Electoral system reform has been a subject of interest at the federal level for almost a century, since the time when federal elections were contested by more than two political parties. On eight occasions, dating back to 1921, various House of Commons committees, royal commissions, and the Law Commission of Canada have studied elements of electoral system reform.
Between the 1910s and 1970s, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba introduced Alternative Vote (AV) or Single Transferable Vote (STV) systems, or a combination of the two, at the provincial and/or municipal levels. More recently, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island have all studied electoral reform.
Together these various studies have all sought to address, among other things, two fundamental questions about how votes get translated to seats in the House of Commons or provincial legislatures. First, when more than two candidates run for election in a particular riding, should the victor have to obtain a majority (more than 50%) of votes cast, or just a plurality (more votes than any other candidate, but not necessarily more than 50%) of votes cast, as is currently the case? Second, should the electoral system, which currently treats each riding as its own contest, and thus does not take into account support for a political party or interests across ridings or across a region, in some way seek to translate this aggregate vote share into representation in the House of Commons or provincial legislatures?
Finally, a number of these studies have also focused on the process of electoral reform – to what extent Parliament or provincial legislatures should consult with the public on options for reform, for example through select deliberative processes such as citizens assemblies or through direct votes in plebiscites or referendums.
In the words of Canadian historian Desmond Morton “cautious people learn from their past; sensible people can face their future. Canadians, on the whole, have been both.” These histories of inquiry into electoral reform, and the insights provided to the Committee by those who have taken part in studies of electoral reform over the past 15 years, offer useful lessons to the Committee.
From Confederation in 1867 until 1921, federal elections were contests between two political parties. As noted by Peter Russell in his submission to the Committee, in this context the first-past-the-post electoral system worked well:
As long as federal elections were contested by just two political parties, the first-past-the-post system produced parliaments in which there was a pretty good match between the distribution of seats in the House of Commons and the popular vote for political parties. The majority governments that these parliaments supported on all but one occasion were led by leaders whose party members won a majority of seats in the House and whose candidates won over 50% of the popular vote.
However, since 1921, as Professor Russell noted, federal elections have been contested by at least three parties, which has resulted in one-party majority governments being elected with much less than a majority of the electorate’s support (and with individual candidates being elected without majority support in their ridings):
But that situation changed in the 1921 election that was contested by three parties – the Conservatives, Liberals and Progressives. The Mackenzie King Liberals won the most seats (but not a majority), the Progressives came second, and Arthur Meighen’s Conservatives finished in third place. From that 1921 election until today, Canada has had a multi-party political system at the federal level, with three or more political parties competing for seats in parliamentary elections. Elections held since then have rarely resulted in governments with both a majority of seats and a majority of the popular vote. In fact, only 3 of the 30 elections held since 1921 have had that result – Mackenzie King’s Liberals in 1940, Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives in 1958 and Mulroney’s PCs in 1984. A much more frequent outcome has been one-party majority governments supported by much less than a majority of the electorate.
In 1921, as more political parties were entering the fray, alternative methods of voting were gaining popularity, particularly in the Prairie and western provinces. Provincially, from the 1920s to the 1950s, Alberta and Manitoba both adopted the STV for elections held in urban ridings and AV for elections held in rural ridings. As well, in the late 1910s to early 1920s, a number of municipalities in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan adopted STV systems, and in one case an AV system. Some observers cite the extension of the right to vote to non-property owners, the working class and women, and the subsequent growth in popularity of progressive and united farmers’ parties, as the reason for the adoption of these systems. As well, internationally, STV had been adopted throughout Ireland.
It was in the context of these developments that in May 1921, months before the seminal December 1921 federal election that resulted in three political parties being represented in the House of Commons, a special House of Commons committee first reported on the desirability of electoral system reform at the federal level.
1. The House of Commons 1921 Special Committee on Proportional Representation and the Subject of the Single Transferable or Preferential Vote
Towards the end of the 13th Parliament, a special House of Commons committee was created to “consider the subject of proportional representation and the subject of the single transferable or preferential vote, and the desirability of the application of one or the other or both to elections to the House of Commons of Canada.”
In its First Report, presented to the House of Commons on 30 May 1921, the Special Committee on Proportional Representation and the Subject of the Single Transferable or Preferential Vote found that the first-past-the-post electoral system only worked as intended when two candidates ran against each other. However, the Special Committee noted that as elections in Canada increasingly had three or more candidates contesting a seat, the candidate ultimately elected often only had the support of a minority of voters. Indeed, the 1921 report observed that “it must be apparent to all that the present system of election in single-member constituencies meets fully the purpose intended only when not more than two candidates are nominated.”
While the Special Committee did not recommend the adoption of a means of proportional representation (PR) for the upcoming federal election, it observed that it was impressed by the advocates for reform, and proposed that a plebiscite be held to determine whether voters would wish to apply “the principle of proportional representation with group constituencies” (referring to the STV). However, it did recommend that the AV be adopted for use in constituencies where more than two candidates present themselves, as “a candidate finally declared elected would represent the choice of the majority of the electors.”
The House of Commons continued to study the subject of electoral system reform in the 1930s. During the 18th Parliament, elected in 1935, a special committee on elections and franchise acts was struck to examine “the proportional representation system; the alternative vote in single member constituencies; compulsory registration of voters; and compulsory voting.” However, while the 1921 report was open to reform, the study conducted in the mid-1930s took a more reserved approach. In its 1936 report recommending against electoral system reform at that time, the members of the The Special Committee on Elections and Franchise Acts questioned whether the adoption of either some form of PR [it appears that the focus was still on STV] or the AV would work across the Dominion of Canada and be “conducive to good government.” In that sense it appears that the Special Committee’s focus went beyond how electoral system change could impact the representativeness of Parliament, in terms of how votes were translated into seats, to what could be meant as “good government.”
