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Sep. 25th, 2008

Didn't this happen last year?

UPDATE: Bob Jonkman kindly agreed to record upcoming all-candidates meetings on the Fair Vote Canada website: http://www.fairvote.ca/en/WaterlooRegion#All-Candidates_Debates . You can refer others to that page for update info; I will not be updating this page.

So in addition to getting arrested and charged for theft under $5000 today (sigh. No I didn't do it, and I am unarrested now), I discovered that the Record had its Kitchener-Waterloo debate yesterday. And guess where they held it? That's right! RIM Park -- a (partially lit?) jaunty 1km walk from the closest bus stop.

What's different from last year is that the Record has not bothered posting any of its all-candidates meetings to its website. Thanks for the community service!

Here are the debates I know about, all gathered from Green party websites, because only the Greens (and NDP for one debate) seem to care about publicizing debates on their websites. (Feel free to correct me if you want. I looked for an hour and couldn't find anything as of tonight.)


From http://www.votecathy.ca/content/upcoming-all-candidates-debates

  • Mon Sept 29, 7pm, WLU Social Work campus, 120 Duke St E.

  • Thurs October 2nd, 2-5pm, St. John's Kitchen, 97 Victoria St. North (sponsored by the Social Planning Council)


From http://www.freewebs.com/kitchener-conestogagreens/events.htm

  • Tues Sept 30, 6:30pm, St. Agatha Community Centre, 1793 Erb St W

  • Thurs Oct 9, 7:00pm, New Hamburg Community Centre (Sponsored by the New Hamburg Board of Trade)

I know there are more forthcoming -- the Record has two more, and the universities usually schedule something. If you want, feel free to add a comment and I will try to keep a page (maybe not this one?) updated.

Also, three of these websites are kind of the same:

Good branding or the sign of an iron fist? You decide!

Thus ends my election coverage, unless I decide to embarrass myself further by writing more garbage.

Jan. 16th, 2008

Rapid Transit Consultations

On Tuesday I went to the Region of Waterloo's Rapid Transit Environmental Assessment public consultation at St. Andrew's church. They are asking for public input as to the best routes to use for the new transit system. There is another consultation happening at First United Church (beside Waterloo Town Square) from 2-8pm tomorrow (Thursday Jan 17). Comments are due for January 31. The proposed alternatives and comment sheets are available on the website.

This is big stuff. I think that rapid transit in the region could either be a great boon to the region or it could be a big expensive infrastructure project that nobody uses. At this point it is not clear which way the project will swing: the planners are clearly more interested in using the project as a planning tool than they are in actually making sensible transit for the region.

For example, I was shocked to see that building good links for transit to other cities (Guelph, London, and Toronto being three prominent examples) is explicitly not a design goal for the environmental assessment. This all comes from Regional Council (and in particular Ken Seiling's) fear of turning Waterloo Region into a "bedroom community", but it is stupid, cognitively-dissonant nonsense, and it does not bode well for making the transit system a success. For some reason it is okay to build more highway exchanges and to rebuild Highway 7, but it is evil to give us good public transit options so people could get out of their cars when going to Toronto. There is one option (out of five, I think) for putting a rapid transit stop at the Weber and Victoria bus station, but that route is totally bogus because it does not stop in downtown Kitchener. It's as if they are trying to sabotage the process.

Overall I get the impression that this proposal is being put together piecemeal, without a lot of coordination or unifying vision as to what this system is supposed to do or how to get it passed politically. One planner told me that there would likely be greatly reduced service down King street even if they route the RT line through the University of Waterloo instead of taking King. Another planner (this one with GRT) said that transit frequency down King would have to remain high. Who is right? When I expressed my concerns about connecting to the train station, somebody proposed moving the train station to King -- but the train station is owned by VIA Rail, not by the Region. It is not clear how the feeder buses will work with the proposed stops (and this is apparently GRT's responsibility, not the Rapid Transit planners').

It also distresses me that we don't have more actual transit users participating in the process, and that the planners designing the system probably do not suffer through the system now. If they did, maybe they would be interested in fixing obvious problems with the existing system (such as the route 7 and iExpress buses being scheduled five minutes apart). Why should we trust people who don't take the bus (a group which includes me, incidentally) to design a new transit system for the region?

Most importantly, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was chosen as one of the two feasible options for the rapid transit system. (Light Rail is the other.) I am hoping that BRT is a straw man option, because the planners must be on drugs if they think we can sell a multi-million dollar BRT option for the spine of K-W. I can picture the papers and radio station personnell wetting their pants in derision now: we are going to take a bus-based transit system, sink millions and millions of dollars into buying up land and building dedicated routes, and end up with... a bus system?

This issue is not technical. It is not even related to cost. In purely rational terms, buses may be better than rail for our transit corridor. But sociologically we think of trains as cool and buses as ugly stinky vehicles that are full of poor people and teenagers. Overcoming that impression (if it deserves to be overcome) would be a huge barrier, and selling this system to a bunch of taxpayers who live in the suburbs is going to be hard enough already.

I don't know whether comments will make any difference. Most government projects that seek public input don't seem to use that input for much more than public relations. But I intend to fill out my sheets anyways, and if this topic interests you maybe you could as well.

Nov. 18th, 2007


Wow, I'm unhappy. If you saw me you wouldn't think I was acutely
unhappy (and I certainly am not as unhappy as I have been) but I'm
pretty damn unhappy.

For one thing, I am strongly feeling that I have run (or am running)
out of reasons to live. I am sure there are lots of great reasons for
struggling on, but I am having trouble getting in touch with them.
For another, I get to do two of my least favourite tasks -- looking
for work AND looking for housing -- both at the same time. As my
personal confidence and mental stability are not so high right now,
this is a dangerous combination at best. And let's not get into the
status of past/present life projects.

This post has been brought to you by emo, squandered opportunities and
the number 7.

Nov. 8th, 2007

29 Days Later

So how did the referendum go?

It would have been hard for us to do worse. But democracy triumphed.

Whose fault was it?


Is the issue dead in Ontario?


Is the issue dead federally?


What about Saskatchewan?

It's either idiocy or another nail in the coffin.

I feel post-referendum guilt. What can I do to help the

Observe, observe then document.

Oct. 8th, 2007

MMP 102: Why vote for MMP?

Despite the many negative things I have written about MMP, I continue to think that there are come compelling reasons to support it in the referendum. Here are some of the things that speak most strongly to me.

Party Competition

In FPTP, two parties (or two and a half, depending on how important you consider the NDP) have a stranglehold on power. These parties compete with each other to run the government, but they are free to ignore voters in favour of their lobby groups and power bases.

With MMP, I predict five or six parties will be able to compete for seats. Voters will have meaningful opportunities to vote for smaller parties. This changes the entire political game. It means that the big parties suddenly have to demonstrate that they are worth voting for, rather than merely mudslinging their opponents.

Furthermore, voters now will be able to meaningfully vote against both big parties. That is a huge win even for voters who support one of the big parties, because the threat of difficult coalitions will encourage these big parties to listen to their constituents.

