Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 6

This part of the argument revolves around the idea of two classes of MPP. The basic question is: are list candidates and local candidates interchangeable? If the answer is no, we have a problem. I believe the answer to be no.

Do they have the same responsibilities? No. Nobody disputes that local MPP's have the added responsibility of dealing with constituent complaints and problems. With this in mind should we really pay the same to each when they don't do the same work? More importantly, do they deserve the same say in our government.

Do they have the same rights? This is an interesting question and because the recommendation of the citizens' assembly has not been put into bill-form yet we have no idea what the answer would be. Federally, we just saw Joe Comuzzi cross the floor; would list MPP's have the same right? I can't imagine that they would.

Neither the same rights nor the same responsibilities means no to me. This creates a problem do we trust a list MPP with a cabinet portfolio? With the Premier's office? If these new list MPP's will be second-class why do they have equal power?

Slightly off topic point: It has been raised elsewhere that the list MPP's will provide diversity to the legislature. I do admit that this is a possibility. The problem is even if they look different they will not be able to act differently. I can't imagine a list MPP going against the wishes of the party that elected him or her. Diversity is only valuable if it brings a diversity of opinion. Otherwise it's little more than pandering and vote-grabbing.

Monday, June 25, 2007

No Flip-Flops on the BBQ circuit M. Dion!

Stephane Dion is suddenly wondering what exactly constitutes that nation he voted for last winter. M. Dion twisted himself into a pretzel to vote for the Quebec nation resolution in the run up to the convention and now apparently has buyer's remorse. I am not too much of a partisan to admit when my leader makes a gaffe and this is a big one. Dion's a former sociology professor who's spent his life dealing with Quebec nationalism. How on earth did he not get this right the first time?!?! Yes, M. Dion the resolution is flawed. So why in God's name did you and so many other Liberals vote for it? The old axiom "better late than never" does not apply here. M. Dion screwed up and now he looks like he's trying to have it both ways. Heaven help us in Quebec in the next election.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Toronto's Garbage Plan: Tax the Poor

The city of Toronto has announced a new levy on garbage. The New Democrat controlled council is trying to make the city more green. The new plan is a disaster. The plan works as follows. Every household will buy a trash bin. The smallest size (about one bag of garbage every two weeks) is free after rebate and then the bins get more and more expensive up to $150 a year. In addition any garbage that can't be fit into the containers will cost residents somewhere between $2.50 and $3 (notwithstanding four 'free' bags a year). So why is this such a bad idea? Well, apparently the NDP have forgotten their progressive roots because this is probably the most regressive tax a government has imposed in a long time. There is no accommodation made for large households. In other words, a single stock broker pays nothing while the immigrant family with 5 kids and the grandparents living at home pays through the nose. The tragedy is that Toronto is already one of the most garbage-conscious places on earth. There are few if any jurisdictions that do as much waste diversion as Toronto. However, residents can do little about excessive, non-recyclable packaging which fills our garbage bags. This kind of well-intentioned idiocy is par for the course with David Miller, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 5

There is a claim by fair vote that all voters are equal under the new system. This is blatantly false to anyone who believes in the idea of 'wasted votes'. Under the new system everyone votes twice: once for the party and once for the local candidate. The vote for the candidate may or may not be a wasted vote. This depends on the definition of a wasted vote. Under fair vote's definition the same percentage of local votes will be wasted under the old system as under the new system. The party votes are more complicated. As I said earlier the parties are rewarded with list seats only after their local seats have been taken out. This means that parties that do well in local races will get few if no seats. Let's take the following scenario:

Party A: 40% province wide; 65 local seats
Party B: 30% Province wide; 15 local seats
Party C: 20% Province wide; 10 local seats
Party D: 10% province wide; 0 local seats

The list distribution would breakdown as follows:

Party A 0 seats
Party B ca 19 seats
Party C ca 9 seats
Party D ca 11 seats

With the overhang I'm not exactly sure how the allocation for the three losing parties would go but the estimate is close. Party A would certainly receive no seats. 40% of the list votes would be wasted. So dramatically wasted that while 60% of the people got to vote twice; 40% voted only once. In other words every vote is not equal. Now, people have said that if you voted for party A on the list you should be happy because your party won. I would be just as happy if the election were done by lottery and my party won. It would have about as much to do with my vote. I don't necessarily buy into the wasted vote argument. I understand the idea of every vote for a losing candidate making it necessary for the winner to have more votes. I understand the idea of the list percentage determining the number of seats a party is 'supposed' to win. However, the argument for change revolves around the idea of wasted votes. If that is your reason for voting for MMP, you should be worried about the problems noted above.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong For Ontario pt. 4

