Proposed electoral system could bring stability to Ontario politics, experts say

Though many voters may be comfortable with the status quo, experts say replacing it with the electoral system proposed in Wednesday’s provincial referendum could provide stability for Ontario residents who have grown weary of a constantly shifting political landscape, reported Canadian Press in a story widely published on election day Oct. 10. Political scientists said the mixed-member proportional (MMP) system would likely lead to a better reflection of voter preferences, greater co-operation between parties and fewer dramatic policy lurches every four years. But it wasn’t certain whether voters had been sufficiently educated on the proposed new system amid the hoopla of an emotional election campaign.

Electoral reform played second fiddle in the month-long campaign to such headline-grabbing issues as faith-based funding for schools, said James Laxer, a political science professor at York University in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. "That’s kind of grabby stuff, but when it comes to MMP, most people…their eyes glaze over," he said. "The details are hard to get your head around, and it’s even hard to explain to someone how it works."

Although opponents of MMP argue it will give fringe parties undue power in the legislature, Laxer said centrist parties tend to benefit most from the system. "If you look at the last 15 years in Ontario, we kind of lurched to the left under Bob Rae, and then lurched to the right under Mike Harris," he said. "I don’t think Ontarians want that. I think Ontarians would prefer to have a longer term, more stable, more mature political system in which people’s votes count."

While pundits argue minority governments are divisive and paralyzed by conflict, Laxer said MMP would drive politicians to co-operate with each other. Whichever party holds the most seats would have to work with another party to put together programs that last, Laxer said. "We have a very childish political system in which the leaders all yell at each other," he said. "Every leader describes every other leader as though they’re the lowest form of life on Earth. It’s absurd. [The MMP system] doesn’t solve the problem completely, but it raises the level of debate because [the parties] have got to co-operate with each other.”

In other MMP coverage:

  • In an opinion piece published Oct. 10 in the Ottawa Citizen, Burkard Eberlein, a policy professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, and Klaus Rupprecht, director of the Canadian Centre for German & European Studies at York, argued that the German example shows that the worst fears about Ontario’s proposed mixed-member proportional voting system are ill-founded. A review of the German experience, the jurisdiction most closely identified with MMP, does not lend clear support to these scenarios. Germany has enjoyed stable and often long-term coalition governments (and has never been governed by a minority government). For most of its post-war history, one of the two major parties (Christian Democrats and Social Democrats) have formed a coalition with the centrist Liberal Party in what commentators have ironically termed a "two-and-a-half party system." MMP has not been a panacea for all of Germany’s democratic deficits. Women are still under-represented and the country has seen voter turnout numbers slide in recent years. What it has brought the country, however, is stable, representative governments rooted in consensus, outcomes which are, in our view, desirable and not to be easily dismissed.
  • In a letter published Oct. 10 in the Toronto Star, John Geale of Port Hope wrote: York University Professor Edelgard Mahant [of Glendon’s Political Science Department] seems in the minority in opposing MMP; 145 other professors of political science and law have endorsed the Citizens’ Assembly recommendation to adopt it. Her contentions are often questionable. Coalitions in countries with proportional systems are not typically comprised of small parties, but combinations of large parties or one large party and one or more small parties. In such coalitions small parties may have some influence, but not control. Small parties could have extremist agendas, but so can large parties. The small party most likely to benefit from MMP here is the scarcely extremist Green party.

Greyson wins Canada Council video art honour

Toronto filmmaker and video artist John Greyson is the winner of the Canada Council of the Arts’ 2007 Bell Award in Video Art, reported News Oct.10. Greyson, also a professor of production at York University in the Faculty of Fine Arts, will accept the $10,000 honour at a downtown Toronto ceremony on Oct. 17. A three-member peer assessment committee recognized Greyson as "an incisive social and political critic" and "one of the leaders in the AIDS activist video movement." Greyson studied visual art in his hometown of London, Ont., before studying at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. In the years since, his films and video works have won awards at festivals around the world. His movie Lilies was named best film at Canada’s Genie Awards in 1996. Greyson’s work often deals with the themes of censorship, homosexuality and AIDS. Past winners of the Bell Award include General Idea, Vera Frenkel, Paul Wong, Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn.

Extraterrestrial money an issue of ‘QUID’ pro quo

When earthlings really become space travellers, a British currency exchange company hopes they’ll carry plastic lozenge-like monetary units called QUIDs, reported the Ottawa Citizen Oct. 10. Officially the Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination, the new form of money has been created by Britain’s Travelex because conventional forms of payment just aren’t cut out for off-world travel. The QUID comes in numerous sizes and 10 denominations, each marked by a specific colour. Brendan Quine, a space engineering professor at York in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, called the new currency a neat idea. But wheeling and dealing with QUID in space, he noted, would pose problems. "Looking for loose change would be difficult, especially if it floats around in front of you," said Quine. "Handing over five or six could take a while." Quine said space travellers would more likely pay beforehand for everything they needed at a a space hotel or resort, as in an all-inclusive vacation package.

Back in the hoops

Rohan Steen has no explanation for his breakthrough year with the York University Lions last season, reported the St. Catharines Standard Oct. 10. The Welland Notre Dame graduate emerged as one of the top players in the Eastern Conference of the Ontario University Athletics men’s basketball league, picking up a second-team all-star berth. And he’s bringing those talents back to Niagara. The Badgers have announced the Welland native will return to the Badgers men’s team this season. Steen played in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports men’s championship in his first year with the Badgers before heading to York. He feels there was a maturation process at York where he grew and became smarter as a basketball player. "[Head coach] Bob Bain has lots of experience and I just kind of fed off him for the two years I got to play," he said. "I think I just grew as a person and as a basketball player."

On air

  • Political scientist Robert Drummond, dean of the Faculty of Arts, answered callers questions about the Ontario election campaign on Roger TV’s "Goldhawk Oct. 9.