Thursday, October 04, 2007

Globe on MMP: Unfair NDP majorities bad, Unfair Liberal and Conservative majorities good

Sigh... the Globe and Mail has held true to its (small-c) conservative biases this morning. In an editorial arguing against MMP, it clings to the hoary approach that the proposed system will effectively prevent single-party majorities. Far better, the editorialist argues, to apportion the list seats directly on the basis of proportional representation, and treat the constituency seats as a completely separate beast. This system, it argues, would be better because it would still permit the election of majority governments. And what's more, with regard to the proposed MMP system on the ballot:

had this [the proposed new] version of MMP been in place, no Ontario party would have won a majority in the past 20 years. That would have spared the province an NDP government that it elected by accident, but it would also have meant no Common Sense Revolution under Mike Harris in 1995 and no clear victory by the Liberals in 2003 – both results that were in tune with the province's general sentiment and handed those governments the tools to implement tough policies.

So let me get this straight... it would be good to adopt the MMP system because it would have prevented the Rae years, but bad because it would have prevented the Harris years.

Clearly the editorialist is a raging pinhead and an ideologue unable to see that this is a major point in favour of the new electoral system - preventing the election of false majority governments that can implement radical political change without having the backing of a majority of the voters. As Idealistic Pragmatist points out, what would replace single-party majority government (and has in Germany and New Zealand) are stable coalition governments, made up of parties that together reflect a majority of the voter's intentions. I'm disappointed that the Globe was unable to move past their blatant preference for Conservative and/or Liberal majorities and see the merits of the new system.

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At 10:23 am, Blogger Lord Kitchener's Own said...

It's SO stupid. Do they not realize that the "Common Sense Revolution" was revolting against the Rae majority??? Of COURSE the revolution wouldn't have happened if we'd had MPP. There would have been no need for it! There'd have been no NDP "majority" to revolt against.

And "in tune with the province's general sentiment"??? Sure, if you measure the province's general sentiment by whatever happens to be in the minds of G&M editorial writers and just ignore, you know, the ELECTION RESULTS. 55% of voters voted for parties other than the PC's. But somehow the Globe thinks there was a "general sentiment" that the PCs should be given majority power? Are they incapable of simple mathematics? Do they even know what the word "majority" means?

Honestly, do people not need to go to school before they're allowed to write editorials?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

At 10:33 am, Blogger Scott Tribe said...

To be fair, the Globe supports electoral reform and Mixed-Member - they say as much in their editorial amd they they actually endorsed an MMP model for Canada in May 2005 - they just don't like this particular version of MMP.

So, they're not as "conservative" as you portray them - if anything, they;re being too perfectionist about the model.

At 10:42 am, Blogger Matt said...


Fair enough about the Globe's willingness to say that some form of MMP is needed. Their logic in arguing against the current model, however, does seem to indicate a significant bias against the NDP, Green and other parties. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the logic that a system that would allow Harris to operate with a majority, based on his share of the vote, but not Rae, is anything but ideologically motivated.

It is also a fairly conservative approach insofar as it prefers only modest, incremental change away from the current model, and expresses fear of a move away from single-party majority governments.

At 10:56 am, Blogger Mark Greenan said...

Great post as always Matt.

And Scott, I think it's fair to say that the Globe's commitment to electoral reform is now suspect.

It boggles my mind that anyone would think that a rejection of MMP in Ontario does anything for the movement for electoral reform in this country.

I think now is the time to take sides - do we want a modern democracy or not.

Looks like the Globe has put itself on the wrong side.

At 11:16 am, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

If they actually had any reasonable arguments, this would only be a bitter disappointment. But coming up with so much claptrap and spouting it off in pretty words as if it made sense completely pisses me off.

At 11:23 am, Blogger Debra Drainie said...

Well said, Matt.

Wish you had an email function on your blog so I could email this to my mother-in-law who is now totally confused and in doubt because of the Globe editorial.

At 11:35 am, Blogger Scott Tribe said...


