WHAT WAS THE CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY AND WHAT DID IT DO?
The Citizens' Assembly was a group of 103 randomly-selected citizens from the Permanent Register of Electors for Ontario - one from each of Ontario's electoral districts. With the Chair, George Thomson, 52 of the members were male and 52 were female. They were asked to assess Ontario's electoral system, and others, and make a recommendation whether Ontario should retain its 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. That recommendation was outlined in a report submitted to the government on May 15, 2007.
The government promised to put the question of whether to accept the Assembly's recommendation to voters in a province-wide referendum in October 2007.
WHAT IS FIRST-PAST-THE-POST?
First-Past-The-Post refers to Ontario's current voting system, also known as Single-Member Plurality. Under this system, the province is divided up into 107 electoral districts. Voters in each district cast one vote for the candidate they want to represent them at Queen's Park. The candidate with the most votes on election day wins the seat, regardless of whether or not that candidate won a majority of the votes cast in the constituency.
On election night, the party with the most seats across the province is typically asked to form a government, regardless of how many votes that party received.
HOW DOES FIRST-PAST-THE-POST DIFFER FROM THE MIXED MEMBER PROPORTIONAL PROPOSAL?
Under the current system, it doesn't matter if a political party is supported by the majority of Ontarians, or even a plurality of Ontarians. All that matters is which party wins the most seats. Under First-Past-The-Post, because parties need only win the most votes in any given constituency to win the whole constituency outright, it's very easy for a political party to win a majority of seats with only a minority of votes across the province. For example, in 2003 in Ontario the Liberals won 46% of the province-wide vote. However, that vote translated into 72 out of 103 seats for the Liberals, or 70% of the seats.
Under the current system, voters only get one ballot in one constituency. You can't vote for the leader, you can't vote for the party. You can only vote for a local candidate. Voters who may wish to vote for a party, but don't like that party's local candidate are faced with a difficult dilemma.
Under MMP, voters will have two votes. Voters will be able to vote for their local representative, as they do now. But voters will also be able to cast a second vote for a political party. Voters can even cast a vote for one party's local candidate and then vote for a different party if they wish. Under the proposed system, the votes won by political parties will be used to determine the number of overall seats each party will win. If a party receives 46% of the vote, it will receive about 46% of the seats at Queen's Park.
Right now, there are 107 constituencies across the province. Under MMP, the number of constituencies would drop to 90. But 39 new province-wide seats would be added for a total of 129 Members of Provincial Parliament (or MPPs.)
The new system guarantees both local representation and proportional results. First-Past-The-Post only guarantees local representation.
WHY SHOULD WE GET RID OF FIRST-PAST-THE-POST?
Because First-Past-The-Post has a history of distorting voters' wishes at election time. It typically translates minority support for one party into a majority government for that party.
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. As a result, many voters under our current system feel pressured to vote strategically - meaning cast a ballot for a candidate they don't want in order to stop another candidate they want even less - in order to impact the outcome and make their vote count.
Even more disturbing, sometimes First-Past-The-Post actually gives the second-place party a majority government. In Quebec in 1998, the separatist Parti Quebecois won 43% of the vote, compared to the Quebec Liberals who won 44% of the vote. Despite this, the Parti Quebecois won a majority with 76 out of 125 seats. Similarly in British Columbia in 1996, the Liberals won 42% of the vote, versus 39% for the NDP. But this translated under First-Past-The-Post into a NDP majority with 39 out of 75 seats! In Ontario in 1985, the Liberals outpolled the Tories in the popular vote by 38% to 37%, but the PCs still won the election 52 seats to 48, with 25 for the NDP.
In recent decades, First-Past-The-Post has handed the second place party a victory in 6 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.
I'VE HEARD THAT THE NEW SYSTEM WILL MAKE ONTARIO POLITICS LESS ADVERSARIAL. PARTIES WILL HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER FOR THE COMMON GOOD. IS THIS TRUE?
