Ontario: Majority or Minority

The McGuinty Liberal Party swept into power with a clear majority in 2003, and they held onto it until 2011.  But last year’s election returned the McGuinty Liberals to power  with only one seat short of a majority.

That’s got to hurt.

our electoral system

Although Ontario’s electoral system is supposed to be a democracy, the only democratic guarantee citizens have is the right to vote.

The government we elect gets to make provincial laws.

Ontario’s Provincial electoral system, like Canada’s Federal electoral system, is mired in the 18th Century with a voting method called “Single Member Plurality,” “First Past The Post,”  or “Winner Take All” which means the candidate with the most votes is elected (a “plurality”). This is called “representative democracy,” as citizens are supposed to be represented in parliament by the candidate we elect.

The reality isn’t quite that simple.

do the math

If there are 100 votes, and Fred gets 35 votes, Ethel gets 30, Lucy gets 25, and Ricky gets 10, Fred wins. Simple, right?

Even though only 35 people voted for him, Fred has the only vote in parliament. Essentially, Fred’s 35% of the vote means that the 35 people who voted for him have representation in government, while the 65 people who didn’t vote for him have none.

Our provincial government, The Legislative Assembly of Ontario, is a one stop shop for lawmaking.  Since our Provincial Legislature has no second chamber (like the Federal Senate) to provide “sober second thought” we are stuck with whatever laws they make.

Until the next swing of the pendulum puts the other party back in power, so they can undo whatever the first party has done.  Although they tell us majority government is more stable, in reality the adversarial nature of our system make it far less stable than most other forms of government.

Ontario has 107 seats in the Provincial Legislature, so 54 elected MPPs is a majority. When a party has a majority, they can pass any law they like, even if the majority of citizens oppose it. The only voices that count in Parliament are the ones with the votes. Or the ones controlling the votes.

Even if your candidate is elected, and his political party is in power, when it comes to voting on law he may not be allowed to vote the way his constituents want, or even the way his conscience dictates. The political party he is a member of can order him how to vote.

This is why I think we all need to start getting involved and perhaps even change our electoral system to something more equitable as the multipartison Fair Vote Canada suggests.

why they like majority governments

it is much easier to accomplish things when your government enjoys a majority. No time is wasted convincing citizens or opposition party members that the bill is necessary or even in the public good.  When consensus is unnecessary, when one party or one person decides unilaterally, it isn’t practising democracy anymore.  They can do whatever they like.

My child was just starting school when the  majority government led by the Mike Harris Conservatives unilaterally changed the face of education by assuming total control over education.  The real effect is that the tax money collected for education no longer goes transparently to education, it goes into the general coffers, and the provincial “funding formula” decides how much money to actually put back.  The Mike Harris sold the idea that this would bring funding equity to the Separate School Board. What it actually did was reduce public funding to match, making the entire system unaccountable.   Ontario’s vaunted standardized testing continues to suck up a chunk of the education budget yet there are no tax dollars available to repair the damage done to the system. At a time when being able to access information has become a crucial component of everyday life, Ontario school children are deprived of school libraries and school librarians to teach them how to search for what they need. (If you don’t see this as an important issue, you might want to ask the founders of Google if these are valuable skills… )   Although parents and teachers and kids across Ontario protested this change and these cuts,  there was simply nothing that could be done under our system, because the Mike Harris Conservatives held a majority of seats.

The government under the McGuinty Liberals has changed laws in similar cavalier ways.  The Green Energy Act strips all recourse from local municipalities when any supposed “green” initiative is proposed.   One of the more outrageous examples of the absurdity of the “process” has been the approval of the Elmira bio-waste facility.  Bio waste treatment plants have been very successful in Europe, where they are done on a small scale.  The facilities are built where the waste is created.  Unfortunately the gigantic proposed Elmira plant will require waste material which could be trucked from all over north America to feed its digester, so any “green” gains will be lost among the truck pollution.  Placing such a facility in the midst of a small settlement near homes, schools, parks and the downtown just adds insult to injury.

Governments can do whatever they want when they hold a majority of seats.

Of course they like a majority.

why we need minority governments

A huge component of representative democracy is that we have to trust our elected representatives to do the right thing. They should be making laws that are in the public good.

If they contemplate policies or legislation that are not in the public good, we need to be able to tell them no. Our elected representatives can’t know everything, which is why they need to be open to our input. Instead, they increasingly rely on corporate “experts” to make public policy. Is it any wonder that much policy favors corporate interest over citizen interest?

When there is a majority government, they don’t have to listen to us. they don’t have to convince members of the opposition parties that the policy they propose is good enough to vote for. When there is a minority government, it isn’t just one person or one party deciding what’s best for everyone. A minority government can only make laws if they build consensus. Of course they don’t like it.

But minority government is the closest we can come to actual democracy under our current inequitable system.

Which is why we need a minority government.

one riding can take away our minority

Right now there are two vacant seats in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Two by-elections are underway, one in Kitchener-Waterloo and one in Vaughan. If both of those seats are won by Liberal candidates, Onatrio will swing from a minority government to a majority.

I don’t live in either riding, so I can’t vote, I can only hope that my fellow citizens don’t saddle us with a provincial majority. Fingers crossed…

Politics on the patio: Meet the Candidates

Fair Vote Canada Waterloo Region is hosting a reprise of last years very successful “Politics On The Patio” to coincide with the hotly contested by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo.

“You are invited to meet with Eric Davis of the Liberal Party, Stacey Danckert of the Green Party, Elizabeth Rowley of the Communist Party, Allan Dettweiler of the Ontario Libertarian Party, John Turmel of the Paupers Party, Catherine Fife of the NDP and Garnet Bruce, Independent for an informal opportunity to enjoy a beer and have a chat with the candidates on Saturday, 1 September 2012 starting at 8:00pm at the Huether Hotel (map) in the Malt Room (ground floor at the back). We invited all the candidates so we may have some surprise last minute guests as well!”

Politics on the Patio: Meet the Kitchener Waterloo By-Election Candidates

For more Information, visit the Poliblog or FairVote Waterloo.

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