KPL Debate: Children First!

I attended Wednesday's debate at the Kitchener Public Library somewhat reluctantly. I had been under the impression that the debate was for Kitchener Centre only, and I had already gone to one debate outside my riding. Somebody had to stuff the literature table with Fair Vote advertising, however, so I skipped gardening and made the trip. To my surprise, I discovered that candidates from both Kitchener-Waterloo and Kitchener Centre were on the panel.

This debate was entitled "Children First!" and it was put on the Child Care Action Network of Waterloo Region (CCAN), an advocacy group obsessed with daycare.

The Kitchener-Waterloo panellists consisted of: Louise Ervin (Liberal), Catherine Fife (NDP), Judy Greenwood-Speers (Green), and Elizabeth Witmer (PC). Absent was Lou Reitzel (Family Coalition), who also ran for the Family Coalition in 2003.

The Kitchener Centre panellists consisted of: JD McGuire (independent), John Milloy (Liberal), Rick Moffitt (NDP), and Bill Bernhardt (Family Coalition). Daniel Logan (Green) and Matt Stanson (PC) were conspicuously absent.

I was surprised to see the high turnout of panellists, because this debate was being held concurrently with another one put on by Faith FM. It is possible that the candidates that did not attend this debate attended the other one.

Before the panellists started Don Heroux from Referendum Ontario did give a quick speech about how important the referendum was and how everybody should vote. He did not actually explain either of the options, but at least he passed out the green brochures and raised some awareness that the referendum was happening.

Given the narrow focus of the debate I was surprised to see that many of the candidates had expertise in the area. Milloy and Witmer knew a fair amount as incumbents, and Witmer has been a public school board trustee in the past. This debate was on Fife's home turf, as she has apparently been active with CCAN as a school board liason. Greenwood-Speers claimed to have two sisters-in-law who are early childhood education workers, and Moffitt is a schoolteacher. Ervin and Bernhardt expressed less knowledge of daycare advocacy, but they both knew their talking points. Only JD McGuire seemed totally out of place.

Much of the debate focussed on how to spend taxpayer money: a $97 million infusion from the federal government that may or may not have been misplaced, and a $300 million commitment to daycare that the McGuinty government promised and may or may not have delivered on. Other issues that came up included special needs children (which veered into a discussion of autistic kids), salaries for Early Childhood Education workers, and a Liberal promise to introduce full-day Junior and Senior kindergarten, as well as some kind of full-day preschool program. Given that I neither have nor want children (sorry Bill Bernhardt) I can't say that I know a whole lot about child care nuances, so it was harder for me to pick out the good answers from the lousy ones. At the same time, it provided me a good opportunity to see these candidates in a different light.

Oddly enough, people were throwing around the M-word in the debate: minority, as in minority government. Should I believe that this is a possibility? I am inclined not to.

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MMP 102: Glossary (aka Lazy Entry)

Here are some definitions for the terms I have been throwing around in this boring series of posts:

