Field notes from the campaign trail

A fair share of the fare?

“How would you address the current fiscal situation the City of Toronto?” UTSU asked provincial candidates in a debate last Wednesday, stressing their interest in how well candidates would fund transit and other city services heavily used by students.

Property taxes make up most of the city’s revenue. Last year, 32 per cent of that revenue went to provinciallymandated programs downloaded on the city by the province in the 1990s. Mayor David Miller argued that the remaining 68 per cent was not enough to pay for municipal services like the TTC.

After city council voted not to consider new taxes until after the provincial election, the TTC announced a metropass fare hike. With that election here, all four party platforms have plans to upload costs back to the provincial government, and candidates tripped over one another to promise to foot the largest share of the city’s bill.

Liberal candidate Kate Holloway has pointed to the City of Toronto Act her party passed, giving the city more taxing powers. She also claimed that the McGuinty government invested five times more funding in Toronto than the previous Conservative administration.

But Rosario Marchese was unimpressed by the Liberals’ promises: “What they have begun to upload […] are the cheapest of the things that the city is carrying.”

Marchese noted the costs of public housing and other programs the province has not uploaded, promising an NDP government would pay 20 per cent of TTC operating costs, and would upload the costs of provincial programs to the extent of $220 million. —JC

Live from the Munk Centre: MMP showdown

“Get to the question!” shouted 79- year-old Alan Heisey as a fellow audience member rambled on at TV Ontario’s Steve Paikin.

Last Thursday at the Munk Centre, a panel discussion on Paikin’s The Agenda debated whether Ontario should switch to a Mixed Member Proportional electoral system, a method of voting meant to balance regional concerns with the popular vote.

The NDP and Green Party have come out strongly in favour of a shift to MMP, while Progressive Conservative leader John Tory is opposed. Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty has remained neutral, though individual Liberal candidates have taken their own stances.

The panel was made up of Rick Anderson, chair of Vote for MMP; former Ontario cabinet minister Marilyn Churley (a proponent of MMP); former deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps (opposed to MMP); former MPP David Fleet (director of No MMP) and Professor Dennis Pilon, a University of Victoria expert on electoral systems.

“I wasn’t at all satisfied with the debate,” Heisey later griped. “The pro side kept interrupting–I don’t think that was at all fair.”

The majority of the audience— most of them poli sci students— were in the “pro” camp, as Paikin found when he called for a show of hands.

Paikin said he’s received many questions about the MMP system, and hopes the broadcast provided a useful service.

“Frankly, there hasn’t been much attempt to spread information about what (the referendum) is all about,” Paikin told The Varsity. “And I understand the Premier wants to be neutral–that’s his prerogative– but when the leaders don’t debate something it makes getting the word out very difficult.”

First-year life sciences student Larissa Satta said the debate was helpful, but added, “Anyone tuning in to TVO is likely already well-informed.”

“It concerns me that the majority of people I talk to do not fully know what this issue is all about. I fear they will be going to the polls and casting a vote for something they don’t fully understand, which certainly defeats the purpose of a referendum,” said Progressive Conservative candidate Tyler Currie. —BT

Bidding on minimum wage

Last Tuesday, just shy of 200 people gathered at Innis College for an allparty debate on poverty and health. The debate was organized by the Income Security Advocacy Centre, Health Providers Against Poverty and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.

In her introductory remarks, debate moderator Carol Goar of the Toronto Star said she was disappointed in the candidates’ lack of attention to poverty, particularly during the televised leaders’ debate. Goar note statistics claiming that one in seven people in Ontario are living in poverty, 232,000 of them with disabilities and 345,000 children under the age of 18.

The debate stalled when Elizabeth Rowley, leader of the Communist party of Ontario, demanded equal floor time equal with the Liberal, New Democratic, Progressive Conservative and Green parties.

Goar put the issue to a show of hands by the audience, and Rowley was voted off the stage.

“We consider the organizers our friends,” the disgruntled Rowley told The Varsity. “We don’t expect to be excluded by our friends.”

