On October 10th, 2007, in addition to the provincial election, Ontarians will vote in a referendum on electoral reform. Voters will be asked which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature: the existing electoral system (First-Past-The-Post), or the alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens' Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional).
On July 18, 2007, a group of Liberals assembled in Toronto to organize a grassroots, province-wide movement called Liberals for MMP. Our goal is to encourage other Ontario Liberals to support Mixed Member Proportional in this fall's historic referendum.
WE SUPPORT THE CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY'S RECOMMENDATION FOR CHANGE
The Citizens' Assembly was made up of 103 citizens, selected at random by Elections Ontario, one from each of Ontario’s ridings. They were a cross-section of all Ontario voters. The Ontario Liberal government asked them to assess Ontario’s electoral system – the way votes translate into seats in the legislature for Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) - and to recommend whether we should keep our current system or adopt a different one.
Together, Assembly members consulted with the public through meetings and written submissions. Using what they learned and heard, they recommended that Ontario replace its First-Past-The-Post system with a new electoral system, the Mixed Member Proportional system now before Ontario voters.
The new system will be simple and sensible. Voters will still vote for their preferred local candidate just like now. In addition, voters will also cast a vote for their preferred political party. The share of these votes that each party wins will determine its overall share of seats in the legislature.
The provincial legislature will have 90 riding MPPs and 39 at-large MPPs. If after the 90 riding seats are filled, a party has fewer seats than its portion of the party vote, that party wins some of the additional 39 provincial (or at-large) seats to ensure it has its fair share of the total seats. These at-large representatives are elected from provincial lists of candidates nominated by each party in advance of the election. Voters can judge these at-large candidates, as well as local candidates, and vote accordingly.
Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) will give Ontario voters the best of both worlds. You get strong local representation plus fair results, with parties gaining no more, and no fewer seats than they really deserve.
Dalton McGuinty did the right thing by promising a Citizens' Assembly to examine the province's electoral system. Now voters have the opportunity to vote on the Citizen's Assembly recommendation on October 10th, fulfilling the Liberal promise to put democracy in the hands of the people.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH 'FIRST-PAST-THE-POST'?
Our Single-Member-Plurality, or 'First-Past-The-Post' system tended to work well when Ontario only had two parties competing for votes.
But since the rise of our multi-party system, Ontarians have frequently seen our democratic choices distorted by our First-Past-The-Post system at election time.
First-Past-The-Post frequently produces legislatures that bear little resemblance to how people actually voted. For example, under our current voting system, it's not infrequent for a party which wins 45% of the popular vote on election day to end up with 60% to 70% of the seats in the legislature.
This is a regular occurrence.
In 1990, the Ontario NDP won a majority government with only 38% of the vote. In later years, Mike Harris' Conservatives won two majority governments in Ontario, never achieving higher than 45% in voter support.
The thwarting of democracy by our current voting system hasn't only occurred in Ontario. The First-Past-The-Post system has produced truly bizarre election results in other provinces.
In Quebec in 1998, the separatist Parti Québécois won fewer votes (43%) than the Quebec Liberals (44%). But First-Past-The-Post handed the PQ a majority with 76 out of 125 seats. As a result, Quebeckers and all Canadians had to live with five extra years of separatist rule and the greater uncertainty that came with it.
In the 1996 British Columbia election, the Liberals won the popular vote with 42%, three points ahead of the NDP at 39%. Amazingly, under First-Past-The-Post, this translated into a narrow NDP majority - 39 out of 75 seats.
In recent decades, First-Past-The-Post has handed the second place party wins in six out of 10 provinces: Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. As an electoral system, First-Past-The-Post is clearly broken.
In addition, voters who don't back the winner in their constituency find their vote is wasted because it has no impact on the make-up of the legislature.
While no electoral system can be described as perfect, it's clear that our current system, with its history of distorting the wishes of voters and producing majority governments with only minority support, is one of the worst out there.
Thanks to Dalton McGuinty, Ontarians have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on October 10th to vote to modernize our electoral system and adopt a new system that will ensure the Ontario legislature more closely resembles how people actually voted.
LIBERAL PARTY PROVINCE-WIDE CANDIDATES UNDER MIXED MEMBER PROPORTIONAL
Under the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system, Ontarians will continue to be represented in local constituencies by 90 representatives. Ontarians will also benefit from an additional 39 representatives elected province-wide. The Citizens' Assembly recommended leaving it up to individual parties to decide how to pick their province-wide candidates.
The method by which each party picks its province-wide candidates will be under open scrutiny by voters, inviting them to know more about a given party's internal mechanisms and values. This will invigorate the democratic process and push all parties, including the Liberals, into a healthy competition to ensure their process of selecting province-wide candidates is progressive and democratic.
Should the new system pass this fall's referendum, Liberals For MMP suggest the Ontario Liberal Party should choose its province-wide candidates using the following principles, in accordance with the Liberal values of diversity and inclusion:
1. That the party undertake the most democratic and transparent process possible to select its province-wide list, convening regional party conventions and/or primaries to choose nominees.
2. At least 20 out of 39 province-wide candidates should be women.
3. The list must have regional balance, alternating between Ontario's regions accordingly, starting with a nominee from Northern Ontario. The party must ensure that there is balance between rural and urban nominees on the list.
4. The party will ensure that Ontario's diversity be well-reflected, with members of minorities historically excluded from the Ontario legislature well-represented.
5. All Liberal list members will open local constituency offices in the regions they were elected to represent.
The above list of suggestions is not exclusive. We offer these suggestions to continue a dialogue with other members of the Liberal Party. We are open to suggestions not listed above and look forward to that discussion with our fellow Liberals and all Ontarians.
FORMAL COALITION GOVERNMENTS MUST BE SUPPORTED BY ONTARIO LIBERAL PARTY MEMBERS
If Ontario adopts MMP, majority coalition governments could become frequent. This provides us with another opportunity to ensure the party's leadership is accountable to the party's membership and by extension to the greater public.
The Ontario Liberal Party should adopt a rule that any formal majority coalition agreements entered into by the party leadership under MMP must be approved by a majority of party members. If the party members disapprove of the formal coalition, it will be considered a vote of non-confidence in the party's leadership.
This manifesto is meant to continue a discussion inside and outside our party on the issue of electoral reform in advance of this October's referendum.
It is by no means our last word on the matter.
We strongly encourage all Liberals and all Ontarians to continue this dialogue with us between now and October 10th and beyond.
The Citizens' Assembly voted democratically to replace our current system with a made-in-Ontario Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system.
Under Mixed Member Proportional, when 45% of voters support a political party, that party will receive about 45% of the seats in the legislature, rather than the 60% to 70% they win now. Politicians will be forced to work together for the good of the public. All votes will count.
Remember, First-Past-The-Post gives more power to the politicians.
Mixed Member Proportional gives more power to the people.
Liberals are first and foremost democrats. We want good and balanced government for Ontario. In or out of power, we support the principles of fairness and moderation, a strong economy, a clean environment and a caring society.
Mixed Member Proportional will ensure that Ontario has both a better democracy and a better government overall, regardless of whether Liberals hold the balance of power. And that makes sense for Liberals who care about democracy first.
To obtain a PDF copy of the Liberals For MMP Manifesto and accompanying Q&A, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.