Sunday, September 30, 2007

Vote for MMP: Conceptualizing electoral reform

Liberal Party member John Lennard, originally from Sudbury, Ontario, wrote this excellent analysis back in the summer on his blog on how the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system reflects the twin relationships the voter has with both the representative and the political party, unlike the existing system which only gives voters a relationship with their local representative. With John's permission, we're re-printing it today.

Vote for MMP: Conceptualizing electoral reform
by John Lennard


I have recently become a strong advocate for electoral reform. I came to this position after much reflection.

I started out by looking at where we stand. Right now, our legislative system is founded on the idea of local representation. The province of Ontario is divided into 107 specific geographic regions (or "ridings"), each of which is represented by an MPP. Among numerous candidates in each riding, these MPPs are elected by a plurality of voters: Whichever candidate gets the most votes, wins.

As envisaged by our current electoral framework, the predominant relationship is between the MPP and her riding. We, the citizens of a given riding, are electing a person to represent us at Queen's Park. It is expected that our MPP will fight for our interests and be responsive to our needs and the needs of our communities. At the provincial level, our MPPs are expected to meet and collectively discuss, debate and set public policy.

A fairly simple system, no doubt. But the simplicity of our process masks the overall complexity of our politics.

First of all, the relationship between the MPP and the voter is not as straightforward as it would seem. There are other factors at play, including (and especially) political parties. Not only is the MPP a representative of a riding, she also represents the policies, the platform and the philosophy of her party. Thus, the voter is not just electing a local representative: in selecting between candidates representing various political parties, he is also (implicitly) endorsing a political philosophy.

With this in mind, I submit that there are two major relationships at play: voter and representative, and voter and party. I further submit that our electoral system should reflect these overlapping, yet distinct, relationships. It currently doesn't. It ignores the relationship between voter and party, and that's the problem.

In many cases, local representatives are elected with far less than a majority of votes. If political parties weren't part of the equation, and if the singular relationship were between voter and representative, this may not be an issue. But of course, parties and philosophies are fundamental to our democracy.

As voters, we rightfully expect that our votes will help determine the philosophical direction our province takes. Most of the time, this is not the case. Most of the time, majority governments are formed by political parties which have received a plurality of votes in most ridings, but far less than a majority of votes overall. Most of the time, a majority of Ontarians are governed by a minority of Ontarians whose votes happened to be more efficiently spread throughout the ridings. Most of the time, most Ontarians have no real say in shaping our public policies.

And so, what's the solution? As I said earlier, our system needs to reflect the twin relationships the voter has with both the representative and the party. Local representation must remain a key feature of any new system. But party preferences need to be included as well. Just as every voter deserves a local representative to fight for local needs, every voter (insofar as practical) deserves a philosophical voice in the broader public policy debate.

The Mixed Member Proportional representation model proposed by the Citizens' Assembly achieves both goals. It maintains local representation while achieving proportionality, so that the percentage of votes each party receives is more accurately reflected in their numbers in the legislature.

I think this is a fair and effective solution to a very real problem facing our democracy. I hope readers will take the time to look into the Citizens' Assembly's recommendations and to otherwise inform themselves fully on this issue.

John Lennard is an Ontario Liberal Party member originally from Sudbury, ON.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: I've read that MMP will give one-issue fringe parties the balance of power. 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.

Any fringe parties that win representation at Queen's Park would be under scrutiny by the public and the media for their actions. Narrow-interest parties that have little broad appeal tend to have short staying power. In other jurisdictions with MMP, such parties emerged with representation, but frequently disappeared after voters got a closer look at them (and decided they didn't like what they saw) and subsequently those parties slipped back under the vote threshold for representation. Such a scenario would likely happen here.

There is no history of fringe parties holding the balance of power in European countries with MMP.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: Won't the new system produce shaky, weak governments like the Toronto Star said today?

It's completely untrue. It's unfortunate the Toronto Star continues to mislead its readers on this question because voters don't have access to an adequate education campaign.

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.

It seems the Toronto Star's research on other systems around the world stopped at Italy and Israel, both of which only suffered from instable governments when they had all-list Proportional Representation. To compare Ontario's version of MMP to those different versions of PR is disingenuous, but what else would you expect from the Star in this debate?

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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

All MPPs, both local and province-wide, will be elected by voters under new system

As Mark Twain famously observed, a lie can go half way around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.

The lie in this referendum debate we've often heard from supporters of our antiquated voting system is that the new province-wide Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) under Mixed Member Proportional will be "appointed" or "selected" or "chosen" by party leaders.

In fact, all province-wide MPPs will be elected by voters. Even Elections Ontario, the unbiased referee in this referendum, states on its website: "If a political party is entitled to more seats than it won locally, 'List Members' are elected to make up the difference."

Under the new system, voters will have two votes: one vote for their local representative (just like now) and one vote for a political party.

Political parties will be required to present their list of nominated province-wide candidates to the public well in advance of election day through Elections Ontario, and explain what process they undertook to elect them. Parties will likely ensure their nominees are very representative of the province's population and regions, including rural and Northern Ontario. If a party nominates only urban nominees, 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.

Parties will rank their lists in the order nominees are to be elected. For example, if the Liberals win 60 riding seats, but their popular vote means they should have 62, the first two from their province-wide list are therefore elected.

The voters determine who and which number of province-wide candidates get elected with their party votes.

Some say these new members won't be directly elected by voters. But in reality they are directly elected by voters as voters will know who's on the list and in what order before they cast their ballots for that party. Some say these new members won't be accountable to voters as they don't represent a constituency. In truth, province-wide members will represent all Ontarians, not just one constituency like now. The entire province will be their constituency.

Under MMP, when we vote for the party, we're essentially voting for that party's province-wide list. The province-wide list is a party saying to voters, "Here is our team, vote for our team." If you don't like the people on the party's team, you can vote for another party, or no party at all.

This is better than our existing system where you only get one vote in one riding for one local candidate. You don't determine who those local candidates are, the parties do. The parties sometimes appoint those local candidates. Your vote today has no impact across the province, only in your local riding (and only if you vote for the winner.) You can't vote for the leader of the party, you can't vote for the party as a whole. If you want to vote Liberal, but you hate the local Liberal candidate what do you do? Under MMP, you can vote for a strong local candidate of any party, and still cast your ballot for another party.

The Ontario MMP proposal is a mix of members & proportional systems. Some proportional representation systems have only lists, no members (Netherlands). Some have half and half. Ontario has 70% riding, 30% list. This is one of the highest percentages of local reps under any mixed system.

Coming soon on this site, "Why Backroom Cronies Won't Make It Onto Province-Wide Candidate Lists..."

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS: Citizens' Assembly & Why First-Past-The-Post is Broken

Over the next week and a half, we will be re-publishing portions of our Liberals For MMP Questions & Answers section. Today, a basic introduction for the many voters still looking for greater context on why Mixed Member Proportional is being proposed and why voters should change to the new system...

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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Reax to Ian Urquhart column today

Toronto Star columnist Ian Urquhart has been huffing and puffing against electoral reform for months, often claiming all of our democratic problems can be solved in Ontario with a little parliamentary reform at Queen's Park.

Of course, such a suggestion has always seemed willfully naive. As most political observers have long noticed, 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 at the provincial legislature 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.

But Urquhart today, in his column attacking the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change, takes a different tact, alleging that fringe parties will hold the balance of power under the new system. While such a scenario has been rare in other jurisdictions with Mixed Member Proportional, that doesn't stop Urquhart (and sadly many other opponents of change) from making the suggestion. He makes no mention of parliamentary reform, but wrongly claims that supporters of voting reform are merely motivated by a desire to prevent another Mike Harris-style government.