Later, the two-hour debate turned its focus to minimum wage. Sheila White, the NDP candidate in Scarborough-Rouge River, reiterated her party’s support for a $10 minimum wage.

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, stood by the Liberal pledge to raise the wage from $8 to $10.25 by 2010, with a 75-cent hike next March.

Rowley, from the audience, shouted the Communist pledge to raise the wage to $15, something Dr. Sanjeev Goel, deputy leader of the Green Party of Ontario running for Brampton West, said would be ideal. The Greens, however, can only promise to raise it to $10 by June. —BT

Serving notice

The Varsity women’s tennis team has added another loss to their near-perfect record over the weekend. While losing twice in one season may not seem like much cause for concern, for a team that has won the OUA gold medal for three consecutive years, it can be considered a slight bump in the road. While the final four seeding is yet to be determined, the Blues will most likely be joined by the University of Montreal, McGill and a fourth challenger from the OUA.

Over the weekend, in their final tune up before the playoffs begin, the women’s team took on the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and McMaster. Playing conditions during Saturday’s matches were quite favorable, with excellent visibility and uncharacteristically mild wind. All in all, it seemed like the perfect setting for the women’s team to put a punctuation mark on their season. Having already defeated both teams over the past three seasons, the Blues knew what to expect from their opponents. Having said that, the end result must have been surprising to say the least. In losing to the UWO Mustangs, the lady Blues fought hard, winning two of their three doubles matches to gain one team point. Unfortunately, they were unable to carry that success over into singles play, where they won only two out of six in the course of the morning.

For the Blues, Natalia Lech continued her two-year winning streak, with one of her characteristically dominating performances. She has not lost a single set over that time, and is in rare form heading into the playoffs. Lech, often described by teamates as shy off of the court, received much praise from her coach following the match:

“Natalia came as a very pleasant surprise to the team last year during the tryouts” recollected coach Nabil Tadros, “While she was warming up, I could tell she would be a great player and she proved herself as an undefeated second seed player during the 2006-07 season. She is now our number one seed and I hope she continues to remain undefeated.”

Even though the team has a winning record, it has not been all smooth sailing. “We have a strong team, but we also have had many close matches and there is definitely more pressure to win,” said Blues player Ekaterina Alchits. “This season has been a lot more challenging for us, but it is also exciting that we have solid competition in the OUA. We just have to be on our best game during the championships.”

The Blues turned it around during their afternoon encounter with McMaster University, walking away with a 4-3 victory. Natalia Lech, Ekaterina Alchits, and Roxana Soica swept their opponents in straight sets, but three other Blues players struggled to close out their matches. Chrisitna Dykun fought a hard battle, but fell to her Marauder opponent. Rookie Aisha Bhimla seemed exhausted after an intense second set tie-break, and despite fighting back in the third set, was unable to capture the win. The Blues were able to win without one of their key players, rookie Maia Kirk, who was unable to play due to a wrist injury, but they will need all hands on deck when the OUA championship begins October 12 at York University if they hope to repeat as champions.

Promises, promises

$300 textbook grant

Kate Holloway (Lib Trinity-Spadina): The grant is a textbook and technology grant, to help with expenses at the beginning of the school year.

Tyler Currie (PC, Trinity-Spadina): It is the sort of sexy announcement one makes right before an election. Sandra Gonzalez (NDP, Toronto Centre): What is a mere $300 going to do?

Dan King (Green, Trinity-Spadina): No point in under-educating our people, and then bring in foreigners for high-level positions. So, we would be supporting this plan.

Environmental concerns

KH: 2014 is the target date for the closure of the coal-fired plants.

PT: The coal-fired plants need to be phased out, and in that process of phasing out we would like to install scrubbers to reduce the amount of pollution.

RM: We are against nuclear expansion —the waste is not clean, it’s dangerous, and expensive. We want to shut down the coal-fi red plants by 2014.

DK: The Greens are not in favour of closing down the plants, if it means unreliable energy for Ontarians. We need to gen erate a new Renaissance for wind energy.