Greater Inclusiveness

Increased voter choice also means that parties will not be able to write off large swaths of citizens the way they do now. Nobody cares about those living in safe ridings; under MMP the people who don't vote for the "safe" party suddenly become valuable. Similarly, niches will open up for parties to target populations that the big parties don't particularly care about -- poor voters, for example. Even if this does not increase voter turnout, it makes politics more inclusive and thus brings more legitimacy to the process.

Better Use of Information

Yes, this is the "wasted votes" thing. In FPTP, any vote cast for a candidate that does not finish first does not help elect anybody, and in fact does not contribute to the outcome of the election. About half the votes cast in Canadian elections are wasted in this way. That means that half of the people who bother to get on the voter's list, learn about the issues, make the effort to vote in advance or get to their polling booth, and then cast a ballot are ignored when results are calculated. This is what causes the huge vote vs. seat distortions in our current voting system, but more importantly to me it is a huge waste of potentially useful information.

MMP does not solve this problem directly -- local riding MPPs are still elected under FPTP, which means that many votes will continue to be wasted -- but by adding the party vote we introduce a second piece of information that is used very well. Most people who cast ballots in MMP will have some influence in the outcome of the election. In my view, that serves the spirit of democracy much better than FPTP does.

Power Decentralization

I am not as confident of this outcome as I am of others, but based on the experiences of other countries I think it is plausible that MMP could break the extreme concentration of power that the premier, his cabinet, and his (unelected, appointed) policy advisors enjoy today. If nothing else coalition governments mean that the smaller coalition partners need not toe the party line of the big party, so they will get some influence. In the best case we will see committees get stronger (as they are in New Zealand and Germany), which will distribute the power away from cabinet and towards the backbenchers.

I don't think MMP will give us the populist utopia of constituent control over politics. Other mechanisms (such as voter recall) may be necessary for that.

A Strong Message

If nothing else, voting for MMP sends a strong message that we are unhappy with our current political system and we want some kind of change. The worst outcome of this referendum would be for voter turnout to be abysmal for the referendum; the politicians will twist such a result to serve as an indication that most voters are happy with the status quo, and that only a small vocal "special interest group" is squawking about electoral reform. The second-worst result is that MMP is defeated badly, which sends the message that we are perfectly content with politics as usual, and that they need not make any changes.

That's why I would err on the side of MMP. Did you want a different voting system? Voting for MMP helps win that system easier than voting for FPTP. Are you more concerned about other parliamentary reforms such as free votes or politician recall? Voting for MMP sends a strong message that we are unhappy with what we have, which makes it more likely that the politicians will listen to you when you go through the organizing and advocacy necessary to further your position. (Instead, most of the above-mentioned people are going to vote for FPTP because they want change. Holy Moses.)

Better Opposition

One of the most important impacts of MMP has nothing to do with fringe parties like the Family Coalition and NDP. It has to do with the two big parties -- namely, the big party that does not form the government. The opposition's job is to watch the government and criticise everything it does. Sometimes those criticisms are stupid (cue "promise breaker" meme here) and sometimes they make a lot of sense (such as pointing out pork in the budget). Unfortunately, under FPTP the winning party gets a huge boost in seats, which deprives the opposition of the MPPs it needs to effectively shadow cabinets and scrutinize the government in power.

MMP would give the opposition party its fair share of seats. If the resulting MPPs helped identify (and thus eliminate) even a small fraction of wasted money in the government budget, the 22 additional MPPs could pay for themselves. (June MacDonald estimated the cost of an additional 22 MPPs to be $9.6 million a year, which is a lot of money but not that much compared to the $61-95 billion Ontario budget.)

Policy Diffusion

Already we see some shifts in policy when big parties feel threatened by little ones. Federally, Jim Flaherty stole the NDP idea of eliminating ATM fees. Similarly, every party is stealing as much as they can from the Green Party because Al Gore made a movie. Under MMP small parties with good ideas will constantly threaten the hegemony of the big parties, so those big parties might be more inclined to steal the sensible policy points from their competitors. Although this will make the small parties feel bad, I think it would be a great way to improve the quality of our government overall.


Not everything is perfect about MMP. But even with its faults I think we're much, much better off with it than without it. I only wish the rest of Ontario agreed (which, admittedly, is partially my fault).

Oct. 3rd, 2007

MMP 102: Things that will annoy you

Although overall I think we would probably be better off with an MMP system than to keep FPTP, it is foolish to hope that life under MMP will be kittens and fuzzy bunnies. I expect that MMP will have some consequences that annoy us greatly. Here are some (mostly unjustified) predictions:

Wrong Coalitions

One of the reasons MMP got off to such a poor start in New Zealand was that voters despised the initial coalition that was formed. According to the literature people were ticked off that the elections of 1996 resulted in a coalition between National and New Zealand First. Most people had expected New Zealand First to pair up with Labour, and it didn't. In the next election, voters did punish Winston Peters and New Zealand First (they went from 13% of the vote to 4%) but by that time voters had already lived through three long years of an unpopular government. (Karp Bowler 2001, p. 61)

In MMP (and really any other system where you cannot expect single party majority governments) your vote helps determine how much power each party gets. It does not determine which parties form the governing coalition. I predict that occasionally unnatural bedfellows will share a pillow, forming governments that surprise and displease voters.

The other aspect that could frustrate voters is if the same political parties get into coalition term after term after term. Supporters of the National Party in New Zealand are likely feeling that frustration now, partially because Labour leader Helen Clark has proven more adept at building coalitions than her National competition. Similarly, Conservative voters will feel alienated if we were to end up with endless NDP-Liberal coalitions in Ontario. I continue to believe this scare story is exaggerated (lately I think it is more likely we will get a Red Tory party that sits in the middle of the Liberals and Conservatives), although we will certainly get Liberal-NDP coalitions sometimes if the NDP doesn't implode.

Slow Coalition Formation

Another unsavoury aspect of life under proportional representation is that we won't necessarily know the composition of our governments until after the election, because parties will have to negotiate with each other to form coalition agreements.

Sometimes coalition building will be easy: parties will declare their intended coalition partners during the election campaign, and the winning coalition will earn a majority of seats in legislature.

Sometimes coalition building won't be so easy: voters will punish both big parties, making smaller parties stronger. In this case negotiations can take a long time: first the big parties have to find partners that will support their government, and then they have to negotiate agreements, often from a weaker position than they would normally have.

Slow coalition-forming has happened a few times in New Zealand. In the first MMP election of 1996, it took almost two months -- from October 10 to December 12 -- for the ruling coalition to be announced, and in 2005 it took exactly a month -- from September 17 to October 17. (NZ Herald 2006-10-11) (zBerry 2005-10-22)

Despite their engineering prowess and long experience with MMP, the Germans also occasionally deal with prolonged coalition-building exercises when voters do not give political parties the results they want. A notable example of this was in 2005, when neither large party (the SPD on the left, CDU/CSU on the right) managed to win enough seats to form a stable coalition with its usual coalition partner. It took three weeks for the big parties to work out a solution -- rather than risking a three-party coalition, they agreed to form a "grand coalition" with each other. That coalition has not been able to pass highly controversial legislation (especially with respect to business protection) but is making progress in other areas such as climate change. (Dempsey 2007-08-23)

I am pretty sure that prolonged coalition negotiations would sometimes occur in Ontario under MMP, and that the "news" media will howl about the inefficiency of coalition government the entire time. However, I don't feel as negatively about coalition negotiations as others do. Although somewhat perverse, long coalition agreements demonstrate the degree to which voters control which parties get power. Under MMP voters can leave parties in situations they don't expect, and then it is the jobs of the parties to figure out how to organize themselves into a coherent government.

The other aspect to remember about coalition formation is that these negotiations represent one of the primary ways smaller parties can influence government policy. Ideally, the policy concessions negotiated by the smaller coalition partners represent the interests of the voters that elected them -- interests that presumably differ from the mainstream. Coalition negotiations represent the willingness of mainstream to incorporate new and different ideas into their governing structure and priorities. In this light, it should not be too surprising that this process can take a while. In the meantime you'll be growling and gritting your teeth.

Of course, life is not always ideal, and nothing guarantees that little parties really will negotiate strictly on behalf of their voters. They will certainly negotiate more sugar for themselves. But even these perks usually have something to do with party platforms. Winston Peters may have held out for a senior portfolio in 2005 because he wanted power, but his desire for the Foreign Affairs portfolio has a lot to do with New Zealand First's anti-immigration stance.

Incompetent Politicians

I am quite certain that under MMP you would see some new names and fresh faces get elected to legislature. Many of these new people will have had no prior experience in elected office -- particularly among smaller parties that elect their members via party lists. These new people will make more mistakes than their experienced counterparts, and you can be sure that the "news" media will enthusiastically report each misstep and scandal. Being a responsible citizen, you will follow the "news" media and correspondingly lower your opinion of list MPPs and the benefits of smaller parties in legislature. Meanwhile, the "news" media will enthusiastically ignore the quiet ways in which list MPPs and small parties improve legislature, because such stories are not newsworthy.

Tarnished Party Images

It's easy to root for small parties until they earn power and have to deal with the compromises involved when governing (Hello Bob Rae!) I have a feeling that once some of these smaller parties earn political power, they will lose some of their ideological purity, which will frustrate you and stomp out whatever remaining hope you had in politics (Hello Green Party!).

The real question in my mind is whether we can expect parties to maintain some principles and focus, or whether they will adopt any position to hold onto power. My feeling is that under MMP there exists a niche for smaller principled parties; any small party that tries to compete with a big-tent party in terms of "flexibility" will get squashed like a runty piglet at the feeding trough. As Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote for the New Zealand Herald: "For the smaller parties working with Government, brand differentiation and policy delivery is critical to avoid being swamped by the larger party's brand and presence." (Clark 2006) The Maori, Green and New Zealand First parties have done this; other parties have not.

Compromises and Broken Promises

Related to the above point, coalitions involve compromise, which gives parties yet more excuses to avoid carrying out the promises they make in elections. Under FPTP, the usual trick is for the opposition to make grandiose promises, get elected on the basis of those promises, take a look at the books and exclaim "Oh no! That previous government left us with a much bigger deficit than we expected! We're sorry, voters. We can't afford to keep the grandiose promises we made!" It's a tired trick, but one that voters fall for time and time again. (In a recent debate Louise Ervin claimed that the McGuinty government has closed this loophole by forcing audits six months before elections. I will believe it when I see it.)

Under MMP, transitions between governments tends to be smoother, so the trick switches from "we can't afford our promises" to "those nasty coalition partners won't let us implement our promises!" Either way, parties will make promises they know they cannot keep. (Then they will wonder why our faith in democracy has decreased.)

Boston et al (Boston Church Bale 2003, p. 19) claim that the situation is not as bad as I would have you believe. Under MMP in New Zealand, political promises have apparently become more statements of policy direction and less statements of specific actions. If this is true, then it would mean that parties could have a harder time avoiding their political promises: if all parties in a coalition promise similar directions in policy, then the resulting government had better keep to that path.

Nonetheless, I suspect parties will pull out the "incompatible coalitions" excuse quite frequently, and that we will fall for the excuse and blame MMP accordingly. Meanwhile, you won't know which party to blame in particular, because all parties will be pointing fingers at each other.

Slowness in Passing Legislation

One of the great hopes I have for MMP is that it will reduce the authoritarian power that the premier and cabinet have over legislation. In New Zealand it appears that MMP has strengthened the role of committees in drafting and examining legislation (McLeay 2000), Boston Church Bale 2003, p. 13). Germany also has a strong committee system (Stratmann Baur, p. 6). If this pattern holds true in Ontario, then we might see legislation drafted with more consultation and review than what happens now.

Unfortunately, consultations take time, which means legislation would take longer to pass than it currently does. In some cases this is okay, but in others it is an excuse for procrastination: if the government is reluctant to deal with some troublesome issue, it can initiate the legislative process late in its mandate and conveniently let the proposed bill die on the table come election time. If some legislation you care about meets this sad fate, you would likely get annoyed and blame the increased delays on weak coalition governments and their compromises.

Difficulty in Punishing Parties/Individuals

One of the bigger conceptual hurdles to leap when talking about MMP is that you almost always vote for somebody, rather than vote to keep somebody else out of power. In FPTP, you have a limited set of candidates in your riding, and you know only one of them will win. So if you don't like candidate X, you might vote for candidate Y instead in the hopes of keeping candidate X out of power. You might like neither candidate X nor candidate Y very much, but cast a ballot for the "lesser of two evils".

Things work differently under MMP, largely because of the party vote. The party vote is counted proportionally, which means that casting a vote for party A doesn't really "cancel out" your friend's vote for party B. Rather, you and your friend strengthened the positions of both party B and party A at the expense of other parties. This means it is difficult to engineer results like the 1993 federal election, which wiped out the Progressive Conservatives federally. Under an MMP system the 16% of people who voted PC would help get Conservatives elected no matter how much everybody else hates the party. I expect that this alone will frustrate voters, but the frustration will be compounded if approximately the same number of people vote for the same parties election after election, resulting in the same coalitions and the same government.

The party vote has another effect which will likely annoy you. Thanks to the party vote, most parties will get at least a few seats from the list. In some places "vulnerable" incumbents who end up in close races often receive high positions on party lists. (Pekkanen Nyblade Krauss 2006) (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006) One of those vulnerable members might be an unpopular local politician running in your riding. If you and all your friends cast your candidate vote against this person, he or she still might win a list seat even after losing the riding. And once again, the "news" media will jump all over the story, crowing about how the unpopular election was "appointed" against the wishes of local voters. In fact, that politician was elected by virtue of party vote -- if few enough people voted for the party in question, the politician would not have received a list seat.

There's more to the story: under MMP list seats are not very safe; if the unpopular politician remains unpopular he or she might face demotion in the following election. Furthermore, in New Zealand it appears that turnover of politicians on the list is pretty high. (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006) But most people will be unaware of these things, and they offer cold comfort to a populace which has to deal with the unpopular politician for another four years.

Lack of Review

We can already predict some of the weaknesses the OCA proposal suffers from. If we have the courage to vote MMP in, then other weaknesses will no doubt make themselves apparent.

Unfortunately, as far as I know there is no scheduled review period after MMP is implemented. It is not clear to me whether the OCA would have had the mandate to dictate the timeframe for review, but I think people would feel better about MMP if they knew we would revisit the system after a few elections. Certainly, if there is no review than the annoyances of the system are going to become more and more acute until people start demanding that we scrap the system entirely.

In New Zealand, a Royal Commission held a review of MMP in 2001, five years after the first election. (MMP Review Committee 2001) They noted a number of problems with the system, but recommended few changes. Now ten years have passed, and some people (many of whom don't like MMP) want to see the system reviewed again. Unfortunately, there appears to be no mandate for doing so. (Nicholle 2006). Given the outcry over the one-seat threshold for electing list members (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006), it might be wise for New Zealand to put the system up for review again, lest it lose MMP entirely.


Let's face it: we like to complain, and MMP will definitely give us some things to complain about. If we do adopt MMP, you can be sure the system will be put under the microscope, and you can be sure that we will find flaws.

And if the referendum fails? It is possible that the referendum will spark a lasting discussion of voting systems, which might draw attention to the many deficiencies of first past the post. But thus far we in Ontario have been largely oblivious to the effects of our voting system, and if the referendum fails by a wide margin there will be few incentives for the mainstream media to revisit the topic. FPTP will continue to rob us of our democratic voice, but it is quite possible we won't notice.


(Boston Church Bale 2003) Jonathan Boston, Stephen Church, Tim Bale. "The Impact of Proportional Representation on Government Effectiveness: The New Zealand Experience", Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol 62 no 4, December 2006, p. 7-22.

(Clark 2006) Helen Clark. "Helen Clark: Reasonable way to govern", New Zealand Herald, October 12 2006.

(Dempsey 2007-08-23) Judy Dempsey. "Merkel's coalition puts stability before change", International Herald Tribune, August 23 2007.

(McLeay 2000) Elizabeth McLeay. "Parliamentary Committees in New Zealand: A House Continuously Reforming Itself?" In ASPG Parliament 2000 -- Towards a Modern Committee System 2001. Published for the Australasian Study of Parliament Group conference in Brisbane, 2000. Available from http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/aspg/conferences.htm.

(MMP Review Committee 2001) Rt. Hon Jonathan Hunt, chair. Inquiry into the Review of MMP: Report of the MMP Review Committee, New Zealand House of Representatives, August 2001.

(Nicholle 2006) Brian Nicholle. "Brian Nicholle: Put MMP to the vote", New Zealand Herald, October 12 2006.

(NZ Herald 2006-10-11) "A decade of MMP: 1996 election left country hanging", New Zealand Herald, October 11 2006.

(Pekkanen Nyblade Krauss 2006): Robert Pekkanen, Benjamin Nyblade, Ellis S. Krauss. "Electoral Incentives in Mixed-Member Systems: Party, Posts, and Zombie Politicians in Japan", Amercian Political Science Review, vol 100, no 2, May 2006, pp. 183-194.

(Stratmann Baur 2002) Thomas Stratmann, Martin Baur. "Plurality Rule, Proportional Representation, and the German Bundestag." Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research, Working Paper Number 650 (2). January 2002.

(Vowles Banducci Karp 2006) Jack Vowles, Susan A. Banducci, Jefferey A. Karp. "Forecasting and Evaluating the Consequences of Electoral Change in New Zealand", Acta Politica, vol 41, 2006, pp. 267-284.

(zBerry 2005-10-22) Ruth zBerry. "Voters give MMP the thumbs down", New Zealand Herald, October 22 2005.

UW Debate

I attended the Kitchener-Waterloo debate at the University of Waterloo yesterday afternoon. Unless Fair Vote campaigning forces me to, I don't intend to attend any others; they are getting repetitive and (unlike the municipal debates, where people actually needed to learn about the candidates running) nobody appears to be googling to find out more information about candidates. (What's that fairy tale, NoMMPers? Oh! Right! Parties are a fiction and we vote for the best candidate independent of party!)

In attendance were the usual suspects: Louise Ervin (Liberal), Judy Greenwood-Speers (Green), Catherine Fife (NDP), and Elizabeth Witmer (PC). Once again absent was Lou Reitzel, whom I have never seen at a debate (and he ran in 2003 as well). I confirmed that Reitzel had been invited to the UW debate (twice, in fact), so I conclude he is not serious about running and therefore does not deserve anybody's vote.

The format of the debate was interesting: the Feds people had been collecting questions for the debate all week, and they used a selection of those questions for the "prepared" part. Most questions were directed at a single candidate, who had 60 seconds to respond. The other candidates then got 30 seconds to rebut. Thankfully, the timekeeper was pretty good at his job, so the debate covered quite a bit of ground.

As usual in university debates, most of the candidates emphasized the importance of education: accessibility and tuition and funding and so on. Fife said the NDP will freeze tuition; Greenwood-Speers said the Greenies will cap university tuition at $3000 and college education at $700; Ervin veered all over the place, mostly crowing about how much the Liberals have spent on universities, but promising a tuition freeze by the end of the debate; Witmer criticized "ad-hoc" freezes and promised some kind of stable accessible funding so all qualified students could attend university. Yawn. Only Greenwood-Speers broke out of the education mold in her opening statements, leading off with doom and gloom stories about the environment and climate change.

In the open Q&A one person asked each candidate directly how they would vote in the referendum. Fife and Greenwood-Speers repeated their answers from the Record debate. Ervin's handlers must have been at work; she scrupulously avoided talking about system details. She praised a citizens' group for coming up for a recommendation, said the Liberals would abide by the referendum results, and then complained about appointed MPPs, which goes to show how much she values the judgement of that citizens' group. Witmer gave the most interesting answer because -- once again -- she blatantly refused to answer the question. Instead she complained about the education campaign and said that the end results would not reflect the actual wishes of voters. I find her fence-sitting fascinating; I'm wondering if she actually supports MMP and is afraid of saying so.

Another person re-asked the "If you could keep one broken promise what would it be" question, and again Ervin ducked the question entirely, blaming the deficit instead. Does she not realize that she loses credibility by not tackling the question head on, and that she gains credibility by giving some answer, however spun?

The biggest gaffe of the afternoon was courtesy of Ervin and Witmer. One of the prepared questions asked about encouraging campus sustainability, and how the Liberals dropped this commitment in their latest book of promises. Ervin either misunderstood or ducked the question, talking about tuition and university operating costs. Witmer followed suit. Then Greenwood-Speers called them on it, reminding them that the question was about environmental sustainability. To her credit, at the end of the question Ervin pulled out of the tailspin by linking financial stability to campus sustainability (if universities are not funded, they won't build green buildings) but she had been looking rather foolish for a while.

I sound as if I am beating up on Ervin a lot, so let's talk about Elizabeth Witmer. I continue to be flabbergasted at the way she campaigns. She does sometimes spin issues in a PC way (talking about tax incentives rather than handouts, for example) but she goes on an on about issues that she had the ability to deal with when she was in cabinet. Most infuriatingly, she trotted out the old donkey of recognizing foreign credentials faster, saying that (somehow! some way!) she would work to get foreign doctors recognised. She talked about reducing poverty through affordable housing, improved education, community access centres -- when her government did its best to cut funding for all of these initiatives. She talked about making schools community hubs, when her government cut extra-curricular funding and antagonized teachers. It would be one thing if Witmer was some anonymous backbencher. But she was a high ranking cabinet minister who had the portfolios of the environment, of health and of education. She had a lot of power and she did not use it for much (although she did take credit for shutting down the Lakeview coal-powered generation station). Now that John Tory has taken the party in a more moderate direction, she's totally changed her tune (or maybe she hasn't -- I could easily believe that she has always campaigned from the left).