Check out these excellent rebuttals to Urquhart's arguments here and here.

Coming soon to this site, our Top Five Reasons MMP is Better For Voters...

TVO outdoes itself: Great debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin and amazing website!

TVO's coverage of the referendum is picking up big time. Last night's live debate on The Agenda, carried also online on their website, was very lively and informative.

Streaming video of the the entire Agenda with Steve Paikin on electoral reform and post show chat is now available here.

Or you can get the video and audio podcast of the show here.

TVO has also set up an excellent website page aptly titled the, "Citizens' Assembly Referendum". It contains a nicely produced animation explaining the proposed voting system, and other great videos on the Citizens' Assembly process. The site also contains a discussion board plus links to TVO's archive site for full coverage of the Citizens' Assembly from the very beginning.

Globe & Mail online discussion today: The Ontario referendum on electoral reform

Ontario Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Loren A. Wells will be online today at the Globe & Mail's website from 1-2 pm EDT to answer questions on the ongoing referendum campaign.

You can join the Conversation at that time or submit a question or comment in advance. Your questions and Ms. Wells's answers will appear at the bottom of this page when the discussion begins.

Loren Wells, the Deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario, has an extensive background in election administration in Canada, at both the federal and provincial levels. At Elections Ontario, she deputizes for the Chief Electoral Officer and assists him with the administration of all aspects of the electoral process, including voter registration, the conduct of voting, the training of election officials and providing voter education and information to the public.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Elections Ontario Encourages Media to Increase Discussion of Ontario's Referendum on Electoral Reform

Elections Ontario sent out this news release this afternoon, perhaps acknowledging that the non-partisan agency needs more help from the media in educating voters about their choices in the referendum.

Elections Ontario Encourages Media to Increase Discussion of Ontario's Referendum on Electoral Reform

TORONTO, Sept. 27 /CNW/ - Elections Ontario is encouraging Ontario media to increase the conversation and debate regarding the provincial referendum on electoral reform on October 10.

"Ontario Voters need to be both aware and educated regarding their choices in order to make an informed decision on October 10," said John Hollins, Chief Electoral Officer, and head of Elections Ontario. "Media are important partners with Elections Ontario in helping to educate Ontario voters. We are very appreciative of the strong media interest to date and encourage Ontario media to continue their attention."

On Thursday, September 27th at 8:00 p.m., TVO's "The Agenda with Steve Paikin" will be hosting a live taping on First-Past-The-Post vs. Mixed Member Proportional, from the Munk Centre for International Studies on the campus of the University of Toronto. The episode will look at Ontario's upcoming referendum on electoral reform and both systems on the ballot. Elections Ontario encourages Ontario voters to watch the broadcast debate.

"Media initiatives like Thursday's edition of 'The Agenda' are an important part of fostering voter engagement and debate regarding the October referendum," says Hollins. "We are appreciative to TVO and look forward to other media leading similar formal debates and dialogue."

For further information: Matt Roth, GCI Group for Elections Ontario, (416) 486-5911, mroth@gcigroup.com

Xtra: Ontario referendum has deck stacked against it

Capital Xtra, serving Ottawa's LGBT community, published this article by reporter Laura Mueller this week on the referendum debate.

Here's an excerpt:

"Despite the doom and gloom perspective extolled by critics of MMP, history has shown that minority governments have been good for queer rights — a Liberal-NDP coalition added sexual orientation to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986. And let's not forget that minority governments at the federal level gave us universal health care, old-age pensions, and unemployment insurance among other popular legislation.

"Nathan Hauch, longtime political activist, says that minority governments limit the ability of social conservatives to scale back gay rights.

"The politics of divide and conquer, which can have very negative ramifications for [queer] voters, will be far less attractive for political elites" in minority governments, says Hauch."

Mike Wise's MMP Explainer

This CBC report by reporter Mike Wise provides a "tasty" explanation of how the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system might work differently than our current first-past-the-post system.

Election Reform on The Agenda with Steve Paikin live from U of T's Munk Centre Thurs, Sept 27 at 8 pm on TVO

Election Reform on The Agenda with Steve Paikin live from U of T's Munk Centre Thursday, September 27 at 8 pm on TVO

TORONTO, Sept. 21 /CNW/ - On October 10, citizens of Ontario will be asked to vote for more than a new government. Ontario will also hold its first-ever referendum on electoral reform. The Agenda with Steve Paikin aims to help voters make an informed choice with its first Munk Centre special of the season on Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 8 pm on TVO. Broadcasting live from the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, Steve Paikin will lead a discussion on which electoral system Ontario should use to elect members to the provincial legislature: the current First-Past-The-Post system? or the Mixed Member Proportional proposed by the Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform? Guest experts from both sides of the debate will be on hand to take questions from the studio audience and from viewers at home.

The program will also be webcast live at tvo.org/theagenda where The Agenda with Steve Paikin's extensive coverage of the election continues online.

Quebec anglos would benefit from two-ballot voting system, say reform supporters

Ontario isn't the only province where supporters of electoral reform are active. This article ran this week in Montreal's The Chronicle.

In the 1998 Quebec provincial election, first-past-the-post handed the Parti Québécois a majority government (76 out of 125 seats) even though it trailed the Quebec Liberal Party in the popular vote (the PQ won 43% versus the Liberals' 44%).

Quebec is one of six provinces in recent decades where the second-place party in the popular vote won the most seats, thanks to first-past-the-post. It happened in Ontario in 1985 when the Tories won the most seats even though they trailed the Ontario Liberals in popular support. It's also happened in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Mixed Member Proportional would correct this flaw in our current system, ensuring party representation matches its popular support.

The Chronicle article reads: "The Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (or APDR) has launched a lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court through which they hope to invalidate the current system. The case, which is being argued by well-known Montreal lawyer Julius Grey, is scheduled to be heard in December next year. In a summary analyzing the current electoral system's faults, the APDR recommends the provincial government adopt legislation along the same lines as a proposal for electoral reform that is being voted on in a referendum taking place in conjunction with the upcoming provincial election in Ontario. The APDR is proposing a mixed-member proportional model entailing two ballots. One ballot would be for single-member districts, a second would be used to calculate each political party's support. One of the ballots could also be cast for candidates running in a single, province-wide, multi-member district."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

REMINDER: Two big Toronto forums on referendum


On Thursday, Sept 27th, York University in Toronto is hosting 'Change The System: A panel on MMP'. The tagline for the event is "Three perspectives on why we need change!"

The panelists will be former federal NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal and Ontario Liberal candidate (and Liberals For MMP co-founder) Kate Holloway (pictured). As the only panelist actually running in this Ontario election, we wish Kate all the best as she shares the podium with these political veterans on this important issue. The panel takes place Thursday from 1:00pm - 3:00pm at the Recital Hall - Accolade East on the York campus at 4700 Keele Street in Toronto.

On Friday, Sept 28th at 7 pm, the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy is staging a major referendum debate at the MaRS Complex at 101 College Street in Toronto.

The National Post's political affairs columnist Andrew Coyne and former Ontario minister Marilyn Churley will make the case for adopting the new Mixed Member Proportional electoral system proposed by Ontario's Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. They will square off against Toronto Sun Queen's Park columnist Christina Blizzard and former Ontario minister Charles Harnick who will defend Ontario's existing First-Past-The-Post electoral system.

The debate will be hosted by the Centre's director Thomas Axworthy and will include introductory remarks by George Thomson, Chair of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. The audience will be asked to cast a vote before and after the debate to see whether the debaters succeed in making their case. Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis.

Andrew Coyne: The case against first-past-the-post

National Post columnist Andrew Coyne published this superb article today on the shortcomings of our current first-past-the-post voting system.

