Mixed-Member What?

by Natalie P.

October 8, 2007 | Filed Under The Heartless Bitch Way | 10 Comments

On October 10, Ontarian’s go to the polls for a provincial election. Also on the ballot is a referendum (the first one in something like 30 years) for changing our electoral system (which is currently called “first past the post”) to a system called “Mixed-Member Proportional”.  Despite all of the information campaigns and ads, most people don’t know what it means or how it works.  Some would argue that Elections Ontario has really fallen down on the job of making this new system comprehensible, as the information they provided seems to have left people more confused than informed.

Mixed-Member Proportional is a system that is in place in New Zealand and a host of European countries, and is deemed better than “first past the post” by many political scientists as it provides greater representation for women and minorities and provides fairer representation of the votes cast by the electorate.

In essence, the system would have two checkmarks on the ballot – one for a candidate in your riding, and one for a party. 

Why is this better than simply voting for a candidate? Because… in our current “party” system today, a political party can get a significant percentage of the popular vote, but not actually get any representatives in parliament. Worse, because of the way the party system works, even though I may prefer the “Green Party” candidate in my riding, a vote for the Green is like a vote for the Conservatives.  Why? Because the Green is a minority party, meaning that they are unlikely to win the riding, and as such, the balance comes down to either Liberal or Conservative. (Think “democrat” and “republican” if you are American).  Whatever party gets the most seats, holds power and gets their party leader as the Premier of the province.  So if I think the Liberals are the lesser of the two big-party evils, I pretty much have to vote that way or I risk getting a Conservative candidate elected in my riding. For example, say the election results in my riding were as follows:

Liberal: 34%
Conservative 36%
New Democrat 18%
Green 12%

In such a scenario, the Conservative candidate would get in, despite the fact that they really didn’t get a “majority” of the votes – they only got 36% – they simply got more than anyone else.  If just 3% of the voters who voted either Green or New Democrat had voted Liberal (which is probably more closely aligned to their political beliefs than the Conservatives), they would have ensured that the Conservatives did not win a seat in that riding.

You see my dilemma?

The Mixed-Member Proportional system would change that to a certain extent. Sure, we’d still have the risk of getting the wrong “party” elected if we vote for a minority party, but I could put my “party” vote with the minority party and my candidate vote for one of the two major parties that is most likely to carry the election.  A full explanation of how the system works is here.

It’s detractors say that the candidates “appointed” through the party, are not accountable to a riding or group of people. I say that’s bullshit. They are accountable to the whole province. The political parties have to publish their lists prior to the election, and they have to make their selection process visible and transparent.  There will still be members of parliament for each riding who can focus on local issues, and there will be members of parliament who can focus on broader issues affecting the entire population.  It will also keep the big-party politics in check and ensure that more diverse voices get into government.

I am going to vote in favor of Mixed-Member Proportional. If you are in Ontario and consider yourself a feminist, or simply want to see a fairer representation of women in government,  then I urge you to vote YES on the referendum ballot too.  In every country that has implemented Mixed-member proportional there has been an increase in the number of women appointed to office.

That being said, if I had my way, I’d get rid of our current electoral system altogether. It’s inherently corrupt.  Think about it.  To get to any position of high political rank or power, you have to be in so many people’s back pockets (whether it’s labour or big business), that any hope or semblance of altruism and “for the people” is lost along the way.  The “people” those candidates are “for” are the ones that funded their campaigns and put them in office.

So, in MY new system, we wouldn’t vote.  It would be like Jury Duty.  Every member of the population over the age of 21, who has completed at least high school, doesn’t have a criminal record, or a history of mental illness, is eligible for “Government Duty”. Every year, one quarter of the Parliament is rotated out and a set of new members are drawn from the populace.  Members will represent a “riding” just as they do now – people will be drawn from geographic regions based on the number of people in that region.  Each “member” will serve for 2 years, and be paid the same salary that they declared on their previous year’s tax return.  The companies they work for will, like maternity leave, have to hold their positions and let them either return to the same position, or one of an equivalent pay and role.  The body of “appointed” representatives will elect within themselves representatives for the various portfolios such as Environment or Finance. Remember, these are not the people running the government offices day to day – for that we have the existing hired bureaucrats – “Government Duty” people are there to set POLICY.  There will be mechanisms in place to educate the newly appointed officials on the portfolios at hand. 

Schools would have to provide classes on political science and legislative assembly governance. Our kids would come out of highschool informed and aware of how to take a seat in government and what the responsibility would entail.

I think like juries, most people will want to do the right thing by the people they have been appointed to represent.  Yeah, we’ll get the occasional crook, but it sure as hell can’t be any worse than the current crop of politicians and their back-room dealings.