Following the 1930s, electoral system reform was not studied at the federal level for over 40 years, when a flurry of royal commission reports commented on the issue in 1979, 1985, and 1991:
Electoral system reform became a topic of interest again at the federal level at the turn of the millennium. In March 2004, the independent Law Commission of Canada concluded a three-year study on electoral reform and submitted its report recommending the adoption of MMP, entitled Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, to the Minister of Justice. In determining that MMP would be a best alternative electoral system at the federal level, the Commission looked at the capacity of electoral systems to “maintain accountable government, most notably a direct link between elected politicians and their constituents.” It further noted that there was little support to substantially increase the size of the House of Commons, and that changes to the electoral system “should be made without a process of constitutional amendment.”
Of note, over the course of its current study the Special Committee on Electoral Reform had the opportunity to hear from the former President and two commissioners who were part of the Law Commission of Canada’s study on electoral reform: Nathalie Des Rosiers and Roderick Wood, and lawyer Bernard Colas. All three expressed continued support for the Law Commission’s conclusion that some element of proportionality ought to be incorporated into the federal electoral system. For example, Professor Des Rosiers indicated: “I continue to think that in whatever system we choose, there should be an added element of proportionality in some fashion.” Professor Wood added that today he would be more supportive of open lists instead of closed lists. Mr. Colas strongly encouraged the members of the Committee on Electoral Reform to consider the Law Commission’s report in its deliberations. He added that the public would support a reform initiative based on the principle of fairness:
One basic instinct of a human being is about fairness. If you have young kids, the kids will say it's not fair. The first question you ask Canadians is whether it's fair for someone to be elected with 30% of the vote, or 40%, or whether it's fair if you have 20% of the vote and you get only 10% of the seats. They will answer “no”. Then you say, “Okay, we're here to make a proposal to correct this system and to improve its fairness.” I think it's a good pitch to start with.
The Committee also had the opportunity to hear from Brian Tanguay, who had served as the lead author on the Law Commission of Canada’s report. He noted that the analysis and recommendations of the report “have continued to inform recent debates over electoral reform in this country,” and that “the only way to address the significant defects in our Westminster model of government is through fundamental electoral reform, by adopting a system that ensures both demographic representation and proportionality in the translation of votes into seats in Parliament.”
4. House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Forty-Third Report (Electoral Reform) (tabled 16 June 2005)
In 2005, the year following the publication of the Law Commission of Canada’s report recommending MMP, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report to “recommend a process that engages citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of our electoral system with a review of all options.”
The report recommended a two part process, that would “involve a special committee of the House of Commons, and a citizens’ consultation group,” and that “the purpose of both the special committee and the citizens’ consultation group is to consider and make recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems.” The citizens’ consultation group was to “make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems,” while the special committee “would make recommendations on the specific components of Canada’s democratic and electoral systems.” The special committee would take into account the report of the citizens’ consultation group to then “make recommendations on Canada’s democratic and electoral systems” to the House of Commons.
In a supplementary opinion, the Conservative members of the committee indicated that they “would have preferred to establish a national Citizens’ Assembly on the model of the one that was used to design electoral reforms for British Columbia,” as they found that model to be “distinctly superior, by every measure of inclusiveness and openness (geographic balance, gender balance, etc.) to the process that has been advocated by the committee.” As well, the supplementary opinion indicated that “a Conservative government would not implement any proposal for substantial change to the electoral system, until the change is endorsed in a national referendum.”
In a second supplementary opinion, the Bloc Québécois indicated that while they supported “most of the report’s recommendations, and especially those dealing with the striking and mandate of a special House of Commons committee,” they would have appreciated “more time to determine how the consultation and direct participation of the public in the reform process” was to be set out.
5. Government of Canada, Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices, 2007
Finally, in March 2007, the Government held a citizens forum on democratic reform in each province and territory, along with one national youth forum. From these forums, the Government prepared a report entitled Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices. The report indicated that, among other things, Canadians appeared to prefer the current FPTP electoral system to a system that includes PR. However, the consultations also found that respondents were open to considering change, including a voting system in which every vote for a party counts.
As noted above, from the 1920s to the 1950s, Alberta and Manitoba both adopted the STV for elections held in urban ridings and the AV for elections held in rural ridings. As well, in British Columbia, the governing Liberal-Conservative coalition adopted AV for the 1952 provincial election, though the system reverted back to FPTP after the Social Credit Party won the 1953 election. Finally, in the late 1910s to early 1920s, a number of municipalities in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan adopted STV systems, and in one case an AV system.
In his appearance before the Committee, Harold Jansen provided the Committee with an overview of his research into the use of AV and STV in Canada, and what lessons may be applied to the current process of electoral reform. His comments on the use of AV and STV in Canada are included in the corresponding sections of this report. He noted the political contexts that led to electoral reform (and reversion to FPTP) in Alberta and Manitoba:
The lead-up to this was that in the decade of 1910 to 1920, there were big discussions on the Prairies on this. A lot of the complaints they were having about their electoral system were exactly the kinds of things you've been hearing here and we've been talking about today, around the lack of fairness in terms of representation. The single transferable vote was seen as the British form of PR, so it had a particular popularity, but there was this populist element to western Canada. The idea that it was candidate focused was attractive.
When the liberal progressives came in—actually the Liberal Party in Manitoba brought it in in 1920—they were facing farmers suddenly becoming active, and they figured that if they gave them this one demand, then that would help. So they brought it in to Winnipeg. The other thing in Winnipeg was that there had been the general strike. It also helped, they thought, to contain some of the labour radicalism a bit because the labour parties might have absolutely swept Winnipeg.
In 1922 the United Farmers of Manitoba came in, and they extended AV to the rural areas, which was a bit of a betrayal because everybody had argued about STV. This helped to preserve their power base, and it was a blend of idealism and political self-interest. It was the same with the United Farmers of Alberta [UFA]. They brought in STV in Edmonton and Calgary. They lifted whole parts of the legislation from Manitoba and just copied it in Alberta. It was the same thing. UFA was strong in the rural areas and weak in the urban areas. This fragmented their opposition, but they were partly keeping their promise. Everybody saw that eventually this would get better and that it would switch. This was a stepping stone to STV everywhere, and it never happened.
The big concern was over the size of the districts. At that time, where you're travelling by horse and buggy to places, that's a big concern. You can't use Skype.
The reason it ended was slightly different in each province. In Alberta it was strict political self-interest for the Social Credit. They were starting to lose. The Liberals and CCF [Co-operative Commonwealth Federation] finally figured out that they could use this to defeat Social Credit.
Manitoba is a little more complicated. In Manitoba, the big issue was about the rural overrepresentation. There was a bit of a trade-off. If they solved this problem and started to bring in independent boundary commissions, then they would get rid of this. They had another big complaint, and this is a very important one, because I've seen people come before you and suggest that we should adopt this model. If you do AV in the rural areas and STV in the cities, the problem is that going from 30% to 40% in a group of 10 single-member districts is going to pay off big time in seats. Going from 30% to 40% in Winnipeg, which had 10 districts, is going to get you one more seat.
Where did parties spend their efforts and focus their attention? In the rural areas. Winnipeg complained they were being ignored.
Over the past 15 years, electoral reform has been a topic of interest and study at the provincial level, often being spurred on by the frequency of lopsided election results, whereby the seat counts in the provincial legislatures do not match vote share. The Committee heard from numerous witnesses involved in electoral reform in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, as well as in New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, where the issue is currently being considered.
British Columbia explored provincial electoral system reform between 2003 and 2009. In 2003 British Columbia’s government established a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform, an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens with the mandate of examining the provincial electoral system and making recommendations on reform. In December 2004, the Citizens’ Assembly recommended the STV system, termed “BC-STV,” as the best choice for the province, and in May 2005 the STV proposal was put to the voters of British Columbia as a referendum question in the provincial election. However, in order for the proposal to pass, it needed to be approved by 60% of all voters, and by a simple majority of voters in 60% of the 79 constituencies. In the referendum, the STV proposal received 57% support – short of the required 60% majority – and was therefore not approved. However, as a result of the considerable support across the province for the proposed STV system, the Government indicated that another referendum on STV would be scheduled. In the second referendum, held at the same time as the 2009 provincial general election, the STV proposal was supported by 39% of all voters and received sufficient support in only 7 of 85 electoral districts, far short of the 51 required to ensure its implementation.
The Committee heard from a number of witnesses involved in British Columbia’s electoral reform process, as well as from 140 individuals who presented at open mic sessions in Victoria and Vancouver, many of whom spoke about electoral reform in their province. Four main messages emerged from the testimony. First, British Columbians who spoke to the Committee supported the B.C. citizens’ assembly process to make recommendations on electoral system reform. For example, as noted by Gordon Gibson, who helped design the structure and mandate of the Citizens’ Assembly:
Central to the B.C. success was the developmental and consultative machinery for the new electoral proposal.… The government … mandated a citizens' assembly and gave me the honour of designing the machinery. Through the efforts of the chair, the staff, and its members, it worked supremely well.
As well, former B.C. Citizens’ Assembly member Diana Byford commented on how the physical space where meetings took place, the Wosk Centre in Vancouver, had a positive impact on the process:
I don't know how many of you might be familiar with that place, but it's circular. There are circular tiers of seats. Everybody felt equal. There was no head table.… That centre is an amazing place. It enabled us to settle in and to feel that all voices were equal, all voices were heard. I don't think they have anything similar to that facility in a lot of the provinces. I think that would have a big impact on the results.
Second, the Committee heard ongoing support from the witnesses and a number of open mic presenters in B.C. for STV as an option for electoral system reform. As explained by former B.C. Citizens’ Assembly member Craig Henschel,
If we could solve the problems of exclusion and unequal representation, we could solve the problem of disproportionality. The single transferable vote solves this problem directly. STV uses multiple MPs in a district to represent multiple points of view. This greatly reduces the amount of voter exclusion, while at the same time keeping MPs as local as possible. STV is a preferential ballot, so that strategic voting isn't necessary and so that the voter can give the counting system a clear portrait of their desires. STV also uses a fair counting system that elects each MP in a district with about the same number of votes.
Third, the Committee heard numerous criticisms of the 60% threshold set for the B.C. referendum on electoral reform. As observed by Mr. Gibson, the B.C. referendum did not fail, as it “received the affirmative support of almost 58% of the electorate,” had a turnout of 61.5%, and “secured an absolute majority in 77 of 79 ridings.” Indeed, as Mr. Gibson concluded, the “referendum passed by any reasonable test, but the provincial government had set a 60% hurdle rate, so a marvellous opportunity for a natural experiment in thoughtful electoral reform was lost.” Mr. Henschel added that members of the Citizens’ Assembly were particularly concerned about the 60% threshold, and fellow Citizens’ Assembly member Diana Byford saw the threshold as a failure on the part of the B.C. government.