AV stands for "Alternative Vote", a non-proportional system. In AV, an area is divided into single-member ridings, and voters rank the riding candidates in order of preference. The most unpopular candidates get dropped from consideration and their votes are distributed to the remaining candidates until one candidate gets over 50% of the votes. Liberal opponents of MMP love alternative vote because it eliminates small parties and favours centrist ones (who are almost everybody's second choice). AV is used in Australia's lower house, and is sometimes known as "preferential ballot". The STV system resembles AV because both require voters to rank candidates, but the two systems differ in some important ways.
Closed List
A closed list system is a party-list system in which voters do not get to influence the ordering of candidates on the party list. Contrast this to "open list" systems. Ontario's proposed MMP system uses closed lists.
Stands for "First Past the Post". In this system, a territory is divided into single-member ridings. Each riding runs some candidates. Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins the riding. Whichever party wins the most ridings forms the government. Other people abbreviate this system as "FPP". It is also known as "Winner Take All". The technical abbreviation for FPTP is "SMP", which stands for Single Member Plurality.
List Free MMP
This variation of MMP (or parallel systems) uses the local candidate vote to create an implicit ordering of candidates to fill list seats. Candidates from the same party are ranked according to their performance in the local vote; those that do best in their ridings but fail to win a seat are first in line to get list seats. This system is also called "best loser" or "next past the post". It is used in the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg, in Japan (maybe optionally?) and apparently in the Italian senate. I have noticed that list-free MMP seems to have a lot of traction in Ontario, but Ontario's proposed MMP system is not a list-free system (the change to a list free system is not large, however).
List PR
Sometimes referred to as "Pure PR" or just "PR", List Proportional Representation systems allow voters to select parties in some way, and then award seats proportionally to each party's share of the popular vote. In list PR systems there is no concept of ridings which associate MPs to geographic areas on a 1-1 basis; rather several MPs are all responsible for some geographic area. List PR systems may be "open list" or "closed list"; in either case, the voter ultimately selects a party. List PR is one of the older forms of PR. It is used in many western European countries.
Majority means "above 50%". Contrast this with plurality, which means "more than the competition."
AV and FPTP are considered majoritarian systems because they are non-proportional. The name is somewhat misleading: in FPTP candidates need not have a majority of votes in order to win ridings, and in neither system do parties need a majority of the votes in order to form government.
Yet another acronym that starts with "M", MMD stands for "Multi-member district". Unlike a riding (known as "single member district" or SMD by academics) a MMD assigns several MPs all to the same geographical area. In Ontario's MMP proposal, we can think of the 39 list members as being selected to a very large MMD -- the entire province. Scotland and Wales, on the other hand, divide their areas into smaller regions. Each region is then an MMD that houses 4-8 list MPs.
Stands for "Mixed-Member Proportional". The system is "mixed" because there are both riding MPs and list MPs. The system is proportional because the party vote percentage determines the total percentage of seats a party gets in parliament. (Contrast this to a Parallel System). MMP is known as AMS (Additional Member System) in Scotland and Wales, and is sometimes referred to as "Personalized Proportional Representation" in Germany.
Stands for "Member of Parliament". I use this term to refer to the people who hold seats in an electoral system. In Ontario MPs are called "MPPs" for "Member of Provincial Parliament". In Scotland they are called "MSPs" for "Member of Scottish Parliament". I try to normalize the terms for clarity.
Open List
Open list systems refer to party list systems where voters have some influence over the ordering of candidates on their ballots. Many European countries use some kind of open list. FPTP defenders love to criticise Ontario's proposed MMP system because it uses closed lists and not open ones; the disadvantage to open lists is that they make the ballot very long and somewhat complicated. For this reason, most countries that use open lists give their voters a closed-list option of voting only for the party (which, it appears, most voters take advantage of). This is called a "flexible list" system.
Parallel System
A parallel voting system is one in which there are riding MPs and list MPs, and the party vote is used to determine the total percentage of list MPs only. Contrast this to MMP, where the party vote is used to determine the total percentage of MPs overall. This seems like a small difference but it has big implications; see this overly long entry for details. The academic name for parallel systems is "MMM", which stands for "Mixed-Member Majoritarian". Parallel systems are mostly used in formerly communist Eastern European countries, as well as Japan. I have also heard this system referred to as a "supplementary system", which should not be confused with "supplementary vote".
Plurality means "more than the competition". In an election race with many contenders, the contender that got the greatest share of the vote is said to have a plurality of votes. Contrast this with majority, which means "over 50%".
PR stands for "proportional representation". It refers to a voting system in which the total power each party gets is proportional to its share of the popular vote. There are many different families of proportional voting systems; MMP is just one of them. The phrase "PR" alone or "Pure PR" is sometimes used to indicate the "List PR" system.
When I use the word "riding" I am referring to a (single member) electoral district. I use this term because I grew up using it and I believe most Canadians understand what it means better than "electoral district" or "constituency". The proper term in Canada is in fact "electoral district". In academic literature ridings are referred to as "SMD"s -- single member districts.
STV is a proportional system that stands for "Single Transferable Vote". The basic idea is that instead of single-member ridings an area is divided into MMDs. Voters then rank candidates in order of preference. Each spot in the MMD requires a "quota" of votes in order to be filled. If no candidate reaches quota, the most unpopular candidate is dropped and his or her votes are redistributed (sometimes with less weight) to other candidates according to voter rankings. Interestingly, once a winning candidate reaches quota his or her extra votes are also redistributed, so votes for very popular candidates can help elect somebody else. STV is used in Malta, Ireland, some municipal elections (for example in Scotland) and Australia's Upper house (although in the latter most voters treat it as a list system, voting for a party instead of ranking candidates). It is the system proposed by the British Columbia Citizen's Assembly. It used to be used in Alberta and Manitoba for some municipal elections from the 1920s to the 1950s, but apparently was dropped because it was electing too many Communists.
Supplementary Vote
This system occasionally comes up as an alternative to proportionality. This system uses single-member ridings where voters rank their candidates preferentially. If one candidate gets a majority of the votes, that candidate wins. Otherwise, all but the top two candidates are dropped, and the votes for "loser" candidates are given to the top two people according to the ranking. Contrast this with alternative vote, where "loser" candidates are dropped one at a time and their votes redistributed. (I have also seen the term "supplementary system" being used to refer to parallel systems in New Zealand.)