“But”, you say, “We could get total MORONS or NUTBARS in government that way!” To which I respond, “And we don’t now? Just look at the President of the United States.  I rest my case.”Š

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10 comments so far
  1. Louisa October 8, 2007 8:53 pm

    Your idea is a really interesting one. I particularly like how it gives two years of political experience to people who may not have had the opportunity to ever go down that road on their own. I’m curious how you think it would work with students who are accumulating debt rather than earning, or parents who stay at home raising the kids while their spouse is the one earning money?

  2. Pat October 8, 2007 11:03 pm

    Not to be anal about it, but election day is October 10th, not 12th.
    Thanks for the explanation of MMP, most other explanations I’ve read just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

  3. Natalie P. October 9, 2007 12:27 am

    Oops. Thanks for pointing that glaring error out. I fixed the original posting.

  4. Natalie P. October 9, 2007 12:34 am

    Louisa, to answer your question,

    If a person is currently unemployed when selected for government duty, they will earn a standard salary while in office. Students can think of it as an extended co-op work term. Childcare will be provided for parents. As with jury duty, only in extreme circumstances can someone get excused and not have to serve.

  5. Louisa October 9, 2007 10:31 am

    Thanks for answering, Natalie!

    What I’d be concerned about with a system like that is the constant policy switching that could happen when you bring in a new group of people every two years. Say one group pushes through one policy just before they are replaced by a new lot, who promptly decide they disagree with the previous decision and change it, and so on and so forth. Or one group is in the middle of working on beneficial changes (which always seem to take the longest to get put into action) and that is then disregarded by their replacements. One of the good points about having parties in government, IF they’re competent (which I know, they often aren’t) is that if they remain popular throughout the years, the aims and actions remain consistent.

    On the other hand, as you say, only certain people can get into a political party and the strength in your scheme is that people from all ages and backgrounds are represented, meaning they can set out a variety of policies based on what they KNOW will be beneficial to the people rather than what current politicians seem to THINK is what everyone wants.

  6. Mike October 9, 2007 5:11 pm

    Actually, Frederick Pohl had a similar proposal for choosing government officials in one of his novels–\i{The Years of the City,} I think.

  7. Jaakarhu October 11, 2007 9:41 am

    Hi,
    Just read your article. The idea is interesting, but it ignores at least one vital issue – the advisers. Where does the newly selected official get them? Americans might have a retard for a president, but this retard has an army of advisers, whom he trusts. Now, a single person can not possibly be an expert on gun control, civil engineering and social security at the same time. That is why people have advisers. There probably be less work for PR pros (and that can be good), but how can a garage mechanic, who never went to college can make decisions about the economy in the province all by himself? I have a masters in economics, but even I can not imagine going at it alone…

  8. Matt October 12, 2007 11:04 pm

    It’s a fun idea to toy with, but not all that practical of a system. For starters you’re expecting students to interrupted their studies and be paid a bare minimum (along with anyone else who happened to be unemployed for any reason the previous year), while others are paid significantly more for doing the exact same job. What happened to equal pay for equal work?

    Of course I realize where you were going with this: if you make the pay equal for everyone then those who were in a position with a large income would feel cheated. Millionaires sit back and lose two years of significant income? I don’t think so. You could pay everyone rather large sums of money to cover for this eventuality, but that’s pretty damn expensive.

    So really, the system has to be either blatantly inequitable, or ridiculously expensive. I know, I know. Not much different from now. But I thought this was about trying to improve things?

    The whole random selection is also going to play hell with people’s personal lives. Not that freedom doesn’t require sacrifice and all that good stuff, but come on now. People hate jury duty, let alone a two year commitment.

  9. Mely October 18, 2007 10:42 pm

    The MMP system sounds remarkably similar to what they have in Germany. When it was first instituted, shortly after reunification, there were hundreds of experts saying it wouldn’t work at all. Then it did!
    It’s not perfect, but it’s gotten fairly stable, with five parties that get seats on a national level and tons of new ones constantly trying. Also, representatives who get directly elected (the “first vote”) have higher unofficial status within the Bundestag than reps who were elected by the “second” (party) vote, but that’s the only real difference. They all feel equally bound to serve.
    The major drawback is that forming a majority coalition can be a real bitch, but at least the minority parties are getting seats! Plus they become even more important, because the few seats of a minority party can often make or break a coalition. I hope the referendum passes!

  10. Mercurial Georgia December 7, 2007 8:56 pm

    re: pockets

    Back when Stronach was in politics, there were peons who made disparaging remarks about how she must have slept her way in. I remember thinking, who didn’t? At least someone who has paid their shady dues with whatever they have BEFORE being elected into office, can be relied upon not to pay them later with something that isn’t theirs to give away.

    I manage to be poll clerk on election day, and though it was for an apartment complex, much less than half the people on the voter list showed up. One person was surprised that it was election, several people had no clue what MMP was. We weren’t allowed to instruct them, but I told one man to try and check on the Internet. I seem to recall that everyone, or nearly everyone, voted no on MMP, or mostly, did not vote at all.


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