Saturday, October 06, 2007

I've voted, now off to Vegas

I'm off to Las Vegas on Sunday until Thursday for a work-related conference, so I'll be out of town for provincial election day. Actually, Wednesday I'll be poolside at the Mandalay Bay for the conference closing party and a concert by, of all people, Hootie and the Blowfish. Yes, apparently they are still touring. Who knew.

So, since I'll be away for the election I voted in the advance polls. Unsurprisingly I voted for my Ontario Liberal incumbent in Scarborough-Centre, Brad Duguid. The second ballot of course was for the referendum, and after a lot of thought I decided to reluctantly vote no on MMP. I thought I'd share why.

I’ve been back and forth on this thing from the start. I favour electoral reform, but I’m not a big fan of MMP. I was leaning towards reluctantly supporting it, agreeing with the pro-MMP supporters that the parties would ensure the list candidates are democratically chosen. And I’m sure they would be. I’m not concerned about the stability issue, I think the parties would be forced to work together, and they’d find a way to work it out. I don’t think small parties would wield undue or radical influence. There’s a lot of positives with the system that outweigh most of the negatives.

I began to change my mind however during a discussion in this thread on the issue of List MPPs that leave caucus, voluntarily or involuntarily. It was the speculation of MMP advocates that those seats would belong to the party, not the member, and therefore the member would likely be required to resign with the seat filled by the next person on the list.

I said speculate because that’s all it is, speculation. No one knows exactly what would happen because that hasn’t been decided yet. It would be legislated later. On the concept of the seat being ‘owned’ by the party I have to say I’m fundamentally opposed, it gives far too much power to the party, discourages independent thought and dissent (all to rare already) and is directly opposed to the spirit of our parliamentary system, which is the member is answerable to his constituents. It would also create two classes of MPPs, and I’m not keen on that idea.

It’s all still ‘to be determined’ though, and that was a major factor in my decision. I’m being asked to cast a vote of faith, without answers to what I’d consider some pretty fundamental questions about just how this whole thing would work. I’m just not willing to do that. If these issues were all spelled-out satisfactorily I might have been willing to overlook the faults of MMP and cast a vote for change. But there is just too much left TBD.

Given that the polls show most Ontarians aren’t willing to do so either, will this be the end of the quest for electoral reform? I don’t know, only time will tell. Hopefully not, as I would like to see change. But I don’t think MMP is the way to go. The STV system proposed in B.C. (and will be voted on again in 2009) seems more promising. If we do try again in Ontario though, I hope a more complete system will be presented to the people.

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tono-bungay said...

From the Citizens Assembly report, p. 156

Seat Vacancies

All electoral systems have rules to fill seats that may become vacant between general elections. In the Assembly’s MMP system, if a local seat becomes vacant, a by-election will be held. This is the practice under Ontario’s current system. If a list seat becomes vacant, Elections Ontario will select the next available person on that party’s list as submitted for the previous election.

In New Zealand, until 2005, there was a rule that if a list member decided to leave the party that had been allocated the seat for that member, the member would have to resign and the seat would be awarded to the next person on that party’s list. The Ontario legislature would be free to adopt a similar rule.

Unknown said...

Well, comme toujours in Canada on electoral reform. "Yes, the proposed system is GREAT, except for this one minor quibble, so let's keep the deeply unrepresentative system we already have because the magical pony [Atrios, TM] electoral system wasn't on the table." Really, isn't the WHOLE POINT of MMP to make sure that people's ideological commitments (represented in democratic political systems by PARTIES) are respected? Would this not prevent travesties like Emerson's swtich in 2006? Wouldn't this be a GOOD thing?

And yes, STV in principle might be better, but it is so complicated that I don't think anyone would understand how their vote would impact electoral outcomes (thereby reducing representativeness). I have a graduate degree in political science [albeit not specializing in electoral systems], and frankly, could not wrap my head around it during the B.C. referendum. Do you really think that such a confusing system would be better?

Steve Withers said...

The issue of what to do in the case of the list MP leaving their party cased huge debates in New Zealand.

On the one hand, if you force the MP who dissents to resign, then you ARE putting power into the hands of party bosses and creating a situation where party discipline is stronger.

On the other hand, that member agreed to support his/her party's platform in good faith.

Where the problem usually arises, is a NEW issue. one not previously dealt with by the party concerned and where there may be significant ly diverse opinion within the party. In New Zealand, the dilemma is described thus: "Did he leave his party or did his party leave him?"

When a party makes a major shift in policy or approach, for whatever reasons, there will still be those who support the previous position. To what extent is an MP able to follow their own conscience on any issue?

New Zealand did have a law that required a list MP who left their party to resign. So what happened? They refused to leave their party. So the party they had dissented from had to take measures to kick them out of the party and the MP concerned is free to fight that process in the courts. In the end, the law was unworkable and the predictions that would be the case wre the very reason there was a sunset clause in the law.

So the present situation is that a list MP who dissents will face serious sanctions, but they cannot be forced out of the House. Unless their position on the relevant issue has big support within their party or there are enough voters to support a new party, the political career of the person concerned will be over. They can't be returned to Parliament with being elected either locally or on the list of a party : their own or some other.

Either way, it is voters who will make the call and that IS how it should be.

I'm sorry to see you voted against MMP for this reason as it is, in the big picture, a trivial issue compared to much more significant failngs of the present system.

Jeff said...

M, if that's the case, then I feel my concerns were justified.

Nicholas, I don't think the proposed system was great. I had a lot of issues, but I'd decided to hold my nose. The vacancy issue, which I think is the opposite of a minor quibble, is what tipped the balance for me.

Linux, I don't think it's a minor quibble. And if we are going to change systems, I think we can do better than trading one imperfect system for one slightly less imperfect system.