MMP 102: Contradictory Arguments

To my relief, the blogosphere has finally started picking up on the topic of the Ontario referendum. Although I firmly disbelieve that the blogosphere reflects popular opinion to any significant degree, I am hopeful that these online conversations will prompt some offline discussion and debate over electoral reform.

Of course, Sturgeon's Law applies to the Internet as much as to anything else, so many of the arguments online (including, no doubt, many of mine) have been nonsense: unfounded opinions, parrotted talking points, screeds for or against proportional representation that reflect deep misunderstandings about the basic mechanics of the two voting systems at stake. To some extent this wrongness is both predictable and good: electoral reform takes a while for people to digest, and publically displaying your ignorance to the entire Internet is a fine way to work through the issues. At the same time, some of this argumentation has been bugging me, so in this entry I'll publish my own ignorance by attempting to point out some of the sillier arguments.

My goal in this entry is to focus on contradictions: statements that have some merit individually but which make little sense when taken together. At the risk of academic dishonesty I will (sometimes) refrain from naming names; many of these talking points are made several times in the echo chamber that is the Internet, and I deliberately paraphrase many of the arguments I hear.

Also keep in mind that my readings have been focussing on blog posts against MMP, and thus many of my criticisms will sound like MMP defences.

Now that everybody's good and bored, let's dive in:

Open and Closed Lists

"This argument that closed lists are transparent is hollow. How can we trust the media to examine these lists and point out deficiencies in gender, geographic and ethnic representation? We should use open lists instead so that voters -- not parties -- get the final say in representation."

On the one hand, you claim that the media will be too lazy to examine the closed lists parties publish before the election, but on the other hand you expect every single voter to understand list compositions well enough to rank candidates for their chosen party?

I don't trust the media that much, but I do know that it is easier for the media to make list compositions an election issue than it is to expect the average voter to do a lot of research into candidates before voting. I also know that there are many possible eyes that could be examining these closed lists; if nothing else there are tonnes of bloggers around who have nothing better to do than pore over party lists and blog six times a day about them.

Cross-Country Comparisons

"Ontario is not Europe or New Zealand, and it is foolish to think that their experiences will apply to ours. Therefore I reject data coming out of studies from these countries, and rely on my doomsday predictions and thought experiments instead."

Have you ever considered that people in these other countries have made the same thought experiments as you did?

I agree that we need to be careful about overlaying the experiences of other countries onto Ontario. But at least the experiences in other countries give us some examples for what actually occurs in practice, and whether the worst-case scenarios we dream up are that likely.

The problem with thought experiments is that there are too many variables at play. Time and time again I have been surprised to see that my predictions of how MMP works do not hold up under closer scrutiny. In that sense I am much more likely to trust actual data over hypotheses.

Selective Cross-Country Comparisons

"It is foolish to overlay results from other countries onto Ontario. We have no way to predict what is going to happen under MMP. Why, we could turn out like Russia, which is so corrupt that they sell list seat placements to fundraise money!"

If you reject any predictive power to Ontario, why do you raise scare stories about worst-case scenarios from other countries?

Although I believe that we cannot put a lot of confidence in results from other countries, I reject the assertion that the experiences of other countries give us no predictive power whatsoever. I also find it strange that many of the same people who offer the conservatism argument have no problems with the implementation of scientific discoveries, liberalization of global finance, or other radical changes that have had huge impacts on our lives.

I think the key to wise use of cross-country data is to put cultural and social information in context. For example, in many ways New Zealand is similar to Ontario, so I feel okay about trying to predict Ontario under MMP using New Zealand as a model. However, there are some areas in which New Zealand and Ontario differ considerably -- our fiscal attitudes are one, and our history and treatment of aboriginal relations are another. It would be nice to predict the same kind of financial surpluses or strong aboriginal representation in Ontario that we see in New Zealand, but these are likely foolish predictions. On the other hand, New Zealand and Ontario are both unicameral governments with strong party discipline coming from a Westminister parliamentary history, so other predictions are more likely to hold.

Promises to Redo the Process

"I know you don't like FPTP. I don't like FPTP either. But if you vote for FPTP, we can redo the process and get the electoral reforms we want."

Oy. So answering "first-past-the-post" to the question of "Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature" is actually a vote that you don't support FPTP?

Oh! I get it! You're telling me that you support FPTP more than MMP! Okay! I'm sure that future politicians that win their landslide "majorities" under FPTP will totally agree with your interpretation. If we get a referendum result that is 35% in favour of MMP and 65% in favour of FPTP, politicians will clearly interpret the result as resounding evidence that we want to revisit the electoral reform issue again and again and again until we get the result we want.