Here's an excerpt:

"Democracy, as everyone knows, is a system of majority rule. It is a system marked by free and fair elections between rival political parties, their success or failure depending on the number of votes they can attract. It is a system in which every adult citizen has an equal say in choosing who should represent them.

"By every one of these definitions, Canada, under the electoral system in use today, is not a democracy. We are not governed by majorities, competition between parties is not free and fair, nor do their relative fortunes depend on their popularity with the voters. Most striking of all, we do not give every citizen equal say at election time. Everyone may get one vote, that is true. But some votes count more than others. Some --most, in fact --do not count at all.

"That is the record of plurality voting, the system Ontario voters are to be asked to replace in next month's referendum. Its supporters appeal to a sentiment of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But it is broke, and this is the opportunity to fix it."

Dalton McGuinty should publicly state his position on the referendum question


Three out of the four major party leaders have, for the most part, let Ontarians know where they stand on the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system before voters on October 10th. NDP Leader Howard Hampton and Green Party Leader Frank de Jong have come out in favour of the proposal. Conservative Leader John Tory has criticized it, going so far as to spread misinformation about it and hinting he might appoint Tory backroom cronies to his province-wide list of candidates if it passes.

But the exception on the issue continues to be Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Liberals For MMP have praised the McGuinty government for keeping its word to put the issue of electoral reform in the hands of the people. The McGuinty government initiated the Citizens' Assembly process in 2006, which has resulted in this referendum. The Citizens' Assembly was a group of 103 ordinary Ontarians selected at random by Elections Ontario (one person from every riding in Ontario, plus chair George Thomson.) They were asked to take a very close look at our current First-Past-The-Post voting system and consider possible replacements.

After months of study, they decided that our First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system should be replaced with a made-in-Ontario form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

But as voting day approaches, it seems that many Ontario voters remain uninformed about their choices in the referendum.

Yet Premier Dalton McGuinty thus far has refused to let Ontarians know his position on the referendum question.

On Tuesday, when asked why he hasn't taken a position, the Liberal leader said he made a "specific commitment" that he would not "attempt to influence the outcome of this debate."

All candidates are free to express their personal opinions on where they stand on the question, the province's Chief Electoral Officer John Hollins has said.

"This is not something that's going to be decided by the premier or the cabinet or the government caucus or (elected politicians). It's up to the people of Ontario," McGuinty has said.

Yet if public understanding of the question runs as low as 12% and as high as 40%, it begs the question how can Ontarians make an informed choice?

Recently, a provincial Liberal official, who asked not to be identified, reportedly said, “It's not our responsibility to educate people on this.”

The government decided before the referendum campaign to stop printing any more materials on the Citizens' Assembly process (even though the Citizens' Assembly is specifically mentioned in the referendum question before voters.) Materials on the Citizens' Assembly are still available online and can be accessed here and here. Yet many Ontarians don't have access to the internet.

At the very least, voters deserve to know where all the party leaders stand on this issue.

It's time Dalton McGuinty let Ontarians know which system he thinks would be better for the province.

Toronto Star continues to print misinformation about new voting system

Those sneaky Toronto Star editors continue to slip misinformation about the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system into their coverage of the referendum.

Today, the Star reprinted a Canadian Press story by Gregory Bonnell (which also contained the error) with the headline, "Referendum awareness on the rise, official says."

Leaving the misleading nature of this headline aside (voter awareness of this referendum question continues to be woefully low according to another recent poll), the article goes on to state that only 40 per cent of voters understand a mixed-member proportional electoral system is being proposed in this referendum. Later, the article reads, "If voters vote "yes" in the referendum, Ontario would elect politicians as they do now but also award seats in the Legislature based on the popular vote. Parties would draw those members of the Legislature from prepared lists of appointed candidates."

There is no provision in the Mixed Member Proportional system for province-wide candidates to be "appointed" as the Star and Canadian Press write.

This isn't the first time the Toronto Star (or other papers like the Toronto Sun) have printed misinformation about the provision for province-wide list candidates under MMP.

The Toronto Star did it in the first week of the campaign as well and failed to correct the record.

After many protests, Star editors emailed the VoteForMMP.ca campaign to say they agreed that describing province-wide candidates as "appointed" was a loaded and unfair term and they said they'd try not to use it again. But the Star also admitted the term "appointed candidates" might slip in again in future stories (as it did today) if copy editors got lazy.

*******************UPDATE******************

The Toronto Star doesn't always get it wrong on MMP. In today's edition (Thurs, Sept 27th), reporter Kerry Gillespie thankfully doesn't use the "loaded" word "appointed" to describe province-wide candidates in this article. Instead, we get the less inaccurate description: "The new system, if people vote for it, would expand the Legislature from 107 to 129 MPPs. Of those, 90 would be directly elected by voters in individual ridings (the way it is now) and 39 would be selected from party lists to reflect the parties' percentage of the popular vote."

VoteForMMP.ca calls upon John Tory to reject appointment of MMP candidates

TORONTO, Sept. 26 /CNW/ - The VoteForMMP campaign is calling upon Conservative Party Leader John Tory to clarify his approach to nominating candidates under the new system.

According to a CP wire story, Mr. Tory yesterday repeated the misleading suggestion that province-wide candidates under the new MMP electoral system would be "appointed" rather than elected. "I think the whole notion of having appointed people may be heading in the opposite direction that we should," Mr. Tory is reported to have said.

"We certainly agree with Mr. Tory that appointed candidates have no place in the province's legislature," said Rick Anderson, chair of the VoteForMMP Campaign. "No one is proposing that there be appointed candidates under MMP - unless Mr. Tory is intending that Conservative party province-wide list candidates would be selected in this undemocratic manner."

Most advanced democracies have moved toward some kind of more proportional system, as the Ontario Citizens' Assembly has recommended Ontarians adopt.

"In all countries where MMP is used, parties use democratic processes to nominate their list candidates - just as in Canada today the parties use democratic processes to nominate riding candidates," said Anderson.

"Mr. Tory's remark stands to confuse and mislead voters on the matter of whether candidates will be democratically nominated. Is he saying that the Conservative Party will not select candidates democratically? Is he accusing the other parties of this? Is he advocating that Ontario's Elections Act specify how parties select candidates, a matter heretofore left to parties in the expectation they will proceed democratically?"

About Vote for MMP: Vote for MMP is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system presented to Ontarians for adoption in the electoral reform referendum on October 10. MMP was proposed by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, an independent body of 103 randomly chosen Ontario voters. Assembly members were asked by the Ontario Legislature to (a) determine whether Ontario needs a new voting system, and (b) if so to recommend an improved system. The Assembly studied proportional electoral systems used in 81 democracies around the world, and selected MMP as the approach best-suited for Ontario. Vote for MMP is funded by donations from citizens and organizations who agree with the Citizens' Assembly recommendations, and believe it is time to strengthen democracy and modernize Ontario's voting system that gives voters more choice, fairer results and stronger representation.

For further information: Steve Withers, Media Coordinator, VoteForMMP Campaign, Tel: (519) 282-1078, e-mail: steve.withers@VoteForMMP.ca; Rick Anderson, Chair, VoteForMMP Campaign, e-mail: rick@asci.ca; Website: www.VoteForMMP.ca

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Students' Assembly calls for Elections Ontario to send out the Citizens' Assembly's Final Report

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Today five members of the Students' Assembly on Electoral Reform held a press conference near Queen's Park where they called for Elections Ontario to do more to ensure that the public is well informed and make the Citizens' Assembly's final report available to all Ontarians. They also called on party leaders to lead on this issue and participate in the referendum debate.

"Something’s not right. The public hasn’t been informed. They don’t know enough about this issue or the Citizens’ Assembly. It’s sad that I’m surprised when I meet someone who knows anything about the upcoming referendum. It shouldn’t be that way.