The necessity of forming partnerships across party lines will require a change in political culture, which is a good thing. Currently, opposition parties can only attack and smear the majority party in the hopes of undermining its public support in the next election. Legislative debates are often meaningless as policies have already been decided in the backrooms of the ruling party or in secret cabinet meetings. Even government backbenchers have little say over the direction of public policy. Under MMP, opposition parties would become more accountable as they would have a real say in shaping legislation and public policy. Governments would have to negotiate with the other parties in order to pass legislation. Of course, such a proposition is unattractive to supporters of the status quo who now enjoy the ability to impose their will on the province with only minority support at election time.
The incentive to defeat a minority government today because of a minor shift in public support for the parties would be gone, as such shifts wouldn't necessarily produce the dramatic seat changes we see under the current system.
I'VE HEARD THAT THE NEW SYSTEM COULD PRODUCE SHAKY GOVERNMENTS AND ELECTIONS EVERY SIX MONTHS. IS THIS TRUE?
It's completely untrue. Most jurisdictions which use MMP have a history of very stable, effective governments that last for many years between elections.
Comparing the results for the German and Irish proportional voting systems with results in Canada we see that the frequency of elections is unlikely to change significantly :
Ireland: 16 elections since 1948 - 1 election every 3.63 years
Germany: 16 elections since 1949 - 1 election every 3.56 years
Canada: 18 elections since 1945 - 1 election every 3.39 years
In these two countries, majority coalition governments are the norm. The great majority of major democracies are governed by coalitions. In fact, many countries (including Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) with very diverse populations have a history of very stable coalition government.
There are many people who wrongfully believe that minority governments or coalition governments can't get things done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Minority governments have a great history of accomplishment in Ontario, across Canada and around the world.
Mike Pearson's Liberal minority government in the 1960s not only introduced Medicare in Canada, but also many historic changes including the adoption of our Canadian flag. David Peterson's Liberal minority government from 1985 to 1987 was viewed by many to be one of the most effective and accomplished governments in Ontario history.
I'VE HEARD THAT LIST MEMBERS WILL BE APPOINTED BY THEIR PARTIES TO THE LEGISLATURE AND NOT ELECTED BY THE VOTERS. IS THIS TRUE?
It's not true at all. Voters will elect list members when they vote for a political party on their ballot.
Political parties will be required to present their list of province-wide candidates to the public well in advance of election day through Elections Ontario, and explain what process they undertook to select them.
Parties will likely attempt to ensure their lists are very representative of the province's population and regions. Parties will rank their lists in the order nominees are to be elected. For example, if a party elects five province-wide members, the first five nominees on its list will be elected to the legislature.
Province-wide list nominees will be a new form of province-wide candidacy in Ontario. They will be teams of candidates put forth by the political parties to represent the province as a whole, not just one constituency in the legislature.
Under MMP, voters will be able to vote both for a local candidate and for a political party. If voters don't like one party's province-wide list candidates, they can vote against that party on the ballot. Alternatively, if voters don't like the local party's candidate on the ballot, they can vote against that local candidate, but still vote for the party.
WHAT WILL LIST MEMBERS DO?
List members will be a new form of public representative in Ontario. Their roles will be virtually identical to the roles of riding MPPs with one major difference: riding members take constituency work from one riding, list members take constituency work from anywhere in the province. They make it possible for our legislature to reflect how the greater populace actually voted.
List members will be required to respond to concerns raised from any Ontarian, not just those in one constituency. List members won't be bound by the usual urban/rural, geographical/regional divides. As a result, list members will be able to devote more time to specific issues of provincial concern and work more often on legislative committees. This will actually free up local members to focus more on local issues.
In other jurisdictions that have a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system, most candidates who run on party lists also run as candidates in individual constituencies. The rationale is that most governments under MMP receive few if any list members (because winning parties normally don't need a top-up of list members to ensure their representation matches their popular vote). Alternatively, parties that lose elections elect a smaller number of constituency members, and therefore need a top-up of list members. Thus, it's likely most list members will have run but lost in a district seat in the last election. Those elected from the list will benefit from having sought election and faced voters directly in a district seat. If they want to participate in the next government, they'll likely have to run for a district seat again.
