Tag Archives: mixed-member-proportional

The death of MMP

Anyone who’s followed this blog semi-regularly knows I’m not a fan of MMP so it’s no surprise that I’m pleased to see MMP was soundly thumped in the referendum today. What is remarkable is how soundly the resolution was defeated (63% to 37% at last count).

As a result, the best thing about this outcome is its decisiveness. Unlike BC, Ontario won’t be burdened with another referendum on the issue (as unfortunantely BC will likely be).

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.

Exploding the Myth: MMP and Inceasing Voter Turnout

A number of web sites (such as this one, this one and this one) in favour of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) claim that one reason to vote yes in the upcoming Ontario electoral reform referendum is because MMP will arrest the decline in voter turnout. At best, this claim is problematic. At worst, it is flat out false.

Let me be clear. I’m deeply concerned about the decline in voter turnout. Moreover, I wish MMP would help. But the evidence shows that it doesn’t. Specifically, New Zealand and Germany, the two countries that use MMP, have both experienced a decline in voter turnout equal to that experienced here in Canada.

Probably the best example for this is New Zealand, a country which, in 1993, voted to transition from a First Past the Post electoral system (which we use here in Canada) to MMP. In effect, the Ontario electoral referendum is asking if Ontario should follow in New Zealand’s footsteps.

The problem is, that after adopting MMP in 1993 the decline in New Zealand’s voting rate accelerated. Consider the following chart, courtesy of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. MMP did reverse voter turn out, but only for the first election. After this point voter turnout declined faster than before the adoption.

Participation Rate in New Zealand Elections

1960 85.6%
1963 83.3%
1966 79.3%
1969 85.6%
1972 85.3%
1975 81.7%
1978 82.3%
1981 88.9%
1984 87.4%
1987 81.4%
1990 78.6%
1993 79.6%
1996 83.0% (first MMP election)
1999 76.1%
2002 72.5%
2005 n/a

Although Germany continues to enjoy a higher absolute voter turnout rates than Canada, it is also experiencing a decline in voter turn out similar to that of Canada.

Participation Rate in German Elections

1949 76.5%
1953 80.6%
1957 87.6%
1961 86.9%
1965 80.9%
1969 79.9%
1972 88.7%
1976 83.8%
1980 81.8%
1983 81.0%
1987 75.0%
1990 73.1%
1994 72.4%
1998 75.3%
2002 73% * (conservative estimate, divided total votes by Germany’s 1998 population, more likely 72%)
2005 72% * (conservative estimate, divided total votes by Germany’s 1998 population, more likely 70%)

Finally, some pro-MMP sites discuss how countries with MMP have higher electoral participation rates than Canada. This is true. However, this is based on only 2 data points (Germany and New Zealand). However, it is worth noting that New Zealand experienced higher voting rates than Canada even when it had the FPTP system and that, as noted above, participation rates declined faster after the adoption MMP than under FPTP.

So is it the voting system in Germany and New Zealand that creates a high voter turnout? In New Zealand – whose political culture and history is more similar to our own, the answer is definitely no. In Germany, it is possible, but hard to ascertain. What is known is that Germany, New Zealand and Canada are all experiencing a decline in voter turn out at the same rate, and based on the experience of New Zealand, whose switch from FPTP to MMP had no impact on this decline, there is little reason to believe that electoral reform would have a different impact here in Canada.

There may be good arguments in favour of voting for MMP but improving voter turn out is not one of them.

Isn’t it time we put this argument to bed?