"And with two weeks to go before election day, we’re feeling disappointed.

"We’re disappointed that the leaders refuse to discuss this issue. During the recent leaders' debate, they took a question about recall, but they didn’t discuss the referendum. How weird. We look to our political leaders for political leadership and we’re not getting that right now. Doesn’t leadership on this issue matter?

"We’re disappointed that there is so much misinformation floating around. That somehow Ontario would end up like Israel or Italy if the referendum passes. But Israel and Italy don’t use MMP – the comparison isn’t just misleading – it’s factually wrong. Yet it keeps getting repeated.

"We’re disappointed by Elections Ontario which is telling people to get informed, is scaring them with television ads that say terrible things can happen if you don’t understand the question. They’ll tell us how the systems work. But not why they work. Or even why this issue matters at all. This issue deserves more than a thirty-second slot.

"The Citizens’ Assembly created wonderful learning materials that are fair and balanced and which explain both systems. These should have been made directly available to Ontarians. Every Ontarian should have received a copy of the Citizens’ Assembly's final report."

The students are available for studio and telephone interviews over the balance of the week.

For more information, please call:
Jonathan Yantzi, SAER member, Grade 12 student,
Burlington, (905) 484-4632, 1yantzijon@hdsb.ca; www.studentsassembly.ca

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About the representatives of the 103 members of the Students’ Assembly:

Xing Chiu, 17, was the representative for Trinity-Spadina on the Students' Assembly. She is currently a grade twelve student at North Toronto CI, and hopes to study social science at university. Since becoming a member of the Students' Assembly, Xing has done various presentations on electoral reform at school, informing students about the significance of the upcoming referendum.

Jonathan Yantzi, 17, was the Students’ Assembly member representing Burlington. Jonathan is a Grade 12 French Immersion student at Burlington Central High School. He is eager to continue exploring the worlds of political science, sociology and law at university next year. Jonathan has facilitated electoral reform workshops in his high school and community, and he was also among the five SAER members who presented to the Citizens’ Assembly in February.

Natalie Lum-Tai, 17, was the Students' Assembly member for Mississauga Centre. Natalie is a grade twelve music student at Cawthra Park Secondary School, in Mississauga Ontario. She is anxious to start university, and is wishing she had skipped grade three when she had the chance. She was one of five SAER members who presented their findings to the Citizens' Assembly in February. She is planning to participate in a referendum information session in Mississauga before October 10th.

Joseph Singh, 16, was the Students Assembly member for the riding of Scarborough East. Joseph is currently enrolled in grade 11 at St. Michael's Choir School in Toronto, Ontario. He hopes to pursue a career in politics and study diplomacy at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Since participating in the Students Assembly, Joseph has visited schools and youth groups talking about electoral reform and even gave a brief talk on electoral reform at the Liberal Leadership Convention last December. He does not support the move to MMP.

Zannah Matson, 18, was the Students' Assembly member for Hastings Frontenac Lennox and Addington. Zannah is in her first year of studies at the University of Toronto. She hopes to enter into the Peace and Conflict program, while concurrently majoring in Urban Studies. Since becoming a member of the Students' Assembly, she has worked with the Vote for MMP movement, made a set of videos to get youth thinking about the referendum, and has an upcoming speech at a public meeting.

Etobicoke North Liberal MPP Shafiq Qaadri endorses new voting system

Shafiq Qaadri, the Liberal incumbent in the highly-diverse riding of Etobicoke North, announced last night he supports the Mixed Member Proportional option (or MMP) before voters on Oct 10th.

Qaadri made his comments on the "Dale Goldhawk Live" broadcast on Rogers Cable 10 in Toronto shortly after the 9 pm live show went to air on Monday evening.

"(Voters are) basically asking me to explain what (MMP) actually means because as you know there are a lot of numbers. It's a bit complex," Qaadri said, when asked if voters are asking about the referendum at the doors.

"I will say though that I'm a supporter of MMP because I think...if it works the way they say it will, it'll actually lead to a diversity of voices," offered Qaadri. "For example whether it's visible minorities or women. I expect even that we might have our first Aboriginal Ontarian in the legislature," he said.

Local Green Party candidate Jama Korshel and NDP candidate Mohamed Boudjenane also supported the Citizen's Assembly's recommendation for change.

Only Tory candidate Mohamed Kassim echoed John Tory's recent doubts about the Citizens' Assembly's proposal.

Etobicoke North is the first riding in Ontario history where all major party candidates running are Muslim.

Qaadri is now the tenth Ontario Liberal candidate to publicly endorse the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change, joining incumbents Michael Bryant, John Gerretsen, George Smitherman, Ted McMeekin and Tony Ruprecht, as well as candidates Kate Holloway, Steve Fishman, Selwyn Hicks and Ian Wilson.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pro-MMP group calls on John Tory to affirm respect for citizen democracy

The following press release was issued today by VoteForMMP.ca.

TORONTO, Sept. 24 /CNW/ - Noting that Conservative Party Leader John Tory's name is listed on an anti-MMP website, the www.VoteForMMP.ca campaign has called upon Mr. Tory to promise to follow voters' wishes should they vote to implement MMP.

"Mr. Tory apparently has little regard for the work of the 103 regular citizens who toiled long and hard on behalf of their fellow voters in Ontario's Citizens' Assembly," said Rick Anderson, Chair of the VoteForMMP.ca Campaign. "Voters deserve assurance that a Tory Government will not show similar disregard for voters' intentions should the MMP referendum pass, and that a Tory Government would proceed to implement change in accordance with the Electoral System Referendum Act."

On October 10, Ontarians will vote in an historic election reform referendum, deciding whether to approve or reject modernizing of Ontario's old-fashioned electoral system with reforms aimed at:

- making future legislatures more representative of votes cast
- making every vote count
- increasing opportunities for women and minorities to be elected, and
- allowing voters to vote twice in future elections, once for their preferred local candidate and once for their preferred party.

Two years ago the Ontario Legislature passed an act establishing an independent citizen-based process to consider Ontario election reform, in a manner purposefully arms-length from partisan politics. The 103-member Citizens Assembly strongly recommended that Ontario adopt the "Mixed Member Proportional" (MMP) system for future elections. Consequently, under the provisions of the Referendum Act, voters at large now have the responsibility to accept or reject the MMP recommendation, in a nonpartisan referendum where political parties are also precluded by law from campaigning.

"It is regrettable that Mr. Tory's name is being used to sway voters one way or another in this important referendum," said Mr. Anderson. "When this process commenced, the Legislature was very wise to have placed redesign of Ontario's antiquated electoral system beyond the self-interest gamesmanship of competitive partisan politics. It would be a shame if today partisan politics are allowed to lower the level of thinking on this important matter in the way they unfortunately do on so many issues."

"We encourage Mr. Tory to have his name withdrawn from the anti-MMP website, and to state clearly to voters that their decision will be respected."

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About Vote for MMP: Vote for MMP is a multi-partisan citizens' campaign supporting the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system presented to Ontarians for adoption in the referendum on electoral reform on October 10. MMP was proposed by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, an independent body of 103 randomly chosen Ontario voters. Assembly members were asked by the Ontario Legislature to (a) determine whether Ontario needs a new voting system, and (b) if so to recommend an improved system. The Assembly studied proportional electoral systems used in 81 democracies around the world, and selected MMP as the approach best-suited for Ontario. Vote for MMP is funded by donations from citizens and organizations who agree with the Citizens' Assembly recommendations, and believe it is time to strengthen democracy and modernize Ontario's voting system that gives voters more choice, fairer results and stronger representation.