I can't predict the future. Maybe there will be a groundswell of support for electoral reform even if we lose the referendum. But losing a referendum (especially if we lose with less than 50% of the vote) gives politicians a huge cudgel they will gleefully use to beat us over the head every time we complain about FPTP in the future. We'll just be another special interest group out of tune with the wishes of the electorate, "as the 2007 Ontario Referendum results clearly demonstrate".

Look. If you genuinely like FPTP better than MMP, then vote for FPTP. But when you do so, be prepared to live under FPTP for a good long time. If you actually like MMP better but are voting for FPTP because you are holding out for something better, then you are shooting yourself in the foot. If nothing else, countries have demonstrated a (somewhat disturbing) tendency to revisit electoral reform once they have made an initial change.

One final comment about this hoary old argument: people have different tastes. Many other people have a favourite system that is different from yours. If you honestly believe that the intrinsic superiority of your system is going to carry a future referendum past a 60% threshold, then you should get your meds checked out.

Party Power vs. Lists

"You should oppose MMP because it gives parties more power -- namely, the power to select list members."

This argument underlies a lot of the uneasiness people feel about MMP. Certainly, I am sympathetic to the sentiment behind the argument: like many others, I too am wary of making political parties (and in particular party elites) stronger at the expense of voters -- that's one of the main reasons I got into this sordid business of electoral reform. But -- compelling as it is -- the argument above is näive and misleading.

There is no question in my mind that closed lists do give parties more control over the list nomination process. Like other MMP advocates, I don't think this level of control is all that different from the control parties and their hacks can (but don't always) wield in the riding nomination process. For the sake of argument, let's assume the worst case scenario: party leaders and hacks will have total control over the list nomination process in a way that lets them appoint all kinds of syncophantic puppies to the list positions. I still claim the argument is näive and misleading, because it ignores the big picture: under MMP parties get weaker, not stronger.

The reason for this is simple: MMP is a proportional system. That means voters have several viable political parties they can choose on their ballot -- not just the 2.5 options we get now. That means the existing parties cannot afford to be as arrogant as they are now, because voters have realistic options to take their party votes elsewhere. In turn, this means that parties have to be more responsive to voters during the election, which reduces their autonomy and puts power back where it belongs.

Furthermore, once the election is over parties will usually need to put together coalition governments. A single party government can concentrate its power in the hands of the premier, the cabinet and the party hacks who pull the strings. In a coalition setting, that power can't help but be distributed, if only because there are multiple party leaders to contend with. As I have argued earlier, in other countries it seems that power gets distributed even further, to backbenchers and committees.

There's a tradeoff here. We are giving party hacks more explicit control over the nomination process for list candidates, and in return we give the parties some real competition and the voters some real choice. We can argue whether the cost of list MPPs outweighs the benefits of greater party competition and voter choice, but painting MMP as a slam-dunk win for party hacks is totally wrong. If it really was a win for party hacks, then you would expect that the party hacks of Ontario's two biggest parties would be staunchly in favour of MMP. Instead, it looks like many of them are totally opposed and running scared.

Parliamentary Reform

"We shouldn't be concentrating on electoral reform. Parliamentary reform is more important."

Dude. You can do both. Unless you show me how adopting MMP makes parliamentary reform harder/impossible, I'm not buying this. In particular, please demonstrate how a premier and cabinet that already has power centralized in its hands will be persuaded to give that power to backbenchers.

And hey! You want parliamentary reform? Go for it! Once this referendum is over, please demonstrate comparable effort to reforming parliament that Fair Vote Canada has demonstrated to electoral reform. I have been donating energy to this cause for a year and a half now; other people have been working a lot longer and a lot harder. What? You think political reform is easy?

Reduced Representation

"Despite all published evidence to the contrary, I refuse to believe that list members will serve as local representatives. Therefore, we will be going down from 107 MPPs to 90. That's unacceptable!"

The OCA report states that with 107 seats there would be about one MPP for every 114 000 people. The next worst ratio is Quebec, which has one MP for every 60 000 people. If we assume that your incorrect argument is sound and list MPs don't give us any representation, then we get about one MP for every 135 000 people.

Now it's your job to explain why 107 seats (or 103 if you prefer the original terms of the Fewer Politicians Act) is the right number for Ontario but 90 is not. We're already so much worse than every other province. Just to get to Quebec's levels of representation we would need 201 ridings. Are you advocating that we should have 201 ridings? More? What is the right number and why? Are all the other provinces overrepresented?

