ONTARIO, Canada — Ontario Province will hold a referendum on a new voting system when voters go to the polls here Oct. 10.

The Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is recommending a switch from the “first past the post,” winner-take-all electoral system to the much more democratic Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, a form of proportional representation (PR) already in use in Germany and New Zealand.

If adopted, the new system would give each voter two votes — one to elect a local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and the other to elect MPPs from a list provided by the political party of their choice.

The number of seats in the Legislature would increase from the current 103 to 129 — about the size it was in the 1990s, before the Tory (Conservative) government of that time axed 25 percent of the seats.

Ninety MPPs would be elected in local electoral districts, or “ridings,” while the remaining 39 would be elected provincially by list. Parties that did not elect enough MPPs in local ridings proportional to their popular vote would elect MPPs from the list of candidates they advanced prior to the vote.

The MMP system would ensure that the distribution of seats more closely reflects voter support, ending more than a century of “majority government” by parties that often garner less than a third of the popular vote.

Fair Vote Canada has published a short pamphlet, “Dubious Democracy,” which explodes the myth of “fair elections” by comparing voting results with the profoundly unequal distribution of seats in election after election through the 20th century.

By comparison, MMP would be a big leap forward, say supporters such as Fair Vote Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Labor, Canadian Labor Congress, New Democratic Party, the Greens and the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). The CPC in Ontario will campaign for MMP, working with labor and Fair Vote in their campaigns as well.

“This is an important fight for democracy, for working people to have a larger and more effective say in the political direction of this province,” said Ontario Communist Party leader Liz Rowley.

“This will wedge the door open for progressive working-class voices and parties to be represented in the Legislature,” she said. “It won’t end the struggle, but it will kick-start a new level of more effective, more political struggle for a people’s agenda, for policies and political coalitions that address peoples’ needs and attack corporate greed.”

The same cannot be said for the governing Liberals, who will be “neutral” in the campaign, according to Premier Dalton McGuinty. With Tory support, the Liberals passed legislation requiring the referendum on MMP to pass by a 60 percent majority province-wide, and by a majority of more than 50 percent in at least half (103) of existing ridings.

Tory leader John Tory doesn’t include MMP in his list of policies supporting “hard-working” Ontarians, and the Tories have withheld their support.

The MMP proposal has limitations, however. Its sponsors have built in a threshold prohibiting parties that receive less than 3 percent of the popular vote from having their votes count towards seats. This means that currently only the Greens would likely be able to cross the threshold, and they could possibly fall below it. This could also happen to the New Democratic Party, which finds itself increasingly in competition with the Greens for votes.

“The threshold will help the neoliberal parties by forcing the progressive parties and their supporters to attack and compete with one another,” said Rowley. “What we need instead is to build bridges and to find the ways to cooperate to increase the political and parliamentary space for all the parties with progressive policies, for labor and the democratic forces in and out of the Legislature.

“While we’re fighting for MMP in the referendum,” she continued, “we’re also going to fight to eliminate the 3 percent threshold which is aimed to keep politics in the hands of the big-business parties.”

Fair Vote Ontario is launching the “Yes!” campaign across the province, engaging citizens one-on-one and through their unions and public organizations. Referendum organizers say this broad-based, nonpartisan campaign will need the active support of working people and all democratically minded people to win.

— Ontario Bureau, People’s Voice newspaper