As the provincial referendum on adopting Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) nears, figuring out strange scenarios in which this voting system might not work well seems to have become Ontarioâ€™s favourite indoor sport. All of this hypothesizing appears to be losing sight of the fact that MMP is clearly better (or less bad) than the existing first-past-the-post system. The referendum is not about whether MMP is a perfect system or even the best conceivable system. The choice is between MMP and first past the post.
After volunteering on Will Murrayâ€™s campaign last night, I happened to catch an episode of Talk Ottawa. The No MMP spokesmen and some of the anti-MMP callers were quite bright and articulate. They raised several clever quibbles with MMP, but did not make much of a case for first past the post. While I have indulged in such quibbling myself, Ontarians need to start comparing the two options that actually appear on the referendum ballot.
Andrew CoyneÂ has doneÂ an excellent job of making the arguments for MMP and debunking those against it. The main criticism of MMP is that the politicians elected from party lists will be accountable to their party rather than to a constituency. However, as the Vote for MMP spokesmen on Talk Ottawa kept pointing out, parties could nominate candidates to their lists as democratically (or undemocratically) as they now nominate candidates in constituencies. Coyne notes that it would, in fact, be much easier for the public and the press to evaluate the formulation of lists put forward by parties than to scrutinize party nomination processes in more than 100 far-flung constituencies.
Another key point is that the Ontario proposal would elect less than one-third of the legislature from party lists. These list seats would “top up” parties that get a smaller share of seats than of votes. Parties that win a larger share of total seats than of votes through constituencies will not get any list seats. Simply being at the top of a party list will not guarantee perpetual re-election. On the contrary, politicians of the dominant parties who aspire to be in government will have a strong incentive to seek local seats rather than list seats. Therefore, the politicians who need to be held accountable will generally be just as accountable (or unaccountable) under MMP as they are currently.
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