Sunday, October 2, 2011

Did Ontarians reject province-wide lists in the 2007 referendum?

Did Ontarians reject province-wide lists in 2007, in the referendum on the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system recommended by the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly?

The main criticisms of MMP were:

1. That "party bosses" would control who gets on their parties' list. In the majority of Ontario (outside Toronto), this criticism was that "party bosses in Toronto" would have control.

2. That List MPPs would not be elected by voters and accountable to voters, because the MMP model had closed lists.

On the second point, this was a problem everywhere in Ontario. The Law Commission of Canada in its 2004 report said “Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. Allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected.”

On both points, the open regional list method was recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”

Voters outside Toronto rejected the model

On the first point, voters outside Toronto rejected the model. The further they were from Toronto, the more they rejected it. It is easy to see the correlation between distance from Toronto and rejection of the model.

Region,. . . . . . . . percent against MMP
Toronto:. . . . . . . . . . . . 55.6%
Peel Region: . . . . . . . . . 61.5%
York Region: . . . . . . . . . 61.7%
Central West:. . . . . . . . . 62.6%
Hamilton-Halton-Niagara: . 64.0%
Central East (Barrie to Brockville): 65.1%
Southwest: . . . . . . . . . . 65.4%
East:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67.3%
North: . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71.3%

Is this just because Toronto voters are more progressive? But compare York Region’s six ridings with Ottawa’s seven ridings. York Region voted 8.1% NDP and 6.7% Green. Ottawa voted 12.3% NDP and 8.7% Green. Yet York Region voted 38.3% for MMP, while Ottawa voted only 34.9% for MMP. And look at Northern Ontario, which voted 36.7% NDP and 4.1% Green – the two parties that supported MMP – yet only 28.7% for MMP.

Across Ontario, 63.1% voted against MMP. About 31% were simply against proportional representation. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be personally elected, not on closed lists. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be anchored in their own region, not on province-wide lists. Another 7.5% were voters outside Toronto who disliked province-wide lists even more than Toronto voters did.

As Prof. Henry Milner wrote just after the referendum "opponents hammered away on the claim that there would be 39 MPPs beholden to party headquarters instead of voters. . . in a short campaign, this image of unrepresentative party hacks from Toronto getting in through the back door was fatal. Had the assembly proposed the alternative MMP method – of having the 39 places filled through regional lists – the proposal would have been less vulnerable to this sort of attack."

This should not have been a surprise. P.E.I. had a referendum on an MMP system with province-wide lists. Again, support dropped in direct proportion to the distance from the capital, Charlottetown.

If those 103 Citizens' Assembly members had had another six or eight weeks to deliberate, some elements might have been different, like regional lists and open lists. What would their model have looked like, with mid-sized regions? And what would the 2011 election results have been on such a model?

8 comments:

Purple library guy said...

For this sort of reason ever since I started thinking about it I've liked a "best losers" approach:

No lists at all. You just give the regional seats to those candidates for individual seats in the region (from the appropriate party) who came closest to winning.

So, everyone just votes for their local candidates just like before. Everyone who ends up with a seat is someone who faced the electorate in an election campaign and had an incentive to do well. No centralized control, just constituency associations like we have right now. Simple, adds very little new machinery and no additional centralization, and remains democratic.

Raymond said...

An insightful analysis, Wilf.

Your point about the Ontario referendum results mirroring the PEI ones shows that the Ontario Citizens' Assembly may have thought that they would be able to explain (or sell) their model to Ontarians better. I wonder if the Ontario Citizens' Assembly analysed the PEI referendum results?

I guess that you mean "flexible lists" when you refer to the Law Commissions' recommendation of "open lists". (Voters would have a choice between party slate and candidate.) I personally would go for the simplicity of best-runner-up before considering pure open list MMP.

Two other common criticisms of MMP were the increasing cost of adding more MPP's to the legislature, and the loss of regional power (or political weight) to other regions of Ontario. These criticisms were amplified by politicians positioning themselves as "defenders of their region" or "defenders of the taxpayer" during the concurrent election campaign.

