OTTAWA, Canada (CCN) – Canada’s pro-life movement is deeply divided over a referendum that would change how Ontarians vote in subsequent elections.
The pro-life Family Coalition Party (FCP), which is fielding candidates in the Oct. 10 provincial election, says electoral reform is their only hope to advance their cause.
Two national pro-life organizations have warned, however, that countries with similar voting systems have ended up advancing anti-family and anti-life agendas.
The referendum, coinciding with the provincial election, proposes a form of proportional representation called a mixed member proportional system (MMP). Under MMP, voters would elect a local candidate as they do now, though the number of local ridings would drop from 107 to 90 in an expanded 129-seat legislature. Voters would also cast a ballot vote for a political party. This party ballot – measuring the popular vote – would determine the proportion of the 129 seats each party would hold.
If a party’s riding candidates win fewer seats than the proportion allotted by the popular vote, its members would be topped up from a candidate list provided by each party. The MMP system provides for a tier of 39 legislators who would be chosen from party lists.
“For our party, it is a make-it or break-it issue,” said FCP leader Giuseppe Gori in an interview from Toronto. The proposed change “represents the best chance ever” of electing pro-life members whom he believes will have real clout when bigger parties seek the help of smaller parties in order to form a government. He argues they will have much more power than pro-life backbenchers who must toe the party line in mainstream parties.
In late August, Gori responded bitterly to Campaign Life’s report advising against MMP. He called their support of the status quo “suicidal.”
“I reacted with very strong words,” he admitted. “Perhaps I overreacted and I apologize for that.” He has been fighting for MMP since his party adopted it in 1990. He has studied electoral reform extensively, having lived in Italy for 10 years under a proportional system.
Campaign Life’s and REAL Women’s research has led them to the opposite conclusion. They warn the new system would be less democratic and less accountable to voters. They also doubt the FCP can pass the three percent threshold of 135,000 votes, which would give the party four of the 129 seats.
“The FCP is dreaming in Technicolor,” said REAL Women’s national vice president Gwen Landolt in a telephone interview from her office outside Toronto. “All we’re going to see are special-interest groups ruling the legislature.”
“I quite frankly see that there may be a need for some electoral reform, but I don’t like this particular tack,” said CLC president Jim Hughes in an interview from Toronto. “The system may not be perfect, but the system as it is better than what’s being proposed here.”
Gori expects to run more than 80 candidates, including many Catholic activists.
“What we have to do, if we’re serious about making political inroads, is affirm our position and convince other people to vote what they believe instead of always compromising,” said Ottawa West Nepean FCP candidate John Pacheco, who organized the 2005 March for Marriage, in an interview.
The present first-past-the-post system makes many pro-life voters reluctant to “waste” their vote on a pro-life candidate who does not stand a chance of winning, he said. The FCP could get four or more members in the Ontario legislature, even if no FCP candidate wins a riding through the party lists. Pacheco thinks the party could gain 10 to 15 per cent under MMP.
While FCP might see an advantage in list candidates, Landolt and Hughes see them as a problem. MMP creates two classes of legislators, Landolt pointed out. A defeated local candidate could end up getting a “cushy” job in the legislature, as one of the list members. “You are going to get people who are not accountable to the public.”
Instead of listening to constituents, these list members would be “kowtowing” to party higher-ups, Hughes said, noting they would be harder to lobby. Hughes fears that once the public got used to 39 appointed candidates, the numbers could be increased until the whole legislature was appointed party members.
Landolt expects that mainstream parties would put feminists and other activists on their lists, so that their list would reflect diversity in sex, race and cultural background but ideologically they would share a radical agenda.
Feminist groups have lobbied long and hard for electoral reform as have the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP). Among the registered groups campaigning for MMP are the Ontario division of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees). CUPE previously campaigned for same-sex marriage before it became law in 2005.
Though the FCP received only about 35,000 votes in the last election, it won about 110,000 votes in the 1990 election, Pacheco said. The FCP vote cost Conservatives 11 seats, leading to the surprise victory of Bob Rae’s NDP. Under the present system parties with less than 40 percent of the popular vote can win huge majority governments. To Pacheco, that quirk of the present first-past-the-post system is undemocratic.
Both sides agree that proportional representation systems are inherently less stable, guaranteeing minority governments that must form coalitions. Landolt and Hughes do not like the backroom dealing that can sometimes take weeks before the formation of a government. The trade-offs and compromises may not resemble at all what the people voted for. Imagine scenarios where you might have Stephen Harper for Prime Minister and NDP Leader Jack Layton as foreign minister, she said.
Gori, however, sees these negotiations as an opportunity for the FCP to gain concessions such as the elimination of funding for abortions. Pacheco said the FCP might be able to negotiate a law requiring parental consent for abortions. Whether abortion is legal is a federal matter.
British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have both held referendums on proportional representation. In 1995 PEI voted 64 percent against electoral reform. That same year, B.C. almost passed its referendum with 58 percent of the vote.
The Ontario referendum also requires a high threshold of 60 percent and a majority of electoral districts to pass.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Canadian Catholic News Service.
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