I have the copies of the model that the Globe endorsed in May 2005. I don't view their support for electoral reform at all as being suspect - just perfectionist, as I said.

It would be fairer to say they prefer THEIR model of MMP to the Ontario one.

At 11:50 am, Blogger Andy said...

Wouldn't a coalition government be created through compromises that would typically alienate some of the marginal voters of each of the parties that entered into the coalition? How is it possible to attribute the support of all voters for all parties in the coalition to the coalition itself? The reality of a coalition government is that it would have a platform that no one voted for in its entirety.

Why should 50% of the vote be required for a party, or coalition or group of parties, to exercise the 100% power of a "majority" government? Why not 100%? Why not 60%? Why not 40%? It seems to me that you're making a false equivalence between two unconnected things based simply on the fact that each is commonly described using the word "majority". Even if this were a legitimate equivalence, Ontario MMP does not actually require 50% of the party vote in order to produce a majority government. Depending on how many votes are received by parties below the 3% threshold, the Ontario MMP system could award majorities at 47%, 45% or even lower levels of "party vote" support. Also, no majority of "riding vote" is required under MMP (the very thing that the MMPers condemn FPTP for failing to require).

Another flaw in your reasoning is to assume that everyone who votes for Party X is "opposed" to Party Y and Party Z. In fact, many people voting for one party prefer it only slightly over one or more of the other parties. So, when 45% of people vote for Mike Harris, it is a huge leap of logic to conclude that 55% "oppose" his program (or, for that matter, that the 45% who voted him support every element in it). I generally vote PC, but if McGuinty wins the election this week with enough votes to give him a legislative majority I have no objection at all to his acting in accordance with his platform for the next four years. Indeed, like other Tory voters, I would certainly prefer that to his allying himself with the NDP in order to attain some sort of spurious "majority". In other words, if you're going to be simplistic about it, you could say that after this week's election 85% of Ontarians (i.e. all Tory voters and all Liberal voters) would prefer an unfettered Liberal majority government to a Liberal-NDP coalition (which would likely be forced on us under MMP, to the delight of NDP voters and no one else).

At 9:59 am, Anonymous Niel said...

Andy said: Wouldn't a coalition government be created through compromises that would typically alienate some of the marginal voters of each of the parties that entered into the coalition? How is it possible to attribute the support of all voters for all parties in the coalition to the coalition itself? The reality of a coalition government is that it would have a platform that no one voted for in its entirety.

The members of those parties are acting on behalf of the voters. In our system, we do not elect parties, or establishments: we elect representatives, who then try to form the best government they can. They ought not have to be little yap-dogs who just lick the muzzle of some single policy-making master. A coalition government will mean that there is no single master, and so the representatives have a greater chance to be heard. Who cares if no-one elected the coalition itself?

Note: if there is a coalition, this would presumably mean that no majority of people wanted any one party to rule --- which means that, if we're to have a fair system, there will have to be some sort of compromise. To insist that coalition governments are unfair because no-one voted for it is exactly backwards. Coalition governments exist when any other possibility is more unfair than the coalition.

Anyone who votes for someone in the hopes that they will enact all (or even most) of their specific policy proposals is simply ignorant --- ignorant of what is politically possible, and ignorant of even the past few years of politics provincially and nationally. The best one can do is vote of someone whose policy proposals you like, and hope that they aren't lying about the sorts of policies they want to enact. That way, if they end up merely representing your side in a coalition, you have at least voted for someone who will lend weight in the direction of your opinions when the compromise is being negotiated. Then, if you don't like the compromise, you just vote for someone who will try to get something more along the lines of what you want.

It is never possible for everyone to get what they want; in any model of democracy, or for that matter under any other system of government. Compromises and coalitions are about getting what as many people as possible can live with.

The new system will not be perfect. In fact, it will be broken in some way; as will be any system for governing a large number of people. The proposed MMP system will be less broken than the current system, and that is what is important.

At 8:40 pm, Blogger Andy said...

