PROFS DEBATE ONTARIO ELECTORAL REFORM

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By Shivan Micoo

More women in Queen’s Park, better representation for ethnic minorities, and higher voter participation: This is what the future may hold for politics in Ontario if our electoral system is changed.

Last Wednesday, in the Atrium of the George Vari Centre, eight of the 104 members of the Citizens’ Assembly listened to public opinion on reforming Ontario’s 215 year-old electoral system.

“Canada has one of the least democratic systems in the world,” said Judy Rebick, Chair of Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University. “Having a more proportional system will engage others.”

Under the current system, called single member plurality (SMP), one person from each of Ontario’s 103 ridings is selected to represent his or her constituents in Queen’s Park. But because there are many parties competing in Ontario, most candidates win their ridings with a little more than 30 per cent of the popular vote.

Proportional Representation (PR) is the alternative that is being considered. PR systems award seats to parties in proportion to the share of overall votes they earn, distributing power more evenly between parties. This also means that many candidates from each riding could go to Queen’s Park.

Joseph Zboralski, who teaches Canadian politics at Ryerson, highlighted positive aspects PR. “You could stack your list so you can ensure that more women get elected and ethnic minorities get better representation.”

He also added that PR would afford the public greater choice, as there would be more parties to choose from. But Zboralski isn’t sure that change is the answer. “I’m of mixed feelings. If a system works reasonably well, then it’s best not to tinker with it.”

He said the SMP system “produces majority governments which are seen as stable.” SMP also prevents “extremist, fringe parties” from gaining entry into the legislature. But critics of SMP say that it unfairly converts votes into seats.

Larry Gordon, executive director of Fair Vote Canada said “40 per cent of the votes get 60 per cent of the seats and 100 per cent of the power under this (current) system. The last time a government came to power with a majority of the popular vote in Ontario was 1937.”

The Citizens’ Assembly will meet in February to discuss its findings. If the Assembly recommends change, then a referendum will be held on or before the provincial election on Oct. 4, 2007. If a referendum does take place, 60 per cent of the voters must be in favour of change for it to occur.

George Smitherman, MPP for Toronto Centre-Rosedale and Ontario’s health minister said that it is important to focus on the fact that this process is about empowering the people.

“I think that there is a danger that so many people focus on the issue of the threshold that they misunderstand … that this is about enlisting the power of people. And accordingly, I think it’s way more important to focus on the fact that it would be in the hands of the people to decide.”

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