And before you pull out the argument that it's vitally important that we keep our riding boundaries synchronized provincially and federally: you're begging the question, because Ontario is underrepresented by population federally as well. We will probably stay underrepresented in federal legislature because the other provinces don't want a Canada dominated by Ontario. That's fine, but those arguments don't apply to the provincial legislature, and it is totally unclear to me that the financial savings from synchronizing boundaries outweigh the representative losses of carrying over federal political compromises to the provincial level.

Incidentally, we could have had 107 ridings. The OCA considered a system with 107 ridings and 46 list seats, for a total of 153 seats. (OCA long, p. 118) This system even went to secret ballot, and lost. Why? My feeling is that it is precisely because people would gripe about all of the extra salaries. And even 153 seats gives us a worse representation ratio than any other province.

Kitchener Centre Record Debate

I attended the Kitchener Centre debate last night. I don't live in that riding anymore, but I was (and am) pretty much stressed to the breaking point, and I needed something to relax and entertain me. In addition, I infiltrated the literature table and snuck in some referendum literature.

The contenders were: J.D. McGuire (independent), Rick Moffitt (NDP), Matt Stanson (PC), Daniel Logan (Green), John Milloy (Liberal), and Bill Bernhardt (Family Coalition). All six contenders were white men, although two (McGuire and Logan) were younger than the archetypal politician. I am sure nobody really cares, although you can bet there will be all kinds of commentary on how the leading four contenders for Kitchener-Waterloo are women.

This was the third debate these folks had conducted, so they knew each other's talking points (and a few of them were willing to steal policies from other parties, which is what I like to see).

McGuire ran in the Kitchener Ward 2 elections last year against Len Carter and Berry Vrbanovic. He ran on a platform of independence from political party discipline. As such he tried to point out the misleading statements and empty slogans of the other politicians. However, he was fairly weak in exactly the area independents need to shine: offering creative ideas that differ from the traditional political parties. All too often he fell back on the old "I'll listen to what the voters want" excuse when stumped by questions. I don't think he's a joke candidate -- he's running on principles, not pragmatics -- but he himself claimed after the debate that only one independent has won office since 1934 (!) in Ontario. (Hey NoMMPers! Would you like to reconsider that "voters vote based on their local representative" fairy tale?) I definitely have to look that statistic up, but it demonstrates fairly clearly McGuire's chances.

Moffitt ran as a Kitchener regional candidate last election. He impressed me then with his knowledge of local issues and willingness to proposed unorthodox solutions. He was much less impressive in this debate. In addition to echoing the party line insistently (which pretty much every candidate did), his entire focus lie in accusing the Liberals of breaking promises (which, come to think of it, is also the NDP party line). Hearing him accuse the Liberals in response after response got tiring, and became particularly ineffective when Milloy zinged him with a "magic wand" accusation: the NDP likes to make promises, but when they had the opportunity to keep some of the same promises they accused the Liberals of breaking, the NDP fell through.

Moffitt did let a few shards of independent thinking filter through. He had some pragmatic insights on amalgamation (almagamating services has worked well in the region), and proposed indexing minimum wage and welfare rates to inflation (which is in the Green platform but as far as I know not in the NDP one). He also knew his talking points on the NDP platform, as well as the stats and figures about various issues (such as family farms and the negative income most farmers report). But he was a lot weaker in terms of local knowledge than I would expect, and all too often he spoke in vague generalities (for example, promising to use nurse practitioners more without stating how). In his favour, he was one of the more assertive and articulate speakers.

I was totally disappointed by Matt Stanson. In my opinion, he was by far the weakest candidate. His debate strategy consisted of reading from the Big Book of Tory Promises verbatim. To his credit, he's a good reader -- I did not fully realize that he was reading until quite late in the debate. That's okay, I guess. Although effective public speaking is a definite asset in a politician, it is probably good that polished extemporaneous oration does not override all other values. But for the life of me I had a hard time finding any other reasons to recommend him as a candidate either. When asked questions that he could not answer by reading the Big Book of Tory Promises (and/or accusing the Liberals of promise-breaking) he readily admitted defeat, even when asked basic questions about how to improve the education system. Much worse than this, he blatantly flubbed or ignored questions that were inconvenient -- the worst example being a question that asked "What was your government's biggest mistake when in power". Stanson spent his entire minute blaming the Liberals and accusing them of breaking promises, while both Moffitt and Milloy had the nerve to offer some kind of answer (Moffitt: electing Bob Rae, not indexing welfare to inflation; Milloy: underestimating the depth of need in Ontario).