Financial aid and OSAP reform

KH: This is something that I would definitely advocate for. TC: OSAP will be definitely be reviewed. In addition, John Tory’s plan is that medical students do not pay back loans until they complete their residency.

SG: We need to re-examine the qualifications for receiving OSAP. A family in Toronto can be stretched to the limits by the current system.

DK: We need to go back to a system where there are more student grants, and less student loans.

Transit and fare increases

KH: The fares are way too high, and responsibility needs to be accepted at all levels of government. We want to expand the subway system.

Pamela Taylor (PC, Toronto Centre): Our plan is to take 2 cents from the gas tax, and over time this will translate into $800 million for transit, roads and bridges.

RM: We want to share the costs of transit with the city of Toronto and other suburbs 50-50.

SG: We would also like to extend subway service up to York University.

Tuition fees

KH: There will be no tuition freeze, but I personally would eventually like to work with university students to ensure the fees are capped.

TC: Our platform is to allot $600 million for postsecondary education. We do not want to have an increase in tuition fees.

Rosario Marchese (NDP Trinity-Spadina): We need to accept responsibility and freeze tuition fees.

DK: Freeze tuition fees, but we also need to create a detailed plan to lower them.

Mixed Member Proportional voting

PT: I think [MMP] is a dangerous system. The public will not be able to select which members from the lists would be chosen as MPPs. Secondly, Ontario does not need more MPPs.

SG: This is a great reform. As a woman from a Hispanic background, I do not feel represented, and both women and diverse voices need to be a part of the democratic process.

DK: To have a system where only 50 per cent of the population find it important to participate in the democratic system indicates that we need change.

The Lame List

What Would You Do?

Two birds, one stone: pseudo e-democracy meets everything you already knew about global warming. It can’t help that the massive screen must have soaked up a whole lot of energy.


It’s an eco-metaphor -— get it? Visitors traced their footprint on biodegradable cellophane or tinfoil, and then wrote down what they would do to save the environment. Best comment? “Stop wasting cellophane and tinfoil.”

Abomasum (the chocolate stag):

I don’t mind getting free chocolate, and the sculpture itself was pretty awesome, but was no one else expecting to be able to take a great big chomp out of that deer? Maybe claim an antler? Instead, I got a square delivered in a plastic cup. Sigh.

Scotiabank Hubs

Sure, festivities of this scale need sponsors, and it’s good of Scotiabank to step up, but they totally ruined the Trinity-Bellwoods experience with their tents and contests to win TVs.

A lot of the independent projects

Many of the uncurated projects were great, but a lot of these were happening anyways, or just plain sucked. I’m sorry, but reading religious texts with a flashlight in the backroom of a church isn’t art.

Over-reliance on screenings, and screens in general

Many of these were just a cheap way out for locations that weren’t interested enough in coming up with something original. This definitely lowered the bar.

Limited Subway Service

Most of the people using the TTC in the wee hours of the morning are doing so because they’re not from downtown. If you’re going to have the subway run to Broadview and Christie, why not have service along the entire line?

PC gets an A

As it did last election, the Canadian Federation of Students’ Ontario caucus has released a “report card,” grading the province’s three major political parties based on their education policies. While the majority of politically aware students won’t be surprised to find the NDP receiving top marks, eyebrows may go up at seeing the Progressive Conservative party outshine the Liberals.

Dave Scrivener, VP external at the University of Toronto Students’ Union, said that he hopes the report card will cause the major parties to reconsider their education platform before the Oct. 10 election.

CFS has a reputation for aligning with the NDP on a wide range of issues, especially regarding postsecondary education policy. The NDP won high marks for promising lower tuition and higher provincial funding to universities.

Asked whether CFS-O considered these promises likely to be kept, David Molenhuif, the national executive representative for CFS-Ontario, replied:

“[Students have] seen broken promises from all three of the big parties in Ontario…nevertheless, if a party’s willing to commit to something, the expectation is that they will fulfill that promise.”

“Should they not…it’s up to the voters,” he added.

