To continue from my previous posts on the Referendum*, I now turn to addressing the question itself, specifically criticisms of MMP.
The question is deceptively simple: first-past-the-post or mixed member proportional. You'd think after all the years of complaining and moaning and groaning about how our electoral system doesn't translate to the governments we intended to elect and about how it's disenfranchising voters, leading them to opt out, the answer would be simple. Change it! But nope. In typical Canadian fashion, we're suddenly enamoured of the first-past-the-post system, just like we suddenly like Dalton McGuinty's health tax. Nothing scares a risk-averse Ontarian (can't really say Canadian as there are other provinces filled with risk takers) more than suggesting taking away their source of complaint and changing it for the better. So herewith are the reasons for not voting for MMP that I've heard on the radio and elsewhere, in no particular order, and the rebuttals:
This is going to turn us into a Republic: Nope. We remain a parliamentary democracy, based on the British system. We will simply change the way we vote for our Members of Provincial Parliament.
Too many votes: It's only two. Sheesh. And those two will give us a greater ability to communicate clearly what our intentions are. Right now, we vote for a candidate that represents a party. Ninety-six percent of voters vote on the basis of party. And so many of us hold our noses, not liking the candidate at all, in order to vote for the party we like the most. With two votes, we can vote for the candidate we like and for the party we like, and it's very very clear which party we want in power.
This is only to benefit fringe parties: Actually, it will benefit more the major parties. The two parties that garner the most votes are the Liberals and Conservatives, but currently, whoever wins gets a disproportionate share of the seats in the Legislature and the runner-up gets far fewer seats than percentage of the vote would indicate they should. With MMP, each party will receive the number of seats according to the percentage of the vote they received. In other words, your major party of choice will be accurately represented in the Legislature. That's also true for the NDP and Greens. (Note that link for the Greens has two interviews with a New Zealand MP about Mixed Member Proportional. Worth a listen, methinks.)
The Legislature will be filled with nonsense parties: How? They barely register on the radar now. How will MMP suddenly lead them to growing in size to over 3% of the vote? If you don't vote for the Communists now, why would you under MMP? What is likely to happen is the Greens will get a seat in the Legislature, but only the Greens as they're over the 3% threshold now and will probably grow as people see that a vote for Green is a vote that will translate into a real seat or two. Exciting, eh? We could see democracy in action!
We'll have rotating minority governments: Do not confuse MMP with the systems used in Israel and Italy. They use different systems, and they're different culturally too. Where MMP is used, they have stable, functional governments. There, if a minority government is voted in where MMP is used, then they garner support issue by issue. Isn't it the Canadian way to negotiate and collaborate and compromise? Nothing motivates a government to govern well than the threat of being tossed out. The Liberals were pretty sure when they brought in the health tax that people wouldn't remember 4 years down the road, and if they did, well first-past-the-post would probably work in their favour, as people tend to prefer incumbents, and the incumbents are mostly Liberal, and they've also long held safe seats in Toronto, even though there's a sizeable percentage of Torontonians who don't vote Liberal (because the percentage is spread out over the city, instead of being concentrated in one geographic location, their votes don't translate into seats). On the other hand, if we had MMP, they'd know that they really would be in danger of losing seats, especially those list seats. They may get the candidates elected in, but lose the province-wide party vote. We, the voters, could effectively hold them to account under MMP.
If a party leader loses a seat, the party will give them a list seat: How's that different from now? Now, the elected candidate in a safe seat will step down, triggering a by-election so that the leader can run and win a seat. Oh yeah, it's different because under MMP it would be cheaper and not require a riding to lose its elected candidate.
Party lists are undemocratic: The parties choose the candidates we vote in now. We have no choice, as I've complained in previous posts. The candidates in Toronto ridings for non-Liberal and sometimes non-NDP are lameducks because the other non-incumbent parties know they won't get in. So I have zero, zilch, none, no control whatsoever in who the party decides I will vote for since 96% of us vote based on party, not the person. If I want to vote Liberal, the Liberals decide who I'll vote for. If I want to vote Conservative, the Conservatives will decide who I'll vote for. If I want to vote NDP, the NDPs will decide who I'll vote for. Similarly, under MMP, the parties decide who will be on their list. I will decide which party gets a seat and how many of those list members will get a seat.
List members will jump up like Pavlov's dog: OK, and how's that different now? Stephen Harper just issued an edict to his cabinet to not attend the annual Press Gallery dinner. And so even the ones who look forward to it won't go. Sounds like Pavlov's dog to me. Backbenchers, of all governments and all party stripes in Canada rarely if ever get to be heard. Like good little doggies, they can sit near the table, but not whine, bark, pant, or be heard in any way shape or form, and certainly can't ask for table scraps. I have to say, after decades of perennial griping about the powerlessness of the backbencher and the toe-the-line cabinets we've had, I can't believe someone would put forward THIS criticism.
Since the Legislature will accurately represent the voters' decision, unlike now, parties will be motivated to put quality members on their lists. Those members are going to be watched as carefully as riding-elected MPPs, if not moreso, by us, and their performance will result in either a win or a loss in the next election. If a party puts piss-poor incompetent lapdogs in power, then we voters are going to be less than impressed and vote for the party that put effective, competent people on their lists. Furthermore, we'll be better able to pressure parties to put good and competent non-rich, non-white, non-male people on those lists. Right now, it's mostly the rich white males who have the money and backing to run for power. The lack of women in office is appalling. Those countries we see as oppressive have more women in power than we do! If women want to see more of their gender in office, MMP will give them that chance. I think we can pretty safely say that after 30 years of trying, after Brian Mulroney made a point of putting women in his cabinet, that women have hit the ceiling at 25% of representation. That abysmal percentage isn't going to budge under first-past-the-post.
Rural areas not well represented: I've addressed this in previous posts, as well as Toronto's crappy representation too. I'll add that the key reason parties ignore voters is because of fake majorities. A long time ago, we started to see first-past-the-post as a way to elect 4- or 5-year dictatorships. How come you all are so liking that now? Isn't that the main reason why people stopped voting, aside from the pseudo-reason that all politicians are crooks? (Many are, but I wouldn't say all are, and I wouldn't say the parties are all the same either.)
Will this voting system do what I want: Ever since I heard on the radio that few know the name of their local member and fewer go see their local member, I've discovered that to be true, to my utter amazement. I've spoken to people whom I consider to be politically astute and knowledgeable, and they haven't a clue who their provincial incumbent is. I think I'm the only one I know who's actually called or mailed their MPP's office. So given that people currently don't even know their own MPP well enough to hold their feet to the fire, then MMP is more likely to ensure the voting system gets your MPPs to do what you want. For the second vote, consider Ontario one large riding. You will decide which party you want to hold that riding. And if that party doesn't do what you want, then in the next election, you will choose which opposition party will hold that riding. Under MMP, every vote counts. No longer will a party receiving 45% of the vote hold 100% of the power; they'll hold 45% of the power. This will make the parties more competitive and more attuned to voters' wants. They will force parties to keep their promises, for if they don't we can vote them out. If they govern under MMP like they do now, we the voters can effectively show our displeasure and toss the buggers out, and we will force them to become better leaders and to form better governments. Don't we deserve that?
* Previous Posts in Date Order
Vote on the Referendum
This Election We Have a Referendum
Referendum Ontario -- Your Big Decision
The Referendum Ballot
Who to Vote For?
MMP or First Past the Post? You Decide.