Did Ontarians reject province-wide lists in 2007, in the referendum on the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system recommended by the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly?
The main criticisms of MMP were:
1. That "party bosses" would control who gets on their parties' list. In the majority of Ontario (outside Toronto), this criticism was that "party bosses in Toronto" would have control.
2. That List MPPs would not be elected by voters and accountable to voters, because the MMP model had closed lists.
On the second point, this was a problem everywhere in Ontario. The Law Commission of Canada in its 2004 report said “Based on the feedback received during our consultation process, many Canadian voters would also most likely desire the flexibility of open lists in a mixed member proportional system. Allowing voters to choose a candidate from the list provides voters with the ability to select a specific individual and hold them accountable for their actions should they be elected.”
On both points, the open regional list method was recommended by the Jenkins Commission in the UK. Their colourful explanation accurately predicted why closed lists would be rejected in Canada: additional members locally anchored are “more easily assimilable into the political culture and indeed the Parliamentary system than would be a flock of unattached birds clouding the sky and wheeling under central party directions.”
Voters outside Toronto rejected the model
On the first point, voters outside Toronto rejected the model. The further they were from Toronto, the more they rejected it. It is easy to see the correlation between distance from Toronto and rejection of the model.
Region,. . . . . . . . percent against MMP
Toronto:. . . . . . . . . . . . 55.6%
Peel Region: . . . . . . . . . 61.5%
York Region: . . . . . . . . . 61.7%
Central West:. . . . . . . . . 62.6%
Hamilton-Halton-Niagara: . 64.0%
Central East (Barrie to Brockville): 65.1%
Southwest: . . . . . . . . . . 65.4%
East:. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67.3%
North: . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71.3%
Is this just because Toronto voters are more progressive? But compare York Region’s six ridings with Ottawa’s seven ridings. York Region voted 8.1% NDP and 6.7% Green. Ottawa voted 12.3% NDP and 8.7% Green. Yet York Region voted 38.3% for MMP, while Ottawa voted only 34.9% for MMP. And look at Northern Ontario, which voted 36.7% NDP and 4.1% Green – the two parties that supported MMP – yet only 28.7% for MMP.
Across Ontario, 63.1% voted against MMP. About 31% were simply against proportional representation. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be personally elected, not on closed lists. Many more were voters who wanted all MPPs to be anchored in their own region, not on province-wide lists. Another 7.5% were voters outside Toronto who disliked province-wide lists even more than Toronto voters did.
As Prof. Henry Milner wrote just after the referendum "opponents hammered away on the claim that there would be 39 MPPs beholden to party headquarters instead of voters. . . in a short campaign, this image of unrepresentative party hacks from Toronto getting in through the back door was fatal. Had the assembly proposed the alternative MMP method – of having the 39 places filled through regional lists – the proposal would have been less vulnerable to this sort of attack."
This should not have been a surprise. P.E.I. had a referendum on an MMP system with province-wide lists. Again, support dropped in direct proportion to the distance from the capital, Charlottetown.
If those 103 Citizens' Assembly members had had another six or eight weeks to deliberate, some elements might have been different, like regional lists and open lists. What would their model have looked like, with mid-sized regions? And what would the 2011 election results have been on such a model?