A widely circulated CFS-Ontario press release (it’s even posted on Facebook) draws attention to certain “highlights” of the report. It bashes the Libs for “unapologetic support for higher tuition fees and illegal ancillary fees.”

CFS-Ontario gave the PC party an A- in “system design.”

Molenhuif explained that this criterion was based on a party’s stance on the education system’s structure—primarily on how to handle the transfer of credits between schools. CFS-Ontario gave the PCs a high mark here to praise the Conservatives’ promises to streamline the credit transfer system.

The Ontario Conservative platform calls the province’s system of transferring credits “unacceptable” and cites the systems in British Columbia, California, Australia and the European Union as examples for Ontario to emulate.

Molenhuif added that the system design category reflects CFS-Ontario’s campaign against the perception that a degree from a more expensive school was more “valuable.”

“You can get a better education at Lakehead than McGill,” he said, explaining that CFS-Ontario wanted political parties to recognize student-to-faculty ratio as a key indicator of a university’s quality.

The report was compiled using data from two sources for each party: that party’s platform, and their answers to a CFS-Ontario questionnaire. Representative questions from that questionnaire included “Do you agree that education is a right for every willing and qualified student?” The education questionnaire also asked candidates if they support a $10 minimum wage.

The house that Jack built

With a high-pressure throne speech from Prime Minister Harper looming, political momentum in a pivotal Outremont riding and a possible federal election this fall, The Varsity caught up with NDP leader Jack Layton at his literal “green house” right off U of T campus.

The Varsity: You mentioned the Liberals in a slightly distasteful way during the last election. Do you really feel that they’re a worse option than the Conservative party, given the current administration?

Jack Layton: Well what we said was that the Conservatives were fundamentally wrong. And of course Mr. Harper is proving that these days with his policy on the war, on the environment and his policies are increasing what we call the prosperity gap in this country where there’s a growing rift between the very well to do and the rest. We felt that the Liberals after their 13 years in power had been telling people one thing and doing another for too long. And we offer people an alternative to those two parties. And that’s what we’re continuing to do today.

V: What’s more important to you – pushing the Liberals to form a more progressive administration, or cementing the NDP as a viable third option for Canada?

JL: Well what’s most important for me is that we have policies for our country that are being implemented that are right. That match with our values. And the two traditional parties have not been doing that. We saw our greenhouse gas emissions increase dramatically, worse than any other country in the developed world, under these two parties. We saw the gap between the rich and poor grow, under both of these parties’ administrations. And we saw ourselves taken into a war, essentially according to a George Bush style foreign policy by Martin and accelerated by Mr. Harper and supported by about a quarter of the Liberal caucus, including their deputy leader, Mr. Ignatieff. So these parties are on the wrong track and they’re taking the country on the wrong track. So what we’re trying to do across the country, and our now 30 members of parliament across the country, is show that there’s a team ready to do things differently.

V: Do you want to be Prime Minister?

JL: Of course. That would be an enormous privilege, but it would allow us then to, I think, establish a direction for the country that conforms to where most people want to see us go.

V: Given your momentum in the Outremont riding, which is a huge coup, do you want to call another election?

JL: Well I’d always rather see positive results than have another election. Positive results for me would mean that Mr. Harper would change direction on the fundamental policies that we’ve been talking about here. If he does that in the speech from the throne – terrific. Do I expect that he’s going to do it? I see no signs of it whatsoever. I mean, he doesn’t even understand what to do with a $14 billion dollar so-called “surprise” surplus…. We don’t need to be taking the entire surplus and putting it against the debt because actually it’s a false surplus, when you think about it. We’ve been underfunding our education system, the infrastructure of our universities and colleges is collapsing, people are crammed into classrooms – there needs to be an investment. And also education’s become unaffordable. Or our cities: we’re forced to have to look at closing transit lines, canceling bus routes. That is madness, to be doing that. And paying down a debt that is already the lowest, well one of the lowest, in the developed world when you compare it to the size of our economy. Mr. Harper is not being prudent.

So we’ll see what he does. I never say what we’re going to do, our caucus never says we’re going to vote against something that we’ve never even seen – I don’t think that makes any sense at all. And I would like Mr. Harper to change direction. But I’m not holding my breath.

