I've voted in every election I could, and not one of "my" candidates has ever won. By the logic of our democracy, I've had no voice, not even my own little decibel in someone else's.
Ontario expat and Fair Vote Canada member Steve Withers commiserates. "I started voting at 18," he tells me in the lounge of the progressive space called the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina.
"I would've been better off going to the beach for all the effect it had - so that's my formative experience as a citizen of a democracy: my vote actually doesn't matter."
At 24, he left for New Zealand, where Kiwis were mulling a switch from the traditional first-past-the-post system to a proportional one - Multi-Member Proportional, or MMP. MMP got the nod.
Ontarians will be asked to consider the same on October 10, though you'd be forgiven for not knowing it. Withers came here to work with the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to get the word out, motivated by his experience in New Zealand. The change there, he says, "opened the floodgates to all sorts of ideas and possibilities that the previous system had simply blocked, precluded."
Under MMP, voters get one ballot and two votes: candidates are still elected in local ridings by a first-past-the-post (FPP) vote, but the other vote goes to your preferred party. A party's percentage of the party vote roughly determines its percentage of legislative seats. Each party publishes a list of candidates who would be called on to serve should its popular vote be larger than the number of local candidates elected.
And why in the world would we want that to happen? Possibly because every majority government in Ontario since 1937 has been an artificial one.
For kicks, let's take as example 1999, when the Harris Tories took power for the second time, winning 57 per cent of the seats but netting only 45 per cent of the popular vote. The Liberals got 35 seats, the NDP nine, but if their seats had matched their popularity, that would have been 41 and 12 respectively, and things might have been different for the province then - and for Toronto today.
We might ask, too, if McGuinty would rule with such holy complacency if the numbers lined up. In 2003, the Liberals earned less than 47 per cent of votes but ended up with 70 per cent of the seats.
The greatest impact would have come from a shift in the political landscape that's hard to picture under present conditions. Under MMP, parties with enough support - 3 per cent of the vote - get a leg up and don't suffer from strategic voting. You can select your local Liberal candidate to hedge against a strong Tory opponent (or vice versa) but still vote conscientiously (Green, NDP - even Freedom, whatever it is) with your party vote.
In New Zealand, "vote splitting" happens on about one-third of ballots. "All sorts of people who previously never would have been chosen as candidates by the major parties were elected, and they changed the character of Parliament," Withers says.
"The fresh new parties, basically people who might have been doing NGO work or social work or working in professional businesses, they ended up in Parliament." In New Zealand, the Green party is taken seriously.
Couldn't groups with vexatious or regressive platforms but honed PR send a bunch of unaccountable hacks to Queen's Park as well? Most of them would presumably continue voting Tory, but what of the truly extremist?
Not to worry, says Withers. In New Zealand, the prevalence of multifaceted minority governments and the power of the party vote to make or break a party means extreme positions are isolated quickly, and consensus is key.
"Be humble. Work with others. Play nicely. Learn to cooperate," says Withers. "It's all the stuff we teach on the playground, but somehow the politicians have given themselves a free pass."
And as for accountability of list MPPs? "They're not going to be at Queen's Park making tea for the party boss," he says. "What they will be is all over Ontario, using the resources and the status of the office. Imagine how effective members might be if they didn't have to spend half their time in a local riding kissing babies."
Withers crows that the system encourages us to be less "parochial."
Now, honestly, I kind of like being parochial; real power starts locally, at the bottom. But since the province isn't going away any time soon and does wield a lot of power over my city, how might the proposed system stack up for Toronto?
Well, if 2003 had been an MMP election, the makeup of the legislature would much more closely resemble the spread of votes in Toronto. The city would have sent a couple of Tories to Queen's Park, whereas there's currently no one in the party to speak for the city. (This could have made a life-or-death difference during the Harris years.) Nor is there presently any consistent urban voice across all three parties.
MMP could even allow Toronto to send its own independent MPP to Queen's Park. Or, if the 3 per cent threshold proves a bit high for that, there could be an Urban Alliance Party (I leave it to the wonks to find a better name) with at-large members responsible for concerns shared across the burgeoning southern Ontario megalopolis: transit, housing, concentrated poverty, sustainability.
MMP supporters say the system means senior governments are less likely to be seen as the enemy. Personally, I'll settle for an enemy that's easier to manipulate. Either way, it would be lovely to leave the voting booth feeling a little less dirty.
"At the end of the day," says Withers, "representative democracy is about representation. It's not about electing a government. Government is the by-product."