Thursday, May 17, 2007

Opponents of 'list MPPs' should get educated before attacking...

I've been a huge advocate for electoral reform for years. Seeing majority governments elected with far less than 50% of the vote has always made my blood boil.

There's something perverse about how status-quo-lovers will defend the current 'first-past-the-post' system. Most point to the alleged 'stability' the current system brings. I'm quick to remind such people that the PQ got an extra five years in power in Quebec after winning less support than the Liberals in 1998 (43% to 44%.) How did our current system produce a more 'stabile' country in that case?

MMP, or Mixed-Member-Proportional, where the make-up of legislatures actually resembles the wishes of the electorate, seems to be the best alternative to our current system. It preserves the best of our current system, allowing for local representation, while bringing in an element of proportionality.

But there has been much talk about the proposal's use of so-called list MPPs to top up party results to ensure party representation roughly matches its popular vote (provided the party wins more than 3% of the vote.) Parties that win fewer seats among the 90 ridings in Ontario than their vote would allow them will be topped up by a number of list-MPPs to ensure they are adequately represented.

This element will likely be the biggest stumbling block to getting the MMP proposal approved in this October's referendum. It is controversial, but it represents the best alternative to our unacceptable status quo, in my opinion.

We are already hearing warnings from electoral reform doubters about list MPPs.

However, most of the naysayers have displayed little understanding about how list MPPs will actually work in practice. Take for example this Chatham Daily News editorial. The newspaper frets that party leaders and cabinet ministers would seek refuge from the electorate by putting themselves on these party lists rather than run in ridings.

However, based on how list MPPs will actually be chosen, this fear is unfounded. List MPPs will almost exclusively be opposition MPPs, not government MPPs.

Under Ontario's proposal, winning parties will likely win more of the 90 ridings than their popular vote would allow them overall, as per usual. Thus the party forming the government would be allowed few, if any list MPPs to top up their legislative representation.

Instead, opposition parties would grab most if not all list MPP positions.

Perhaps this will be a built-in check and balance on list MPPs as most will simply be stuck in opposition.

Parties that look well-positioned to form a government in future elections will suddenly find their lists unattractive to prospective candidates as those list candidates will almost surely fail to get into the legislature via the list.

Instead, those ambitious folks will have to seek an actual riding in which to run if they wish to participate in the government. Ironically, parties that look certain to lose elections will have the easiest time attracting quality folks to their lists, although those list candidates will seem destined for opposition.

Thus party leaders and prospective cabinet ministers will have to run in a riding if they want to have a chance to be in the government.

This is going to be a very interesting debate and I look forward to future posts as the issues begin to heat up.

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