Ontario Referendum – a new system offerred

When you mark your ballots on October 10th you will also be asked whether you favour MMP – a new system for electing our provincial representatives. The following is reprinted from the Globe & Mail to help you consider the alternative.

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Democratic in more than name

Ed Broadbent and Hugh Segal aren’t known for common viewpoints. But the political warhorses agree on this: Ontarians should embrace a new voting system.

As a democracy, Canada is quite remarkable. On the one hand, in recent years citizens in a majority of our provinces have consistently recommended we make major changes to our electoral system. On the other hand, our politicians have also been consistent. Resolutely committed to the status quo, they have refused to act on this democratic impulse.
On Oct. 10, Ontario voters will have the chance to join the push for change. They can vote “yes” for a new electoral system that is more democratic in every respect than the status quo. Recommended by the citizens’ assembly, which was composed of randomly selected citizens, the reformed system would: ensure the number of seats parties get actually corresponds to their share of the vote; result in many more women sitting in the legislature; better represent visible minorities; and lead to the political parties in all cities and regions having some representation in the legislature. This is what the historical record shows in New Zealand, Germany, Wales and Scotland – countries with the kind of system proposed for Ontario.
In provincial politics, no longer would Conservatives find themselves virtually shut out in the city of Ottawa. Nor would the Liberals be blanked out in other areas, and the New Democrats would finally be fairly represented throughout the province. The Greens, too, would find their place in the electoral sun.
The proposed system would give most of us what we really want: two votes, one for a local representative, another one for the party of our choice. At the end of the day, whoever gets the most votes in each of 90 individual ridings would become the elected MPP. Another 39 members, however, would also come into the legislature as provincewide representatives.
The distribution of these 39 members among the parties would take into account the percentage of the vote that each party obtained, and the number of MPPs each party got elected at the constituency level. The final division of the 129 seats would be exactly proportional to the per-cent figure each party got on the party vote. If, for example, a party got a greater number of constituency MPPs elected than its provincewide percentage would warrant as a share of the total, then its share of the 39 provincewide members would be reduced to take that surplus into account. Conversely, a party that got a lower percentage of constituency seats than it got in the popular vote would get a larger share of the 39 provincewide members to bring its percentages in line.
The democratic principle behind this is what prevails in the vast majority of the world’s democracies. It is exactly what expert commissions and citizens’ assemblies have recommended for British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It’s exactly what has provided fairness in most stable and advanced democracies.
Such a legislature for Ontario would appropriately combine the old with the new. The familiar and important tradition of each riding having its own accountable MPP would be complemented by provincewide representation that reflects our party preferences. We can vote for the best person locally with one vote and, simultaneously, choose our preferred party with our second vote. As in other democracies with this system, the parties would be pressured into presenting a provincewide program and list of candidates that reflects the province’s regional, gender, ethnic and occupational nature.
The two of us reflect two competing, democratic, partisan traditions in Ontario. We differ on many matters of public policy. We strongly unite, however, in our commitment to an electoral system that is democratic in more than name. It’s long overdue in our country. We salute the Ontario Legislature for putting the spotlight on our voting system and for making October’s referendum possible. In particular, we applaud all those ordinary people who made up the citizens’ assembly and produced an imaginative and practical proposal.
The history of Ontario has been in equal measure traditional and progressive. By voting “yes” for the reform idea, we capture the essence of this history.
By retaining individual MPPs, we will continue with an important part of our democratic tradition. And by adding a major element of proportionality, we will bring about a major increase in democratic fairness.
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Ed Broadbent is a former leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. Senator Hugh Segal is a former chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney.