Electoral reform is certainly not a sexy issue. Most Ontario voters have tuned out the debate, and some still aren’t even aware that on election day (Oct 10), they will also have a chance to change the province’s electoral system.
In the five days leading up to the referendum and election, Xtra.ca has five reasons why voters should ditch Ontario’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
Comment below and let us know what you think.
#1: MMP IS GREAT FOR SMALL POLITICAL PARTIES AND GROUPS
As a voter in Ontario today, you really only have three choices: PC, Liberal or NDP. A vote for any other party is wasted because of our faulty electoral system.
In order to win a seat under first-past-the-post, a party needs to have lots of support in one riding. Parties that have moderate support across the province are out of luck.
Take the Greens for example. In 2003, the party received close to three percent of the popular vote, but no seats. Their support was spread across the province, without being concentrated in one particular riding. Ontario’s electoral system punishes the Greens for not having strong localized support, even though they deserve a few seats based on their province-wide support.
MMP would give the Greens and other small parties fair representation, because the number of seats a party wins would be more closely tied to the province-wide popular vote.
The same principle applies to gay and lesbian interests: MMP has the potential to give gays a stronger voice in the legislature. Because queers do not form a majority in any provincial riding (no, not even Toronto-Centre), politicians are not forced to take queer issues as seriously as they should. MMP could change that by making every vote count.
And yes, this means that some nutjobs like the Family Coalition Party (or worse) could win a seat or two, but MMP would require parties to win at least three percent of the popular vote to obtain a seat.
#2: TWO VOTES = MORE CHOICE
Maybe this is a situation you can relate to: the urban riding of Ottawa-Vanier has been a Liberal stronghold for decades. It is one of the safest ridings in the province for Liberal candidates, and as a result, many residents are simply not showing up the polls. Voter turnout in the riding is below the provincial average.
Who can blame these frustrated voters? FPTP ignores ballots that are cast for the losing candidates. In the last election, the Liberal candidate for Ottawa-Vanier received 53 percent of the vote, but the other thousands who voted for NDP, PC, Green or other candidates could have stayed home and the outcome would have been the exact same.
MMP allows for two votes per person: one for a local representative and one for the province-wide party list. So while the Liberal grip over Ottawa-Vanier could continue under MMP, voters would at least have a second ballot for which they could use to vote for a different party at the provincial level.
#3: RURAL VOTES WORTH MORE THAN URBAN VOTES
Population of Ontario ridings (source: Elections Ontario):
As the example above suggests, rural Ontario is overrepresented in the provincial legislature. Looking through a list of constituencies in Ontario, it’s clear that most urban ridings have thousands more voters than their rural counterparts.
And the gap is increasing: urban ridings are growing in population, while most rural ridings are shrinking or growing slowly.
This means that urban voters have less power than rural voters to decide who forms government in Ontario. Why should some votes be worth more than others?
Under MMP, all votes would be roughly equal. This may cause a long overdue shift of electoral power away from rural Ontario to the cities.
It’s also a much-needed shift, considering the scary beliefs of some right-wing rural representatives like Randy Hillier, who says there is an individual price to pay for “multiculturalism, urbanization, and absolute cultural tolerance.”
#4: FEWER POWER-TRIPPING MAJORITY GOVERNMENTS
In the 1995 election, Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservatives won 65 percent of the province’s seats with only 45 percent of the popular vote.
How did that happen? Blame the first-past-the-post electoral system for distorting the results. It tends to give winners an even bigger percentage of the seats than they actually deserve.
Over half of the province rejected the PCs in 1995, but the party was able to use its control of the legislature to carry out its ‘Common Sense revolution’ which damaged the province’s social service programs.
MMP would ensure that parties get the number of seats they deserve, based on popular vote. Majority governments would be less common, and parties would be forced to form coalitions in order to form government.
If MMP had been in place in 1995, the Liberals and NDP (with a combined popular vote of over 50 percent) could have formed a coalition government to stop the PCs from their reckless cuts to social services.
And let’s not forget: minority governments have a history of being positive for queer rights. In 1986, the Liberals (with the support of the NDP) added sexual orientation to the Ontario Human Rights Code.
#5: ONTARIO LEGISLATURE DOMINATED BY OLD WHITE GUYS
Ontario’s political scene is still largely an old boys’ club. Women hold only 25 percent of seats in the legislative assembly and ethnic minorities are vastly underrepresented.
Simply put: Ontario’s legislature does not reflect the diversity of Canada’s most populous province.
Under MMP, parties could nominate more women and minorities (including queers) in their party lists — giving these groups a shot at fair representation.
Countries that have adopted MMP tend to have more women in the legislature — as seen in New Zealand and Germany (both with approximately 32 percent). Countries that use first-past-the-post have rates as low as 15 percent (United States) and 20 percent (United Kingdom).
Changing the electoral system won’t guarantee full representation of women and minorities in the Ontario legislature, but it’s a necessary step in the right direction.