the leader of the party?

    Will there be a division between the MPPs of Party A who ran their campaigns, spent the money, did the fundraising etc. and the MPPs of Party A whose name simply went on a list and now they are sitting side by side? Who’s voice will be louder in the House? Will I have access as a voting member of the public to any of these appointed people? What if I don’t like the people who are on the list?

    See, my questions seem to be endless. And, these are addressed nowhere in the literature that has come to me or the newspaper or other media outlets. I don’t think that I can make an informed decision on this. It has been somewhat swept to the side in this campaign.

    I was hoping there would be more information forthcoming in the week before the campaign but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This is a pretty major decision that we are making but I doubt too many people in Ontario could tell you what it means.

    Still looking for answers……………..

  2. 2
    Barbara Says:

    It seems to me, that in a parliamentary system, loyalty to one’s party supercedes loyalty to one’s constituency, Joanne.
    That said, I have lived in Germany where proportional representation is followed. There are two ballots as suggested above. Fully half the members of the Bundesrat come from party lists. The list is published in advance and it contains candidates already running in various election districts as an insurance of their being elected, since they are valued by their party. If they are elected in their districts, they drop off the party list and the next person on the list is sent to the Bundesrat.
    This is seen as a good system because it allows for the representation of minor parties, as long as they get 5% of the national vote. That is how the Green Party got a foothold in German politics many years ago.

  3. 3

    Joanne:

    Many thanks for your intelligent “endless” questions on the new voting system. I do hope we will have some other answers to your questions. Let me have a preliminary shot.

    As I understand it the list candidates will be appointed by the party. At the top of the Conservative list, I think you can be sure, will be John Tory’s name. He is in a tough fight with Ms Wynne in Don Valley. Should he lose, he would go to Queen’s Park as a list member. The party lists have other advantages. The party could use them for capable minority and women members who might otherwise have a difficult time getting elected. There is another advantage. The official opposition party could use its list to name members who would go into the cabinet but would have had a hard time getting elected in a constituency. Some very able people are not good at retail politics. For example, Stephane Dion’s hand-picked candidate in Outremont was a very able man (whom Dion wanted for Foreign Minister) but he lost because he was not skilled politically.

    The list members will have all the duties of a constituency member (committees, house duty etc.) except for constituency responsilities. This could free them up for important committee work.

    The list members and the constituency members will be under the same party discipline. Many of them will also want to be promoted to the cabinet. I doubt that in ordinary legislative affairs one group will be inferior to the other group. I expect, in special circumstances, you could make an appointment with a list member but I should think you would normally want to go through your consituency member.

    Hope this helps a bit and that we will get other comments on the matter.

  4. 4

    Barbara:-

    It’s great that from your own experience you could give us an insight into how the German voting system works. I think another country that resembles the Ontari proposal is New Zealand.

  5. 5
    Chimera Says:

    To answer the question posed by the title: We’ll get a fairer voting system when we get a different structure.

    My own preference would be to eliminate the party system altogether. As things stand, the voters of this country are always the losers in any election, because it does not matter for whom they vote; the elected pols’ loyalties lie with the party, first, last, and always.

    Having said that, I think there’s a misconception that if you did not vote for the elected official in question, then you have no right to access his services, such as they might be. As long as you live in his riding, he has an obligation to serve everyone the same. Besides, how would anyone know whether or not you voted for him, unless you told him? Secret ballots and all that.

  6. 6

    Chimera,

    As Churchill said about democracy, the party system is the pits until you think of the alternative. Incidentally, what would be your alternative to the party system?

  7. 7
    Chimera Says:

    A no-party system. Take a look at NWT. They have never had political parties. They seem to roll along just fine.


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