Friday, August 31, 2007

Conservative Fringe Players: We Still Lose Under MMP

Cherniak gives what I think is a fairly common argument for rejecting MMP (mixed member proportional), which is that, while it may lead to an acknowledged good--the Green Party electing its first members to the Legislature, for example-- it might also lead to a less fortunate result:

Any party that gets at least 3% of the vote would elect an MPP. That means that a party like the Christian Heritage Party would have no goal other than to earn 3% of the total vote. If they were to succeed, they would have an MPP elected. They don't get that much right now, but with the knowledge that only 3% across the province earns a seat, I suspect that there would be more incentive to actually vote for them.

Personally, this is a trade I would be willing to make in the name of fairness: about 10 Green party politicians (Jason gives a range of 6 to 13) in exchange for four radical righties (three per cent of 129 seats). However, it is extremely telling I think that Canada's premier pro-life group, the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), has just come out in opposition to MMP. They give several interlinked reasons for their position. The first:

Some pro-lifers believe that proportional representation will result in the appointment of Family Coalition Party members at the provincial level and Christian Heritage Party candidates at the federal level. Sadly, neither party has reached the minimum 3% level of province-wide support that most proportional representation systems require to garner seats in parliament. Until there is a sea change in their support, the number of FCP/CHP elected officials would be negligible to effect change.

From the CLC's perspective, MMP's most likely result is the status quo: no suitable candidates elected. But even more interesting is their view as to what likely happens should the magic three percent threshold be exceeded and a FCP candidate make it into the Legislature:

There are very few examples of social conservative legislation being passed in countries with PR. This summer The Interim newspaper had a team of three people examine the records of other countries to track the progress of prolife and pro-family legislation in countries with PR. They found just one significant example. In the Netherlands, the Christian Union Party, as part of the coalition government there, has effected some positive change in closing down brothels, reducing the number of marijuana shops and introducing guidelines requiring cooling off wait times for abortions.

But, for the most part, the researchers at The Interim found the reverse to be true: many countries with PR have experienced an advance of anti-life and anti-family agendas in recent years as left-wing coalitions dance to the tune of the most extreme elements in parliament. We are concerned that the highly likely result of PR in Canada will be thirdplace NDP contingencies dictating social policy to minority governments.

To me this a comforting finding, and I would suggest the following explanation for it (but read the whole article, as the CLC's angle is quite different): MMP, and proportional representation more generally, enshrines the national/provincial consensus. Political outliers such as the Family Coalition will be unable to shift this consensus regardless of whether or not they send a warm body to Queen's Park. In fact, the most likely outcome in Ontario seems to be pretty close to the one the CLC envisions: a permanent Liberal minority forced to pass Progressive/Green policies to remain in power.

The Good Old Days, in other words, when Libs were slow-motion NDPers. And what's wrong with that?

Of course, the central argument against MMP concerns the potential of the "Party Machines" to appoint "list" MLAs in a manner which is undemocratic and non-accountable. This is a subject for another post, but to give a quick response: most Ontarians couldn't pick their own provincial representative out of a police line-up, and very few of them vote on the basis of their personal relationship (through constit work lets say) with a candidate. I doubt people would notice a difference under some form of proportional representation.


Reality Bites said...

While it's true most Ontarians couldn't pick their MPP out of a police line-up, as the Republican Party doesn't run candidates in Ontario, it's not a skill most of us have had the opportunity to develop.

Ti-Guy said...

Interesting analysis, BCL, although you're assuming the CLC's position is based on a credible analysis of reality. I wouldn't be so sure; everyone associated with the CLC is a complete dunce. I'm not even sure this statement:

They found just one significant example. In the Netherlands, the Christian Union Party, as part of the coalition government there, has effected some positive change in closing down brothels, reducing the number of marijuana shops and introducing guidelines requiring cooling off wait times for abortions. factually accurate.

But the conclusion you draw is one I reached long ago...proportional representation represents the democratic consensus better than what we have now. I don't want governments with big ideas and radical positions anymore, even if they are attractive to me personally. I want them to work more by consensus through a more sophisticated deliberative process.

Sean S. said...

The bigger parties in every province (be they NDP, Cons, Libs) will always seek to undermine any form of PR reform initiative. Sure they will give platitudes towards them (like BC and Ontario), however, anything that threatens their undemocratic hold on power will be scuttled as fast as possible.

