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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.

Conclusion

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).

Comments

(Anonymous)

Thanks for the well balanced info

Hey there,

I was starting to feel frustrated in my last minute attempt to find relatively even handed info on MMP. Most of what I have been able to get my hands on is pretty one sided. While I know that you are highly involved with MMP, I appreciate your research and your willingness to tackle things that you don't like about it, as well as what you like about it. Its really helped me to make up my mind about what to do.

:D

Jennith

Re: Thanks for the well balanced info

Finding even-handed info has been next to impossible. Finding information that is not purely speculative has been hard. Obviously, I hope you vote in favour, but I would rather see informed votes against than ignorant votes for the system.