Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, February 19, 2007

More good electoral reform news

As reported by Greg Morrow over at democraticSPACE, Ontario's Citizens' Assembly for Electoral Reform has made a decision to pursue a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system as the alternative to the current first-past-the-post system. Greg also notes that after studying all of the possible options, there were very few dissenters among the assembly on which system to run with, suggesting that all the evidence pointed to one clear choice for Ontario, despite the fact that the citizens' assembly comes from all walks of life and all across the province. That's encouraging, as it means that there's less likely to be a disgruntled "no" movement among people who wanted a different system. I look forward to hearing more about the details of the system the assembly proposes as they make those decisions.

Electoral reform movement watchers will have noticed that this is a different system than the one endorsed by an equivalent citizens' assembly in British Columbia several years ago. There, the assembly recommended a variant of the Single Transferable Vote system, which they dubbed BC-STV. Does this mean that Ontario is right and B.C. was wrong, or maybe the other way around? Not necessarily. Different electoral systems are appropriate for different jurisdictions, and in designing an effective one, it's important to take into account the specific circumstances and needs of the time and place. It may very well be the case that BC-STV is the best choice for British Columbia, while Ontario-MMP, whatever the details end up being, will be best for Ontario.

If you're curious about the notion of designing an electoral system that suits particular jurisdictions, you might want to have a look at the International IDEA Handbook, written to help different jurisdictions do just that.


Robert McClelland said...

Both this and the NDP's motion today have been completely ignored by the media.

Olaf said...


My question over at Democratic Space is what "differences" would lead Ontario to prefer one system and BC to prefer another so overwhelmingly? I know they're different provinces, but do you know the factors that might be involved?

Being an experienced conspiracy theorist, I would guess it has something to do with the experts and literature each were subjected to, and might indicate an informational preference. Maybe not, just a theory.

Larry Gambone said...

Good show. A baby step in nthe direction of democracy, but nonetheless, a step.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I don't know any of the interior details about the Ontario process. But I've talked to someone from the B.C. commission, and I can tell you that they made their decision based on first finding out what the voters were most unhappy with about the current system and how they would ideally like it to be instead, and then finding out what electoral system best fit those goals. I can only assume that the Ontario citizens' assembly had a similar procedure, and came to different conclusions from B.C.'s assembly because of the two provinces' radically different population concentrations.

Conspiracy theories aside, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

Olaf said...


Obviously, I see no clear reason why BCs voters would be unhappy with the current system for completely different reasons than Ontario voters. But I see you're not going to play the speculating game so I'll just let you bask in your victory.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Read the comment again. I speculated.

Declan said...

As I wrote in November, 2004:

"Let it be known I hereby predict that the assembly will propose a Mixed-Member Proportional system (in contrast to the one in B.C. which recommended STV (Single transferrable vote). Let it also be known that either STV or MMP would be a vast improvement over the current First-Past-the-Post system which was never designed to accommodate anything other than a 2 party system."

Olaf - having lived 5+ years in both Ontario and B.C., the primary difference (in my opinion) is in the mindset of the typical B.C. resident vs. the typical Ontario resident. People in B.C. are much more independent-minded, willing to take risks, open to complexity, averse to centralization and generally populist than people in Ontario. Ontario is the small 'c' conservative capital of Canada and as such would be more likely to go with a new system which is most like the old system and which puts more faith in social institutions rather than the individual citizens. Or to put it another way, B.C. is more like Australia (which uses STV), while Ontario is more like Germany or New Zealand (both of which use MMP).

Why this is, I can't say, but I saw struck by it clearly in the run-up to the referendum here in comparison to the coverage of electoral reform in Ontario. That was why I predicted with such certainty (and I don't make many predictions (outside of seat counts for elections) on my blog) that the Ontario assembly would choose MMP.

You can see this disparity in the popularity of recall legislation in B.C. vs in Ontario.

Perhaps experts and literature played a role, but even then, this only takes us back one level of turtles from wondering why the assembly chose as it did to wondering why it was subjected to particular experts or literature.

Also, there are lots of clear reasons why B.C. residents might be dissatisfied with the system for different reasons that Ontarians. Most notably, people in B.C. don't like the way the party in power switches back and forth from one extreme to another and they were also recently exposed to an election where the opposition only won 2 seats and also have in recent memory an election where a party won a majority despite receiving less votes than another party. Any one of these might influence what voters are thinking differently than in Ontario where these are not issues in the same way.

James Bow said...

One theory I'd have, Olaf, is that BC is a two-party system struggling to break out from that polarizing stance, whereas Ontario has three volatile parties, whose seat totals do not reflect their popular support.

Greg said...

I think Declan is right. I was at one of the consultation meetings and most of the participants at that one cautioned the assembly not to choose a system radically different from the current system because Ontarians would not go for it (as they really want to retain local representation). MMP is the least different system from FPTP (in terms of how the ballot looks).

bza said...


The conspiracy theory floating around the political science departments of BC is that STV was choosen because the political scientist running the comission, Ken Carty, specializes in Irish politics. And guess what system Ireland has? Well, STV! How bout that!

I did vote for STV but with great relunctance. A substantial amount of NDPers I know, if not a majority, voted against it since they wanted MMP.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Well, unless the citizen's assembly member that I talked to was outright lying to me--and she would have had no reason to--that really is nothing but a stupid conspiracy theory. She addressed that rumour head-on when we talked, and denied it outright. What she said: None of the scholars ever tried to convince the citizen's assembly that STV was the way to go; they just provided facts and answered questions. And the assembly listened to what British Columbians said they needed out of an electoral system and picked the one that best suited those goals. No conspiracy.

I said in a post a couple of days ago that I don't outrage easily, and when I do, it's usually over something that's just plain stupid rather than over the absolute worst things. The BC NDP's (and the BC Greens') distaste for STV is one of those examples of utter stupidity that has the capacity to outrage me. Like you, I prefer MMP, but STV is still so very much better than the status quo. And it's thanks to the people who are closedminded about any reform that doesn't point in the MMP direction that BC still has first past the post today. I will never forgive the BC NDP for that.

You might consider reading the book that broke me of my own "MMP or nothing" attitude several years back: Nick Loenen's Citizenship and Democracy. (Yes, he's a former Social Credit MLA and not a lefty. You should read it anyway.)

bza said...


I suppose its more of a joke rather than a conspiracy theory in the poli-sci departments. :p

However, there was a lot of understandable frustration with the selection of STV though. The overwhelming amount of submissiosn were for MMP. Most advocates of electoral reform were fans of MMP. Then almost out of nowhere, STV was choosen. That took a lot of reformers by suprise, shock even.

Considering how close the vote was to passing, I would figure that MMP would have had easily passed the margin considering how much electoral reform advocates voted against it.

In the end, I figured, regardless of the originality of the assembly's selection I still voted for it. Despite STV's panning, its still better than FPTP. And your right, some of those upset by STV should have gave it a chance. I may even vote for it agian.

I'll look up that book you suggested.

AJ said...


While you're at it, it would be good to look up Andre Blais' paper from the 2005 American Political Science Association meeting where he analyzes the shift in values that he believes underlay the BCCA's shift towards favouring STV. He shows pretty clearly that their opinion of MMP started high (5.4 on a scale of 1-7) and stayed pretty much there (ending at 5.2), whereas their opinion of STV started at 5.1 and stayed in that vicinity for the first 7 months or so. It eventually ended up at 6.2 (if memory serves), largely because they became more convinced of the importance to British Columbians of locality of representation.

I also agree with IP that from the CA members' perspective, there was no pressure to adopt STV. One CA member I spoke to even told me about times the members corrected Carty, which indicates they had done their homework and were thinking for themselves.