For further information: Steve Withers, Media Coordinator, VoteForMMP Campaign, Tel: (519) 282-1078, e-mail: steve.withers@VoteForMMP.ca; Rick Anderson, Chair, VoteForMMP Campaign, e-mail: rick@asci.ca; Website: www.VoteForMMP.ca

Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin endorses Mixed Member Proportional

News Release/Communiqué

For Immediate Release
Monday, September 24, 2007

The number of Ontario Liberal candidates endorsing the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change continues to grow.

Ted McMeekin, Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament and candidate for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, says he's in favour of the Mixed Member Proportional option before voters on October 10th.

McMeekin was first elected as the Liberal member for the former riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot in a by-election in 2000.

Prior to his election to Queen's Park, McMeekin served as the mayor of Flamborough, Ontario. He was also for a number of years Flamborough's representative on the Hamilton-Wentworth regional council, which the former provincial government of Mike Harris eliminated in 2000 by amalgamating the city and outlying regions into a single political entity. McMeekin was one of the most vocal opponents of this change, noting that it would result in a loss of autonomy for Flamborough.

McMeekin was re-elected to Queen's Park in 2003 and is currently the Chair of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education.

McMeekin is now the ninth Ontario Liberal candidate to publicly endorse the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change, joining incumbents Michael Bryant, John Gerretsen, George Smitherman, Tony Ruprecht, as well as candidates Kate Holloway, Steve Fishman, Selwyn Hicks and Ian Wilson.

Referendum? Now what referendum would that be?


With just over two weeks to go before Ontarians head to the polls, many voters still say they know "nothing" about the Citizen's Assembly recommendation for improving the province's voting system.

According to a Strategic Counsel poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, 47 per cent of those polled said they knew nothing at all about the proposal. Only 12 per cent said they knew a lot. Forty-one per cent said they knew "a little."

Half said they don't plan to vote in the referendum, or remain undecided. Among decided voters, a slim majority, 54 per cent, said they would vote for it.

The Citizens' Assembly process has been going on for over a year, but it seems many voters have heard nothing about it.

"This thing came out of the blue at me," said voter James McNee yesterday in the Toronto Star. "I'm more interested, more aware, more engaged about political issues than most of the people I know. If it didn't register with me, I'd be amazed if I'm the only one taken aback."

A provincial Liberal official, who asked not to be identified, reportedly said, “It's not our responsibility to educate people on this.” Accordingly, the government decided just before the referendum campaign began to stop printing any more materials on the Citizens' Assembly process (even though the Citizens' Assembly is specifically mentioned in the referendum question before voters.) Materials on the Citizens' Assembly are still available online and can be accessed here and here.

Rick Anderson, chairman of a citizen's campaign in support of the alternative voting system and a former Liberal, said Sunday he is “optimistic” voter interest will perk up in the 17 days left before Oct. 10.

“I don't think the election campaign or the referendum campaign could be predicted by anyone at this point in time,” said Mr. Anderson, chairman of Vote for MMP. “The voters have not clicked in.”

He praised Elections Ontario for its work in explaining the referendum process, but said the provincial government could have done more, much earlier on, to explain the choices. “A bit more neutral public education funded by the government authorities would have been a plus in terms of the voters getting up to speed on this,” he said.

In other news, the Toronto Star ran an article today on the last Ontario province-wide referendum which took place in 1924. The vote was not held in conjunction with an election as this one is, and there were two simple questions. The first was: Are you in favour of the continuance of the Ontario Temperance Act? The second: Are you in favour of the sale as a beverage of beer and spirituous liquor in sealed packages under government control?

The Star considered alcohol one of the "greatest social ills of its time and waded into the debate with all the crusading passion it could muster. Front-page editorials, feature articles and guest opinions all elaborated on the destructive hold and ruinous effect of alcohol. The paper pointed to the ill effects of repeal in other provinces, the rise in drunkenness and public disorder. The Star decried the bootleggers, speakeasies and out-of-province smugglers, particularly from Quebec, where the sale of liquor was banned, but beer and wine allowed."

The above photo is from the Library and Archives Canada and shows Ontario premier Howard Ferguson (left), Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (centre) and Quebec premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau in November 1927 soon after prohibition was repealed in Ontario.

Ontario election 2007: Flummoxed about MMP?

Electoral reform expert Peter MacLeod of the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy has fast emerged as one of the most articulate (and unbiased) voices in this ongoing Ontario referendum campaign. Mr. MacLeod is also principal of public systems design studio The Planning Desk.

The following three answers to questions about the proposed Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system were provided in MacLeod's blog on the National Post's website this weekend.

Flummoxed about MMP?

Q: I am curious as to whether the new map for the riding boundaries (107 to 90 seats) has already been drawn. As a resident of Northern Ontario I am concerned that a redrawing of the boundaries could result in fewer seats for the North at Queen's Park. If there are fewer Northern seats how can Northern Ontario residents be certain that the party lists will represent Northern, or for that matter, Aboriginal constituents on a basis that is reflective of their populations?

One of the very difficult things for any electoral system to overcome is a massive disparity between the size of a territory and the size of its population. Right now, Howard Hampton's riding of Kenora-Rainy River is famously larger than PEI, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined, yet it also has the fewest number of constituents of any riding in the province. When electoral boundaries are set by the province's independent Boundaries Commission they struggle to create ridings with roughly similar populations, but they also have discretion to weigh in additional factors like the history of a political constituency, its demographics and its geography. Doubtless, a Boundaries Commission charged with dividing the province into 90 new, larger ridings would have difficulty preserving the eleven northern ridings that currently exist. It's impossible to know how many would remain, but some back-of-the-envelope long division suggests that as many as three ridings would need to be combined.

But the story would be incomplete if we stop there because one of the most important features of the proposed MMP electoral system is the party vote. There are two reasons why this feature could make it possible for the North to command even stronger representation at Queen's Park and should be of interest to Northern voters. First, if a Northern or Aboriginal Party was formed it would likely secure seats through the list system, with the potential of enjoying support not only from Northerners or Aboriginals in northern ridings but from Ontarians in all parts of the province who care about the issues such parties might represent. Second, because all parties would be hungry for those party votes, I think you'd find that the parties generally would spend more time campaigning in Northern Ontario and creating North-friendly platforms.

Q: Can politicians still cross the floor under MMP?

Great question! Let me answer this two ways because it begs a second question: what happens if an MPP resigns or is unable to complete their term? Basically, all electoral systems have rules to fill seats that may become vacant between elections and the MMP system would be no different. Under the proposed MMP system if a local seat becomes vacant, a by-election will be held. This is the practice under Ontario’s current system and unlike an MMP general election, there would be no second party vote on this by-election ballot. If a list seat becomes vacant, Elections Ontario will select the next available person on that party’s list as submitted for the previous general election.

Governing what happens when an MPP crosses the floor is a bit more complicated. If they represent a local seat, then they would be free to cross. If a member was elected from the list, then it is likely that the legislature would adopt a rule forcing the MPP to resign and run again, either for a riding or on the other party's list at the time of the next general election. Of course, if that member resigned, the list seat would be filled by the next available person on the party's list.

Of course, more complicated still is if a party wishes to discipline a member by ejecting them from the party's caucus. If the member is elected from a riding, then they would be free to join another party's caucus or sit as an independent. If the member had been elected from that party's list, it's likely that the leader of the party could simply call for their resignation from the legislature. This was not part of the Assembly's recommendation because strictly speaking it is outside the purview of the electoral system. Once elected, it is up to the legislators themselves to create the House rules that govern these unusual scenarios.

Q: What happens to the 39 list seats if the results of an election are perfectly proportional?

This question goes to the heart of how the two votes intersect and work together and why MMP is called a hybrid system. Put plainly, there's no such thing as a perfectly proportional vote -- proportionality is achieved only when the two votes work together.

