Wednesday, September 12, 2007

to MMP or not to MMP? that is the question.

In an unexpected turn of events, I've found myself undecided on a political issue. It's weird for me - usually I have a "gut reaction" and with a little thought, can logically back up my position on an issue.

Quite frankly, if the vote was for a single transferable vote system, my problems would be solved and I would gladly vote and campaign for the change.

But not so with MMP.

On one hand, MMP would offer Ontarians better choices on which parties to vote for. I wouldn't have to forego voting for the party I really believed in simply because they weren't running in my riding (perhaps because the FPTP system has kept the party small, and there would be more candidates within a few elections of MMP, but maybe not). It is a remedy to the disparity between popular vote and actual representation, and the likely result of fewer majorities would (hopefully) result in legislation that better met the wants of voters.

On top of all that, the major reason that the no-MMP crowd seems to be against the reform is that it will make it harder for whatever party they're in to have complete power after an election. Think of all the minority governments! Coalition governments! Etc, etc. I'm not interested in whether or not the voting system we use preserves the ability of the Liberal or Conservative Party to govern as they see fit more often.

There are a lot of really good reasons to vote for MMP and a lot of really bad reasons to oppose it... but I have one major problem that's holding me back from making my decision:

I think MMP would likely strengthen party lines and increase further the number of political hacks we have representing us. With the current system, there is at least a chance that someone who is simply a good candidate could be convinced to run and win even if the party didn't like the guy. Changes can be made by the grass roots, even if it's not the norm. (look at the Common Sense Revolution)

Of course there is always interference by the party - in some cases the Leader might mandate certain qualities in their candidates (Dion wants 1/3 of his candidates to be women, so, in my riding, for instance, rumour has it that male Liberal candidates are being told to not bother running), they might not allow a nomination to take place until conditions are favourable (I'm sure we'll be released for nomination once the Jeff Watson-friendly membership is high enough), or they might simply send their people to go down and run a campaign for their favoured candidate, giving them more outside resources than a grassroots favourite might be able to muster locally. But at the end of the day, it's local memberships that matter, and someone with strong local support can overcome the will of the party with enough organization and hard work.

With list members being chosen by the party at large, I can only see this getting worse. In politics people often aren't rewarded for talent or good intentions, but for sticking it out longer than the other guys in any way necessary. Back stabbers, yes-men, complete incompetents - think of some sort of undesirable and I can probably think of an example that's been rewarded for nothing but sheer endurance and even just superficial devotion to a party. (In fact, for every example of an undesirable I can think of, I can probably think of a good person who's been dumped at the whims of the faithful. But I digress...)

List members, without a specific constituency to appeal to, would be appealing to intra-party interest groups, and most likely the ones who would win would be the ones supported by the leader. (Members who don't support The Leader have a funny habit of disappearing until the next leadership race.) This would strengthen the party line without even the use of the party Whip - who wouldn't be going anywhere, either, by the way.

Imagine this scenario:

A number of candidates from Party A come out against a proposed bill by an incumbent Party B government because it would hurt the constituents of their ridings in a very real and unfair way. Now let's say that these candidates are all elected based on their opposition to this bill. On top of the election of these candidates, Party A is underrepresented and their seats are topped up with list members equal in number to the bill-opposing seat holders.

These list members were chosen because they are loyal to the party leader, who is strong in a part of the province where the bill is not unpopular. As a result, the list members, who don't really represent any specific group of people, favour a bill that's worth opposing in order to keep the favour of The Leader, who happens to care more about polls than the rights of Ontarians. So three good MPPs, who would have been representing their constituents, have their votes canceled out in favour of the party line.

Sure, it's far-fetched, but MMP makes it possible. And list members seem to take the worst parts of our candidate selection process and institutionalize them, eliminating the possibility of new, good representation from sneaking through the system. That's really not something I'm comfortable with.

On top of that, the proponents of MMP seem to be very naive when it comes to exactly how politics works. Maybe if they weren't, we could have seen a better system (*cough*STV*cough) proposed by the citizens' assembly.

That said, to anyone who's actually read this far, my extensive, neurotic concerns about the implications of MMP shouldn't be interpreted as far outweighing the good parts of the system - if that was the case, I'd be decided.

I do think we need change, I just have concerns about this kind of change. I really, really want to be able to support MMP, but the threat of even less independence for our representatives, or more effective silencing of independent viewpoints, is really something that worries me about the system.

So, there you have it. An undecided voter. Anyone who cares enough to speak up for one side or the other, have at it.


BBS said...

How about size of government. Why can't they achieve MMP without adding another 29 MPPs and all the associated budgets.

Greg said...

Ask yourself the following question. Would I vote for a party that chose its list members in the manner I described? Right, neither would anyone else. Any party that fills its lists with hacks will soon find that no one is interested in voting for them (and with MMP you don't have to, you can still just vote for the local member if you want to).

Matt said...

This was a comment I left on my own site in response to another commenter. It's my simplest explanation of why I'm against MMP. Of course there are other reasons why I'm against it, and other aspects I find attractive. However, I have come down on the side of FPTP

I’m hardly endorsing FPTP as my preferred system, but since the context of the referendum is either one or the other, I’m coming down on the side of FPTP. I would personally prefer a “majority” government that was voted by 40% of the electorate than a coalition cocktail that “represents” 55% of the electorate, whose policies are blurred and distorted, sometimes even conflicting, and represent something that nobody in that 55% actually voted for.

Janet said...

bbs - I know, but I think that the good of having better representation for smaller groups (which could have purer ideas than a major party and broaden the spectrum of debate - something Ontario needs very badly) outweighs the evil of the extra MPPs (which are probably inevitable and could be reduced a la Mike Harris)

greg - No party is going to *say* that that's how they do it. They will be "elected democratically by the party membership," which is actually how one of the guys running the campaign for MMP says they should be elected. The problem is that the party membership will be voting based on biases within the party, which are towards hacks. This will be true of any major party with an established Party Faithful, and possibly even smaller parties once they become more established.

matt - interesting, but I don't think that 100% of the 40% actually support everything that puts the 40% into a majority position, either. For instance, I support very little of what Stephen Harper's government has done, but I support many of the party principles. MMP would just change big tent parties into the same people in specific parties with corresponding goals, and I think this will actually help us avoid a situation like we have right now where there is *nothing* to debate because apparently every party is going to do exactly the same thing.

And thanks all 3 for your comments.

Greg said...

No party is going to *say* that that's how they do it. They will be "elected democratically by the party membership," which is actually how one of the guys running the campaign for MMP says they should be elected. The problem is that the party membership will be voting based on biases within the party, which are towards hacks. This will be true of any major party with an established Party Faithful, and possibly even smaller parties once they become more established.

Well, let's say you are right and a party does do it the way you suggest. They have to publish the list before the election and I suspect bloggers and the msm will be all over the lists "on hack alert". It won't take long for the parties to get religion on this.

Janet said...

Greg - do you think there's a reason that wouldn't have happened already?

Wonder Bread said...

I found this (academic) article very informative on the subject:

Iversen and Soskice. "Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others". American Political Science Review Vol: 100, Issue: 2, May 2006

In a nut shell, it shows very dramatically that proportionally representative electoral systems are government mostly but centre-left coalitions and have greater redistributive programs. Assuming the same thing would evolve here in Ontario, I will definitely vote against the proposed new system.