The case for MMP
Here’s a link to an entry in James Bow’s always-thoughtful blog that links to Andrew Coyne’s column on the issue of mixed-member proportional representation, which is the electoral system that Ontario will adopt if a majority of ballots are cast in its favour on October 10. Coyne’s column struck me as funny because he cannot hide his boredom with the existing first-past-the-post system. Yet his perspective is typical. While most Ontarians know little about the MMP proposal, those who do—like Coyne, and Bow, and me, and every other political junkie in Ontario except Sheila Copps—have invested great hope in its success, believing it to be the cure for many of our democracy’s ills.
What the argument in favour of MMP boils down to is the belief that citizens are far more sophisticated than their existing political system. (Certainly Coyne believes that of himself.) We want our governments to act, to be catalysts social, political and economic change. And we want to vote accordingly—to cast our ballot for the party whose platform best represents our own personal vision. But a vote for any party other than the two dominant ones often feels wasted. At best, if you vote NDP, you’ll elect a member relegated to the opposition benches, ignored by the government and the media alike. If you vote Green, you’ll have nothing to show for it. And you’ll get either a Liberal or a Conservative majority, elected with about 41 per cent of all ballots cast, that you’re stuck with it until the next election, when you get to cast another protest ballot that once again counts for nothing.
Indeed, Liberals and Tories have the current system down to a science: they know exactly how to achieve that magical 41 per cent mark—it’s not that high a threshold, after all—and many of their tactics involve keeping government invisible and dampening meaningful debate to avoid alienating anyone. In other words, they encourage people to disengage from politics. Voter turnout has been on the decline for years because people can’t be bothered to care. But low turnout suits the dominant parties just fine—the fewer people show up at the polls, the more easily the results can be engineered to their purposes by mobilizing the party faithful and converting them into a 41 per cent “majority.” So they make a point of boring us to tears. It’s really quite insulting. And enraging, if you’re willing to admit you’ve allowed yourself to be duped.
MMP would right that problem. The proposal’s mixture of locally elected MPPs plus a contingent of representatives based on each party’s share of the popular vote would ensure stronger NDP caucuses as well as a contingent of Greens (not to mention any other party that was able to gain a critical mass of votes province wide). It would also likely produce minority governments in perpetuity, which is a good thing. It would force all political parties to take a little water with their wine, to set priorities about what they truly want to accomplish and to broker deals to pass the legislation they want. Therein lies the hope that MMP holds for its proponents: suddenly every government measure would need someone else’s backing, parties would have to name their price, there would be open tension within any ruling government and politics would matter to people’s lives again. At the very least, it would cease to be boring.