Under MMP top-up seats are always required because if a party wins 40% of the party vote and exactly 40% of the local vote, it will still need to 'top-up' its caucus with list seats to bring it to 40% of the 129 available in the legislature. Remember that we're talking about the difference between winning 40% of the 90 seats available in local elections (or 36 seats) and 40% of the 129 seats available in the legislature (or 52 seats). Clearly, this party will need to be compensated with an additional 16 list seats

If the party overshoots the mark, winning say 50% of the seats in the legislature with only 40% of the party vote then the result is disproportionate and the other parties are compensated with a greater number of list seats.


Interested readers may want to come out for a debate Queen's University is staging in at the MaRS complex at 101 College St. in Toronto on Friday, September 28th at 7 p.m.

National Post political affairs columnist Andrew Coyne and former Ontario minister Marilyn Churley will make the case for adopting the new Mixed Member Proportional electoral system proposed by Ontario's Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. They will square off against Toronto Sun Queen's Park columnist Christina Blizzard and former Ontario minister Charles Harnick who will defend Ontario's existing First-Past-The-Post electoral system. The debate will be hosted by the Centre's director Thomas Axworthy and will include introductory remarks by George Thomson, Chair of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

MMP: "The end of civilization as we know it"?

Check out this great video/commercial from Vote For MMP featuring Don Ferguson. Every step to improve democracy throughout history has faced the kind of opposition we are seeing today from the supporters of the status quo. We can add the folks at NoMMP.ca and others in the establishment to that same class of past opponents who opposed similar progress.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Rick Salutin and David Docherty endorse the new voting system

Political scientist and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University David Docherty wrote an excellent article this week in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record in favour of Mixed Member Proportional.

Rick Salutin also wrote an incredible piece in the Globe & Mail today entitled, "Ontario's no-brainer referendum," in favour of the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change. The Globe doesn't provide an accessible link to their online version, so here it is in its entirety:

"I consider a "Yes" in Ontario's coming referendum on voting reform to be a no-brainer. That's because the process we have isn't very democratic. In fact, it's undemocratic, due to the stupid system known as first past the post. If there are four candidates in your riding, and one gets 10 votes and the rest each get nine, Mr. 10 wins the pot and gets to be in office, although 73 per cent of voters didn't choose him. There's no runoff or resolution, it just stops there. That applies in all ridings. You could have one party taking every seat this way. In reality, you almost always get a government with a majority of seats that allows them to do anything they want for up to five years, though they received a minority of votes, often around 40 per cent. The majority of voters, 50 to 60 per cent, have to lump it. Minority rules. Canada, the United States and Britain are the only western "democracies" that use this system. It's an embarrassment. It's as if we hadn't noticed.

"Various systems elsewhere avoid this. They assure that the majority somehow rules. None of them usher in a messianic era, but they're all better than what we have. Voters in B.C. in 2005 voted 57.5 per cent for a complex system known as STV, or single transferable vote. Most didn't understand it but they made the point that almost anything is preferable. Sadly, the government had set the bar at 60 per cent. The system Ontario is voting on is simpler. You vote for a local member, plus you vote for your preferred party and the combined result assures that the outcome reflects the choices of the population. It's one small step for democracy.

"But what a reaction there has been! The Globe's normally sober columnist, Murray Campbell, calls it "a solution to a problem that doesn't exist." I'm afraid some of us think an undemocratic voting system is a problem in a democracy. When most voters are disenfranchised, apathy and cynicism tend to follow. You might as well skip today's election and watch The Daily Show. He also says the change has the "potential to rip apart Ontario's body politic." He asks if Premier Dalton McGuinty could have "resisted the pressure to adopt sharia law if he had needed an Islamist party to govern?" That's alarmism of a totally hypothetical sort. There is no Muslim party in Ontario, much less an Islamist one, and no factual basis to think one would be formed. What's more pertinent is that former premier Mike Harris would not have been able to actually "rip apart Ontario's body politic" had there been the proposed voting system to rein him in, rather than the present one that gave him total power despite massive opposition.

"What mainly seems to nettle the No-ers is loss of stable government, meaning one party in power for a predictable term. Well then, why not a one-party state, like China? Have they got stable for you! Besides, stable government doesn't mean stable society. Under stable provincial governments for 20 years, Ontario has been a whirligig of instability: vanishing industries, degraded services, disruptive strikes, fractured communities - largely, I'd argue, due to arrogant behaviour by governments that didn't represent the majority and didn't have to worry about it. I imagine what people really want is stability in their lives and communities. You might get more of that under a more representative, more democratic system.

"But perhaps stable is code for malleable, or accessible. If you're rich (like the rich) or influential (like The Globe and Mail), you can work with any leadership in power. But it's easier if there's one party at a time to deal with, for a set period. I'm sure they'd do fine making their points with regimes that were more multiparty and shifting, as they do in places like Germany or New Zealand, which have systems like the one proposed here. But maybe they'd rather not bother retooling. For most of us though, the only thing I can think of in favour of this system is that we're used to it."

Two big Toronto forums on referendum next week


York University in Toronto is hosting 'Change The System: A panel on MMP' next Thursday, September 27, 2007. The tagline for the event is "Three perspectives on why we need change!"

The panelists will be former federal NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal and Ontario Liberal candidate (and Liberals For MMP co-founder) Kate Holloway (pictured). As the only panelist actually running in this Ontario election, we wish Kate all the best as she shares the podium with these political veterans on this important issue. The panel will take place next Thursday from 1:00pm - 3:00pm at the Recital Hall - Accolade East on the York campus at 4700 Keele Street in Toronto.

Next Friday, the Queen's University Centre for the Study of Democracy is staging a major referendum debate on Friday September 28th at 7pm at the MaRS Complex at 101 College Street in Toronto.

The National Post's political affairs columnist Andrew Coyne and former Ontario minister Marilyn Churley will make the case for adopting the new Mixed Member Proportional electoral system proposed by Ontario's Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. They will square off against Toronto Sun Queen's Park columnist Christina Blizzard and former Ontario minister Charles Harnick who will defend Ontario's existing First-Past-The-Post electoral system.

The debate will be hosted by the Centre's director Thomas Axworthy and will include introductory remarks by George Thomson, Chair of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. The audience will be asked to cast a vote before and after the debate to see whether the debaters succeed in making their case. Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis.

Leaders' debate moderator ignores referendum before voters, but allows question on 'recall'?

It's too bad last night's leadership debate moderator Steve Paikin (and the mainstream media team organizing the debate) saw fit to allow a question on the long-dormant issue of "recalling politicians" for breaking promises, but completely ignored the actual democratic renewal question before voters on October 10th. The debate would've been an excellent chance for the referendum question to get some much-needed limelight.

Concerns about the lack of information before voters on the referendum continue to increase.

There's a great article on the Globe & Mail website today by writer Ivor Tossell on the inadequacy of the public education campaign being conducted by Elections Ontario on the referendum entitled, "What's that second question on the ballot?"

Tossell writes that Elections Ontario's campaign is a, "studiously even-handed affair, but it fails to do the two things it needs to do: first, making the proposed system as plain as day, and second, communicating why the Assembly thought it was a smart enough idea to recommend.

"Instead, what we get is a presentation that's so dreary and neutral it says almost nothing. You can hunt around to find some paragraphs of small print explaining Mixed Member Proportional, or you can watch a strangely off-kilter video that bogs down in the mechanics of the referendum itself, before blowing past the new system with a perfunctory explanation. Neither will leave you with a clear picture of what's being proposed here.

