The Great Debate: Toronto Edition – Part 1

The Great Referendum Debate: Toronto Edition organized by The Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s University was held yesterday, September 28, 2007 at the MaRS Complex in downtown Toronto.
For MMP were:

  • Andrew Coyne – National Post political affairs columnist
  • Marilyn Churley – former NDP provincial cabinet minister, nominated NDP for next federal election

Against MMP were:

  • Christina Blizzard – Toronto Sun Queen’s Park columnist
  • Charles Harnick – former PC provincial cabinet minister

Moderated by Tom Axworthy with introductory remarks by George Thomson, Chair of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

The proceedings were taped by CPAC for later broadcast. Check local listings…

George Thomson initially spoke on the selection of the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly and the depth of study of the various alternative systems they looked at. He agreed with a common theme throughout the evening, too few people knew about the referendum or about MMP. He specifically criticized the rules that Elections Ontario’s education campaign was operating under – informing people that the referendum was occurring but not the pros and cons of MMP.

Following Thomson the moderator gave each speaker ten minutes to speak. This post gives my take on their positions. Part 2 will cover their answers to the moderator’s questions and questions from the floor.

Charles Harnick focused on what he viewed as the bad affects of MMP:

To start he noted the lack of information and understanding about MMP found within the electorate and was concerned that the province could be making a change that the people do not understand.

He then stated that MMP would mean that no one party would get a majority in provincial parliament and this would result in the post-election negations between parties being more important than the election itself. One longer would larger parties have a large platform to attract a large number of voters, there could instead be multiple singe issue parties.

Finally he focused on how the list candidates would be selected by their parties and whether they could function effectively in government even though they have not won a riding. He compared them to the Canadian Senate.

Andrew Coyne focused on how MMP will fix the issue of false majorities and lack of fairness in counting votes found under the current system of First-Past-The-Post (FPTP):
He stated that FPTP has well known flaws so obvious that its defenders do not even try to defend them.

False majorities repeatedly occur when a party gets less than fifty percent of the votes but a majority of the seats. Therefore the government does not reflect how the people actually votes. In Ontario both the Bob Rae and Mike Harris governments are examples of this occurring; neither received a majority of the votes but acted as if they did.

Under FPTP some votes simply don`t count such as smaller party votes across Ontario. Nationally the problem is worst as it distorts Canadian politics. There are Liberals in Alberta and Conservatives in Toronto but neither party has the seats that should reflect this.

In defending MMP Coyne addressed the issue of fringe parties holding the larger parties hostage stating that world wide experience were some form of proportional representation (PR) is the norm shows that stable coalitions do form. If fringe party makes radical demands, it is not included in government because this would alienate the larger parties’ supporters.

Christina Blizzard`s main focus was on how the list mechanism would hurt the link between MPPs and local concerns and that the reduction of the number of ridings would result in huge ridings in the north. She expressed scepticism over how the list would be selected fearing that it would be full of failed candidates, party hacks and those owed favours.

Blizzard was noted that people have said the list mechanism would increase the number of women in government. She found this condescending to women and would make those women second class MPPs.

Marilyn Churley defended the mechanics of MMP and argued it would increase the number of women in parliament.

She stated that parties` lists would be chosen to maximize their attraction to voters and to do this more women and visible minorities would be chosen. For the same reason the lists would not be full of party hacks as that would drive away voters.

Other Coverage

The Torontoist’s Christopher Bird has a MMP slanted, but funny recap of the event. I agree that Christina Blizzard really didn’t help the pro-FPTP side. If “all politics are local” why do MPPs simply vote on party lines nearly all the time?
A previous post in the Torontoist provide an introduction to the event and links to MMP coverage.


One Response to The Great Debate: Toronto Edition – Part 1

  1. […] I could report that last Friday evening’s staging at the MaRS Centre of the Great Referendum Debate was, well, […]

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