UNDER THE NEW SYSTEM, THE NUMBER OF RIDINGS WILL DROP FROM 107 TO 90, MAKING RIDINGS BIGGER GEOGRAPHICALLY. WON'T THIS MAKE IT HARDER TO GET IN TOUCH WITH MY LOCAL MPP?
Under the Citizens' Assembly MMP proposal, every riding in Ontario will continue to have local representation. All voters will also benefit from the election of 39 province-wide MPPs. Because they are province-wide, any one in Ontario can call and ask for help from any of them. If you can't get in touch with your local MPP, you can get in touch with one of the 39 province-wide MPPs. They'll likely take off some of the constituency work load from local MPPs. Under MMP, voters will have more representation, not less.
I'VE HEARD THE 39 LIST MEMBERS UNDER MMP WILL BE CHOSEN FOR THEIR BACKROOM CONNECTIONS AND WILL ONLY BE ACCOUNTABLE TO THEIR PARTIES, NOT THE PUBLIC. IS THIS TRUE?
This is completely false. List members will be first and foremost accountable to the voters. They will be a new form of public servant in Ontario. Their job will be to represent all Ontarians in the legislature, not just one constituency.
The Citizens' Assembly recommended to leave it up to individual parties to decide how to pick their province-wide candidates. If one party fails to conduct a fair and open democratic process to select its list, electing the best people from all regions of the province, other parties will likely take advantage of these mistakes and create better lists. Each party will be required to report to Elections Ontario how they selected their province-wide lists, creating greater public scrutiny and accountability.
More than likely, parties will wish to nominate province-wide candidates who will help increase their appeal to the broader public. Under the current voting system or under the proposed new system, backroom cronies rarely make popular election candidates. It's foolish to suggest a political party would deliberately alienate voters by nominating a province-wide list filled with backroom friends of the leader.
We are recommending that the Ontario Liberal Party adopt the most democratic and transparent process possible when drawing up its list of province-wide candidates, should MMP pass this referendum. Furthermore, we are recommending that all list members open constituency offices in their home regions so that ordinary voters can gain access to them more easily.
I'VE HEARD THAT PARTIES WILL NOMINATE THEIR LISTS ALL FROM URBAN AREAS, HURTING RURAL AND NORTHERN COMMUNITIES. IS THIS TRUE?
Anti-MMP naysayers who claim to know how the parties will draw up their lists are simply misleading the public. Right now, noboby knows for sure how parties will draw up their province-wide lists. We only know that the Citizens' Assembly has decided to leave it up to each party to decide how to do it. This creates a healthy competition between parties to create the most democratic, representative and appealing list.
If a party nominates only urban nominees to its province-wide list, this will hurt that party's electoral chances in rural regions of the province. It's foolhardy to suggest a political party would deliberately alienate all rural voters by nominating an all-urban province-wide list.
I'M PARTICULARLY CONCERNED ABOUT DECLINING VOTER TURNOUT - WOULD MMP INCREASE POLITICAL PARTICIPATION?
Many factors affect voter turnout, but cross-national research shows that countries using fair voting systems have higher voter participation than countries using our outdated system - 5-12% higher in various studies. This should be of particular concern to Ontarians as voter participation in provincial elections since 1980 is only 60.7%.
The logic of fair voting systems should help address this problem. In our current system, many voters in safe-seat ridings or those supporting smaller parties know very well their vote will likely not elect anyone so many don't bother to vote at all.
Under the new system, all votes will be reflected in the make-up of the legislature.
When you know your vote always counts, you're more likely to head to the polls on election day.
I'VE HEARD THAT MMP WILL MEAN CLOSED DOOR PARTY DEAL-MAKING FOR WEEKS AFTER ELECTIONS TO DECIDE WHO GOVERNS THE PROVINCE. IS THIS TRUE?
Today, the party that wins the most seats in the legislature has an opportunity to form a government. This will continue to be the case under MMP, unless the biggest party is unable to earn the confidence of the House.
Under MMP, winning parties that don't win a majority of votes can choose to try to form a coalition agreement with another party, or can govern as a minority government and negotiate with other parties on an issue-by-issue basis.
After the 1985 provincial election, the Ontario Liberal Party held negotiations with the Ontario NDP. They signed an agreement giving David Peterson a minority government. Many political observers consider David Peterson's first term to be one of the most accomplished and effective governments in the history of Ontario.
