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The Progressive Economics Forum

Splitting Hairs Over MMP

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 Ontario’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 Murray’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 Coyne has done 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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Comments

Comment from Malcolm French
Time: October 5, 2007, 11:15 am

Erin said: “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.”

A good example of this was the election of the first Welsh Assembly. The dominant Labour Party won only one list seat in the entire country. Fortunately for them, it was in the region where Tony Blair’s handpicked protoge was at the top of the list, since Alun Michael failed to get elected in his constituency.

MMP isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But frankly, the distortions of FPTP have contributed significantly to the rise of separatism and the decline of moderate conservatism in Canada.

Comment from Nick Falvo
Time: October 8, 2007, 9:50 am

Erin:

Stop being so damn quotable! Pretty soon, there will no room on my Facebook profile for quotes from other people.

I especially love the first two sentences from your posting.

PS. Shame on you for using the American spelling of “favourite.”

Comment from Erin Weir
Time: October 8, 2007, 10:30 am

Thanks for the good word. I have corrected the spelling of favourite.

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