Finally, the Committee heard concern about the lack of public education following the Citizens’ Assembly process and the recommendation of STV through the conduct of the referendum. As Diana Byford explained, there had not been any funds set aside for public education on the choice of STV, a number of Citizens Assembly members “took it upon themselves to do so”:
Not everyone, of course, could do this. It was done on our own time and money. We spoke to groups and organizations. We debated sometimes and we provided answers to many, many questions. This we did from December 2004, when our report was delivered to the legislature, until the referendum in May 2005. My last speaking engagement was the evening before that election.
Indeed, as noted by Professor Kenneth Carty, who had served as the Director of Research for the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform (and subsequently served as a senior consultant to the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly), the substantial support for reform in the B.C. referendum was due to the trust that voters placed in the Citizens Assembly process, rather than a deep understanding of the mechanisms of electoral system reform.
Ontario explored provincial electoral system reform between 2003 and 2007. Following British Columbia’s lead, in 2006 the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform was formed to examine the current electoral system and recommend possible changes. In May 2007, the Assembly released a report entitled One Ballot: Two Votes – A New Way to Vote in Ontario, which recommended a MMP system. A province-wide referendum to decide whether to implement this new system was held in conjunction with the provincial election in October 2007. The proposal did not receive the requisite voter support – at least 60% of the total referendum ballots cast and more than 50% of the referendum ballots cast in at least 64 electoral districts – as prescribed in section 4 of the Electoral System Referendum Act, 2007.
In his testimony before the Committee, Jonathan Rose, who had served as the Academic Director of the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform, highlighted how a citizens’ assembly or “some kind of deep deliberative exercise” is useful as part of the process of engaging in electoral reform. He also stressed the importance of the “public learning component of electoral reform” as part of “the overall strategy of engagement” with the public.
Brian Tanguay, who had served as the lead author on the Law Commission of Canada’s 2004 report titled Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada, and appeared as an expert witness before the Ontario and Quebec legislatures to discuss electoral reform, noted that a “lack of education, a lack of information, confusing signals put out by the parties themselves, all … led to a less than optimal context for the conduct of the referendum vote itself.”
Quebec explored potential provincial electoral system reform between 2004 and 2007. In December 2004, the Quebec government introduced a draft bill in the National Assembly that, among other reforms, proposed a new mixed electoral system that would combine elements of the existing FPTP system and a new PR approach. In June 2005, the National Assembly adopted a motion to appoint a nine-member special commission to study and make recommendations on the draft bill. The Special Commission on Electoral Act was assisted by an eight-member citizens’ committee.  Public consultations were held across Quebec beginning in January 2006.
The Commission reported its findings to the National Assembly in April 2006. Its report rejected the Government’s draft bill and proposed an MMP system similar to that of Germany. The Commission’s main criticism of the Government’s draft bill was that the proposed one-ballot system did not accurately reflect the wishes of the voters and would encourage strategic voting.
In December 2007, the province’s Chief Electoral Officer released a report that discussed the characteristics of a “compensatory mixed system” and compared different scenarios through simulations and analyses. No alteration of Quebec’s FPTP electoral system have occurred since the tabling of this report.
Benoît Pelletier, who served as the Quebec Minister for Reform of Democratic Institutions from 2005 to 2008, explained that Quebec’s MMP draft bill, which involved a single ballot and a dual candidacy option (allowing candidates to run both in specific districts and on party lists), with subsequent openness to change to a dual ballot option, attempted to reconcile various factors, including regional representation and simplicity. While there was interest in reform, there was disagreement about the details of reform, including the dual candidacy option that had been put forward, and increasing the size of electoral constituencies. Still, Professor Pelletier opined that today Quebecers might “be more open” to the MMP proposal that had been put forward 10 years earlier by the Government of Quebec.
New Brunswick first explored electoral system reform at the provincial level between 2003 and 2006, and is currently undertaking another study of the issue.
In December 2003, the New Brunswick government established the Commission on Legislative Democracy and instructed it to propose an appropriate PR model for New Brunswick. In January 2005, its final report recommended a regional MMP system and advised that a binding referendum be held no later than the 2007 provincial election. The provincial government responded to the Commission’s final report and recommendations by issuing Improving the Way Government Works in June 2006. After a change of government in the fall of 2006, a new response to the Commission’s recommendations was released in June 2007. Entitled An Accountable and Responsible Government, it included 20 initiatives the province planned to undertake to improve and enhance legislative democracy in New Brunswick between 2007 and 2012.
Between 1999 and 2005, David McLaughlin served as the deputy minister to New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord. In this position, he launched and oversaw the province’s Commission on Legislative Democracy. In his appearance before the Committee he explained how the Commission arrived at its recommendation for MMP and for a referendum:
The key principles we used to decide upon a new electoral system included local representation, which is the principle of all geographic areas of the province having a particular representative in the legislature to represent their interests; fair representation, ensuring all New Brunswickers' voices were fairly represented in the legislature; equality of the vote, ensuring each voter's ballot had equal influence in determining the election's winner; and effective government, the ability of the system to result in the easy selection of a stable government that is able to govern the province.