Stanson did offer a handful of reasonable answers. He found a modicum of passion when discussing apprenticeship programs, because he got started in business through apprenticeship. He offered one good idea from a farmer's organization that was not in the PC platform: labelling foods from point of origin so consumers can choose to eat locally more easily. He also noted that 2/3 of Ontario's health budget goes to chronic disease, which is a good talking point that should be brought up (but may have come from the Big Book).

The most frightening thing about Stanson is that -- unless I am wrong and Kitchener Centre really is a Liberal stronghold -- he stands a pretty good chance of winning the riding. (Hey NoMMPers! What's that fairy tale again?) Let's hope he's got some strengths that are not readily apparent.

Dan Logan recited the Green Party platform fairly well. He did a much better job of relating Green policy in unorthodox ways. For example, one of the first questions had to do with the tradeoff between coal and nuclear power. Logan hit the home run by framing the question as one of conservation, stating that an investment in lower-energy appliances would cost less than building new nuclear reactors and would compensate for the 1/3 power that nuclear generates. Similarly, he reframed a question about developing the greenbelt into one about commuting and local job creation. Reframing questions is the Green Party's niche, and if nothing else Logan demonstrated some aptitude for identifying opportunities to his agenda.

Logan also showed some aptitude for thinking on his feet: he could not give specific recommendations for amalgamation, but did note that amalgamation did not work so well in Ottawa and Toronto. He did flub some questions and clearly did not know the issues as deeply as some of the other candidates, but overall he did a reasonable job. I would have liked to see a stronger knowledge of concrete steps to implement policy, as well as a stronger ability to relate local issues and concerns to provincial jurisdiction.

Where Logan fell down was in his election messaging. He reiterated the tired mantra that this would be the year that the Green Party would elect somebody, and that it might as well be in Kitchener Centre. Meanwhile, he did not raise the issue of the referendum once (which he later admitted was a mistake -- he said that in past debates somebody has raised the issue of a question, and he thought it would happen again).

In my opinion, John Milloy won the debate hands down. I know saying that reflects poorly on my character (am I turning into my parents?), but I came out of the debate with a lot more sympathy for the Liberals than I had going in. Milloy had a definite advantage in the debate -- incumbents always have more knowledge of what is going on, and they almost always express their talking points articulately -- but Milloy also had to defend his government's actions. Unlike all the other candidates, he couldn't rely solely on criticizing the records of other candidates. Furthermore, for the most part Milloy actually did attempt to defend his government's record instead of blaming it on Mike Harris and Bob Rae (although he contrasted the records of his government to these ones fairly often).

Milloy also pulled in a lot of local data in his arguments. He had no compunctions about pointing out all the pork he had brought in from the region -- the affordable housing, large donations to the Catholic Family Counselling centre to combat domestic violence, provincial funding for Highway 7 and the LRT, even the McMaster medical school. But it was also clear that he understood some of the subtleties of local concerns fairly well. For example, on the issue of amalgamation he said that the government would not stand in the way of grassroots recommendations. I don't know if I believe this, but it does show an understanding of the issues. He even had the guts to state that greenbelts were an effective defence against the Ontario Municipal Board, which demonstrated some understanding of one of the biggest barriers to land conservation in the province. (Mind you, he didn't offer to reform the OMB, but at least he understood the issues.)

Having said that, I am sure glad I don't live in Kitchener Centre, because under FPTP there is no way for me to distinguish my appreciation for John Milloy with my distrust of the Liberal government. Unlike many others I think that this "Fibber McGuinty"[0] strategy is dumb (I don't like the Ontario Health Premium either, but unless we make some hard decisions we have to accept that healthcare is expensive and could bankrupt us) but I have found that the government has been rather sneaky with respect to several issues I care about -- most notably energy policy and electoral reform.

If appreciating John Milloy's performance sullies my character, I'm pretty sure my opinion of Bill Bernhardt's performance ruins it completely. Bernhardt was the least showy candidate, but he did a good job of expressing his socially and fiscally conservative platform. Even more shamefully, I found myself agreeing with several aspects of Family Coalition policy. One question asked the candidates to extend kindergarten to a full day, and Bernhardt clearly stated that it would be better for those kids to stay at home. He took a page from the Green party in discussing energy policy, stating a preference for local, decentralized energy production. I even found myself intrigued by his suggestion that maybe welfare should be merged with Family Services. Mind you, he also complained about the low birth rate (1.6% and falling!) and stated his party's preferences on marriage and family, neither of which I support. But I am pretty sure that finding any common ground with the Family Coalition is grounds for ostracization and maybe even public flogging, so I am glad nobody reads this far into my blog posts.

