Reader rebuttals to my column on “Ontario’s no-brainer referendum” were polite. They skipped the suggestion that No-voters are idiots and got to the point. The point was usually fear of more power to parties and party bosses.

(Ontario’s proposed new ballot would retain the usual vote for local members but add a vote on party preference. Based on it, party seat totals would be topped up from lists of candidates proposed by each party, so that final seat allotments would correspond to the real preferences of voters. No more majorities of seats with a minority of votes. Ontario hasn’t had a “majority” government that got more than 50 per cent of votes cast since 1934.)

Here’s a typical, articulate response: “My biggest concern is that the [additional] MPPs … will not be elected … directly. Rather, they’ll be selected by, and accountable to, their parties. … This is an invitation for parties to install the worst party hacks.” “Party bosses” and “party hacks” are the most frequent terms in the mail I received.

And I thought I was the one with a hate-on for political parties: those havens for the craven and the shallow. Who but an egocentric simpleton would choose to put his political energy into getting his name so well-known, mainly through lawn signs, that voters will mark an X beside it for no better reason than it’s familiar, and where canvassing amounts to finding out who’s with you and who’s not, wasting little time on genuine political discussion, and then even if he wins, his role is to do exactly what he’s told for the next four years by his party leader?

It turns out lots of people are unhappy with that. Take this letter: “My major concern, and I would have thought you shared it, is that the proposed new system would further entrench ‘party’ politics and reduce … individual candidates’ decision-making. I have an ideal where those elected sit down and work out policy without being distorted by partisan affiliations.”

Can it be that many voters feel the current proposal doesn’t go far enough, democratically speaking? (I exempt the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” crowd.) Having come to distrust the system and the players, do they assume this is one more manipulation to entrench the already entrenched—the party bosses, hacks etc.? If that’s the case, then this isn’t an obvious no-brainer.

But look, folks, you may be in a state of denial about where candidates come from right now. Who do you think gets nominated as is—the non-hacks? (I suppose hacks think of themselves as “loyalists,” or grinders.) In fact, the proposed system with its party lists could be a good way to cut out some hacks. Those party lists will need to attract votes, through decent candidates, a mix of gender, ethnicity, age etc.—some of the very qualities that lose out in an old-style riding battle to the hacks. Surely they’ll make the lists public, or lose credibility. What are they going to say: Vote for our hacks! You’ll end up with fewer party hacks and, in the bargain, get a system that is still partified but, within those limits, more democratic.

I happen to be on the advisory board of Fair Vote Canada, a group that works for some form of proportional representation, such as the proposed Ontario reform. The only advice I recall giving, and publicly, is that PR would be a minimal advance. It addresses our pitifully undemocratic process but doesn’t take us very far toward true democracy (less representation, more participation). Still, it’s miles beyond the embarrassment we now embrace.

As for other issues: No provincial leader has promised to ban talking on cellphones while driving. He’d get my vote, irrespective of party. I don’t favour restoring capital punishment, either, but if you had to, I’d like it to be for yapping on a phone while making a complicated left turn. What crucial thing do you imagine they’re saying at that moment: Okay, I’m turning now?


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.