He added that they “recommended a mixed member proportional system as optimal for the province, based on a consideration of all the alternatives in relation to the roster of democratic principles.” It was hoped that adopting an MMP system would help correct what “was a peculiar outcome of provincial politics: big majority governments and small, weak oppositions.” MMP also seemed appealing to help ensure “equality of representation between the English and French linguistic communities” in the province.
Mr. McLaughlin noted two conclusions from the work of his Commission that could aid in the Committee’s work, related to system design and public legitimacy of a new electoral system:
First, FPTP has good features and is both familiar and legitimate to most voters. After all, we do accept election night results, and Canada has progressed. However, it does have clear drawbacks and inadequacies that an MMP system could mitigate. MMP, we know, is more reflective of the democratic values of fairness, inclusiveness, choice, and equality of vote. However, MMP at the national level has never really been modelled or analyzed in a comprehensive way that I've seen, except for one Law Commission of Canada report. There are real consequences that we found in outcomes, based on the specific design of that system, that you will need to research and consider should you decide to recommend it.
Second, public legitimacy of a new electoral system is highly desirable and surmounts party and politician interests. It is about the citizen and voter in a citizen-centred democracy. A referendum is the simplest, clearest, and most acceptable way of conferring legitimacy for the long term, not just on the system but more importantly on the outcomes it produces.
Finally, Mr. McLaughlin suggested an alternative to holding a referendum before introducing a new electoral system, what he referred to as a “validating referendum.”
I know this is contentious, so let me offer a second best but still viable option to you: provide for a validating referendum after two elections, based on a Parliamentary review of the system, and give Canadians the chance to accept it, perhaps with improvements, or revert back to the previous system.
Lise Ouellette, who served as co-chair of the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy between 2003 and 2004, also appeared before the Committee. In her testimony she reiterated support for the Commission’s study and conclusions, noting that “the discrepancy between the number of votes and the number of seats obtained in the Legislative Assembly or in Parliament” is a “major flaw in our electoral system that needs to be addressed, whatever our convictions are in other respects.”
Of note, in July 2016, the New Brunswick government released a discussion paper on electoral reform that is being submitted for further study to a select committee on electoral reform. Additionally, the Government is in the process of establishing a commission on electoral reform to study: barriers to entering politics for underrepresented groups, improving participation in democracy (including preferential ballots and online voting), the voting age, political contribution rules and political spending rules.
Prince Edward Island first explored potential provincial electoral system reform between 2003 and 2007, and is currently in the process of exploring different electoral systems to elect the 27 members of its Legislative Assembly.
In December 2003, the Prince Edward Island Electoral Reform Commissioner recommended that the province adopt an MMP system. However, the Commissioner also recommended further study of the issue, including more public consultation and public education, and he directed that any changes to the province’s electoral system be made by “referendum.”
In December 2004 the Legislative Assembly established the Commission on Prince Edward Island’s Electoral Future, with the task of developing a clear plebiscite question and recommending a date for holding the plebiscite. In May 2005, the Commission released its proposal for an MMP system for the province. The plebiscite was held in November 2005, with a threshold for voter approval set at 60%. The proposal for electoral reform was approved by 36% of the voters.
More recently, following Prince Edward Island’s 65th general election, held on 4 May 2015, the new government’s June 2015 Speech from the Throne committed to examine electoral reform and democratic renewal. In July 2015, the Government released the White Paper on Democratic Renewal, which pledged to create a special legislative committee to explore whether to replace the FPTP system by a preferential ballot or a PR voting system and to “define the plebiscite question to be presented to Islanders with regard to the future voting system … by November 30, 2015.”
Following initial consultations, the Special Committee tabled its second report in April 2016, in which it recommended that voters be able to rank the following electoral system options in order of preference in a plebiscite to be held in November 2016:
In accordance with the Special Committee’s recommendations, the plebiscite on the five electoral system reform options took place in P.E.I. between 29 October and 7 November 2016. Anyone aged 16 or older was considered eligible to vote. Islanders were able to cast their vote via Internet or telephone, as well as in person.
The Committee had the opportunity to hear from Leonard Russell, who had served as the Chair of the Commission on P.E.I.’s Electoral Future, formed in December 2004, as well as from Jordan Brown, the current Chair of the Special Committee on Democratic Renewal. Both offered the Committee extensive analysis of what had happened around the 2005 plebiscite, and the considerations made in designing the current reform process (the Committee heard from both on 6 October 2016, the month before the plebiscite).
Jordan Brown observed that following the 2005 plebiscite there were complaints that the MMP option was overly complex, that there were not enough polling stations set up for people to vote, and that there was only one day to vote. Mr. Russell added that in addition to the polling station issues, which caused some frustration, there was a realization among the main political parties regarding the potential consequences of reform:
The other thing that surfaced partway through our educational program was that I think both of the mainline parties in the province realized, for the first time, the ramifications of mixed member proportional.
It was an unspoken issue around our commission table. There were reasons for that. We had party people sitting at the table, nominated by the two main parties. We just didn't talk about that. But again, away from the official spot, several people would talk about what they knew.
The thing that happened was that as the parties realized that it could be possible under mixed member proportional for those who might have the majority under the first-past-the-post portion to indeed not have a majority standing…
We began to get undermined by the very folks who put us in place. I don't quite know how to back that up, but I do know it was discussed within parish situations, church situations. Parties collectively were advising the general public about the pitfalls of looking at mixed member proportional.
My own view was that the parties of the day realized that the power they could hold under first past the post might not exist under mixed member proportional, but they indeed had asked that mixed member proportional be pursued.