Here's my question: where's the local accountability? A steady stream of Young Conservatives smugly asked me how list members in MMP would be directly accountable by name to a group of voters. Of course, when framed in that sense MMP looks bad, because there is no local accountability by name -- only accountability by party. But these young PCs don't want their MPPs to be personally accountable to voters. They want me to choose between the Liberals and Conservatives. Riddle me this: if I am unhappy with both my Liberal and Conservative candidates, how can I express my dissatisfaction with both under FPTP? I can waste my vote by selecting a candidate who is not going to win (sorry Catherine Fife. Sorry Judy Greenwood-Speers), or I can decline my ballot and have those numbers ignored, or I can hold my nose and vote for one of the big parties hoping to punish the other one. What kind of accountability is that?

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: this is exactly the decision mainstream Kitchener-Waterloo voters faced in 2003. They had to decide between kicking Witmer out or punishing Sean Strickland (who was fleeing Waterloo City Council in the wake of the RIM Park scandal). I am certain that voters wanted to hold both of these candidates accountable, but they couldn't, so they swept away Strickland along with the rest of city council. That in itself was unusual (and perhaps I shouldn't even bring it up) because it was evidence of voters selecting candidates rather than parties, but you can be certain that Witmer would have had a much harder time keeping her job in 2003 if she had been running against somebody else (even Louise Ervin). Our candidates have little personal accountability to us because we tend to vote for parties rather than candidates, and on the odd occasion when personal accountability does come up, our options are incredibly limited. This is the utopia that FPTP defenders want us to live in for the next 20 years. MMP does not fix this problem on a local level, but at least I would have the option of expressing my dissatisfaction on a party level in some meaningful way.

Sep. 30th, 2007

MMP 102: Are people happier under MMP?

Here's the entry I don't want to write. It asks a simple question: are citizens happier with MMP than they would be with FPTP?

As usual, I offer a long and complicated answer, focussing on three situations: the world at large (courtesy of Arend Lijphardt's well-known research), New Zealand (one of the few democracies that has made an explicit transition from FPTP to MMP), and Wales and Scotland (both of which use FPTP nationally, but adopted MMP when devolution came into effect in 1999).

General Comparisons

The Fair Vote freaks like to point to Arend Lijphardt's 1999 book Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Patterns in Thirty-Six Countries, which compared so-called "majoritarian" and "consensus" democracies. I still have not been able to get my grubby hands on a copy of Lijphardt's book, so like many others I have been depending on a summary prepared by Fair Vote Canada.

The summary highlights a number of findings, all of which just happen to favour proportional representation. Among the most interesting for me: a study which found that citizens in consensus (more proportional) systems rated satisfaction with democracy much higher than those in majoritarian democracies (p. 3). Lijphart also reports that those who voted for "losers" in consensus democracies tended to be more satisfied with democracy than their counterparts in majoritarian systems.

Other papers I have read support this idea that proportional systems result in governments that are more in tune to voter wishes. A (somewhat sketchy) paper by Bengtsson (Bengtsson 2005) looks only at proportional and semi-proportional systems, and finds that voters appear to rate inclusiveness (characterized by proportionality) over accountability (characterized by single-party governments) when ranking the efficacy of governments.

In contrast, a paper by Blais and Bodet (Blais Bodet 2003) finds that proportional systems are no better and no worse than majoritarian systems in electing governments that reflect voter views: in majoritarian systems like FPTP, all parties tend to be centrist, so they start out not that different from the median voter. In proportional systems the parties that form government tend to come from a wider distribution, but on average they reflect the views of the median voter well. (Again, I find this paper sketchy because it assumes that only the median voter matters, without taking into account distribution of voter views.)

Overall, the cross-country literature seems to indicate that governments in proportional systems tend to be more responsive to their voters, and that voters feel they are happier with democracy overall.

So far so good, but the picture gets a lot less rosy when we focus on New Zealand's public perceptions.

New Zealand

New Zealand adopted MMP in two stages. In 1992 the government held a referendum which asked voters two questions: whether they wanted to replace FPTP, and which of four alternatives they preferred the most: MMP, Single Transferable Vote (STV), a parallel system, or Alternative Vote (AV). 84.5% of voters recommended replacing FPTP, and 65% chose MMP as their favourite system. In 1993 the government held a second referendum which pitted FPTP against MMP directly. MMP again proved victorious, but this time only 54% of voters selected it over FPTP. (Nagel 1994)

It appears that MMP continued being more popular than FPTP until the first election under MMP, held in October 1996. This marked the first rocky and unpopular National-New Zealand First coalition. From late 1996 to 1999, MMP lost its favoured position: support for MMP hovered around 30%, while about 50% of those polled favoured FPTP instead. (Karp Bowler 2001, p. 24). Although I have not been able to access consistent polling data since then, a few snapshots indicate that support for MMP has remained low since then.

A 2001 government inquiry into MMP examined voter attitudes into MMP in some depth. It found that opinions towards MMP have been volatile: when politics is going smoothly support for the voting system goes up, and when governments get into trouble (as they did in 1997 and 1998 when the National-New Zealand First coalition was breaking apart) people tend to despise the voting system.

Two sets of polls conducted in 2000 and February 2001 show some of this volatility. In 2000 27% of respondents had a positive view of MMP and 44% had a negative view; by 2001 this had eased slightly to 32% positive and 43% negative. The committee also found that FPTP was ranked higher than MMP in all but one survey survey from late 1996 to 2001. The exception was in December 1999, when MMP was preferred to FPTP by a margin of 45% to 43%. In contrast, support for FPTP vs. MMP has been as high as 59% to 29% in November 1998. (MMP Review Committee 2001, p. 77).

The latest snapshot I have found comes from the 2006 paper from Vowles, Banducci and Karp that I cite incessently. They say that MMP was favoured by a "small majority" after the 2002 elections, which suggests that a majority of citizens did not support MMP before or since. (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006, p. 282)

Case closed, right? Certainly, I was not very happy to learn these results, and I am sure my friends on the NoMMP side will be all over these numbers if they bother reading this blog post.

In fact, I think there may be more to this story. Even people who support FPTP over MMP don't advocate ditching MMP entirely. In the February 2001 set of polling, respondents were asked whether they should leave MMP as-is, whether they should keep the basic structure but make some changes to how MMP operates, or whether they should change to another electoral system altogether. Here are the results (MMP Review Committee 2001, p. 78):

Option Overall Support MMP Support FPTP
Stay with MMP as-is 17% 36% Not reported
Make some changes 47% 57% 35%
Switch to another system 31% Not reported 53%

Some caveats: the paper did not include some numbers, and the authors noted that some of the ways in which people would have "modified" MMP were infeasible (such as eliminating list MPs). However, this does demonstrate that support for FPTP (or hatred of MMP) is not as clear-cut as it may appear.

