Even Gordon Gibson doesn't like MMP

Gordon Gibson, a supporter of Citizen assemblies and a big supporter of BC-STV (the electoral system proposed by the BC Citizen’s assembly) explains why he believes Mixed Member Proportionate (MMP) – the electoral system proposed by the Ontario Citizen’s assembly – is actually worse then the current First Past the Post (FPTP) system.

In a Globe and Mail op-ed, Gibson explain:

As to differences in political culture, it may be that B.C. is more independent-minded and that political parties are more trusted in Ontario. That would be consistent with the results – STV boosts the backbencher, voter choice and the election of some actual independents. MMP gives even more power to parties and party discipline than our present system.

Why would Gibson assert that MMP gives more power to parties and party discipline? Simple.

Members that represent ridings derive their power from their constituency. If a proposed bill threatens the interest of their constituents they go and lobby the party leader. Their leverage in this conversation is the fact that, if the bill is sufficiently important to their constituents, it is actually in their interests to vote against it (and thus preserve their electoral chances).

In an MMP system, the proportionally elected members are divorced from the electorate. They don’t represent anyone per se, and so don’t have a constituency. Thus they cannot vote against the party leader. What is their leverage? If they do vote against the party, one can bet the party leader will use their significant power to remove that member from the “party list” during the next election. Dislodging a member from his/her constituency is possible, but it is messy and difficult. Dislodging a proportional member from a party list however, would be relatively simple. This is why MMP further concentrates power in the hands of party leaders.

What makes MMP even more disconcerting is the knock on effect these weak proportionally elected members would have on traditional members. With a certain number of votes safely in their back pocket, party leaders would be even more secure in bullying their member into towing the line.

MMP supporters will counter by pointing to the lack of free votes as an indication of a lack of democracy. But as the above analysis should indicate, a lack of free votes is not the problem. There are few free votes because members exert influence over party leaders to have them modify or abandon proposed legislation before voting becomes necessary. Again, this is only possible because they possess the leverage created by having a constituency.

Either way, it is interesting when a significant reformer and FPTP opponent – like Gordon Gibson – feels it neccessary to write an op-ed about how MMP is worse the FPTP. That should give anyone pause.

As an aside: Gibson starts off his op-ed by explaining that the Ontario citizen assembly was fundamentally flawed. Citizen’s Assembly (CA) advocates must be seething as they like to argue that although new and imperfect, each CA builds on the lessons and strengths of the previous one.

13 thoughts on “Even Gordon Gibson doesn't like MMP

  1. Scott Tribe

    Just because it’s Gordon Gibson doesn’t make his word sacrosanct; he likes STV – the CA liked this particular version of MMP.

    It’s also interesting to some of us on the MMP side that if party bosses are going to have so much influence in the new MMP system (which doesn’t bear out from looking at it in use in NZ or Germany) why party bosses like PC leader John Tory are lobbying so hard against it. I’m pretty skeptical it’s because he’s some reformist democrat.

    Tell me David, what do YOU advocate changing in the FPTP system? And how do you propose we do that? For all of the anti-MMP advocates who say all we need to do is tinker with the current setup, I’ll point out that if you guys can point out any major or even minor FPTP reforms done to this system in the last 50 years or so, I’ll be shocked.

    When someone says, “let’s tinker with the FPTP system and make it work bette”, that’s normally codespeak for, “let’s just say we’re concerned about reform without intending to actually do anything about it”

    Reply
  2. Scott Tribe

    Just because it’s Gordon Gibson doesn’t make his word sacrosanct; he likes STV – the CA liked this particular version of MMP.It’s also interesting to some of us on the MMP side that if party bosses are going to have so much influence in the new MMP system (which doesn’t bear out from looking at it in use in NZ or Germany) why party bosses like PC leader John Tory are lobbying so hard against it. I’m pretty skeptical it’s because he’s some reformist democrat.Tell me David, what do YOU advocate changing in the FPTP system? And how do you propose we do that? For all of the anti-MMP advocates who say all we need to do is tinker with the current setup, I’ll point out that if you guys can point out any major or even minor FPTP reforms done to this system in the last 50 years or so, I’ll be shocked.When someone says, “let’s tinker with the FPTP system and make it work bette”, that’s normally codespeak for, “let’s just say we’re concerned about reform without intending to actually do anything about it”

    Reply
  3. David Eaves Post author

    Hi Scott,

    No one is suggesting that a Gordon Gibson word is the be all end all. It is just interesting that a governance expert who is pro-CA and pro-electoral reformer has said that MMP is worse the FPTP. That should give everyone pause.