Turning to the current process, Mr. Brown noted that an appetite for electoral reform remained in P.E.I. following the 2005 plebiscite, given that “in the last seven elections on Prince Edward Island we have had five legislatures in which there has been a fairly big imbalance in terms of government versus opposition,” including “two occasions out of those seven where we've had one member oppositions.” The decision to consider four electoral system options in addition to FPTP related to the different principles that the Special Legislative Committee had heard about. According to Mr. Brown, inviting voters to rank different options was an attempt to “encourage people to go beyond picking their favourite by essentially tipping voters off to the fact that their favourite might not be picked first and that they might want to have a say in the overall choice through a second, third, fourth, or fifth choice.” However, Mr. Russell expressed concern that having too many options on the plebiscite ballot could cause confusion both for voters and for the Government (in terms of interpreting the results). He suggested that the public would trust the Committee to come up with a single best alternative option for electoral system reform.
Finally, Mr. Brown emphasized the focus on engagement in the current process. The rationale to allow online and telephone voting in the plebiscite was to increase engagement, with a time frame to vote (spanning 10 days) that would be long enough to enable anyone to vote. Mr. Brown further explained that the vote was opened to 16 and 17 years olds as “they will vote in the next election,” they are in school, and “they will be engaged in a setting where, effectively, there's some structure to how they learn about politics and democracy and they're able to participate in it.” Ideally, he said, “they'll go home and educate their siblings and parents and grandparents and all the rest of it about the process, and carry that forward through their life in a good, structured, educated way.”
A total of 37,040 Islanders, representing 36.46% of eligible voters, participated in the plebiscite held over the first week of November 2016. Following four rounds of counting, results showed that 52.42% of voters supported MMP over the current system. In a statement released on 8 November 2016, P.E.I. Premier MacLauchlan indicated:
In combination with the low voter turnout of 36.5 per cent, it is debatable whether the plebiscite conducted between October 29 and November 7 produced a clear majority. Among the five options on which Prince Edward Island voters were asked to express their preference, Mixed Member Proportional Representation received 52.42 per cent support during the fourth round of counting. During the first three rounds of counting, First-Past-the-Post (the current system) received the highest number of votes. By the fourth and final round of counting, the support for MMP represented 19 per cent of eligible voters, or fewer than one in five. It is doubtful whether these results can be said to constitute a clear expression of the will of Prince Edward Islanders, to adopt the language of the Special Committee on Democratic Renewal.
The statement added:
When the Legislative Assembly meets in its fall session starting next Tuesday, the question of democratic renewal and the results of the plebiscite will be on the minds of all legislators. We look forward to learning in greater detail the results, including levels of support in various parts of the province, ideally by electoral district, as soon as Elections P.E.I. can provide the information.
 Craig Brown, ed., The Illustrated History of Canada, 25th Anniversary edition, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kinston, 2012, p. 598.
 Peter H. Russell, University of Toronto, “Submission to House of Commons Electoral Reform Committee,” 26 July 2016.
 Dennis Pilon, The Politics of Voting - Reforming Canada’s Electoral System, Emond Montgomery Publications Limited, Toronto, 2007, p. 81. See also: Elections Manitoba, History of Electoral Process from 1870 to 2011.
 Calgary (1916–1961); Edmonton (1922–1928); Regina (1920–1926); Saskatoon (1920–1926); Vancouver (1920–1923); Victoria (1920–1921); Winnipeg (1920–1971). Source: Dennis Pilon, The Politics of Voting – Reforming Canada’s Electoral System, Emond Montgomery Publications Limited, Toronto, 2007, p. 81.
 Calgary, from 1961 to 1973.
 Elected in 1917 and led by the Unionist Party pro-conscription coalition.
 House of Commons, Special Committee on Proportional Representation and the Subject of the Single Transferable or Preferential Vote, First Report, Journals, 5th Session, 13th Parliament, 30 May 1921, pp 391–392.
 And in which the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) from the West won 7 seats on a platform of social reform, and new Social Credit Party, also from the West, won 17 seats with its platform of monetary reform.
 House of Commons, Special Committee on Elections and Franchise Acts, Fourth and Last Report, Journals, 1st Session, 18th Parliament, 11 June 1936, pp. 446–448; and Second and Last Report, Journals, 2nd Session, 18th Parliament, 6 April 1937, pp. 390–394.
 Task Force on Canadian Unity, A Future Together: Observations and Recommendations, Ottawa, 1979.
 The Task Force recommended switching from the first-past-the-post electoral system to a mixed member proportional system based on the German model (“Electoral Reform and the House of Commons [Chapter 7]”):
68. In order to establish a better balance between the number of votes and the number of seats obtained by each political party in different regions and provinces, the current mode of election to the House of Commons should be modified by introducing an element of proportionality to complement the present simple-majority single-member constituency system.
69. i – The number of members in the House of Commons should be increased by about 60.
ii – These members should be selected from provincial lists of candidates prepared by the federal parties in advance of a general election, with the seats being distributed between parties on the basis of percentages of popular votes.
Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada, Volume 3, Part VI, “Chapter 21 – The Institutions of National Government,” Ottawa, 1985, p. 85.
 Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Volume 1, Chapter 1, “The Objectives of Electoral Democracy,” Ottawa, 1991, p. 21.