In addition to sticking to his values and articulating them clearly, Bernhardt demonstrated an ability to express himself concisely. On a few occasions he finished his responses well before the 1 minute limit. That flustered the moderator, who was used to every candidate using up the maximum amount of airtime possible. On the downside Bernhardt got into few specifics and demonstrated little local knowledge of situations, but at least he knew how to shut up when he ran out of things to say.

Occasionally Bernhardt also showed an ability to think on his feet. On at least one question he admitted that the Family Coalition did not have a clear policy (I think it was for apprenticeships), and then proceeded to suggest a policy that he thought would be in line with Family Coalition values. That impressed me a whole lot more than being able to orate from the Big Book of Tory Promises.

A few other notes about the debate: the backdrop for the candidates consisted of some curtains with the word VOTE stitched very faintly into the fabric. Maybe this was intended to be subliminal?

Overall, I was rather disappointed by the format. The televised portion of the debate consisted of five questions from the "media panel" and a single question from the audience. There's your democracy for you. It should come as no surprise that the Record happens to be ignoring the referendum in its debate series -- we wouldn't want the people to express themselves effectively, now would we?

After the debate some reporter asked me for my opinion. I stated outright that I thought Milloy won the debate, and if anything I bet that is what would get printed. But then she made some comment about this demonstrating the success of the democratic process, which I denied vehemently. But instead of recording my opinion faithfully, the "reporter" stated that we would have to agree to disagree, and did not write a single word of what I said. Since the reporter has no compunctions about twisting my words, let me state my position clearly: as an entertainment spectacle, Milloy won the debate. But as a democratic exercise the debate was an utter failure. Only two candidates -- Milloy and Stanson -- have any chance of taking this riding, which is a travesty given how weak a candidate Stanson is. Pretending that we somehow "served democracy" because every candidate got to express their opinion is obscene.

[0] Are the Tories and NDPers actually channelling the old Fibber McGee radio program with this nickname? I guess it's possible. I first learned about this program while listening to rebroadcasts on nostalgia radio stations; I suppose others might do the same.

Local Candidates Meetings

FYI: I will be publishing all of the candidate meetings I know about for Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Kitchener Centre and Kitchener-Conestoga to our Google Events Calendar. The focus is on referendum stuff but we are trying to keep track of as many election events as we know about.

It looks like I can't make many of the all-candidates meetings, but I may write about the meetings I attend.

In other news, it is vaguely embarrassing doing LJ using a graphical browser -- especially at the library.

Becoming what we despise

You know what frustrates me? I feel I can't talk openly about my actual feelings surrounding the referendum. Even the posts I am posting feel treacherous, particularly since the opposition is making no such missteps.

And it's working! In the latest polling 33% support FPTP and 26% support MMP. (Neither of these systems wins the plurality vote, however; 38% polled were unsure of how to vote.)

You know what else frustrates me? I must be spending 70% of my waking cycles working on referendum stuff, and I feel that
a. I'm getting nothing accomplished and spending most of my time thrashing
b. It doesn't matter what I do because the Referendum Ontario education drive will win or lose the campaign, not me
c. Nobody seems to think this is important enough to devote effort to, so I keep thinking the weight is on my shoulders.
d. When I do get the word out to somebody, the uniform response is "Why didn't I hear about this before?" followed by "you should do this and that and this other thing!"

Well, I'm a wimp. My shoulders can't take the pressure. I'm sorry I'm doing such a terrible job; I'm sorry that I am not perky enough to win a campaign; I'm sorry I have such a hard time telling people the sweet nothings they want to hear. And yes, I am quite aware that I'm not doing enough. But what do you expect when you leave the campaigning to incompetents who can't hold down real jobs? If we want effective democracy then we've got to pitch in to make it happen.

Sigh. Somebody call a Waaamulance.

MMP 102: What do List Members Do?

Perhaps the least understood aspect of MMP in Ontario has to do with the role of the list MPPs. Coming from a FPTP system, we are used to our riding representatives having a distinct, well-defined role: they represent their party in legislature, and represent the interests of their riding at home. In MMP, we add list MPs to this mix. It is pretty clear that they represent their parties in legislature (after all, that is why we elect them) but what else do they do? Do they sit at home and eat bon-bons while their fellow riding MPs are pounding the pavement doing constituency work and kissing babies? Or do they serve some potentially useful role? Furthermore, how does the public react to the existence of these other MPs?

