When Ontarians go to the polls on Wed, Oct 10 they will be asked whether or not government should change the province’s electoral system from the current first-past-the-post system to a new mixed-member proportional (MMP) system. What effect could MMP have on the political influence of Ontario’s queer citizens?
Several countries already have MMP systems but Ontario queers already enjoy more protections chiefly because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives Canadian queers recourse to the courts to challenge discrimination.
Supporters say an Ontario legislature elected under MMP would more accurately reflect the intentions of the voters, would allow greater chances for smaller political parties to get MPPs elected, would allow for more diversity of voices and opinions in the legislature, could foster a culture of more constructive compromise and dialogue in government and could lead to a greater number of female and minority MPPs.
Toronto Centre MPP George Smitherman is a firm supporter of MMP, arguing that the likelihood of minority governments would force the legislature to be more cooperative and responsive to constituents.
“I was an observer of the last minority government in Ontario [under David Peterson from 1985 to 87]. As a progressive, those were very heady days,” says Smitherman.
That government was responsible for introducing “sexual orientation” as a prohibited form of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986.
But the likelihood of minority governments is precisely what some critics of MMP lament. They say that the will of the legislature could be subverted by the influence of fringe parties with narrow interests that will control the balance of power.
This could mean more power for parties such as the NDP or the Green Party. It could also clear the way for the formation of a queer political party. Conversely anti-queer groups like the Family Coalition Party or Christian Heritage could also gain more influence.
Xtra is unaware of any queer political parties in Canada but John Ince is leader of the BC-based Sex Party of Canada. His group advocates sexual liberation for all Canadians and he hopes to run candidates in the next federal election. Ince supports MMP and thinks there might even be some advantage if dangerous antiqueer or sexually repressive groups managed to get representatives elected.
“I think there’s even help in having a voice for those extremist views,” says Ince. “We could say, ‘Look you’re participating in a democracy. You’ve even elected somebody.’ That shows them a way to advance their interests without completely excluding them and leaving them with the feeling that the only way to change things is through violence.”
Smitherman says fringe party victories aren’t likely because a three-percent-of-vote threshold for parties to win seats as proposed under MMP will prevent tiny parties from winning seats.
Ince acknowledges that even under MMP The Sex Party is unlikely to win a seat in any legislature given the current climate of antisex hysteria in Canada.
Smitherman says MMP is a way to get more minorities and women elected.
“The two biggest departments of the government are being run by gay and lesbian people but if you look at the legislature today there are no aboriginal people,” he says.
In order for the change to MPP to move forward a super-majority of 60 percent of voters and a majority of voters in 60 percent of the ridings must vote in favour of the reform.
With files from Matt Mills.