"Worse, it doesn't satisfactorily explain the critical "Why?'s" - like why should we support MMP? At first blush, it makes sense that the government should remain neutral. But this high-minded approach manages to imply that the Citizen's Assembly came up with two equally valid systems of government for us to consider. In fact, the Assembly decided that Mixed Member Proportional was the better way to elect MPPs, and that our current system should go out the window.

"This referendum is really a ratification of their decision. To make an informed vote, we don't merely need to know how MMP works; we need to know what made the Assembly think it's such a great idea compared to the status quo. And that's where this site falls down: To give a complete picture, it needs to broadcast the results of the process it set in motion, and it doesn't. By hiding behind a neutral stance, the Ontario government has hung its own election reforms out to dry."


The Vote For MMP campaign is also alleging dirty tricks on the part of status quo supporters in this referendum campaign.

"In an e-mail this week, the Vote for MMP Committee told supporters it was starting to run into "active resistance" from "old-guard politicians, and their hangers-on and the sponsors behind them, especially the private media owners.

"The old guard, its excessive power imperilled, is now spreading black propaganda, misinformation and confusion about MMP," says the e-mail, signed by Larry Gordon, Vote for MMP's campaign manager.

"It warns that the old guard's "hysteria and dirty tricks will increase as MMP gets closer to victory," adding: "It may resort to negative TV ads."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Liberal candidate Ian Wilson (Randy Hillier's opponent) endorses MMP

Another Ontario Liberal candidate running in rural Ontario is endorsing the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change in the October 10th referendum.

Ian Wilson, Liberal candidate in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington, says he's in favour of Mixed Member Proportional.

"I am in favour of MMP and would be willing to have my name added to [your] website," says Wilson in an email to Liberals For MMP member Tricia Waldron.

"I laboured over this a bit then was asked the question at an all-candidates meeting on Amherst Island. I am still concerned about increasing the size of the riding – it is already big enough – but the idea of every vote counting and the legislature representing the will of the electorate by being composed of an equal percentage of representatives to the vote received won me over," says Wilson.

Wilson is facing off this election against far-right Conservative candidate Randy Hillier.

Wilson joins seven other Ontario Liberal candidates endorsing the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change: Michael Bryant, John Gerretsen, George Smitherman, Tony Ruprecht, Kate Holloway, Steve Fishman and Selwyn Hicks.

Could the unique Citizens' Assembly process simply start over again if MMP loses on Oct 10th?

Thanks to Dalton McGuinty, Ontarians have a unique opportunity on October 10th to vote to modernize our electoral system.

The referendum on October 10th is the final step in a unique process of citizen-based, deliberative democracy that began with the Citizens' Assembly.

In Ontario, the Citizens' Assembly was a group of 103 ordinary Ontarians selected at random by Elections Ontario (one person from every riding in Ontario, plus chair George Thomson.) They were asked to take a very close look at our current First-Past-The-Post voting system and consider possible replacements.

After months of study, they decided that our First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system should be replaced with a made-in-Ontario form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

The current voting system 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. Sometimes our current system even gives the second place party a victory! Furthermore, many votes cast under our current system are wasted as they have no impact on the make-up of the legislature.

The opportunity to change something as deeply rooted as our inherited, First-Past-The-Post system has been truly rare indeed. This is the first time since Confederation that Ontario voters have had the opportunity to change it.

The process leading up to this referendum was unique because it was citizen-driven. The proposed alternative system had to come from ordinary citizens, not politicians who are inherently biased.

That's why Dalton McGuinty, in his wisdom, set up the Citizens' Assembly. A set of principles governed their deliberations: Legitimacy; Fairness of Representation; Voter Choice; Effective Parties; Stable and Effective Government; Effective Parliament; Stronger Voter Participation; Accountability; and Simplicity and Practicality. Now the Citizens' Assembly's proposal is being put to voters.

To suggest that this unique process of citizen-driven reform can simply start over again at some point in the future and come up with a better alternative defies credibility. This randomly-chosen group of citizens, free of partisan bias, chose the Mixed Member Proportional proposal over our current system by a vote of 94 to 8.

More than likely, naysayers would view a defeat for MMP in this referendum as a mandate to keep First-Past-The-Post for the foreseeable future, despite their many admissions that the current system is inherently flawed.

Of course, we're betting that Ontarians will agree with us and vote for Mixed Member Proportional in overwhelming numbers on October 10th.

And Ontario will finally get rid of its archaic First-Past-The-Post system and enter a new era of more representative, accountable and effective government, where every vote counts.

Elections Ontario confirms "unofficial" referendum results will be released on election night

Elections Ontario, on its YourBigDecision.ca site, has included a confirmation on its FAQ page that unofficial results of the referendum will be released as soon as they're counted on October 10th.

This is of great relief because the Chief Election Officer had been sending a different message in interviews with the Toronto Star as to when voters would "have a feel" for the results.

The following question and answer now appear on the YourBigDecision.ca site:

"How and when will the results of the referendum be shared with the public? On October 10th, the Election Ballots will be counted first, and then the referendum ballots. As soon as the referendum ballots have been counted, you will get the unofficial results. We expect referendum ballot counting to be finished early on Thursday, October 11, 2007."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Liberal candidates speak favourably of the need for democratic reform

As stated here previously, most Ontario Liberal candidates are staying neutral on the referendum question now before voters.

Those Liberal candidates officially endorsing the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) option are incumbents Michael Bryant, John Gerretsen, George Smitherman and Tony Ruprecht, plus new Liberal candidates Kate Holloway, Steve Fishman and Selwyn Hicks. Other Liberals like Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Bob Rae, Elinor Caplan and Monique Begin have also endorsed MMP.

But some of the many neutral Liberal candidates have nonetheless been speaking favourably of the need for democratic reform.

Last week, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Liberal incumbent Ted McMeekin took part in an all-candidates debate in Rockton, as reported by the Ancaster News.

According to the story, there was almost unanimity among the local candidates over the proposed referendum question. Mr. McMeekin agreed that Ontario's parliament structure is "dysfunctional" and "doesn't work very well." McMeekin's local Tory opponent was the only candidate who rejected the referendum idea outright.

McMeekin is remaining neutral on the referendum question. But his comments on our current dysfunctional democratic system in Ontario are bang on.

Mike Lostracco, the Liberal candidate in Niagara West-Glanbrook, shared similar sentiments in a recent article in the Stoney Creek News.

While Lostracco is also officially neutral on the referendum question, he wrote:

"There have been a number of complaints over the years that our "first past the post" system of voting provides unfairly weighted representation in the Legislature. With that in mind, the Dalton McGuinty Government committed itself last election to take a look at the electoral system in Ontario to see what options might be available for electoral representation.

"The citizens (not politicians) committee decided on Mixed Member Proportional. I am in favour of this from a concept point of view - it certainly would provide fringe parties in particular, representation where they haven't before. What is concerning, however, is the fact this referendum is getting lost in the middle of an election campaign - I think changing the way we vote is not something that should be done lightly in any society. It is my hope everyone spends time understanding what is being recommended and making an informed decision."


Lostracco's campaign chair, Rob Foster, told Liberals For MMP that Lostracco's generally in favour of the concept of proportional voting, but has concerns about really making it work, particularly for rural Ontario (see the Liberals For MMP Manifesto for our proposals on province-wide lists). He's trying to hear from the people door to door on the subject.

Similarly, Oakville Liberal incumbent Kevin Flynn has told many local residents that he's fond of the process the Citizens' Assembly undertook in drawing up its proposal now before voters. He says he's favourable to electoral reform, but he wants to leave it up to voters to decide for themselves.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the position I'm taking right now," says Flynn in an email to Liberals For MMP. "I have a personal opinion, but I really do believe that it's up to the people themselves."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Linda McQuaig: Democracy well served by reform

Columnist Linda McQuaig wrote a great piece in today's Toronto Star on the referendum entitled, "Democracy well served by reform".

