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.