Cherniak on MMP

There’s a great deal in this post to go over, but here are some of Jason’s concerns with MMP and my italicized commentary:

1) Any party that gets at least 3% of the vote would elect an MPP. That means that a party like the Christian Heritage Party would have no goal other than to earn 3% of the total vote. If they were to succeed, they would have an MPP elected. They don’t get that much right now, but with the knowledge that only 3% across the province earns a seat, I suspect that there would be more incentive to actually vote for them. Shock! Horror! People might vote for socially conservative political parties! I thought that democracy wasn’t just a privilege we extended to those with whom we agreed.

2) With 5-10% of the vote, the Green Party would win its first seat in Canada. They would probably get somewhere between 6 and 13 elected politicians. However, since those politicians are unlikely to be elected in a riding, they would have no local responsibilities. They would only be accountable to the people who put together the Green Party list and there would be little incentive for them to worry about personal popularity. As long as the idea of the “Green Party” is popular with 5 – 10% of the population, they would probably continue to get elected as long as they want. Well, accountable to the Green Party list makers as well as the voters of Ontario. If they are idiots they will not last. By this logic MPPs are accountable only to the riding associations that nominate them. Yes they, could run as independents but you really need a great deal of name-recognition to do that. Maybe only one person can pull it off in a given election cycle. Everyone who wants to win needs the party’s blessing and the riding association’s blessing.

3) Parties that currently earn less MPPs than popular vote would be more represented. If the NDP were to win 15% of the vote and 7 ridings as they did in 2003, they would get their 7 local MPPs along with another 10-15 MPPs with no local responsibilities. That would give the NDP a caucus of around 17 – 25 MPPs where 7 MPPs have to worry about a local riding while 10 – 15 only need to worry about getting their names on the next list. There would be a hierarchy of sorts where I suspect that the local MPPs would ultimately get pushed to the side as the proportional MPPs suck up to those who create the list. Given that the leader of the NDP already has a riding, I fail to see how he would be pushed aside. Actually this whole hierarchy scenario seems highly speculative. Since MMP is practiced elsewhere, perhaps Jason can give us a concrete example of this transpiring.

4) If you look at the 2003 election results, you will see that the official opposition got almost exactly the same percentage of seats as they did votes. However, if there had been much of a swing further away from the Tories, we could have ended up with a legislature of almost all Liberals even though the Tories might have had 25 – 30% of the vote overall. The one advantage of MMP, in my opinion, is the guarantee that there will always be a real opposition in the legislature. However, this has never been a problem in Ontario so I don’t see that theoretical concern as a reason to support MMP. If you actually get the same percentage of seats as you did votes, then MPP wouldn’t really change that. The opposition has been reduced to oblivion or near oblivion in other provinces before. It could happen here.

5) The party that wins in the ridings would probably get none of the proportional seats because they would already have more seats than they “deserve”. As a result, if the Liberals were to win an election under MMP, they would probably get a majority of the riding seats and few or no proportional seats. This would mean that the government would only have MPPs who do constituency work, while at least half of the opposition politicians would be able to spend all their time working at a provincial level. To me, this is one of the most profound and obvious flaws of MMP. How can you have a functioning democracy where the Ministers are busy doing local riding work but the opposition has extra free time to work at the provincial level? It would create incentive for ministers to stop doing local work, but they would also need to worry about doing the local work to get reelected. Essentially, it would be a no-win situation where the opposition always has the advantage, no matter who is in government. Oh good heavens, I can’t imagine how a minister can be expected to do his or her job if they have to flip burgers and cut the ribbon on a daycare once in a while. Don’t ministers get nice big office budgets and lots of advice from senior civil servants anyway? This paragraph makes it sound as though poor cabinet ministers will be working the phones in some crummy restaurant-turned-constituency office while the opposition’s nefarious list MPPs sit in some kind of command centre where they may gather information from their myriad of computers and hijack TVO to send out propaganda. One imagines that list MPPs may actually go out and deal with particular issues in the province, if not in one riding, then perhaps in one area or industry – Greens fighting the proposed Durham incinerator perhaps. List MPPs are still contingent beings confined to being in one place at one time.

Jason then goes on to propose that the real problem he has with this system is that it wasn’t the one that he liked in 1998. There are merits to the preferential ballot, but that does not negate the merits of MMP – nor is it an excuse to not vote for MMP.


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