 Looking back to the 2004 Law Commission report, Ms. Des Rosiers observed that:
The one I continue to be absolutely confident in is the assessment of the first past the post system. We may be happy at some point, but we have to look dans la longue durée. I think there have been too many instances of distortions. I continue to be confident about that. I also think that the recommendations we made on ongoing attention being paid to this issue are important and should be part of your report… I continue to think that in whatever system we choose, there should be an added element of proportionality in some fashion. We must continue to pay attention to that.
ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 22 August 2016, 1840 (Nathalie Des Rosiers).
 During his testimony, Professor Wood stood by the conclusions of the 2004 Law Commission Report:
Twelve years ago, the Law Commission of Canada published its report on electoral reform. I was a commissioner with the Law Commission and I participated in the production of that report. What I wanted to do today was to talk a little bit about how it was that we came to the conclusion that we did. I can say that in the 12 years that have passed since the publication of the report I have not changed my view that the mixed member proportional system is a better choice than the existing system, and is to be preferred over other alternatives. However, there is one element of the report that I have changed my mind about in light of new information that wasn't available at the time of the Law Commission's report. That is the issue of open lists versus closed lists.…
ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 29 September 2016, 1340 (Roderick Wood).
 Mr. Colas indicated:
I encourage you again to read the report, because various problems are raised in it. We wondered, for instance, if a member elected from a list should have the same status as a member elected in a riding. Many other questions were raised and we answered them in the report. In fact, I understand that reforming the electoral system is not easy. You are facing quite a challenge. At the time, I spoke with the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, and I felt a certain resistance on their part. Many of those who were elected in a certain system feel that if this worked for them, why change the system that allowed them to get elected? So you are going to have to deal with the political arm that designs the system, but also with the politicians who work with it.
The system we proposed is in my opinion easy to sell to the population. There would be two methods: 66% of members would be elected in ridings and 33% would be chosen from lists. In my opinion, that proportion would correct the imbalance and reflect the values of the 21st century.
ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 22 September 2016, 1835 (Bernard Colas).
 ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 25 July 2016, 1415-1420 (Brian Tanguay, Professor, Political Science, Wilfrid Laurier University, as an Individual). Professor Tanguay also expressed support for open lists, stating: “If I were to rewrite or amend the 2004 report, I would try to ensure that these lists we're selecting from are in the most open fashion possible.”
 Government of Canada, Public Consultations on Canada’s Democratic Institutions and Practices, 2007.
 Jack Aubry, “Poll shows voters favour winner-take-all system,” Ottawa Citizen, 16 September 2007.
 Dennis Pilon, The Politics of Voting – Reforming Canada’s Electoral System, Emond Montgomery Publications Limited, Toronto, 2007, p. 81. See also: Elections Manitoba, History of Electoral Process from 1870 to 2011.
 Calgary (1916–1961); Edmonton (1922–1928); Regina (1920–1926); Saskatoon (1920–1926); Vancouver (1920–1923); Victoria (1920–1921); Winnipeg (1920–1971). Source: Dennis Pilon, The Politics of Voting – Reforming Canada’s Electoral System, Emond Montgomery Publications Limited, Toronto, 2007, p. 81.
 Calgary, from 1961 to 1973.
 British Columbia’s first electoral reform occurred in 1952, when the governing Liberal-Conservative coalition adopted Alternative Vote (AV) for the 1952 provincial election. AV was used for the second and last time in the provincial election of 1953. With the election of the Social Credit Party, first-past-the-post was reinstated. For more information see: Elections BC, Electoral History of BC.
 The Assembly included 160 eligible voters (80 women and 80 men) chosen from each of British Columbia’s 79 constituencies and 2 Aboriginal representatives.
 Under BC-STV, the province would have gone from 85 single-member ridings to 20 multiple-member ridings, while keeping the same number of MLAs. In this system, each electoral district would have between 2 and 7 seats depending on its population and geographic size, and electors would vote for district representatives by ranking candidates on the ballot. The model avoided the use of party lists, which the Assembly felt might be unpopular with British Columbians. Instead, voters would choose among candidates by name and when ranking candidates, could choose candidates from different parties, thus retaining the maximum amount of freedom in choosing whom to elect.
 ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 31 August 2016, 1425 (Gordon Gibson, as an Individual). Craig Henschel and Diana Byford, who both served on the B.C. Citizens’ Assembly, also expressed their support for the assembly’s process and mandate: ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 27 September 2016, 1520 (Craig Henschel, Member, B.C. Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform); and 1650 (Diana Byford, B.C. Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform).
 Ibid., 1520 (Craig Henschel).
The referendum was set at the same time the assembly was established. But at that time, we didn't know that it was going to be a double 60% supermajority. When we all signed up, we thought it was a usual 50% majority referendum. We were only told about the double 60% several months into our process, and we all just sat there thinking that this proposal was doomed. We didn't think it would work, although we really did like the requirement to get 50% in the different districts. That forced us to make sure we satisfied the requirements and needs of rural voters, which we could have avoided otherwise.
He added at 1545:
I think it's clear to everybody that the double 60% supermajority required was an attempt to stop the reform from happening. It was planned. They had the best intentions when they set up the assembly. Gordon Campbell lost the 1996 election, and I remember that election night. He had the most votes. The Liberals had the most votes and the NDP formed a majority government. He was furious. He said, “Never again.” In the next election, the Liberals won 77 of 79 seats. It was a huge majority and it left no official opposition. We knew in British Columbia that the electoral system just didn't work. It got the wrong answers, and it made governance difficult. There was a unanimous vote in the legislature to set up the assembly, and then they got to thinking that maybe that was not such a good idea.