Here's an excerpt:

In Canada, where the electorate is fairly progressive, the result would generally be more progressive representation in the legislatures. (As Tom Flanagan, a strategist for Stephen Harper in the 2006 federal election, noted in his recent book, Harper's Team: "Neither the philosophy of conservatism nor the party brand comes close to commanding majority support.")

...Indeed, it's interesting to note that, under an MMP system, Mike Harris would never have won a majority government. Nor would the NDP's Bob Rae. Neither of these leaders had the support of the majority of Ontario voters.

Instead we would have ended up with governments that more accurately reflected the generally centrist-progressive nature of Ontarians. Anyone who has a problem with that has a problem with democracy.

John Tory can impose his private religious school funding scheme on Ontario under First-Past-The-Post

We're pleased that the majority of Ontarians seem to oppose John Tory's ill-advised scheme to divert $500 million per year from public education to private religious schools.

Depending on which polls you believe, opposition runs from 44% to as high as 70%.

The issue continues to dominate the Ontario election campaign.

However, there is still an inherent danger that Tory's bad policy could be imposed on Ontario even though the majority of voters oppose it, thanks to our current voting system.

Voters will decide how to vote in this election based on various issues: education, health care, leadership, the environment, taxes, electoral reform, etc.
While currently trailing in the polls (and we hope he stays there), it's not inconceivable that John Tory's Conservatives could theoretically still win a majority government with as little as 40% support, perhaps even lower.

Tory could then claim he's won a "mandate" to divert $500 million per year out of public education and into private religious schools, even though the majority of Ontario voters oppose his scheme.

Such is how First-Past-The-Post continues to distort voters' wishes on election day.

And this is another reason why Ontario voters should vote for the Citizens' Assembly's proposed Mixed Member Proportional system.

Of course, were Tory to win a majority in this election under First-Past-The-Post, we'd be stuck with his bad policies for at least one phony majority term. But MMP would limit the power of Conservatives (or any party) from imposing their will on a majority of voters who didn't support them in the future (assuming of course that a Tory majority wouldn't simply ignore the expressed wishes of voters in this referendum and change the law to keep our current antiquated system.)

This is probably why John Tory continues to attack the Citizens' Assembly's proposal.

Today, again, he lied about Mixed Member Proportional in the Toronto Star, calling province-wide Members of Provincial Parliament under the proposal "in fact, appointed."

Again, this is a false statement from John Tory. Under the proposed system, voters will elect list members when they vote for a political party on their ballot. It's unfortunate that the Toronto Star and reporter Kerry Gillespie seem all too happy to print Tory's lies on electoral reform.

Of course, Tory probably understands the definition of "fact" about as well as he understands the definition of "theory", as he demonstrated earlier this month with his musings about the "theory of evolution" versus the "theory of creationism."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Global TV's Focus Ontario: The referendum on electoral change

This weekend's Focus Ontario with host Sean Mallen on Global TV held a spirited debate/discussion on the October 10th referendum on electoral reform.

The debate/discussion included Joe Murray of Vote For MMP, and former MPP David Fleet from NoMMP.ca, along with a repeat of an excellent primer on the Mixed Member Proportional system by Mallen from earlier this year. Both are definitely worth a look for anyone looking for more information on this debate.

A PDF transcript of the show is available here.

Understand the Question - Mechanic

The following ads were produced by Elections Ontario in advance of the October 10th referendum. They're very funny and hopefully effective at getting the attention of voters.

Understand the Question - Dog Sitting

Understand the Question - Hot Tub

Establishment comes out swinging in favour of status quo

First, we had the quintessential Establishment man, John Tory, lashing out at the Citizens' Assembly's recommendation for change last week at the National Post editorial board.

The Toronto Star last week printed the falsehood in a front-page story that province-wide candidates would be "appointed" to the legislature under the new system. No correction was printed.

Now today, the Globe & Mail has gotten into the action defending the unjust voting system which currently distorts voters' wishes at election time.

Globe columnist Murray Campbell certainly seems to be drinking the Establishment kool-aid.

While paying lip service to the injustices under our current system, Campbell spends most of his time attacking the Citizens' Assembly's proposal regarding province-wide list candidates.

The decision by the Citizens' Assembly to leave it up to political parties to decide how to nominate their province-wide candidates has become the focal point of attack from folks who like it when a party wins a majority government with only 38% support.

Says Campbell today of this provision: "[It's] an invitation for the parties to stack their lists with loyalists -- bagmen, if you prefer."

Parties can nominate such bagmen in ridings now under current rules. But they don't because 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.

Parties will want to nominate province-wide candidates who will help increase their appeal to the broader public. That's what parties try to do during election campaigns: win popular support, not alienate voters.

Liberals For MMP is 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.

After acknowledging there's no proof that extremist parties would suddenly arise in moderate Ontario, Murray Campbell plays on public fears about Muslims:

"Could Mr. McGuinty have resisted the pressure to adopt sharia law if he had needed an Islamist party to govern? The inevitable creation of single-issue splinter parties would threaten the parliamentary tradition in which people with strong views had to find compromise within big-tent political parties. Balkanization would surely follow."

We can expect more of this kind of loaded commentary from the establishment media and their cohorts as this debate continues, no doubt.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Will Ontario Liberals vote with John Tory in the referendum?

Conservative leader John Tory is finally starting to show his hand on the referendum question before Ontario voters on October 10th.

Yesterday, while still claiming to be neutral on the subject, Tory apparently spent several minutes criticizing the Citizens' Assembly recommendation for change during an interview with the National Post's editorial board.

Mr. Tory also seemed entirely ignorant about the Mixed Member Proportional option before voters in this referendum (unless of course he was trying to deliberately mislead voters with his comments, which could very well be the case).

Mr. Tory said he is wary of the mixed-member proportional system because some MPPs would be "appointed by party bosses and accountable to no constituents."

This is a false statement.

Under the proposed system, voters will elect list members when they vote for a political party on their ballot. 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.

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.

Tory continued yesterday with his misinformation: "The notion to me that you'd have a whole bunch of people that would be down there now who will be accountable only to party bosses who put their names on the list, to me seems to be making the place less democratic, not more, and less accountable."

Why does Mr. Tory assume party bosses would only appoint candidates to the province-wide lists? Maybe because that is exactly what Mr. Tory intends to do if the Citizens' Assembly proposal becomes law.

Yesterday, Rosemary Speirs of Equal Voice wrote eloquently in the Toronto Star in favour of the proposed system:

NDP Leader Howard Hampton has already pledged province-wide party nomination conventions to elect his "list" candidates. Premier Dalton McGuinty and Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory should now join in Hampton's declaration that all his party's nominations will be open and democratic. Otherwise, think what the No forces are admitting in their desperation to win! Cronyism is alive and well and could get worse? The party leaders will want to assure us that era is over.

With his words to the National Post, John Tory is clearly stating the era of cronyism is alive and well in the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. No wonder he's attacking the proposed new system.

In other jurisdictions that have a Mixed Member Proportional system, like New Zealand and Germany, political parties hold regional votes to elect their list nominees before elections. We have every reason to believe that parties in Ontario, except for the Conservatives of course, would do the same here.

Last week, Liberals For MMP called on the Ontario Liberal Party to undertake the most democratic and transparent process possible to select its province-wide list, convening regional party conventions and/or primaries to choose nominees, should MMP pass. We re-iterate that call today.

Premier Dalton McGuinty should commit before October 10th to this principle so that voters will know how the Ontario Liberal Party will operate under the new system.

This would leave John Tory as the only provincial party leader promising to continue cronyism in the selection of province-wide Members of Provincial Parliament.