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Name David Koyzis
Submission Number 1672
Location Ontario, Canada
Categories Change, Citizens' Assembly Process
Principles Fairness of Representation, Stable and Effective Parties/Government/Parliament, Voter Choice, Stronger Voter Participation, Simple and Practical, Legitimacy
Summary The current First-Past-the-Post [FPTP] electoral system encourages strong parties and stable government, and to a decreasing extent legitimacy, while failing seriously on the other five. It is possible to strike a balance amongst the principles by embracing a Mixed-Member-Proportional system [MMP].
Length 2 page
Date 2007-01-29
Submission
Submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform David T. Koyzis, Ph.D. Professor of Political Science Redeemer University College Ancaster, Ontario This submission is made in response to the invitation of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform for input from the voting public of Ontario. I firmly believe that electoral reform is necessary if this province is to move towards better, more representative government within our democratic political system. Of the eight principles indicated, our present first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system encourages strong parties and stable government, and to a decreasing extent legitimacy, while failing seriously on the other five. Fairness of representation, voter choice, effective parliament, strong voter participation and accountability are all impaired by our current system. On the federal level from 1993 to 2006 the governing party was effectively without opposition, due to the distortions of FPTP. With little possibility of suffering defeat during this 13-year period, the government could not adequately be held accountable by the citizens. On the provincial level, Alberta has seen only three changes in government since entering confederation in 1905, again because FPTP artificially exaggerates support for the largest party, thus diminishing the sense of democratic legitimacy in that province. Moreover, because FPTP almost always results in a single-party government and executive dominance over parliament, the latter cannot function as an effective check on the activities of the government, notwithstanding the daily question period and opposition days. Because votes are wasted if they are not cast for a winner, voter turnout is depressed as well, as indicated by an ongoing study of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in Stockholm, Sweden. This explains in large measure why turnout is so low in most Anglo-Saxon democracies, including Canada. Rather than ranking the eight principles, I believe it is possible to strike something of a balance amongst them by embracing a mixed-member-proportional system (MMP), as used in a number of countries, most notably the Federal Republic of Germany. One of the virtues of our current system is that it is easy to understand. Voting for a single member representing one’s own territorial constituency is straightforward and need not call for grasping the type of complex formulae found in some varieties of proportional representation (PR). For this reason, I believe MMP would be an excellent system to adopt here in Ontario because it combines the best features of both FPTP and PR. In the German system, citizens cast two votes: one for a candidate from a territorial constituency and another for a party list of candidates. Alternatively, here in Ontario we might simply conduct our elections on a FPTP basis and then compensate with additional seats those parties whose popular support warrants this but whose support base is territorially diffuse. I might add that The Globe and Mail has favoured MMP in past editorials. The German model uses an exclusion clause that requires a party to win at least 5 percent of the party list vote or 3 single-member seats before it is given any additional seats in the Bundestag, the lower chamber of Parliament. The purpose of this is to keep potentially extremist parties from entering Parliament and to place a premium on a minimal level of co-operation amongst would-be partisan groupings. For these reasons I believe that any form of PR adopted here in Ontario should incorporate an exclusion clause. If a referendum is held on the issue of electoral reform, as it was in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island, it is imperative that we not make the same mistake as proponents in those provinces. For example, voters in BC were asked to vote on STV, with no alternatives listed. I personally think STV would be inappropriate here, because it requires voters to educate themselves on any number of individual candidates, which most are unlikely to do. It is possible that, like me, many British Columbians favoured PR but disliked STV. For this reason, I believe Ontarians should be offered two questions on which to vote. The questions should be phrased along these lines: (1) Do you favour retaining our current first-past-the-post system or adopting a more proportional system? (2) If the latter, which system would be most appropriate for Ontario: a) party list; b) STV; c) MMP? The second question should allow voters to rank their preferences. I would not put too many alternatives on the ballot lest voters be confused. Perhaps two or three would be sufficient, along with a massive campaign to educate voters on how each of these works. A final point should be made concerning the limitations of institutional reform of any sort. If PR were adopted, majority governments would become increasingly unlikely. Thus far our political leaders have been reluctant to form multiparty coalition governments, mostly because it appears to go against the Westminster tradition of government and opposition. On the federal level, we have seen two minority governments in a row, with elections in quick succession. In the event of PR being instituted, our leaders would have to abandon, at least in part, this adversarial mindset and develop a willingness to co-operate across party lines, even to the extent of bringing MPPs of differing parties into Cabinet. The alternative is to have elections every year or so, which we obviously cannot do. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be addressed by institutional reform. Our unwritten conventions would have to change, and only the political actors themselves can do this. Thank you for your attention and I wish you the best as you continue your work.

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