Ontario to choose between two electoral systems

Residents hoping for some guidance from their local candidates on the upcoming referendum seem to be out of luck.

The vote, part of the Oct. 10 provincial election, will determine the type of government we elect in the future, either First Past the Post and Mixed Member Proportional.

(See Referendum 2007: What’s at stake or visit the Elections Ontario Referendum Website)

But, many of the candidates running in the ridings of Pickering-Scarborough East, Scarborough-Guildwood and Scarborough-Rouge River are tight-lipped about what side of the referendum they support.

Margarett Best, the Liberal candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood, says she won’t take a side on the issue. And she’s not alone.

Best will say if it does pass, it will bring greater diversity to the legislature.

Gary Grant (Progressive Conservative in Scarborough Guildwood), said he has no position on the issue.

The New Democrats strongly support the MMP system.

Sheila White, running in Scarborough-Rouge River, says while she backs the decision of the Citizens’ Assembly, “it’s too bad it hasn’t really captured people’s imagination ’cause it’s probably the most important issue we’ll be dealing with in the next decade.”

White feels the referendum is doomed as the “McGuinty government has set it up to fail with the high threshold of needing 60 per cent to pass.”

Both sides of the referendum have their campaigns underway to convince the average voter of the benefits of each system. However, campaigning has not strictly been based on the issue with each side accusing the other of conning the voters.

“The people who are defending the status quo (FPTP) will say anything, tell any lie, raise any fear,” Steve Withers, spokesperson of the Vote for MMP campaign said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. MMP is just better.”

Michael Ufford, chair of the No MMP campaign, was somewhat less accusatory telling the Observer he got involved in the referendum because he ”“didn’t want the yes side to get a free ride.”

“The MMP campaign likes to appropriate all the nice sounding words like fair and modern, that disguise the real problems in the [MMP] system.”

Regarding the pros and cons of the two systems, the two sides bring up the same problems with FPTP but differ on whether MMP will solve them. One of the main issues MMP is supposed to resolve is the idea that votes for a particular party are wasted when a candidate does not win that riding.

“The election results under MMP are fairer,” Withers said. “If your party gets 30% of the vote, you get 30% of the seats.”

“Today a party can get 40% of the vote, 60% of the seats and 100% of the power.”

Ufford concedes that while MMP may cure proportionality, “it creates about a dozen other problems. The basic problem with MMP is it’s a clear political power shift away from the votes to party headquarters.”

These 39 list seats are a hot button issue during the referendum. Both the NDP and Green Party have said their membership will elect the list candidates but neither the Liberals nor Conservatives have made any commitments so far.

Ufford has a problem with the list candidates even if they are elected by party members, as less than five per cent of the population are party members.

“There’s nothing in the proposal that requires parties to [elect list candidates]. They could have a raffle; they can do whatever they want. If you trust political parties now, then go ahead and vote for MMP.”

However, Withers points to Germany and New Zealand where the party membership does democratically elect their members.

“If MMP was good for party bosses they’d be pumping and promoting it. MMP is not good for party bosses,” Withers said. “It takes their toys away and forces them to learn and play well with others.”

“The same things we teach children our politicians need to learn.”

More information from MMP side is available at Vote for MMP and for the FPTP side at No MMP.