V: Mulcair spoke out against the Bloc demands of Harper’s upcoming throne speech. Does the NDP have a more realistic set of expectations?

JL: Well the way I’d put it, is that we want to see a fundamental change of direction on the war, we want to see a fundamental change of direction on the environment, and we want to see some real action on the growing prosperity gap, the issues that your average working family is grappling with. We want to see those things in the budget, or in the speech to the throne, I should say. And if we don’t see this change, well it’s hard to see how the NDP could support Mr. Harper. We haven’t up to now; it’s been Mr. Duceppe that has kept Mr. Harper in power, in terms of the budgets that he has supported. And also, a group of Liberals who have chosen to support an extension of the mission in Afghanistan, giving Mr. Harper the four-vote majority he needed.

V: In terms of Afghanistan, given Karzai’s support of keeping troops in Afghanistan, how do you defend a complete, immediate withdrawal?

JL: Because we can’t really play the role that Canada should play, if we’re involved in a search-and-destroy, combat-orientated mission, which now involves aerial bombardment by the Americans in villages, and use of heavy weaponry and tanks and missiles. We can’t credibly play a role as a catalyst for a comprehensive peace process, for instance, which is what we think Canada should be doing in Afghanistan. We can’t do that as long as we are one of the four or five countries involved in the battle in the south. So to change Canada’s role and have it be really productive, in terms of the generation of ultimately a cease-fire, and real significant process on reconstruction and aid, you can’t continue on with the current combat mission. So we see these things as essential. And of course when we first suggested that there should be a comprehensive peace process, which would mean bringing the combatants to a table, we were ridiculed. But now it’s very interesting to hear Mr. Karzai today suggesting that this is essential as a way to move forward. Now this is something that we’ve been urging for over a year, and I think more and more Canadians are coming to the conclusion that really there’s no military end in sight here. So we can come up with the combat mission, but really we’ll be doing it 10 years from now. Maybe 20.

V: You’ve highlighted the environment as one of the most pressing issues, not in Canadian politics…

JL: Facing humanity.

V: How does one balance green behavior with an economy and unions, especially in Alberta and Calgary’s private industries?

JL: Well the only way to ensure a strong economy is to take very dramatic action to preserve the ecosystems of the planet. Otherwise we’re going to have very severe economic costs. And we’re likely facing severe economic costs already, because we’ve set in motion a series of transformations to the global ecosystems that will not be possible to reverse. It’s now a question of slowing it down to give the species, including ourselves, time to adapt. And hopefully limiting the damage compared to what’s otherwise predicted. So we’ve got to get moving, really moving fast. And you know, one of the great myths is that the unions would be opposed to this. Our candidate in Fort McMurray, which is where the oil sands are, is one of the guys who drive one of those humongous trucks that you always see, that’s about 10 stories high. He’s been doing it for 25 years. He believes there should be a moratorium on any new projects up there, because he says we’re doing it all too fast. And we’re using too much of our fresh water, we don’t have enough workers to do the work so they’re flying in workers from all over the world. To scrape the surface of the earth up there and get access to this sticky sand. And then they’re using heat, which means burning fossil fuels, to make it viscous enough that can then be put in pipelines, and shipped down to the States where it can then be refined into gasoline. Well why don’t we refine it here, first of all? It’s gonna stay there sometime until we need it in the future, why try to take it out so fast right now? We’re in a way giving up our birthright. And finally, you’ve got to have a plan for the development of a project like this. And housing prices there are through the roof. We can’t get enough workers there to do the service jobs for that huge economy. There’s not enough infrastructure even for transportation. And to make matters worse, Stephen Harper, and Paul Martin before him, were subsidizing the big oil companies with our tax dollars, to do this. Well that makes no sense.

V: Cities weren’t highlighted in the provincial platforms. How do you envision Toronto’s economic and environmental future? How do you feel about the Canadian cities campaign initiative for one per cent of the GST?