Anyone who votes for someone in the hopes that they will enact all (or even most) of their specific policy proposals is simply ignorant

This seems a bit extreme -- surely there are plenty of governments in Canada that could make a reasonable case that in the course of their term they have kept more than half of their promises.

if there is a coalition, this would presumably mean that no majority of people wanted any one party to rule

Well, possibly it does mean that, but it doesn't mean that there isn't a majority that would be satisfied with the rule of the leading party, even if it wasn't their first choice. That is why polling figures often show greater than 50% overall satisfaction with the government, even though the government is unlikely to get >50% overall support in an election (because some people, while not exactly dissatisfied with the government, still prefer some other party).

The only way that you can make a coalition sound better from this perspective is by making a claim that, even if the "platform" adopted (subsequent to the election) by the coalition isn't something that 50% would support, at least the people who negotiated it represented more than 50%, in the sense that more than 50% had voted for them. So what you end up with is 50% of voters somewhat satisfied under the coalition rather than 45% (say) of the voters very satisfied under the "false majority". Is this really worth changing our entire electoral system over? Particularly when you consider (a) that under MMP 50% is NOT required to form a majority (usually a few percentage points less will do), and (b) that in an election that splits (from left to right, so to speak) 5-15-45-35 (Green-NDP-Lib-PC) a Liberal-Green or Liberal-NDP coalition will presumably be found less desirable to more people than a Liberal "false majority" (right? because the Tory supporters will prefer a Liberal government to a coalition that is even further to the left and so will the Liberal supporters -- a total of 80% of the population, minus perhaps a small minority of leftist Liberals and green-friendly Tories). The scenario could unfold in other ways, of course, but my point is that MMP is a very simplistic idea that doesn't stand up to the complexity of electoral reality. FPTP has its faults, but it also has the advantage of being simple, familiar and understandable.

At 10:31 pm, Blogger Matt said...

While I think that we're at the point of beating a dead horse right now, as both sides of this debate are bringing up the same arguments over and over again, I find it curious, Andy, that you assume that the Liberals would automatically go to the NDP and/or the Greens to form a coalition and/or support their policies. Certainly Germany is currently demonstrating that a Liberal/Progressive Conservative coalition is potentially viable as well. Alternatively, some government bills might see different parties lending support on a case-by-case basis.

In any case, I don't want to spend much more energy debating this particular model of MMP, as I'm not confident that it makes a lick of difference at this point. People are entitled to differ as to the merits of the new system, but my main concern is that elections should not return majority governments for the second-place finisher, as has happened more than once in Canadian politics, nor should a party with a razor-thin margin of victory in the popular vote be able to act as if it won a huge mandate because of the vagaries of FPTP.

At 11:15 pm, Blogger Andy said...

Can't resist a few comments, even though it's undoubtedly all over:

1. You honestly foresee a Liberal-PC coalition as being as likely as a Liberal-NDP or Liberal-Green coalition? Maybe, but what I'm saying is that the "false majority" in the scenario I set out is actually more in keeping with what Ontarians want than the "majority" coalition that MMPers seem to regard as the only democratically legitimate outcome. Because the political analysis underlying MMP is so superficial, it completely ignores the subtleties (which aren't all that subtle) of the specific, and highly plausible, case that I set out. 80% of the people, give or take, would prefer the "majority" Liberal government and yet MMP frets about "false majorities" and gives us instead, most likely, a coalition government that relatively few would want.

2. A party (or coalition) with a razor-thin margin can also end up with 100% of the power under MMP. That's not really a point of distinction between the two systems.

3. A party with fewer votes can win under FPTP, but that is rare and often reflects the broader geographic support of the winning party -- it's not entirely unfair that the results should be weighted slightly in favour of a party that has support all over the province as opposed to one whose support is more concentrated. It's within the realm of what a democracy might democratically decide to do. Electing the party that is the most popular in the largest number of constituencies seems to me to be as democratic as going strictly by the cumulative vote count. We're not casting votes only for parties, but also for a legislature composed of the people we elect, and this sort of result may also reflect the fact that the winning party has fielded a larger number of good candidates than the party that got more votes (concentrated on its lesser number of strong candidates).


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