    As for the charge about what I’m advocating for – that misses the point. I’m not on trial here. MMP and FPTP are. There aren’t an infinite number of choices in front of us, there are two. If in this debate it is shown that MMP is a more flawed or less suitable system than FPTP (which I believe it is) then people should vote “no” to MMP tomorrow. It is that simple. Talking about additional choices is a red herring. Are you saying that, if it was demonstrably proven that MMP was worse than FPTP you would still insist people choose MMP? That would be absurd.

    I’m interested in ensuring that the best possible electoral system is used by Canadians. I don’t believe a ‘perfect’ system exists. However, I (or should I say Gordon Gibson and several others) have outlined a serious tradeoff with MMP, one that I think creates the opposite effect its supporters suggest will occur. You can name call and impugn my motivations all you like, but I think readers are most interested in hearing why this concern is unfounded.

    Sadly, I don’t think it can be refuted. This was the intent of the CA, as I mentioned in the comments of an earlier post, a researcher for the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly informed me that people wanted greater ideological representation, and in order to achieve it they had to concentrate more power in the hands of the parties. Some people, like perhaps you Scott, may feel it is a worthwhile trade-off (a choice I respect and understand), I just happen to disagree.

    Reply
  4. David Eaves

    Hi Scott,No one is suggesting that a Gordon Gibson word is the be all end all. It is just interesting that a governance expert who is pro-CA and pro-electoral reformer has said that MMP is worse the FPTP. That should give everyone pause.As for the charge about what I’m advocating for – that misses the point. I’m not on trial here. MMP and FPTP are. There aren’t an infinite number of choices in front of us, there are two. If in this debate it is shown that MMP is a more flawed or less suitable system than FPTP (which I believe it is) then people should vote “no” to MMP tomorrow. It is that simple. Talking about additional choices is a red herring. Are you saying that, if it was demonstrably proven that MMP was worse than FPTP you would still insist people choose MMP? That would be absurd. I’m interested in ensuring that the best possible electoral system is used by Canadians. I don’t believe a ‘perfect’ system exists. However, I (or should I say Gordon Gibson and several others) have outlined a serious tradeoff with MMP, one that I think creates the opposite effect its supporters suggest will occur. You can name call and impugn my motivations all you like, but I think readers are most interested in hearing why this concern is unfounded. Sadly, I don’t think it can be refuted. This was the intent of the CA, as I mentioned in the comments of an earlier post, a researcher for the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly informed me that people wanted greater ideological representation, and in order to achieve it they had to concentrate more power in the hands of the parties. Some people, like perhaps you Scott, may feel it is a worthwhile trade-off (a choice I respect and understand), I just happen to disagree.

    Reply
  5. Peter MacLeod

    Hi Dave,

    To be fair, no where does Gibson say that the Ontario CA was “fundamentally flawed.” Instead he offers two explanations why the Ontario and BC Citizens’ Assemblies reached different conclusions and proposed different reforms. “One…that the assemblies were not equally effective. The
    other…that Ontario’s political culture may be different than B.C.’s.”

    He says there’s truth to both claims and I’ve got no reason to doubt him.

    The assemblies may not have been equally effective — itself an interesting thing to try quantifying — but they doesn’t mean they weren’t effective in different ways.

    The Ontario assembly spent nine months deliberating, the BC assembly 12. In BC, there were two representatives, one man, one woman from each riding. In Ontario there was one, either a man or a woman, creating a gender-balanced 103-person assembly. In BC, the assembly produced a list of guiding values that would help them identify the right system. In Ontario, those values were provided by a select legislative committee and supplemented by “Simplicity and practicality” — an additional value supplied by the members of Ontario’s CA early on in the course of their deliberations.

    The extent to which these parameters and many others including the design of the learning curriculum, its relationship with the legislative assembly, the role of the media and the strength of the public information campaign effect the outcome is fascinating. It’s the work of several academic research projects now underway at UBC and elsewhere, including the UK where the Brown government recently announced three new assemblies to study youth issues, the future of the NHS and crime.

    Nobodies seething. We’re all just learning. Think of it as new branch of political science: comparative participatory politics. Over time new knowledge will come from more experimentation and more research.

    Best, P.