One striking example of this comes from the National party, which has not formed a successful government under MMP and for the most part despises it. The National party wants to hold another referendum on electoral reform, but they do not recommend a return to FPTP: rather, they propose using a parallel system instead. (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006, p. 282)

Even more striking is the following statement from Brian Nicholle, who was campaign manager for the pro-FPTP side in the 1993 referendum (Nicholle 2006):

Ten years on since the first MMP election on October 12, 1996, it's time that the people had the chance again to vote in a referendum to either retain or reject MMP.

FPP is a relic of the command and control economy but the SM (Supplementary system) which contains a measure of proportionality combined with FPP) would be the system to go head to head with MMP in a referendum.

Even the campaign manager who defended FPTP in 1993 is willing to call that system "a relic of the command and control economy", and to advocate a "supplementary system" (which I am pretty sure is a parallel system, aka MMM) in its place.

Why? I think the reason is simple: New Zealand voters like some aspects of MMP, even if they dislike the system as a whole. When polled for the 2001 review, lots of New Zealanders felt that MMP had been successful at getting more women into power (50% felt it had been successful as compared to 17% who felt it was unsuccessful), getting more Maori into power (49% successful, 18% unsuccessful), and creating a parliament that was more representative of all New Zealanders (45% successful, 27% unsuccessful). (MMP Review Committee 2001, p. 80)

Similarly, New Zealanders seemed to appreciate the increased choice of the new system. 62% agreed that MMP made it easier to vote for the best local candidate in a riding (vs. 19% disagreeing) and 54% agreed that it gave voters more options (vs. 21% disagreeing). (ibid, p. 83) Given this taste of increased representation and choice, it should come as no surprise that even MMP opponents like Brian Nicholle propose a system that keeps some elements of voter choice (albeit diluting it considerably).

There is another intriguing aspect to the New Zealand experience: even though support for the proportional effects of MMP remains low, overall citizen attitudes towards their government appear to be improving. Take a look at the following NZES data, reproduced from (Vowles Banducci Karp 2006, p. 278). The table shows some statements about democracy and government, and then the percentages of people who agreed with that statement each year:

Statement 1993 1996 1998 1999 2001 2002
MPs out of touch 61 53 76 52 56 49
People like me have no say 63 57 -- 55 -- 46
Politicians do not care what people think 66 57 -- 55 -- 50
Government run by a few big interests 60 54 -- 50 -- 42
Satisfaction with democracy -- 73 45 57 60 67
Trust government to do what is right 31 30 26 36 47 44
Trust in a political party (**) 44 54 -- 59 -- 65
Trust in the Labour Party 13 23 -- 36 -- 42

(**) Trust in a political party was gauged by asking the question "Would you describe $party as trustworthy or untrustworthy?" where $party took the value of established political parties in turn. The set of parties varied from survey to survey -- it looks like they asked the question for all parties that won seats.

There is no question that this data is frustrating in many ways. All but the 1998 and 2001 data were collected immediately following an election, when election results (and the associated campaigning) is fresh in people's minds.

Some of the missing data is infuriating (why wasn't satisfaction with democracy recorded for 1993?!), but maybe most importantly this snapshot does not include enough years worth of data. I personally crave more data from the pre-1993 era -- 1993 in particular represents a high point of dissatisfaction with FPTP, since the referendum pitting MMP against FPTO was held that year. In particular, I wish available data stretched back to the mid 1970s or earlier, since New Zealand experienced its first of two second-place majorities in 1978.

Accepting these severe limitations, I still believe we can draw a few conclusions from this data. Firstly, public attitudes in certain areas are volatile, and tend to change with current events. Overall satisfaction with democracy tends to go up and down, as do public attitudes towards their MPs.

The responses on other questions may indicate more stable trends. I find it interesting that three of the most clear trends have to do with questions related to government responsiveness: the "people like me have no say", "politicians do not care what people like me think" and "government is run by a few big interests" questions. I would like to assign credit for these improved attitudes to MMP, but there are many other possible explanations: the Labour government that won the election in 1999 remained fairly popular throughout the polling period (and won re-election in 2005); and the economy was pretty good throughout this period. When governments face fiscal crises and have to cut services and jobs, I am willing to bet that citizen impressions of government responsiveness declines dramatically.

If nothing else, we might say that citizen satisfaction with democracy is improving despite MMP. However, I would like to believe that MMP has contributed to these improved perceptions, even as citizens dislike MMP by name.

The 2001 review suggests that citizens do acknowledge that proportional representation leads to more responsive governments, and although limited the table above does suggest some upward trend.

Scotland and Wales

Determining how happy the Scots and Welsh have been with their regional voting systems has been tough. Scotland and Wales are not considered their own countries, so they are not included in international survey data. Furthermore, Scotland and Wales did not move from FPTP to MMP; they introduced MMP right off the bat with their regionalized government.

However, some survey data is available, and both the Scots and Welsh have familiarity with different kinds of voting -- both locations suffer from several levels of government elected in different ways. For example, Scotland uses STV for municipal elections, MMP for Scottish Parliament, FPTP for the UK parliament, and list PR for European Union elections.

This gives us a rough means of gauging how much the Scots and Welsh approve of MMP as compared to FPTP: given their experience with proportional representation, ask the people whether they would switch other institutions over. The Arbuthnott Commission reported on this issue using data from the 2003 "Scottish Social Attitudes" survey. The Scots were asked whether the UK should introduce proportional representation for the UK House of Commons, which uses FPTP now. Over 50% (it's hard to tell from the provided graph, but it looks like about 53%) agreed that the UK house should move to some form of PR. A little less than 30% felt neutral, and only 10% strongly disagreed. (Arbuthnott 2006, p. 7) None of this directly comments on Scottish views of MMP, but if Scots were deeply unhappy with their proportional voting system you might expect the percentage of people resisting change for the UK house to be higher.

The Richard Commission in Wales reviewed MMP for that region. In addition to asking whether the UK parliament should be elected via PR, it also asked the question for local government and for the National Assembly of Wales itself. Here are the results (Richard Commission 2004, p. 42):

Response UK Parliament National Assembly of Wales Local (municipal) Goverment
Strongly Agree 20.2 19.1 18.6
Agree 33.6 39.4 38.4
Strongly Agree + Agree 53.8 58.5 57.0
Neither Agree nor Disagree 31.0 27.8 28.1
Strongly Disagree + Disagree 15.2 13.7 14.8
Disagree 10.7 9.7 10.8
Strongly Disagree 4.5 4.0 4.0

The trend is pretty clear: the Welsh appear to have a good deal of soft support (and some strong support) for PR across the board. To the degree that the Welsh are aware of their MMP system (which, as I have noted before [URL], appears to be limited) it seems they are reasonably happy with proportional representation.

My thinking is that if the Welsh and Scots were as acutely aware of their voting system as New Zealanders appear to be, these numbers could be drastically different. But as it stands these two countries demonstrate that MMP needn't be a public relations disaster.

Data Sources

Finding good data about public attitudes towards democratic institutions has proven to be surprisingly difficult (and I would appreciate any pointers you have).

The good news is that political scientists do care about studying voter attitudes towards politics. The bad news is that data for the countries I care about tends to be missing and inaccessible.