WE'VE HEARD FROM STATUS QUO SUPPORTERS THAT WOMEN AND MINORITIES WON'T BE ANY BETTER REPRESENTED THAN UNDER OUR CURRENT SYSTEM. IS THIS TRUE?
When New Zealand switched from First-Past-The-Post to MMP, the number of women and minorities represented in their parliament went up.
In a fair voting system, many parties hope to get votes by presenting candidate lists that represent the diversity of the electorate, including significant numbers of women and minority candidates. As a result, fair voting systems elect more women and more minority candidates.
MMP WILL MEAN ONTARIO WILL HAVE 22 MORE POLITICIANS AND THEIR STAFF AT QUEEN'S PARK?
Currently, Ontario has 107 representatives who represent almost 13 million people. That's one Member for about 119,000 people. This makes Ontarians the most under-represented citizens in Canada by far.
Under the new model proposed by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly, the total number of members will rise to 129. That will be one Member for about every 95,000 Ontarians, a marked improvement.
At 129 seats, the new legislature will still be smaller than previous Ontario legislatures. Queen's Park had 130 seats from 1987 to 1999.
ISN'T MMP REALLY ABOUT HELPING THE GREEN PARTY AND THE NDP?
Our current system penalizes supporters of all parties. In the last provincial election, Liberal and Progressive Conservative voters cast two-thirds of all wasted votes. Why? Because they happened to live in ridings where another party had more supporters, so their votes elected no one. Between 1980 and 2003, 50.7% of Ontarians' votes were wasted. Proportional representation will benefit all Ontario voters by ensuring that their votes are counted in determining the composition of the legislature.
This issue is not about the supporters of Party X versus supporters of Party Y, or left versus right, or urban voters versus rural voters. It's about supporting the right of all Ontarians to cast equal and effective votes. It's about the need for fair election outcomes.
IF MAJORITY COALITION GOVERNMENTS BECOME THE NORM, DOESN'T THIS MEAN THAT THE LIBERAL PARTY WILL LIKELY BE A PART OF MOST FUTURE COALITION GOVERNMENTS? ISN'T THIS JUST A POWER GRAB BY THE ONTARIO LIBERAL PARTY?
Under the current FPTP system, the Ontario Liberal Party won a majority government in 2003 with only 46% of the vote.
Under the proposed MMP system, this level of support would not translate into a majority government. While the Liberal Party may be asked to form a majority coalition government from time to time, the fact is the Liberal Party, like all parties, won't be able to form a majority government ever again with only minority support from voters.
I'VE HEARD THAT MMP WILL ALLOW ONE-ISSUE FRINGE PARTIES TO HOLD THE BALANCE OF POWER WITH 2 OR 3 SEATS. IS THIS TRUE?
There are some who claim that MMP will allow small fringe parties to call the shots. But the 3% threshold chosen by the Citizens' Assembly will keep out many of the single-issue extremists. In 2003, even the Green Party won less than 3% of the vote. No other small parties have won more than 3% of the vote in recent times. But even if some smaller parties do achieve the 3% threshold, it is far more likely that a major party will want to form coalitions with other large parties where compromise is both possible and more agreeable. There is no history of fringe parties holding the balance of power in European countries with MMP.
I PREFER PARLIAMENTARY REFORM TO ELECTORAL REFORM. WHY CAN'T WE JUST GIVE MPPS MORE POWER TO VOTE FREELY AT QUEEN'S PARK AND IGNORE THE FLAWS IN OUR CURRENT VOTING SYSTEM?
Power and control have evolved so tightly in the leaders' offices at Queen's Park. Despite the good intentions of some opposition leaders, substantial parliamentary reform remains a distant dream.
Mixed Member Proportional won't solve all of our democratic problems, but it sure will present the opportunity for greater party cooperation. Politicians will have to work together for the good of the province. The new system will ensure that any legislation that passes into law be supported by parties that represent over 50% of the people.
A healthy division of powers at the provincial level would be a welcome relief. And we know that government kept on its toes is the best kind of government of all.