The debate between mixed-member representation and first-past-the-post representation has been a spirited one, assuming that you’re one of the twelve percent of the public who knows what the hell that first half of the sentence just meant there. Friday night at the MaRS Centre, the Centre for the Study of Democracy held a debate, with Andrew Coyne of the National Post and former NDP cabinet member Marilyn Churley arguing for MMP, and Christina Blizzard of the Toronto Sun and former PC attorney-general Mike Hernick arguing for the FTFP system.
So how did it go? Details, after the cut.
(Fair warning: the writer is firmly pro-MMP, and believes that total objectivity is a thing for lesser men.)
7:09 p.m. – Good line from the moderator: “Good to see that all of you have come here on a Friday night to listen to people talk about electoral reform. Exciting life in the big city!”
7:10 – They have promised a lightning round! LIGHTNING ROUND! If Christina Blizzard and Charles Harnick win, they get Monica and Rachel’s apartment!
7:21 – After the introductions finally finish, they do a blind survey of the crowd (by asking people to close their eyes and raise hands). Big shock: the crowd is firmly pro-MMP.
7:23 – Charles Harnick is the first speaker for pro-FPTP. Starts off by pointing out that 88 percent of voters have no idea what the hell the referendum is about, then makes a weak joke about his daughter saying “I thought referendums only happened in Quebec.”
7:25 – Harnick cracks wise about how the electorate isn’t ready for the referendum at all, so we shouldn’t have it.
7:26 – Harnick’s anti-MMP for the usual reasons (which he doesn’t address at any particular length, it’s like listening to somebody read a list of bullet points): the list MPs aren’t accountable, the list MPs are “elected by whom?,” and it weakens local representation. He points out that Windsor used to have 4 MPPs and now has one and a half. The one-half MP is of course the honorable Ale- Sm-.
7:31 – Andrew Coyne up to bat for MPP. He’s using a lot of the basic federal examples to illustrate how FPTP screws over voter representation—the Tories in 1993 with their twenty percent of the vote and two MPs, the Green Party right now, et cetera. He’s also harping a lot on the Bloc Quebcois a lot and how they’re powerfully overrepresented in terms of population, because it’s safe to bash the Bloc in Ontario, don’t you know.
7:33 – “If you vote for the winner, great. If you don’t, you get bupkiss.” Coyne is earthy and a man of the people! That’s why he writes for The National Post.
7:35 – Coyne raises an excellent point that often isn’t raised in this argument: FPTP voting can encourage wild policy swings (he cites the enormous policy shift from Bob Rae to Mike Harris) that don’t exactly help all the stability FTFP proponents like.
7:36 – “Now we have two interchangeable parties in Ontario who are desperately afraid to take anything resembling a stand, because if you lose power, you’re done.” ANDREW COYNE IS A HOUSAFIRE!
7:39 – “If we were the first country in the world to try this, maybe the naysayers would have a point. But we’re not. This is an accepted norm throughout the world.” Coyne goes on to establish how MMP has encouraged political stability and cooperation in the countries that use the system, like in Germany, where they have had precisely zero world wars since adopting MMP.
7:40 – Christina Blizzard’s up and already apologizing for potentially being disorganized and how she had to get up early this morning and THIS IS THE WORLD’S TINIEST VIOLIN PLAYING “CRY ME A RIVER.”
7:41 – And now she’s telling us how she used to play cricket with her brothers as a child. This is an interesting start of a metaphor, I guess. And it eventually becomes something confused about, uh, how we shouldn’t throw out FPTP. Ooookay.
7:43 – Blizzard suggests that MMP advocates argue that more women will show up in politics if we adopt MMP, and she finds that patronizing because women should get elected on their own merits and not off a list.
7:44 – “All politics is local,” sez Blizzard. And this is true, because Olivia Chow owes me twenty bucks. I’M COMING FOR YOU, CHOW!
7:44 – (Disclaimer: Olivia Chow does not actually owe me twenty dollars.)
7:45 – Blizzard explains that she’s the voice of experience and that she knows who’ll get on those lists – people who are owed favors. As opposed to the people right now that the Tories and Grits parachute into ridings whenever they find it convenient or pleasing, who earn it because they are wonderful human beings.
7:46 – An excellent point where Blizzard says that ridings will grow in size, which is a legitimate concern. Did you know there is a riding in Northern Ontario that crosses two time zones? Possibly this is because nobody lives there except for the polar bears. (But what about the polar bears? Do they not deserve parliamentary representation? No. Because they are bears.)
7:48 – “We live in a first-past-the-post world…” And now she’s talking about hockey. No, seriously, she is comparing electoral policy to the Stanley Cup.
7:49 – Okay, it’s fair of her to say that the Senate sucks and is generally useless, but so what – nobody’s actually proposing adding another unelected powerless body!
7:50 – Marilyn Churley is up to bat, and starts out by saying that opponents of FPTP often talk out of their ass. Although she’s nice about it.
7:52 – Churley: “Let’s not get facts in the way, huh?” (Wow, never mind that whole “being nice about it” part.) She points out that other jurisdictions with MMP representation have more women, more visible minorities, and startlingly few party hacks in their parliamentary representation.
7:54 – Churley’s talking about how MMP allows us to both vote strategically and for the party we like best. Which means we can be both idealistic and cold-heartedly realistic. Or, if you prefer, we can vote both like Superman and Batman at the same time.
7:56 – “Right now eighty percent of the time parties choose a man and ninety percent of the time they choose somebody white.” Speaking as a white male, I’m glad absolutely everybody listens to me when I think something is important, so go to hell, Churley!
7:58 – “First-past-the-post was first established when women weren’t even persons.” True, but on the other hand, everybody had awesome muttonchop sideburns, so you win some and you lose some.
8:00 – Churley criticizes the way the whole issue has been handled – how the Citizens’ Assembly was disbanded, and then the election got called right afterwards, and there isn’t enough information about MMP out there, and how the majority of voters don’t even know there’s a referendum, and how the Liberals and Tories colluded to kill any chance of MMP passing because that would seriously threaten their political power base in Ontario. Well, not that last one, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking it.
8:01 – The Moderator asks Harnick if he has full confidence in the current system, which is a fair point. Harnick says that under the current system, people vote in their riding for who they want, unless you’re a Liberal, in which case they just get appointed by faceless Illuminati hiding in the shadows, and that the Tories never do anything like that, no sir. (Yes, he actually made that claim.)
8:04 – Ian Urquhart isn’t happy about MMP, according to his column today, and the moderator asks Coyne about that. Coyne uses the opportunity to bash the power that swing voters have (and you can’t get enough swing voter jokes, can you?).
8:08 – “We, as a nation, like to think if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, it is broke, and we have to fix it.” Oh, Andrew Coyne, you are so folksy.
8:10 – Blizzard’s so tired. Boo hoo, Christina Blizzard. You make much much more money than I do and are a bonafide media personality and got invited to participate in an important role at a citizen’s forum for those very reasons. Drink a fucking cup of coffee.
8:11 – She rambles and doesn’t answer the moderator’s question about the fairness of FPTP, although she does mention about how the Green Party isn’t having much luck “getting their message across.” Funny how being excluded from debates will do that.
8:13 – The moderator asks Churley about the size of ridings increasing, and her response boils down to “you know the MPs on the list? They’re all coming from somewhere, and we can rotate them around the ridings so that ridings can have additional representation for a period of time.” That’s way too practical for Canadian government, missy! Go back to New Zealand, you kiwi-loving freak!
8:20 – We’re finally getting questions from the floor. The first is for Christina “Tired” Blizzard, from someone asking about how the Green Party is kind of screwed in FTFP because “all politics is local” and Blizzard again blathers out some platitudes about how every community is different, and how you can’t expect somebody from Kingston to understand the concerns of somebody in Thunder Bay. (In Thunder Bay, people wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!)
8:23 – Coyne points out that “all politics is local” is really kind of crap, because nowadays everybody votes along party lines, voters and MPPs alike, and that local concerns are a distant sixteenth or so on the list of importance for new MPPs.
8:25 – Coyne – who is really kicking ass, I’m sorry, I know this isn’t horribly objective of me but he’s really on his game – argues that FTFP also encourages regional grievance-mongering because parties tend to concentrate their efforts to retain easy-win ridings.
8:27 – A questioner says that Wales just went to MMP (with a 50/50 split between elected and list) and now their Parliament is fifty percent female. Which may be true, but they still don’t have any vowels.
8:28 – Christina Blizzard tells us all how the wonderful thing about elections is that they always accurately display the will of the people, and then complains that she’s had a long day and that she doesn’t like that people are laughing at her comments. (I am not kidding in the slightest.)
8:30 – Andrew Coyne says the electorate isn’t a formless, amorphous blob-being with one will and anthromorphizing it is a mistake.
8:31: Jason Cherniak is on the mike and HE HAS A BLOG YOU KNOW. He’s already voted no and you can read about it on his blog. Marilyn Churley reads Jason’s blog (she says so!) and she rightly says that the Grits and Tories don’t want to break up a comfortable situation for both of them.
8:35 – Hernick says that he doesn’t believe an election is like a buffet, where you take a little here and a little there: you should vote once and you get one representative. Then he starts saying how local representation is completely meaningless anyway because MPs have no actual power outside of the party. Which kind of screws his earlier point about accountability and representation, but hey, who’s counting.
8:37: Hernick follows that up with a response to a questioner who said he feels disempowered because his vote is meaningless in his riding which always goes Liberal. According to Hernick, the voter is, in fact, a valuable empowered voter anyway, for reasons he doesn’t actually mention.
8:39 – The kids next to me are playing New Super Mario Brothers on their Nintendo DS and it’s horribly distracting. Do they have MMP in the Mushroom Kingdom?
8:40: Pam Patterson, who was actually on the Citizen’s Assembly, takes the mic and wants us all to know that MMP will actually mean more representation, and with all due respect, Mr. Hernick, she likes buffets.
8:44 – Hernick suggests that private members’ bills never get anywhere so this makes the idea of list MPPs meaningless. Shorter Mike Hernick: “Democracy just doesn’t work, people! Stop your futile attempts to improve it! They are doomed! DOOOOOOOMED!”
8:46 – More shorter Mike Hernick: “Modern politics is too mean for girls.” (Again, I am not kidding.)
8:47 Blizzard: “As a journalist, I don’t have any political stake in this.” Right, an opinion columnist for the Sun is a neutral party. (Or the Star or the Post or wherever, for that matter.)
8:48 – Blizzard says that list MPPs will be more beholden to the party, because the party will put them on the list. Unless the parties hold elections for the list MPs, which the NDP and Greens have already promised to do, but who’s counting.
8:49 – Coyne’s final statement: He’s been voting forever and his side never wins and he’s grumpy and isn’t it time for a change, a new system, where Andrew Coyne is not grumpy?
8:50 – Churley’s final statement: Women want to run, but the old boys’ network of politics means less women run, and that sucks. Also, for all the young people here, she was young too once, and fight the power, you young people, but do it in a responsible manner. And stuff.
8:51 – Blizzard’s final statement: She thinks MMP would be fun to cover because it would be a political zoo and much more interesting, and she finds the whole thing about electing more women condescending and patronizing, and she’s the only woman in the scrum at Queen’s Park, and her family is dysfunctional, and if women want to run they have to compete on the same playing field so they suffer like she did (I think), and “that’s my case.”
8:53 – Hernick’s final statement: He doesn’t want to get into women’s issues right now (good call there given his track record on the evening), and forums like this are awesome, and we’re all awesome for showing up, and he might not agree with people who like MMP, and he thinks a vote is never wasted, and this topic is only the beginning of a debate we need to have about how our legislative system works and he hopes there’s going to be more of that.
In closing: Coyne was on his game, Churley was a bit muddled but generally handled herself well, Hernick didn’t really adequately defend FTFP so much as he disagreed that MMP was the cure for all our political ills, and Blizzard was very, very tired.