    Reply
  6. Peter MacLeod

    Hi Dave,To be fair, no where does Gibson say that the Ontario CA was “fundamentally flawed.” Instead he offers two explanations why the Ontario and BC Citizens’ Assemblies reached different conclusions and proposed different reforms. “One…that the assemblies were not equally effective. The other…that Ontario’s political culture may be different than B.C.’s.”He says there’s truth to both claims and I’ve got no reason to doubt him. The assemblies may not have been equally effective — itself an interesting thing to try quantifying — but they doesn’t mean they weren’t effective in different ways. The Ontario assembly spent nine months deliberating, the BC assembly 12. In BC, there were two representatives, one man, one woman from each riding. In Ontario there was one, either a man or a woman, creating a gender-balanced 103-person assembly. In BC, the assembly produced a list of guiding values that would help them identify the right system. In Ontario, those values were provided by a select legislative committee and supplemented by “Simplicity and practicality” — an additional value supplied by the members of Ontario’s CA early on in the course of their deliberations.The extent to which these parameters and many others including the design of the learning curriculum, its relationship with the legislative assembly, the role of the media and the strength of the public information campaign effect the outcome is fascinating. It’s the work of several academic research projects now underway at UBC and elsewhere, including the UK where the Brown government recently announced three new assemblies to study youth issues, the future of the NHS and crime.Nobodies seething. We’re all just learning. Think of it as new branch of political science: comparative participatory politics. Over time new knowledge will come from more experimentation and more research.Best, P.

    Reply
  7. context is all

    Dave, you missed the context of the Gibson op-ed, and thus the story. Gordon Gibson has a vested interest in proving all other forms of electoral reform are inferior to STV. He deliberately steered the BC committee towards choosing STV by the selection of speakers he allowed, and more importantly didn’t allow, to speak to the citizen’s assembly, despite the fact that STV didn’t meet the criteria that the assembly set out from the beginning, namely that all representatives would be elected.

    The late Doris Anderson resigned over the blatant ambush of democracy when she was not allowed to present data showing that STV, in any incarnation worldwide, has never increased diversity of representation in government.

    Gibson is not writing as an “FPTP opponent”, he’s building his power base with a “see, I told you how smart I am” piece. Big difference.

    Reply
  8. David Eaves Post author

    Rikia,

    I’m not sure that Gordon Gibson had that kind of influence over the BC citizen’s assembly.

    I agree that all the things you wrote are true of Ken Carty – the BC Citizens’ Assembly Chief Research Officer.

    In fact I’m not certain Ken Carty was all that enamored with BC-STV to begin with and I think his reservations about MMP are genuine and divorced from his advocacy of BC-STV.

    Reply
  9. context is all

    Dave, you missed the context of the Gibson op-ed, and thus the story. Gordon Gibson has a vested interest in proving all other forms of electoral reform are inferior to STV. He deliberately steered the BC committee towards choosing STV by the selection of speakers he allowed, and more importantly didn’t allow, to speak to the citizen’s assembly, despite the fact that STV didn’t meet the criteria that the assembly set out from the beginning, namely that all representatives would be elected. The late Doris Anderson resigned over the blatant ambush of democracy when she was not allowed to present data showing that STV, in any incarnation worldwide, has never increased diversity of representation in government. Gibson is not writing as an “FPTP opponent”, he’s building his power base with a “see, I told you how smart I am” piece. Big difference.

    Reply
  10. David Eaves

    Rikia,I’m not sure that Gordon Gibson had that kind of influence over the BC citizen’s assembly. I agree that all the things you wrote are true of Ken Carty – the BC Citizens’ Assembly Chief Research Officer.In fact I’m not certain Ken Carty was all that enamored with BC-STV to begin with and I think his reservations about MMP are genuine and divorced from his advocacy of BC-STV.

    Reply
  11. Heather Brooks-Hill

    Re: G&M article, TUE OCT 23rd p. A23
    “How to…. Let us count….

    New? Yes! Naive? No! Brave? Yes! Fierce? Yes! Amatuer? N/A – never wanted to be in the old boys club!!!!

    Yes, “let us count the ways”….I will be in Montreal….Heather

    Reply
  12. Heather Brooks-Hill

    Re: G&M article, TUE OCT 23rd p. A23″How to…. Let us count….New? Yes! Naive? No! Brave? Yes! Fierce? Yes! Amatuer? N/A – never wanted to be in the old boys club!!!!Yes, “let us count the ways”….I will be in Montreal….Heather

    Reply
  13. andrewwang

    Speaking of Ontario:The people of Ontario would condemn George W. Bush’s hate crimes.George W. Bush is a raging racist. George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.Many people know what Bush did.And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.Bush was absolute evil.Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.Bush is a psychological prisoner.Bush has a lot to worry about.Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.Respectfully Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen WangB.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996Messiah College, Grantham, PALower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993(I can type 90 words per minute. In only 7 days, posts basically like this post of mine have come into existence—all over the Internet (hundreds of copies). One can go to Google USA right now, type “George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism,” hit “Enter,” and find more than 350 copies indicating the content of this post. All in all, there are probably more than 1,000 copies on the Internet indicating the content of this post—it has practically become headline news. One cannot be too dedicated when it comes to anti-Bush activities. As I looked back at my good computer work, I thought how fun and easy it was to do it.)“GEORGE W. BUSH IS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY” BLOG OF ANDREW YU-JEN WANG_________________I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memories so they never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off the top of my head—I think it came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s