JL: Well I used to be the president of the Canadian Federation for Municipalities, which is running that campaign. So I’m a big advocate of federal dollars going to our cities. For instance, that’s where I suggested the surplus just announced last week, should go, at least in very significant measure, towards that infrastructure. Which to me includes educational infrastructure as well, which is by and large found in cities. I’m impressed with Howard Hampton. He’s been talking about transit, he’s been talking about freezing TTC fares and taking over 50 per cent of the cost of running a transit system. Now that’s a really good urban program. And he’s talked about housing… So he’s I think on the right track. No surprise there because he and I talk a lot about the kinds of policies that are needed. To our way of thinking, the cities are where the solutions are going to be implemented. And they’re where the problems are confronted, day-to-day, on the ground. And Ottawa’s become far too remote and ideological when it comes to this sort of thing. They don’t seem to get it.

…So I always think of the tax dollar as five or 10 minutes of someone’s time working behind a counter at a fast food joint. You know, they work for an hour, they get a minimum wage, and two bucks is taken off that minimum wage for taxes and what have you. And that’s 15 minutes of their time. So when we spend a tax dollar we think of it as the time of Canadians that we’re investing.

V: Can you envision a time when the NDP is the head of the federal administration?

JL: Of course. And that’s what we’re working towards. We’ve been the government in quite a few provinces and we have a record of managing the public’s money very well. There was a tough time when Bob Rae was premier but look where he is now – he’s with the Liberals.

Getting it right at the ballot box

Why do we continuously see governments that break their promises? Why are tuition fees rising, even though 80 per cent of Ontarians believe that post-secondary education is already too expensive? Why is our government failing to take on climate change, despite the overwhelming support for decisive action by the vast majority of Canadians? To put it bluntly, why are our voices being ignored by our elected officials?

The answer to these questions is simple: our electoral system is broken. Currently, we elect our representatives through a system called First Past the Post—or for those policy wonks, SMDP—a winner-take-all system where your vote doesn’t count unless you voted for the winning candidate. For most of us, that means our vote doesn’t count most of the time. In other words, the most cherished principle of representative democracy is consistently broken. The idea that every citizen has an equal voice, and that every citizen has the right to representation, is simply not refl ected in our current voting system. We have a democratic defi- cit, and it starts at the ballot box.

In the last provincial election, the Liberals got less than half the popular vote, but they were rewarded with 70 per cent of the seats in the legislature. In that election, millions of Ontario voters went to the polls demanding a different way forward; instead, the system created a phony majority government. In effect, approximately two million Ontario voters, or half the voting population, cast a wasted vote. The same broken system exists at the federal level. In 1993, the federal Progressive Conservative Party earned 16 per cent of the nationwide vote and received only two seats in the House. In 2006, the Bloc Québécois won 51 seats with 1.6 million votes, while the NDP received 2.6 million votes and won 29 seats. The results speak for themselves: every Bloc vote was worth more than four NDP votes. Clearly, when we operate in a system that systematically ignores the expressed will of the voters, it’s time to rethink our approach.

In 1865, political scientist Ernest Naville remarked that “the right of decision belongs to the majority, but the right of representation belongs to all.” In an age of political revolution, it was a timely statement. Yet today in Ontario, over 100 years later, Naville’s statement has yet to be realized. We need to create a system of government that is truly representative and can legitimately claim to have a mandate from the people.

Fortunately, times are changing. Last year, 103 randomly selected Ontarians came together under the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to devise a better system. Following the lead of 75 other advanced democracies, the Assembly is recommending that we bring proportionality into our voting system. More specifically, they’re suggesting that we adopt a mixedmember proportional (MMP) system. Under the new system, you’ll get to cast two votes: one for your local MPP and one for the party of your choice. With the new system, your vote will never be wasted—every vote counts.

The opportunity for change is rapidly approaching. On October 10, Election Day, you can make history. The new proposed voting system is going to referendum, finally allowing the majority of Ontarians to have a say over how we elect our politicians. Support for MMP is growing from across the political spectrum. Hugh Segal, Stephen Lewis, Ed Broadbent—even Sylvia Bashevkin, the principal of University College—have lined up in support. More importantly, grassroots organizations from across the province are working hard, getting the message out, and mobilizing for change.

With the momentum building, now is the time for action. Get involved with the UTSU campaign on electoral reform, or visit voteformmp. ca. This is our best opportunity to fix our distorted, broken, and archaic voting system.

A vote in favour of MMP won’t fix every problem. It won’t automatically make our schools better, clean our air, or take guns off the streets. It will, however, return us to the principal of majority rule. It will bring more women and minorities into the legislature, and it will force governments to produce policies and legislation that our society demands. By voting for MMP, we’ll create a better government, and that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

A dangerous shift in control

In October 1992, our political, academic, and media elite united behind a fundamental change to the foundations of our democracy. But after a mostly one-sided campaign, Canadians, displaying greater foresight and a better sense of reality than their leaders, voted “No” to the Charlottetown Accord.

Fifteen years later, the elite are again united behind a fundamental change. And I suspect that after this mostly one-sided campaign, Ontarians will exercise similar good judgment and vote “No” to proportional representation.

The basic argument in favour of a Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system is well known: the percentage of votes a party receives will roughly equal its percentage of seats. In this way, MMP is said to give voters more “control.” But that control is mostly illusory.

Who we send to the legislature is, of course, important. But what really matters is what those people do when they get there. This is something that supporters of MMP neglect to discuss. Instead they have list after list showing the difference between vote share and seat share in Ontario elections in the 1950s or between women in Parliament in New Zealand (32 per cent) and in Ontario (25 per cent). To supporters of MMP, electoral systems are merely about who the politicians are.

Here in the real world, electoral systems are concerned with how our province is governed. In Ontario, as in any democracy, government is about compromises. Under our current system, the voters decide these compromises; to get elected, parties must appeal to a wide range of citizens by creating platforms that are at once coherent and unifying. In an MMP system, by contrast, parties get themselves elected by carving out core bases of support and then defending that group’s unique interests. Compromise gives way to politicians horse-trading in back rooms. This is a dangerous shift of control from voters to politicians— one that could do irreparable harm to Ontario’s democracy.

The shift will have important ideological implications as well. Currently, parties cannot run on ideas that are vastly unpopular amongst the majority of the population. If they did, they would force too many people out of their “big-tent.” Under MMP, more “ideologically pure” parties will form and elect members. Because the support of those parties will be required to maintain coalition governments, they will be in a position to demand legislation that the majority of the population opposes. Instead of being governed by big parties with moderate positions on all issues, our province will be governed by patchwork coalitions with extreme positions on at least some issues. Which extremes on which issues? That will be decided by the politicians.

Voters will lose authority under MMP in numerous other ways. One of the great virtues of our current system is that no matter how powerful politicians are, every four years they must answer to about 110,000 individual Ontarians. To maintain the confidence of their constituents, these politicians must knock on doors, go to barbeques, speak in schools, attend community festivals, and generally remain in touch.

MMP’s party list members would face no such constraints. While opponents of MMP are probably wrong to suggest that the list candidates would be a bunch of party hacks, it is true that they would be free to coast for four years at Queen’s Park before riding the coat-tails of their party to re-election. MMP shifts power from voters to politicians and from individual representatives to party leadership.

MMP is not guaranteed to deliver all the practical benefits its supporters promise. It will not make more people vote: in New Zealand, voter turnout improved by three per cent in the first MMP election, but fell nearly 10 per cent below pre-MMP levels in the second and has still not recovered. It will not eliminate the problem of liking the party but not the local candidate: what if you like the party but not the list candidate? It will not eliminate strategic voting: supporters of parties that rarely get topped off with list seats will cast their second ballot strategically. It will remain true that in politics we can’t always get what we want.

MMP assumes that if we send political parties to Queen’s Park in the right proportions, everything else will take care of itself. Fortunately, voters recognize that it’s not the politicians that matter in a democracy, but the compromises we make with each other. On October 10, we must refuse to cede control of our democracy.