Many countries participate in a standard survey, and those results are supposed to be compiled into a dataset called the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES). As it appears some raw data in this set can be had free of charge (albeit with registration), a responsible blogger would have downloaded the data, figured out how to read the SPSS format, and run some analysis on long-term trends of voter satisfaction in FPTP vs MMP systems. Unfortunately, in addition to being irresponsible I am also incompetent, and I doubt I will get around to this task by the end of the campaign. However, if somebody else wants to carry out some of this analysis I think it could be useful and interesting.

One rationalization I used for my laziness is that the Canadian component of the CSES data seems to be poor. The only survey that appears to be present is from 1997, which is pathetic given that it looks like the Canadian group has been collecting data after every federal election. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find downloadable datasets from the Canadian group online, although it might be available on request.

The New Zealand Electoral Studies (NZES) folks publish their data, but I did not look at it directly. Rather, I have relied on several academic papers that summarize the data nicely. I sincerely hope that similar data has been collected in Ontario; if we do adopt MMP I expect there will be a rich publishing niche in comparing pre-MMP attitudes to post-MMP ones.

For Scotland and Wales available data is even more piecemeal. There is a set of surveys known as the "Scottish Social Attitudes" surveys which apparently asks some questions about citizen attitudes towards democracy. For Wales the Richard report lists four possible survey sources: a 1997 Welsh Referendum Study, a 1999 Welsh Election Study, a 2001 Wales Life and Times Study, and a 2003 Wales Life and Times study. I have not tracked any of these sources down. It looks like they may be summarized in a paper by Scully and Wyn Jones (Scully Wyn Jones 2003).

Overall, I have found the UK Electoral Commission to be a good source of information.


(Arbuthnott 2006) Commission on Boundary Differences and Voting Systems (chair: Sir John Arbuthnott). Putting Citizens First: Boundaries, Voting and Representation in Scotland. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office. ISBN 0-10-888179-2. (Gah! It looks like they took the website down!)

(Bengtsson 2005) Asa Bengtsson. "Inclusiveness or Accountability: What brings about the most responsive system?" Prepared for the Nordic Political Science Association (NOPSA) conference, Aug 11-13 2005, Reykjavik, Iceland.

(Blais Bodet 2005) André Blais and Marc André Bodet. "Does Proportional Representation Foster Closer Congruence Between Citizens and Policymakers?", Comparative Political Studies, vol 39 no 10, p. 1243-1262.

(Karp Bowler 2001) Jeffery A. Karp and Shaun Bowler. "Coalition government and satisfaction with democracy: An analysis of New Zealand's reaction to proportional representation. European Journal of Political Research, no 40, p. 57-79, 2001.

(MMP Review Committee 2001) Rt. Hon Jonathan Hunt, chair. Inquiry into the Review of MMP: Report of the MMP Review Committee, New Zealand House of Representatives, August 2001.

(Nagel 1994) Jack H. Nagel. "What Political Scientists Can Learn from the 1993 Electoral Reform in New Zealand", PS: Political Science and Politics, vol 27, no 3, Sept 1994, p. 525-529.

(Nicholle 2006) Brian Nicholle. "Brian Nicholle: Put MMP to the Vote". New Zealand Herald, October 12 2006.

(Richard Commission 2004) Report of the Richard Commission: Commission on the Powers and Electoral Arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales. Spring 2004. Available from http://www.richardcommission.gov.uk

(Scully Wyn Jones 2003) Scully, R and Wyn Jones, R. Public Opnions, the National Assembly and devolution -- briefing note on the latest evidence. Dept of International Politics, Aberystwyth 2003.

(Vowles Banducci Karp 2006) Jack Vowles, Susan A. Banducci, Jefferey A. Karp. "Forecasting and Evaluating the Consequences of Electoral Change in New Zealand", Acta Politica, vol 41, 2006, pp. 267-284. Available from NZES website: nzes.org

Another step towards perdition

Sept 29, 4am: Apprehended under the Mental Health Act. 2+ hours in handcuffs; 5+ hours incarcerated at GRH.

Sep. 28th, 2007

Kitchener Centre Debate Fiasco

For me, the Kitchener-Waterloo debate at Grey Silo golf course on Thursday was a disaster. First of all, it was held at a golf course. Although I was able to bike to the location, it appears I was the only person to do so -- everybody else drove. Taking public transit was not a feasible option -- the nearest bus stop was a full kilometre away, was serviced once an hour (with service ending at 9pm or so), and involved a long walk along an unlit path (way to make women feel safe, debate organizers!).

Of course, that did not stop the Record and Rogers from patting themselves on the back about their friendliness to women. Not only did they crow about a "full slate of women candidates", but they boasted of their all-female media panel. Excuse me. The slate of candidates was not all women, unless Lou Reitzel (representing the Family Coalition and mysteriously missing from the debate despite the fact I am pretty sure I saw his car while biking to the golf course) is not as male as his name and picture would indicate. The number of women candidates in the riding was not a fluke (the parties are trying to dethrone Elizabeth Witmer, after all) but nobody blinks an eye at the all-male slates of Kitchener Centre.

That wasn't the disaster. The disaster is that my guerilla tactic of putting literature at the literature table was soundly denied. Fine, but the reason they offered me was idiotic: I was not allowed to put out my literature because it was partisan and they only wanted neutral information there. Excuse me? They only wanted neutral information at a debate? Since when is that standard practice? Some group with "I am a voter" stickers was allowed to put out their stickers, but there was no room at the table for actual partisan discussion about the referendum. Thank God the rep from Referendum Ontario was present, or there would have been no referendum information allowed at all. (Mind you, unlike the KPL debate the referendum officer was not allowed to address the audience beforehand, and I know that she asked to do so.)

In fact, after denying me the privilege of leaving my literature out, they confiscated the referendum literature that Judy Greenwood-Speers left out on her table -- namely, the black OCA pamphlets that Judy had ordered for her campaign. That is the degree to which the Record and Rogers television wants you to "understand the question" -- they want you to rely on neutral information that is handcuffed from either explaining the system clearly or answering any of the questions that Ontarians are most interested in. For example, the Referendum Ontario officers are not allowed to show the sample MMP ballot published in the OCA materials. They certainly don't link to either Vote for MMP or the NoMMP campaigns, and last time the referendum officer checked their only link to the OCA materials was buried deep in a FAQ section.

Meanwhile, when asked about the referendum in a question from the media panel, Louise Ervin flubbed basic information about the referendum proposal. On the one hand she claimed to have studied the proposal "throughly", and in the next breath she stated that she did not like MMP because there would be 30 (sic) appointed MPPs, because rural areas and the North will lose (as if they don't already), and because she feels list MPPs won't open constituency offices. Good grief. If she's going to trot out hoary old fairy tales about list MPPs, it would help her credibility if she actually got the number of list MPPs in the propsal correct -- there are 39, not 30. I am pretty sure this is not a slip of the tongue, because she repeated the number 30 twice. That's right. One of the candidates in the debate can't even get basic details about the system correct, but in response to my angry question about publicizing the referendum she had the audacity to say that the Referendum Ontario information was adequate.