As usual, we might look to other countries for insight and inspiration. It appears that Germany, Scotland, Wales and New Zealand all deal with list MPs somewhat differently. However, there are some broad roles that list MPs take on in these countries:

  • One common practice is for list MPs to "shadow" their riding counterparts, serving as a second (or third, or fourth) contact point for constituents in some geographic area. In some places list MPs shadow a single riding; in others they take on larger regions.

  • Some MPs explicitly represent concerns that do not fit neatly into a region. For example, some MPs in New Zealand take on the task of representing concerns of the Pacific Islander and Chinese minorities.

  • A few list MPs are specifically recruited for that role because they are experts in some field. These MPs may be placed high on party lists and not contest ridings at all, and serve as policy advisors for their area upon election. From the literature I have read, this is the closest we see to ``party hacks'' getting ranked highly on party lists.

Sources: (Cody 2003, p. 40; McLeay Vowles 2007, p. 86)

In many ways all of the above countries consider list and riding MPs to be equivalent. For example, they sit together in legislature, their base pay is the same, they have equivalent voting power, and they all participate in committee work. (Massicotte Long 2004, p. 61) (Bradbury Mitchell 2007, p. 119) The differences have to do with the way list MPs are perceived by the public, the duties they are (implicitly or explicitly) expected to carry out, and the relationships and tensions between list and riding MPs. In these areas the political cultures of different countries differ quite a bit.


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Wales and Scotland

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New Zealand

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Conclusions and Predictions

Predicting the future is dangerous business, especially in political science. There are too few countries and too many variables to foresee consequences with a lot of confidence.

The job of trying to predict the roles of list members in Ontario is even harder than usual, because perceptions and roles for these MPs vary widely between the countries under examination. Nonetheless, I tentatively offer the following predictions.

It appears that to some extent shadowing of riding MPs happens everywhere. The tradition is strongest in Germany, and tends to be more pronounced in situations where the list MPs hope to become riding MPs one day. Because Ontario uses a province-wide list for list MPs, those MPs do not have natural regional boundaries in which to concentrate their efforts. Thus, I expect that although there would be some shadowing in Ontario, it would be practiced mostly by members of the bigger parties.

I do see some list MPs (particularly in the Greens and other ideologically-focused parties) acting as ambassadors for their causes. I could definitely see this happening in Northern Ontario. I do not forsee as much ethnic advocacy as we see in New Zealand; their history with respect to minorities and especially aboriginal relations is quite different from the Canadian experience. Unlike other MMP advocates, I doubt that we will develop the cultural convention of assigning list MPs to regional issues.

I think that we would avoid the problems Scotland and Wales have of a partisan split between riding and list seats, because we have at least two parties in Ontario that can win both ridings and list seats.

I do think that list members would suffer from a poor public image in Ontario. If nothing else, so much of the current referendum campaign has focused on the deficiencies of list MPs that the deck would be stacked against them right from the start. I think that list MPs would attempt to be visible in the public eye (via constituency work and photo ops) but nonetheless most people would not be aware of the list representatives assigned to shadow their ridings. As in New Zealand, I think disapproval for list MPs would be high except among those who seek out interactions with their list MPs.

I think there could be a lot of confusion over the proper roles list MPs are supposed to play, and that this would confuse and frustrate both list and riding MPs during the first few years. However, I do not think that list MPs will be quite as lazy (or as sycophantic) as FPTP defenders would have you believe. Certainly in legislature work they will work just as hard as riding MPs, and although they will have fewer constituency duties I expect most of them will have some presence in their communities, if only to demonstrate that they (and their associated party) deserve re-election.


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MMP 102: Party Hackery in Three Paragraphs

Others worry about creating two different classes of MPPs: the 90 members who are tied to a riding, versus the 39 others who, they say, will need to curry favour with the leaders in order to be as high up the party list as possible, thereby improving their chances of winning a seat.

"I believe in parliament and the current party system," says Mac Penney, long-time backroom strategist for the Ontario PC party. "This is a jury-rigged solution."

-- Steve Paikin, "Oct 10 election is about more than who will govern the province", Barrie Examiner, Aug 31 2007.

This reveals the essence of the "party hack" criticism of list MPs: if introducing lists will make party hacks so powerful, why are the cabals within the big parties so dead set against MMP?

Freeshell woes

Well, so much for that experiment. Freeshell appears to be dropping my e-mails without warning yet again. Earlier this year my e-mail was practically unusable for two or three weeks.

If you sent me mail over the last little while and I did not respond then maybe you want to send it again. My account is paul_nijjar and my gmail one is paul.s.nijjar .

This really really sucks. Really. I sincerely do not want to be storing my private data with Google, and Yahoo! is only less threatening because I get the impression it may not be competent enough to mine all my personal information.