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Out of the Stone Age: Reforming Ontario's elections:

by edwin Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 12:14:43 AM EST

Canada has been saddled with a first past the post parliamentary system. Along with the usual problems of providing significant hurdles for minority view points to be heard, the Canadian system has an added wrinkle - differing sizes of ridings. Due to historical agreements - different provinces have guaranteed number of seats. There is also the problem of northern ridings - geographically massively with low populations. I guess that it has worked so far though no one seems to be all that happy. There are worse systems in the world but that is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Canada does not look like it will change, but some of the provincial legislatures just might.

Toronto - the city the entire country loves to hate (sorry all you foreigners - you aren't allowed to participate - it's a family thing) has routinely been shafted when it comes to political representation.

A number of provinces are looking at electoral reform, including Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. In fact, Ontario's system uses information from Quebec.

The interesting thing is that it is possible (and not too far fetched) that may end up in a situation where Quebec votes to go proportional at the provincial level, and votes to oppose going proportional at the federal level using the identical voting system. (Wouldn't that be interesting?)

The biggest hurdle that Canada faces in upgrading its electoral system is Quebec. Any changes towards proportionality will lessen the power of Quebec in relationship to the rest of Canada. It's going to be one massive hurdle - perhaps impossible to negotiate. Quebec is definitely quite protective of its power within confederation. It already feels like a second class province, and to some extent there is a feeling in the rest of Canada that it is a spoiled brat. Personally, I am more sympathetic to Quebec.

Well we aren't there yet at the federal level. We may be at the provincial level.

Just a couple of examples of Ontario election districts to give an idea of current disparities: Timmins/James Bay with 71,645 people

and Davenport (Toronto) with 111,705 people You can't even see this riding on the top map.

(stats from election ontario, pictures from wikipedia)

Referendum legislation has been introduced that if passed, would enable Ontarians to have their say if the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform recommends a change to the province's electoral system. If the legislation is passed and the Citizens' Assembly recommends a change, the government will hold a referendum in conjunction with the next provincial election in October 2007 so that all voters can decide.

Rumour has it that we may have a shot at

The citizens' assembly, which has been charged with studying how provincial elections are decided, voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing to mixed member proportional voting.


It is a rather complicated system that is close to proportional, but not true proportional. It combines aspects of first past the post with aspects of proportional representation with the extra seats coming from ridings where candidates did not win but did relatively well - and to make it even more confusing the province would be divided into regions and this all would be applied in a regional way... There is also a 5% minimum that I assume would not apply to all first past the post seats.

Lots of possibilities, lots of details up in the air...

It believes the system should be understandable to the public. Simplicity may include how easy it is for voters to use the ballot and to understand the election results.
Well no - what I have read is definitely not simple. Not that I am complaining, mind you. Of course we will see in the coming months what is actually on the table, if anything.

I'll believe it when I see it on the ballot as a referendum, and that referendum is passed. 60% - I'm looking for this info and can't find it now... anyway - still I can hope for my vote finally counting in at least provincial elections.

What would this do to Ontario Politics?

Currently we have three main political parties. The Conservative Party - right wing - perhaps like a "left wing" republican party, The Liberal Party - plays the left and right wing off each other in order to try to win the government, and the NDP - almost always the bride's maid - but one it managed due to strange splits in three candidate voting to manage win - and has not yet recovered from the bad press/performance that it got during that time.

(The standard joke of the time goes as follows: Bob Rae - the provincial premier - was out with his dog at the cottage. He decided to play fetch with his dog. He took a stick and tossed it out into the lake. The dog proceed to trot on top of the water, fetched the stick and brought it back. There was a reporter who was with Bob Rae. He was amazed. He quickly phoned up some colleges. Soon there was a gaggle of reporters watching. Bob Ray would toss the stick into the lake. His dog would trot over the water, and fetch the stick. The headline on the next day's paper was "Bob Rae's dog can't swim.")

Historically we have had the big blue machine (conservative) managing to create dynasties. Lately things have been more up in the air. My guess is that the Liberals stand to be the big winners - along with a lot more coalition governments - and yes the Liberals are currently in power. The New Democratic Party is hopeful that they will get more seats - as they almost always get less than their percentage of the vote. In fact left wing voters are rather "principled" and there is a left wing dissatisfaction with the NDP. This may translate into enough votes for a left wing split - far left and liberal left. Even so, the NDP may still pick up seats.  Communists really don't have a hope in hell of getting anything - especially with a 5% cut off. The Green Party has something to dream about - 5% may be just doable - especially if they can set themselves up as what the NDP splits into. Given the current state of provincial Greens - radical economic ideas combined with traditional green style environment there is certainly a chance of this happening. (The Federal Green Party on the other hand sounds like they only have meaningful policies on environmental issues - though they seem to believe otherwise - at least that was my impression from the members meeting I attend.) The Conservative Party is the interesting question. Would it split into a far right, liberal right section? If so we might end up in a situation where the far right was effectively frozen out of power, along with the far left, and a series of governments combining mostly right centre, but also centre left.

And best of all - there is a possibility that my vote would actually mean something.

It sounds as if what is being proposed for Ontario is about the same as the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland uses four different electoral systems - party list proportional for the European Parliament, first past the post for the UK Parliament, mixed member proportional for the Scottish Parliament and (starting in May) single transferable vote in three and four member wards for local elections. So you see it is not impossible for the electorate to understand and vote using different systems at different levels of government.

I think the problem with changing an electoral system is that people are used to the familiar one and suspicious of change. If the change is made everybody soon gets used to it and people wonder what all the fuss was about.

Another thought about PR at the federal level in Canada. The electoral system is a different topic from the rules about apportioning seats to provinces (or within a province). There is no need to combine the two issues (unless you are a politician who wants to sabotage the chance of change for one or both).

On apportionment I see the attraction of the American approach, that you are representing people not geography; from which it follows that each state should have as proportional share of representation as possible based on population and each district within a state should be as equal in population as possible. Obviously that may cause some districts, in sparsely populated areas, to be much larger than average geographically but that seems fairer than giving extra representation to rural areas.

Neither the UK nor Canada follows an American style mechanical mathematical apportionment system. Different provinces in Canada and countries in the UK have special apportionment rules and the size of ridings within a province and constituencies in a country are not fixed (not as rigidly as districts in the US anyway.

Each country has to make its mind up about the balance in how representation is to be arranged, but democratic principle favours one person, one vote, one value. One advantage if mixed member proportional systems (at least if the top up areas are the whole province/state/country or reasonably equal chunks of it), is that differences in the size of first past the post ridings/districts/constituencies are less important as the proportional part of the system compensates for any unfairness in the non proportional part.

by Gary J on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 07:57:28 AM EST

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