The other candidates at least acknowledged the importance of the referendum, although none of them had any answers as to how we get the word out in two weeks. Greenwood-Speers claimed she spent a third of her war chest on referendum advertising before Sept 10 (which is true -- they bought radio advertising), Catherine Fife spun some story about how the referendum was designed to fail, and Elizabeth Witmer tried to defuse the situation by congratulating "my group" for being out at festivals. (Thanks, Ms Witmer. But I don't need congratulations. I need to get the word out, and it is blatantly obvious that even the Record has no intention of letting us do so.) In other words, not one of the candidates had any good information about how we address the 47% of people who claim to know nothing about the referendum, and how to address the 41% who say they know only a little. (These numbers were froma recent Globe and Mail poll.)

Not surprisingly, Greenwood-Speers and Fife came out in favour of the referendum (although Fife certainly has not been emphasizing it much in her campaign), while Witmer came out decidedly neutral. She would not answer whether she would support the proposal (a theme of the night), and she told all of us to go out and learn as much as we could before Oct 10 (and how do you propose we do that, Ms Witmer?). Later it came out that Witmer is a member of Equal Voice, a multipartisan group that is strongly in favour of MMP. So I can see how she might have been in a bind -- her party does not want to openly support the proposal, while an advocacy group that is important to her does.

In other news, the debate was stuffed. Every party did its best to get members at the debate, and a long lineup of planted questions formed almost immediately. However, there was a twist -- Catherine Fife's team seemed to have done the most stuffing, so she got a lot of attention. Her group of applauders applauded the most loudly, and many of the early planted questions were softballs lobbed solely in her direction. It's a shame. Fife has the most well-organized (and maybe the best-funded) campaign. She is a reasonably good and experienced candidate. And I am fairly certain that not only will she lose the riding, but that she won't even come in second. Feel free to dream the dream if you wish. I'm through with those fairy tales. I have been burned by an abundance of lawn signs too many times before.

To the degree I could stifle my fuming enough to pay attention to the debate, Fife again had a strong debate. She did not hit as many home runs as she had in the "Children First!" one, but she also wasn't in her home turf. She parrotted the NDP policy, waffled on several issues without giving specifics (for example, to a softball question about people at NCR losing jobs, she couldn't do any better than to call for a "jobs commissioner" and to "look to the community for solutions"), and spent quite a bit of time criticizing the Liberals (although thankfully she did not sound like as much of a broken record as Rick Moffitt does). She tended to put a little more content into her responses than Witmer or Ervin (for example, in response to emergency room closures she noted that 40% of health care goes to seniors without seniors having a health strategy) but that is not saying a whole lot.

Meanwhile, the weakest candidate of the night was the one most likely to finish second in the riding -- Louise Ervin. She read the same opening comments that she had for the KPL debate, with the same bait and switch budget excuse. She had a few good points to make (she noted that we are getting 26 doctors in the region, for example) but she was not good with the tough questions. She couldn't tell us why the coal plants were not closed, and instead blathered on about wind turbines. She accused the NDP of supporting "private religious schools" in her closing remarks. She also refused to answer a question about what two Liberal broken promises she would have kept, a question that John Milloy was willing to answer in the Kitchener Centre debate. Meanwhile, when asked about why people should cast votes for candidates from smaller parties, she lost my vote for good when she said that strategic voting was just fine, and had a legitimate role to play in democracy, and that everybody can vote as they please so democracy is okay. (Yes, strategic voting will continue under MMP, and yes, it is unavoidable to some degree. We should still be working on ways to let people vote more honestly.) Time and time again she revealed herself to be a tool -- when asked to reconcile an article she wrote endorsing religious schools compared to her party's platform, she sided firmly with her party's platform. As far as I could remember she did not offer one innovative idea not from the party platform, but in her closing remarks she claimed to be a fresh voice with new ideas. Whatever.

Greenwood-Speers also cited her party's platform, but she again came out strongly as an individual with her own ideas. She had the most personal insight to offer in the debate, and I am pretty sure she had the best hit rate for answering questions head-on. Given that Greenwood-Speers openly supports the referendum (and had the guts to pass out books when she found out that hers had been confiscated) you folks aren't going to believe anything positive I have to say about her, so why don't I tell you how she lost my vote. First of all, she came out with a particularly obnoxious answer when asked how her party supported women. Instead of recognizing systemic barriers for women, she related her own bootstrap-pulling rags-to-riches tale of how she rose through the ranks at K-Mart, then rose through the ranks as a nurse, then rose through the ranks of the Green Party. She then told all the girls in the audience to aspire to the same. On one level I can agree with her response -- we have a personal responsibility to struggle against the barriers we face. On the other hand pretending that everybody is as strong as she is and therefore no explicit supports are necessary for women to succeed is gross. I admire Greenwood-Speers a lot, but I did not like this answer much at all.

I could have lived with that answer. Where she lost me once and for all was when somebody asked the sensible question of why people should vote for her small party when it would support her enemies (the same question in which Ervin defended strategic voting). Did Greenwood-Speers acknowledge electoral reality to any degree? Nope. Just like all the other candidates, she claimed that she could win the riding. In fact, she said that she was not out to split the vote, but to get all of the vote. In other words, she gave us a baldfaced, grandstanding lie, and furthermore it was the same lie that I hear each and every election coming from the smaller parties. I'm sorry. I am through with supporting candidates who make such statements, no matter how strong I think they are in other areas.

That leaves Elizabeth Witmer, who added to my bad mood in a big way. She was polished and knew her stuff, which is not surprising given that she has been in power since 1990. But several statements coming out of her mouth defied explanation. Witmer was a Minister of Health under Mike Harris. She had all kinds of opportunities to improve health care in Ontario. And she has the audacity to complain about the number of doctors leaving Ontario for other provinces and the United States? She complains about how long it takes to train foreign doctors? I don't have it in my notes, but I think she was even railing against wait times in emergency rooms. When she had the authority to do something about these things, she fell down on the job. Then she goes and blames the Liberal government.
She spent a whole lot of energy blaming the Liberals, but when criticized about her own government she said that we should not dwell on the past, or fight the election of 2003 again. What?! She has a longstanding record that she proudly outlines in her campaign literature, but she doesn't want us examining her on that record?

One questioner complained that her newspaper advertisements did not outline her policy support or campaign promises. The questioner blamed Witmer for expecting people to dig deeply to find out what she stood for. Witmer's response? The questioner wasn't looking hard enough. If only the questioner would dig a little deeper, she would find all of Witmer's policy stances. In my view, that was outright arrogance.

There's no question that Witmer knows her stuff. She has been in power for 17 years -- she had better know her stuff. She even has some reasonable ideas (whether from her Big Book of Tory Promises or from her own head) of what changes to make in the near future. But the dissonance between what she says and campaigns about as compared to her actions as MPP are enormous, and she doesn't want us looking too closely at them. But what else do you expect when there is a two-party stranglehold on power?

To my knowledge, there are two debates left. I will be attending the UW one for certain, partially because I know that we will be allowed to have our literature there. But personally I think I am pretty sure how I plan to use my vote in this election. I'm going to decline it, just as I did in 2003. Why? Because as this debate demonstrated, we're looking at the same old tired story. I was hoping the story this election would be different -- that we as citizens would come together to change things for the better by taking an interest in the referendum. I was wrong. The politicians tell us the same lies election after election after election, and we are perfectly content
to let them get away with it.

In other news: I have a few MMP 102 pieces queued up. I may publish them, but I need to polish them and cite my references and stuff.

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