Well, back to it boys and girls. Today we discuss who is advantaged and disadvantaged by MMP. The answer may surprise you. Let's start with the obvious. The most popular party that has traditionally benefited from FPTP will be disadvantaged. You can debate the merits and demerits of that all you like. The second and third place parties will be advantaged. Practically, this means that the Liberals and PC's win if they lose and the NDP, barring a Hampton government, always wins. Who else loses? Well, everyone else in politics. Okay, so maybe the Greens get one or two seats from the lists but what is the Greens' goal at the end of the day? To become an official party (where the real money is) and eventually someday form a government. This is unlikely under MMP and here is why: the ridings are bigger. If the referendum passes, Ontario will get the largest ridings in Canada by population. Larger than the federal ridings. How much more difficult will it be for a fourth candidate to win in a riding of over 120,000 people? The Greens may be ecstatic at the prospect at getting into the legislatures but they might find that their fortunes stall there. Maybe getting into the legislature and subsequently into the debate will make the Greens a force to be reckoned with. I can't say. I can say that big parties with lots of money and lots of volunteers are going to best suited to run in these super-ridings. The problems in Southern Ontario relate to population, in Northern Ontario, geography is the problem. The largest ridings south of 60 will get a little bigger as they shrink from 11 to 9. That means more money needed by local candidates to go out to canvass their constituents.

The people most disadvantaged by the system are independents. Now, you can make an argument that independent MPP's are rare and ineffective. I don't dispute that. I support a party. However, it is an essential characteristic of our democracy that ANYONE can become a member of provincial parliament. Not only are independents shut out completely of 39 of the 129 ridings, their chances of winning in the other 90 just went down significantly. It is important to note that only about 3% of Onatrians carry party memberships. That means that 39 seats can only be filled by 3% of the population. This might happen anyway in the current system but the point is that now 97% of Ontarians cannot win those seats. It would become harder and more expensive for an average person to get elected. I don't see that as an improvement to our democracy.

A quick response to Clear Grit's reply to my first three posts:
  • First of all, the argument that the system should be changed to coincide with what people believe the system to be is absurd. The fact that people believe that seats are allocated based on party popularity is a failure of our democracy not a cry for reform. If people are confused by our current electoral system, God help them with MMP.
  • Safe seats change as yesterday's by-election in Calgary-Elbow demonstrates.
  • The level of accountability that a list candidate will be subject to compared to our current candidates is laughable. Yes, the nomination process is the same, but there are no voters to tell a party to go to the devil when they choose a poor candidate. Instead, we rely on voters who only kind of understand our current electoral system to pay attention to the nomination process of each party and analyze all 39 candidates on all four major party lists to detect poor candidates. I doubt politics-junkies like me will have time to look at all the candidates let alone the average voter.
  • The current system is not on the ballot. I do not support the current system. I wrote a submission to the assembly advocating change. My choice, majoritarian run-off, is about as popular as the plague but it doesn't matter. The question before us is whether or not we want the system proposed by the citizens assembly. If it is not right for Ontario, we should not simply make a leap of faith to get away from the devil we know. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
  • It is folly to expect our political culture to change overnight because our electoral system has. The last coalition government (note: coalition NOT minority) in Ontario lasted about two years. The lure of a majority government has not led the Italians to the polls on an almost yearly basis for the past fifty years. Sweden has avoided going to the polls every year by turning their 7 parties into two coalitions which can form majorities. Swedish politicos are panicking at the prospect of the rise of a non-coalition party which may cause the Riksdag to become unstable.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why MMP is Wrong for Ontario pt. 3

