MMP in Ontario – Would the Green Tail Be Wagging the Liberal Dog?

I voted in favour of MMP (multi member proportionality) in the Ontario election yesterday, against some misgivings – notably the low threshold to gain representation – because of the clear gains – a better translation of electorate sentiment into seats, and an incentive to democratic participation. (Living in McGuinty’s seat, I voted even though I knew my NDP vote was “wasted.”) I was never persuaded that MMP would necessarily be of benefit to the left (although it does potentially create a space for parties to the left of the NDP.)

The main objection to MMP – that parties would dominate locally elected candidates seemed bogus to me since winning parties would get no party list members. The results confirm my view in that the winning Liberals would have got no party seats under MMP becasue of their sweep of the constituency seats . Hence any ambitious Liberal would have been nuts to have not run for a constituency seat if this election had been held under MMP.

However, and do I think this gives us pause for thought, yesterday’s results on an MMP system would – according to yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen – have given the Greens (with over 8% of the vote) 10 seats, more than enough to push the Liberals above majority status. If MMP had been in place, the Liberals would have won 60 seats, to 38 for the PCs, to 21 for the NDP, to 10 for the Greens.

I suspect the most likely outcome would have been the Green rather than the NDP tail wagging the Liberal dog – a bit of greenery and free marketry added to McGuinty’s centrist formula actually pushing him to the right. Not quite what my friends had in mind when they advised me to vote for MMP. This confirms my basic belief that progressive outcomes depend far more on us winning votes than the electoral system into which they are translated into seats.


  • Daniel Aldana Cohen

    Andrew, I take your point and it’s a good one. After all, how can the left advocate a change in the electoral system if it will be worse for the left? And along these lines: if Andrew Coyne and lefties are both arguing for electoral reform, in each case believing it will help his/her respective side, can both be right?

    Proportional representation is the only logical implementation of universal suffrage, since it is the only way of making every vote count equally. That said, debating the specific mechanics of a proportional system is obviously fair game. (Speaking of, I think the three percent threshold was if anything too high; five percent would have been an outrage.)

    The left should stick to its tradition of advocating more democracy in our institutions, not less, primarily on principle (we’d be hypocrites if we didn’t!) but also for strategic reasons. Like Andrew Coyne on the right, we on the left should bet that in a fairer contest, our ideas will prevail (I’m convinced his bet has longer odds). In inter-war France, the left was divided on whether to give women the vote because many felt they’d be swayed by macho strong men and would vote right. So it took Charles de Gaulle to finally give women the vote, in 1945, a lingering embarrassment. Look who’s voting left now.

    When assessing the strategic merits of proportional representation, we can’t rely on the party votes as they stand today. The incentives under PR would be so different, and the power of voters so much greater, we can only guess what choices they would make; never mind how parties would act in such a scenario. But if we don’t believe that in the medium and long run such choices would benefit the left, we are truly in trouble. Meanwhile, in most of the country, it seems like the status quo confines us to perpetual opposition, or to trying to imitate Bob Rae by winning an extremely narrow mandate when the stars align themselves perfectly. Not the greatest foundation for change.

  • Interesting. Yet another claim that the Green Party is right wing. Boy that gets old.

    I guess it’s time to go even things out by reading Blogging Tories for a while and getting my fill of the “Greens are left-wing eco-nazis” accusations.

    Actually, I should thank you for giving me an idea for a post. I’ve been trying to figure out why the left thinks we’re right and the right thinks we’re left for some time now, and I finally have a theory.

  • In Ontario’s old two-and-a-half party system, MMP would clearly have shifted politics left by generally giving the NDP the balance of power. Andrew Jackson is correct that the emergence of a Green Party that is not left-wing muddies the implications of greater proportionality. Indeed, MMP might have facilitated the emergence of another party or two. However, the fact remains that the NDP would do better under MMP and officially supported it.

    Andrew Coyne had some witty and articulate crying over spilled milk in yesterday’s National Post. I agree with him that the benefit of more proportionality is its likely effect not only on the distribution of seats among parties, but also on the political discourse between parties. First-past-the-post translates slight changes in the popular vote into huge seat swings. Political leaders are perpetually locked into frenetic partisanship, willing to say anything to gain a couple percentage points of support and afraid to take principled stands that might cost a couple points. Mitigating disproportionate seat swings would also mitigate these negative tendencies.

    First-past-the-post pushes political parties toward the meaningless middle. There is no contradiction between both Coyne, who wants more political space on the right, and those of us who want more political space on the left supporting MMP.

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