 Ibid., 1650 (Diana Byford). She stated:
The government had two 60% requirements, which you've also heard about: 60% of the votes cast in favour, and 60% of the ridings at 50% plus one. The results were: votes cast, 57.69%, ridings, 77 out of 79 or 92%, yet it was declared to have failed. My personal opinion is that the Government of B.C. failed the people. I also believe that our success in reaching these numbers came from the fact that this recommended change came from ordinary citizens as opposed to political groups or institutions.
The evidence from the referendum—and we did a fair amount of research after it—was that the large majority of people who voted in the referendum really knew nothing about the issue on which they were voting. People who voted for the referendum voted to adopt the system. I think someone said 58% voted in that referendum in favour. The large majority of people who voted for it were people who knew about the citizens' assembly and who approved of that exercise. What they were really doing was signalling their approval of an initiative that had come from their fellow citizens. They understood that their citizens had spent a year going around the province consulting, thinking about it, and working out a range of alternatives, because they devised an MMP system, an STV system, and a first past the post system. All that the evidence suggests, from the polling we did, was that people who voted for it were really people who knew about the system, but more to the point knew about the citizens' assembly and believed they had done a good job. The majority of people who came to the polls who knew nothing about it essentially voted against it. I think the Evidence, certainly from Ontario, suggests that the large majority who come to these referendums really know nothing about the substantive details of the issue.
 Government of Ontario, Democratic Renewal Secretariat, “McGuinty government moves forward on historic electoral reform initiative,” News release, 27 March 2006. The assembly was made up of 103 members (52 women, 51 men) representing each of Ontario’s constituencies, randomly selected by Elections Ontario from the Permanent Register of Electors for Ontario. See also the website of the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
 Ibid., 1010.
 The Citizens’ Committee that assisted the parliamentary committee, which began its work in November 2005, was made up of four men and four women.
 For more information on the report, see Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec, “Press release No. 2 – Report of the Chief Electoral Officer on the voting system,” 21 December 2007.
 Ibid., 1530 and 1545.
 Ibid., 1605.
 Government of New Brunswick, Executive Council, “Province releases response to Commission on Legislative Democracy report,” News release, 20 June 2006.
 Ibid., 0950.
 Government of New Brunswick, Strengthening New Brunswick’s Democracy – Discussion Paper, July 2016.
 Prince Edward Island Commissioner of Electoral Reform, 2003 Prince Edward Island Electoral Reform Commission Report, p. 98. Note that the terms “referendum” and “plebiscite” are often used interchangeably, sometimes incorrectly. Generally, the intention of a “referendum” is to be binding on government, while a “plebiscite” means a vote that is advisory or consultative. Indeed, what occurred in Prince Edward Island in 2005 was a plebiscite, and was officially noted as such, though the term “referendum” has often been applied to it as well.
 Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, Motion No. 32: Prince Edward Island’s Electoral Future.
 Prince Edward Island, Special Committee on Democratic Renewal, Recommendations in Response to the White Paper on Democratic Renewal: A Plebiscite Question, 15 April 2016.
 Ibid., 1400 (Leonard Russell, Chair, Commission on P.E.I.’s Electoral Future).
 Ibid., 1340 (Jordan Brown).
 Ibid., 1435 (Leonard Russell):
If mixed member proportional is the way your committee thinks, on the strength of everything you've heard, then as a taxpayer, I would expect you to make that recommendation, and not have it somehow get caught up in the conglomerate that exists beyond you, to now try to figure out whether that is one of the options or not. Don't challenge me. Not having heard everything, I have to trust you anyway, so don't challenge me with four or five options that I don't know a whole lot about. I'll trust the committee to do that. I hope you will trust yourselves to do that. I don't know if those who exist beyond you in the House of Commons have that level of trust or not.
 Ibid., 1440:
If the [G]overnment, however committed, is given too many options to choose from, I think the chances of it being addressed in the manner everybody thought it would be are slimmer than if you took one option to them for consideration. Bear with me on that. There's already been a commitment made in this province that the issue will be looked at. If the issue is looked at by Mr. Brown's committee, and a recommendation goes forward, it will be tougher for the [G]overnment not to do something very constructive in the direction being recommended than it would be if it had four or five incremental types of recommendations.
 Ibid., 1345 and 1420 (Jordan Brown):
The e-voting piece is really in response to, as Mr. Russell indicated, the issues that we had in 2005. It's a far cheaper way to conduct a plebiscite. It's a much more engaging way to do it, which is really to say the issues are not as simple as deciding candidate X or candidate Y. You can sit home in front of your computer and take half an hour to read about them and compare one to the other and do some research and make your decision at the end of your research. We felt that was a crucial piece to the e-voting component of it. The time frame is expansive enough that there should really be no excuse. It's over 10 days. If people are away, they might be away for a week, but they're probably not going to be away for 10 days. There are all kinds of different reasons for having an extended time frame, but you can do that if you don't have to pay to have a bum in a seat in a poll for 10 days straight.
 Ibid., 1420.
 In the plebiscite held between 29 October and 7 November voters in P.E.I. were able to rank the following electoral system options in order of preference:
Results were tallied using the Alternative Vote method. To be selected, an option had to receive a majority of the eligible votes cast. As no option garnered a majority on the first count, the option with the fewest first-preference votes (lowest-ranked) was dropped, and the second-preference votes on the ballots where that option ranked first were assigned to the respective remaining options. This process continued until one option, MMP, received the necessary majority.
 Government of PEI, “Statement from Premier MacLauchlan regarding Plebiscite,” 8 November 2016.