The next problem with the system is slightly technical but it is important so please bear with the explanation. The problem relates to how the seats are allocated. A party receives seats based not purely on the percentage of the vote it receives but instead based on its popularity in general minus its popularity locally. A party's allocation is determined by figuring out how many seats out of 129 it 'should' get and subtracting the number of seats won locally. A party that does well locally could get ZERO seats from the lists. This scenario is described by the assembly itself. Why is this a problem? Shall I list the ways?
  1. It favours parties who do poorly at the local level and disadvantages parties with strong local organization. Parties with good candidates that voters actually vote for get nothing, parties that have poor candidates that could never win locally get seats.
  2. Wasted votes. Fair vote and their ilk are always complaining about wasted votes. Under this system my vote would, in all likelihood, be wasted. As a Liberal in an NDP riding, I still have no say. I will admit this is not a big problem for me personally, but it is one of the reasons we are having this referendum. If the proposed system doesn't fix the problem, what's the point of tearing up our democratic traditions.
  3. It discourages list candidates from trying to run (or at least very hard) locally. It is far easier for people like, oh I don't know, the leader of the Green Party, to get 3% of the popular vote than go door to door and try to win a riding.
  4. It assures perpetual minority governments. In order to win a majority government a party would have to a) garner over 50% of the popular vote or b) win 65 out of 90 or 72% of first past the post seats. The Liberal landslide in 2003 won about 68% of the local seats and nowhere near 50% of the popular vote. I don't mind the odd minority government but having an election every 18 months for the rest of my life is not an appealing prospect.
  5. It seems to place a higher respect for the list vote than the local vote.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Why MMP Is Wrong for Ontario pt. 2

So you think the old system is like a broken clock: right about twice a day? MMP is still wrong for Ontario. MMP entrenches power in the hands of Ontario's political elite and takes it away from the average citizen. How? Well, simple it adds 39 seats awarded to political parties who decide who will go into the legislature. Nearly a third of the Ontario legislature will be parachuted in by partisans. Now in theory this could be a democratic process but with the ridiculously low membership numbers that provincial parties boast, this becomes a decision of the few. A closed list is less complicated but it is also less democratic. By asking political parties to put forward their lists before the election you deprive them of the most democratic way of making their lists i.e. using the election results and putting in the candidates who lost close races. Even assuming that parties use the most democratic means at their disposal, a one member one vote of their party membership, how many people are choosing are MPP's? How many members does the Green Party of Ontario actually have? I sincerely doubt it's anywhere close to the 100,000 people that choose each and every MPP in the legislature today. Of course, this assumes the best from our party leadership. If a leader or party president (time to figure out who those people are because they are about to become very powerful) chooses, they could make someone an MPP without any public consultation whatsoever. While the process must be transparent, there is no requirement for it to be democratic. I don't see a party being punished to severely for having a less than fully democratic nomination process. Outside of the chattering classes no one will care or even notice.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Why MMP is wrong for Ontario pt. 1

This is going to be multi-parted as I've said. I don't know how many parts yet but here's a start. Let's start with principles. What is our democracy about? What is the goal of our legislature? There are two basic positions you can take on this: it is about electing the best representatives who will represent the views of the people or it is a means of reflecting the momentary popularity of various parties at a certain time. If you take the former view, as I do, it is difficult to argue for a system which awards seats based on party popularity. However, even if you take the latter view it is necessary to debunk a popular myth before continuing. It is generally assumed that the aggregate of the votes of one party's candidates is equal to its popularity. This is a poor assumption. Let's take a couple of recent election results to show why:

Please remember that 2003 saw a Liberal landslide province wide and subsequent by-elections have seen the Grits lose seats and popularity.

Here are the 2003 results for Toronto-Danforth:

Marylin Churley (NDP) 47.14%
Jim Davidson (L) 31.63%
George Sardelis (PC) 16.95%
Michael Pilling (G) 3.53%

Here are the 2006 by-election results for Toronto-Danforth

Peter Tabuns (NDP) 47.8%
Ben Chin (L) 38.9
Georgina Blanas (PC) 10.0%
Paul Charbonneau (G) 2.1%

The seven percentage point jump in Liberal support can only be explained by the candidacy of Ben Chin. It is not reflective of party popularity at that moment. The party was getting into a lot of trouble over the placement of the new natural gas plant so close to this environmentally conscious riding but Chin was able to get voters out to support him. In short, local candidates matter. They shape voting behaviour. An even more demonstrative example is the recent elections in Parkdale-High Park. Here is 2003 and here is 2006. The popularity of Gerard Kennedy and Cheri Di Novo is clear. People like Fair Vote who take aggregate vote totals and call it the percentage of seats a party 'deserves' are ignoring the local factor. Thus, we should reconsider exactly how 'broken' our system is. In later parts I will try to show why even if you think the current system is a disaster you should vote down the proposed change.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I'm Back!!!

Computer failure, travel and work led to a two month hiatus. Now that I am back on the right side of the ocean with a functional computer, I can resume blogging activities. Of course that would involve having things to blog about. I will soon be posting my criticism of the Citizens' Assembly proposal that will be on the ballot in October. This may be multi-parted. Real blog soon.
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