Wilf Day said...

Raymond, yes, the North was not the only region afraid that province-wide closed lists would cost them political weight. For example, Eastern Ontario francophones were especially concerned, but not just francophones. Most electoral reformers outside Toronto were expecting a regional model – no one I know wanted lists drawn up in Toronto -- and were taken aback at a model with province-wide lists.

Yes, the open list model that gives voters complete choice is what the Law Commission recommended. A democratic voting system must encourage citizens to exercise positive choice by voting for the candidate or party they prefer. Best-runner-up is an interesting option which the Select Committee on Electoral Reform investigated and found some drawbacks.

As for the cost of restoring the number of MPPs to 129 (it was 130 until 1999), most active Liberals knew what their own MPPs had been quietly saying for four years: that the cut in numbers of MPP left not enough backbench MPPs to staff legislature committees. Further, since every MPP now required more staff to deal with their additional constituents, no money had been saved. The main difference was that constituents were now dealing with staff instead of dealing with their MPP. Ontario is the only province with the same ridings federally and provincially. This was particularly bad when federal ridings had been set without regard to school board jurisdictions and other provincial matters, and then were used for a purpose they were never designed for.

Raymond said...

For the benefit of blog readers, here is the Law Commission's recommendation related to the list system (from p. 109 of its report):

Recommendation 5: "Within the context of a mixed member proportional system,
Parliament should adopt a flexible list system that provides
voters with the option of either endorsing the party “slate” or
“ticket,” or of indicating a preference for a candidate within
the list."

Adding a potential regional, multi-candidate, intra-party list competition to an inter-party general election campaign would certainly be a significant change to our current system requiring special nomination rules & regulations, campaign financing, etc.

I can see this requiring a lot of time & careful thought to establish.

Raymond said...

Just a follow up about the size of the legislature... This topic seems to be a political football whenever changes are proposed: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/inside-politics-blog/2011/10/question-of-the-dday.html

Also, before a party endorses a specific model or design of electoral change, it usually polls the public to see if it will help it to gain new supporters. This is (possibly) one reason why most Ontario Liberals distanced themselves from MMP during the 2007 referendum.

"More MPPs to represent you better" is a very difficult sell when compared with the cost of millions of dollars.

"Stable & co-operative coalition government" is also a difficult sell when most party leaders are campaigning to become prime minister of their own party's majority government.

Wilf Day said...

Purple Library Guy, many people would like “best runners-up” MMP. I advocate the Law Commission Report mainly because it has credibility. We want to implement this, not to play with voting systems. But the German province of Baden-Wurttemberg does use “best runners-up” MMP. Skeptics would complain that some ridings would have two or three MPs (or even four!), while most would have only one. The additional MPs got ranked only by their local voters where they ran; were they elected by the region or more by their local riding? More seriously, democratic reformers want legislatures to reflect both our political diversity and the diversity of society, so we must remove barriers to the nomination and election of candidates from groups now underrepresented including women, cultural minorities and Aboriginals. If a party region nominates five or more regional candidates, underrepresented groups tend to do well. “Best runners-up,” however, nominates every candidate one at a time, no improvement. Still, it’s well worth consideration.

Wilf Day said...

Raymond, when your second ballot is for a regional party list or one of the names on it, no doubt many voters will vote for the candidate who is also their local candidate, assuming he or she won a regional nomination as well. But in a region like York-Durham, likely at least one prominent candidate for your party in each of the two Regions would attract personal votes; and 90% of Canadians want to see more women elected, so a prominent woman would have an excellent chance. As for regional nomination rules, that would be up to each party, but one interesting question is the timing. I would see the regional nominations being an every-member-vote on-line process, which might be held after some local ridings have nominated but before the rest have.

Wilf Day said...

Yes,Raymond, “stable & cooperative coalition government” will be a change in our political culture, which most voters will welcome. As for more MPPs, 15 more MPs in Ontario has been accepted, and I would face it head-on: Ontario can’t have a more representative legislature without more representatives. Although the Law Commission gave us a good model with no extra MPs.