I think that is why you don't see any move in either Sask or Manitoba towards some form of PR, because the NDP governments would loss their majorities....but that is a topic for another day.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I've gotta say, this whole "finge party" argument has always seemed REALLY strange to me. I just don't see what's so radical in giving a party that received 3% of the voters' support 3% of the power in the legislature. Isn't that, I don't know, DEMOCRACY?

I'm also not worried about the Family Coalition Party. To tell the truth, if the FCP somehow manages to QUADRUPLE their vote then I think they probably deserve a few seats for that.

However, frankly, I just can't see how the FCP (who got 34,623 votes in the last election in Ontario) are going to find 100,000 more votes. Hell, if they can do it though, give 'em a couple seats I say.

Anonymous said...

The MMP proposal we will be voting for on October 10 contains a provision that no party can win any list seats unless they get at least 3% of the party votes. That would be about 130,000 votes, enough to win four ridings.

Two things may help the Family Coalition reach this threshold:

Currently, they do not run candidates in every riding. Under MMP, you will be able to vote for the Family Coalition even if there is no local candidate.

Under a different voting system, people will vote differently. There are probably people who would like to vote FC, but don't because they know their vote would be wasted.

Family Coalition representation under MMP is by no means guaranteed, but they would at least have a shot. In any case, if they can get enough votes to win four ridings, why shouldn't they win four ridings?

As we can see, there will be new voices in the Legislature, but we will not have twenty small parties.

Bottom line, MMP will lead to centrist government that reflects the consensus of the voters, also known as the will of the people.

Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...

Socialism in slow motion is still socialism. Would you be happier to learn your syphillis is the 'slow-acting' kind? It's still a mental disorder, no matter what you call it.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

anonymous (1:13),

If socialism is syphilis then surely conservatism is herpes, and liberalism's the clap.

Maybe if we had MMP, political parties would be less worried about idiotic "isms" and manouvering themsleves into position for a 40% "majority" and would actually spend some time WORKING ON WHAT ONTARIANS ACTUALLY WANT THEM TO WORK ON.

But, no. God forbid the legislature of Ontario actually reflect the will of the voters of Ontario. We can't have that.

We're much better off having ideological political parties with their 40% support and their various "isms" running the place largely unchecked, and replaced every few years by the party of the opposite "ism", everytime 5% of the voters change their mind.

Anonymous said...

Huff and puff Hentai-guy. Why don't you make a Youtube when you do it. Or are you just all tough talk?

Ti-Guy said...

All tough talk. I haven't hit anyone since grade 8., like...I'm due, right?

Anonymous said...

So do you take medication to control your violent outbursts?

Ti-Guy said...

So do you take medication to control your violent outbursts?

Heh. Gawd, the wing-tards. Every now and again, they do make me laugh...

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

Question for anyone, will MPP effect official party status. i.e. will some fringe party under the new system now get official party status with say four seats.

Mark Greenan said...

My understanding of parliamentary procedure is that getting four seats (on 3% of the vote) would not mean that a party gets official status.

That would be part of the Standing Orders at Queen's Park and remains so until changed by a majority vote of the legislature.

Anonymous said...

I think the present manifestation of the CPoC have the most to lose with MPP due to vote splitting.

The worst kept secret in Canada has to be the Harper/Xian Fundie connection.

MPP would tend to distill the Jebus out of the Cons.

Could you imagine a Conservative/NDP coalition?
With the Cons not having their religious blinders on they'd have more room to maneuver politically .

Or maybe I'm just crazy, the chances are more likely of a Con/FPC meld.

But... (wavy dreamy lines)...
Ti-guy and Rossholia on the same side, trading jokes and muffin recipies?

Nah, unpossible.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Steve Withers said...

I se the talk about fringe parties, but as usual with the NO case...there's no "walk".

Can someone show me a "fringe" party in *any* MMP parliament...and justify the label.

I can't see any. I see a couple of gaggles of would-be centre parties....but MMP appears to be all middle...and no edge.

The Greens aren't a fringe party. Hell, they were warning us about global warming 25 years ago....and appear to be mainstream before everyone else is (mantra: "Neither left nor Right, but out in front")

Anonymous said...

Can I see a Conservative/NDP coalition? Yer darn tootin'!

Politicians are the ultimate pragmatists. They will do whatever it takes, even if it means doing what the voters want them to.

In any case, when the political puffery is set aside, the PCs and the NDP would find lots to agree on.


P.S. I'm coordinating the provincial Speakers' Bureau for the Vote for MMP campaign. If you've got a group of warm bodies anywhere in the province that will sit still for a few minutes to find out about the referendum, contact me at this address: