Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Voters should verify the claims of MMP critics before Oct. 10

The following editorial by 'Vote for MMP' supporter Steve Withers ran on July 30th in the Orillia Packet & Times. It's reposted here in its entirety.

GUEST COLUMN: Voters: verify the claims of electoral reform critics before Oct. 10

On Oct. 10, we will all have the chance to make history. There will be a referendum on changing the voting system we use to elect our MPPs.

In advance of the coming referendum, one of the most interesting aspects of the electoral reform debate currently underway is the lack of any substance to the arguments against the mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting system recommended for Ontario by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly.

Critics like Orillia's Doug Lewis, a former minister in the Brian Mulroney government, and Liberal party activist and backroom operative, Christopher Holcroft, are echoing the same list of negative talking points about the MMP without apparently making the effort to personally verify whether they stand up to scrutiny. Reading their articles, not one of them offer us any information or examples from other places that use MMP that might support even one of their many assertions. All we get is a shopping list of claims without facts.

If the recommended mixed-member proportional voting system were really as bad as critics claim, why on Earth would the Ontario Citizens' Assembly have almost unanimously (94 to eight) recommended it? To me, the answer is obvious. What Lewis and Holcroft and others have been saying about MMP isn't true. I hope every voter will do what Lewis and Holcroft (and others) clearly have not done, and verify if there is any truth to these claims.
Certainly, the Ontario Citizens' Assemby didn't think so after examining all of these issues in detail.

I should say I have an advantage over Lewis and Holcroft where MMP is concerned. I've actually lived in a country that uses MMP (New Zealand) and voted in elections there.

I have been a member of a party and participated personally in the vigorously democratic candidate selection meetings that can occur when there are many worthy candidates, for both local and list places on the ballot. Had any of the critics made any effort to find out how this really works, they could avoid the risk of embarrassing themselves by having so obviously not done their homework where MMP is concerned.

I hope Ontario voters do their homework on MMP and not follow the example of Lewis and Holcroft. The OCA voted for MMP for very good reasons. I urge voters to find out what those reasons are.

In my personal experience, MMP is a much better system for voters. MMP offers voters two votes: one local and one for a party province-wide. That second vote is a very powerful one, holding parties to account across the entire province, not just locally. The party bosses of the present system are terrified voters will choose MMP and be able to hold them and their party collectively to account everywhere through that province-wide vote.

The present voting system gives us one vote for one candidate in one riding. That vote only counts if your preferred candidate wins, otherwise, you get nothing. Your one vote does not count at all in any of other 102 ridings in Ontario. Your one vote, at best, holds less than one per cent of all MPPs to account and only indirectly affects the fortunes of their party. Very few voters indeed get to vote directly for the party leaders. Under MMP, your party vote is a direct vote of support for the party you favour. It counts no matter who won your local race. Its effect is for all of Ontario, not just your local riding. How anyone can say this significant enhancement of voter power is less democratic defies rational understanding.

So who are the Ontario Citizens' Assembly and why does what they think matter?

The current government of Ontario, recognizing the problems inherent in the present way we elect MPPs, created the citizens assembly process to allow ordinary voters to have a look at these problems and see if they could devise a system, with expect help and public input, that would be better.

This was done by randomly selecting 103 ordinary people, one from each riding in Ontario to do the job. They became the Ontario Citizens' Assembly. After nine months of study and public hearings across the province, the OCA recommended by a vote of 94 to eight, that Ontarians adopt an Ontario-made version of the mixed-member proportional system.

It's a shame some of our politicians and party activists defending the present system haven't bothered doing their homework on electoral reform. I hope voters won't follow their example and will make the effort to find out for themselves how MMP really works.

I should add that I certainly won't be voting for anyone who makes inaccurate, perhaps cynical, unverified claims about MMP, a system that offers the chance for the significant improvement to democracy in Ontario since 1792. If these people are willing and able to base their case against MMP on a list of unverified talking points that don't stand up to scrutiny, how could we trust them on any other important issue?

The Ontario Citizens' Assembly case for MMP can be found on the website http://www.citizensassembly.gov.on.ca.

They did their homework and have made an excellent recommendation that Ontarians who also do their homework cannot help but support.

On Oct. 10, I urge you to vote for MMP.

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