The MMP system's combination of 90 MPs elected by ridings in a "first past the post" system with 39 "list" candidates selected by the parties is an attempt to address the perceived problem that representation in the legislature rarely reflects the popular vote. In fact, we haven't had a government in Ontario with greater than 50% of the popular vote since the 1930s. The new system will ensure that the number of each party's seats in the legislature approximates its percentage of the popular vote. OK, fine - seems fair.
Here's the problem I have with it. With the current party system in Ontario, it is rare for any of the big three parties (the PCs, the Liberals and the NDP) to get more than 50% of the popular vote. Under MMP, this would practically guarantee a minority government after every election. Let's take a look at the popular vote results from the 2003 election:
- Liberals - 46.4%
- Progressive Conservatives - 34.6%
- NDP - 14.7%
- Green Party - 2.8%
- Family Coalition - 0.8%
- Freedom Party - 0.2%
Since there is a 3% threshold in the new proposal, only the big three parties would have representation in an MMP legislature, and the 129 seats would break down approximately like this:
- Liberals - 62 seats
- Progressive conservatives - 47 seats
- NDP - 20 seats
Clearly the Liberals won the 2003 election, but only with a plurality of the vote, not a majority. In the legislature, they would not have had enough seats to form a majority (65 seats) and could only govern with the support of another party, likely the NDP since they are fellow travellers on the left-centre side of the political spectrum. Even if the Greens had won enough votes to be represented, they would likely support the Liberals.
And here is where I have a problem. In a system which would almost always produce minority governments, it could be very difficult for the Progressive Conservatives to form a government. If the PCs won a plurality of the vote, they would still be a minority in the legislature, and would face a left-centre opposition with a majority of seats which could block every item of a Conservative legislative agenda.
It is even conceivable that the PCs could win a plurality of seats in an election and STILL not form the government. Again, take the 2003 results. Let's assume, for a moment, that the Liberal and the PC support was reversed, and the PCs had 62 seats in the legislature vs the Liberals' 47. If the liberals formed a coalition with the NDP, that would give them a voting block of 67 seats in the legislature, which is a clear majority. Since in parliamentary tradition the government must command the confidence of the legislature, it is conceivable that a Liberal/NDP coalition could form the government even though the Conservatives had the largest party in the legislature.
That's democracy, you might say - the majority rules. However, the Progressive Conservatives are the only party that passes for a centre-right party in Ontario. How would the PCs form a coalition with another party to command a majority in the legislature? Can you picture a PC/NDP coalition? Not likely. How about a PC/Liberal coalition? Yikes - that scenario essentially reduces the province to a one-party state with the two main centrist parties essentially having a monopoly on power in the legislature with no effective opposition at all.
I can't think of any scenario that would allow a stable Conservative government to govern effectively. While that prospect might delight Liberals and other lefties, that isn't a good situation for democracy. We need a system where the voters at least theoretically have the power to sweep a party from office, with at least two major functioning parties capable of forming a government and commanding the confidence of the legislature. Under MMP, Ontario would be doomed to perpetual minority governments, and likely to perpetual Liberal/NDP/Green coalitions. The deck is stacked against right-wing parties under MMP - conservatives should seriously consider the implications of this.