Politics

Ontario to Hold Referendum on Proportionate Representation

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 18, 2007

The Ontario Government has announced that it intends to hold a referendum on switching Ontario's elections from the present first-past-the-post system to a system of proportionate representation (PR), where the share of seats a party has roughly matches its share of the popular vote.

I think some form of PR is the best way to go, since the present system allows a party to get a majority of seats - and carte blanche to ignore opposition for four or five years - with less than half the votes.

Coalitions of small parties that have to listen to each other tend to produce more pragmatic, less dogmatic (or cronyist) legislation than monolithic majority parties representing mere pluralities.

Further, it gives smaller parties a chance to win seats and actually represent their supporters.

Most importantly, perhaps, it allows electors to vote for the party they actually support rather than to vote "strategically" for the party they think has a chance of winning.

A referendum on PR in BC a couple of years ago won the support of 56 percent of voters, but the Campbell government had set the 'pass' threshold at 60 percent (ironically), so the will of the majority failed to become law.

Presently, the Ontario government plans to set the bar at 60 percent as well. It's incumbent on voters to insist that the government accept a straight majority in the referendum results.

With fair terms and a strong push from supporters, I don't see why a referendum in Ontario wouldn't pass.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By tomcooper (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2007 at 16:15:07

PR may indeed shake up the system - allowing groups that are tradionally dis-enfranchised to make inroads. For example, such a system would likely allow some representation from the Green Party which has been shut out of the first-past-the-post system.

One potential pitfall of PR deals with direct representation.
In theory our system is based on a Member of Parliament representing a specific geographic constituency. If you're a resident of Hamilton East, have a problem with a Worker's Compensation claim and aren't getting satisfaction from the Ministry - you can always go to your local Member for assistance.
While that system will still remain, there will be a seperate group of MPPs chosen at large who do not represent specific 'geographic areas'.
Since the Parties would provide lists of names for those individuals who would become elected if their Party received a high enough percentage of the vote, there is the possibility that the list could favour candidates from certain areas - like Toronto for instance. Other areas, like the North could get shut out.
It will be incumbent upon the Parties themsevles to ensure that the candidates chosen for the list is done so in a democratic way that is also regionally representative.
There will be much more to chew over the coming months on this issue.
It will be very interesting to see which interest groups come out in favour and who is opposed.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2007 at 22:07:03

Personally i'd prefer 75 STV seats and 50 PR seats instead of Several FPTP Seats and "Top-Up" seats as is proposed.

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted April 18, 2007 at 22:43:57

Just as long as they don't choose a 2-tier "mixed member" proportional system. As misrepresentative as our system is, at least it still enforces some kind of local representation. MMP systems create a class of MPs that are nominated by the party leader, and are voted in at large, effectively taking power away from ridings, and putting it into the party apparatus.

The BC proposed single transferrable vote system is infinitely better: Imagine you got to choose three representatives for your (larger) riding. Better yet, imagine you get to rank which candidates you'd most like to see elected, so if you really DON'T want a conservative representing Hamilton, you can rank everyone else first. I'd support that system in a heartbeat.

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted April 18, 2007 at 22:45:23

Crap, I should have read the article. They ARE proposing a mixed member system. What junk! I'd rather keep what we have.

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