Depressing Night for Electoral Reform in Canada

So Ontarians have voted NOT to change their electoral system to MMP and have chosen to stay with first-past-the-post (FPTP) for the time being, one of the most antiquated electoral systems in the world. It's unfortunate that our country and constitution has been intact for so long. If you are a country like Iraq or Germany you get to start your government from scratch after a war (see Iraq's proportional representation system). Instead we are stuck with a UK/Commonwealth-inspired system from 1867 that is only used in a few large countries: USA, Canada, UK, Mexico, South Korea, and India. All these countries inherited their electoral systems from the United Kingdom, politically speaking (except may Mexico). Notice how you don't see any mainland European countries in that list? They are all using proportional representation in some form.

The referendum question was:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?

  • The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)
  • The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)

According to media reports a lot of people were confused by the question. Duh! a) FPTP and MMP are not household terms, b) many people don't watch the news and/or read the paper, c) many of those who do would not necessarily read an article discussion the virtues of FPTP or MMP. The question is somewhat unfair if you think about it. I mean, I wonder how many people had no fucking clue what FPTP or MMP was and so checked the "existing electoral system" box because they thought that sticking with something "existing" was safer than voting for an "alternative" they had no clue about. I wonder what the result would be if question was the following:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?

  • The First-Past-the-Post system
  • The Mixed Member Proportional system

and the ordering of the two choices on the ballots was randomized? Would the result be roughly a 50-50 coin toss? Given the fact that a lot of the support leading up the referendum was for MMP, perhaps the result would have been equivalent to a slightly weighted coin toss (in favour of MMP).

Of course some voted against it, for dubious reasons. According to the National Post (MMP: 'Just leave well enough alone'), one lady who walked up to the booth in a walker said "Just leave well enough alone, Why do we need something different?" Of course, old people hate change, unless it's their diaper. Her friend rejected MMP because of the supposed increased costs: "That means more people in Queen’s Park, more pay, more hikes and more taxes for us and more pension for them.” Did you ever think of the ways in which MMP might reduce costs? I'm not sure if that's true but it I can think of a few ways in which it might be. Or the fact that MPPs salaries are such an insignificant part of the entire government's budget and that perhaps a better democracy SHOULD cost a bit more money?

The Toronto Star ("MMP goes down to defeat") quoted a scrutineer saying that "people arriving at her Toronto-area polling station to cast ballots for both a new provincial government and the referendum were clearly confused." According to the National Post another voter complained that the new system wasn't explained to him well enough so he voted for the old system. Another voter said he liked the idea of MMP but didn't like the formula that would be used. Which brings me to another question. What if the question looked something like this instead:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature?

  • The existing First-Past-the-Post system
  • A new system in which the percentage of seats a party gets will be determined (in part) by the percentage of votes a party receives

Unfortunately this would not work. Even if they put " be determined by a Citizens' Assembly" at the end of the second choice. The referendum question has to be clear.

A letter (or post rather) to the Toronto Star (MPP gives power to voters) from reader Jacqueline Sharp on October 7th sums this up nicely:

In the referendum today, we don't get to vote for "random selection" or any other utopian voting system – we get to vote for change (MMP) or the status quo (FPTP). MMP may not be perfect, but it is an upgrade that can continually be tweaked as we see how it works in Ontario. A vote for the status quo, on the other hand, will surely destroy any chance of reforming our government for the next few decades.

The political powers-that-be do not want change, and a No vote on MMP will give them the mandate they need to keep our system the way it is.

It doesn't make sense to vote against MMP because you would rather see different reforms to our voting system and government. Those reforms are not on the ballot. But a vote for MMP will tell politicians that we are tired of government bickering and partisan politics, and that we want more co-operation and better oversight of government spending. A vote for MMP says that we want everyone's vote to count equally and the Legislature to match the diversity of Ontario, so that the best policies possible can be made.

On the contrary, a vote for FPTP says that we are perfectly content with how our political system functions now. Really, is there anyone (other than the politicians who owe their jobs to the current system) who can step forward and say that?

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