I call the meeting to order.
We have three witnesses with us this morning: Professor Henry Milner, from Université de Montréal; Alex Himelfarb, former clerk of the Privy Council; and André Blais, a professor at Université de Montréal.
I'll say a few words about each witness.
Mr. Milner is a research fellow at the University of Montreal, where he holds the research chair in electoral studies, and is co-publisher of Inroads Journal. He has also served as professor of political science at Vanier College in Montreal, at the Université Laval in Quebec City, and at Umeå University in Sweden. He has written extensively on the topics of citizen engagement in democracy and on Quebec nationalism. He is the author of Civic Literacy: How Informed Citizens Make Democracy Work, and The Internet Generation: Engaged Citizens or Political Dropouts.
Mr. Himelfarb, as you all know, started in the Canadian public service in 1981, when he joined the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada. In 1999, he became Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage. In 2002, he was appointed to the dual role of Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. In June 2006, he was appointed ambassador to Italy and high commissioner in the Republic of Malta, and as a permanent representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.
Professor Blais is from Université de Montréal. He was on Parliament Hill in February or March to give a presentation on the various electoral systems.
He is the leader of the Making Electoral Democracy Work project, and the chair of the planning committee of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems program. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a research fellow with the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship,
the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative,
and the Center for Interuniversity Research and Analysis of Organizations. He is also the past president of the Canadian Political Science Association.
Now, without further ado, I'll turn the floor over to you, gentlemen.
We'll start with you, Mr. Milner.
I'm going to give my presentation in English, but I'd be happy to answer any questions you have in French.
I'm really happy to be here. I've been working on this dossier in one way or another for much of my adult life, looking both at Canadian efforts to change the system as well as the way the system works in various European countries, Australia, and New Zealand. I've been an observer at elections in many of these countries, especially Germany and Sweden, and I'd like to share some of my experience with you.
I did prepare a brief, a memoire. In the 10 minutes accorded to me, I can only give highlights from that, but I'll certainly be happy to answer more detailed questions afterwards.
I've had the privilege of testifying before committees of this House, the Senate, and the House of Lords in Britain on fixed election dates and other subjects related to elections. I'm happy that you've all found time during this nice summer to discuss what some people think is a rather dull subject—or so I've been told. I'll try to make it as interesting as possible.
My general position—and it's not new—is that moving toward proportional representation would be an improvement for a country like Canada and most countries, but not necessarily all. We'd have to be very careful, however, about the form of proportional representation we choose and learn from the experience of other countries. Based on that, I've come to favour the position we call MMP, the mixed member proportional or the compensatory system, with the technical details that would be most appropriate for Canada, which I hope to discuss in the question and answer period. It's been discussed and considered in several of our provinces. It came up from the Law Commission.
We now have a lot of experience from different countries about how it works. I'd like to talk more about the concrete experience and less about the theoretical advantages or disadvantages—though clearly, I have some strong views.
I think a proportional system is better for two fundamental reasons. First of all, it's proportional, so the outcome is more fair, given people's views. Second, from the point of view of individuals, compared with our existing system, it gives everybody a greater incentive to participate. Your vote counts as much as everybody else's. Right now, about half of our Canadian districts are generally won by the same party. Very often the polls show that one party is way ahead, so that people in those districts have no good reason to think their vote is going to count. We have long-term data on that. It's more complex and so on, but basically you're more likely to get higher participation rates in a proportional system. Those are the two basic, simple, logical reasons why it's better.
The only possibly negative effect of a proportional representation system is that we will have far more minority or coalition governments, but as I argue in my brief, in a system where people expect such governments, rather than seeing them as exceptional, they actually are more positive. In the brief, I try to show that based on the five criteria that have formed part of the mandate of this commission, proportional representation, specifically the MMP form of it, best conforms to all five criteria.
At the end, I'll explain how MMP works in about 30 seconds, if there's still anybody who doesn't understand it, because it seems so very complicated. But the fundamental, concrete reality of MMP that can't be ignored is that Canadians can say they have an acquired right to having one person represent them in the legislature, and all other proportional systems don't do that.
I don't say it's necessary in principle. We have wonderful different kinds of proportional systems working all over Europe, but in a country where people are used to having one person represent them, and where that form of representation has come to be seen as an acquired right, I'd be reluctant to take it away. I would be prepared to do it if there were no possible system that would give us more proportional results without taking away that particular relationship. However, MMP does that. It's the only one that assures everyone, just like the existing system, that there will be one person in the House of Commons who represents them.
I don't know how much time I have, so I'm just going to take—
Well, that's very nice.
I'll come back to some of the other aspects that I'll now have time to raise, but let me just tell you that if I were talking to someone who didn't know anything about electoral systems except our existing system—in which they know that if they vote for somebody and that person gets more votes than anybody else in the district where they live, that person will be elected—they may think that means that the overall result is proportional to the party support, which it isn't. Very often it is quite distant from that relationship. I think this is televised; I imagine there are many people listening to me who think that.
Let us think of the alternatives. The simplest proportional system, as you know, is to take the whole country, and each party provides a list. If 40% vote for a party, 40% of the seats go to that party. That's the way they do it in the Netherlands. Most countries that use a proportional system use lists, but they're based on regions.
MMP works as follows. As I said, the crucial principle of MMP is that you still have one person in the legislature who represents you. I'll give you a concrete case; I think that's the best way to describe it.
Let's imagine that here we are in Ottawa and let's say that in greater Ottawa there are ten seats in this Parliament. When the election comes, everybody in greater Ottawa has two votes: one for their local representative and one for the party that they prefer. For these 10 seats, the district is divided into six districts—Ottawa West, Ottawa Centre, Ottawa South, Ottawa East, Vanier, and so on.
There are six districts, which would be bigger than the existing districts—perhaps about one-and-a-half times as large, in terms of the number of voters. Those six seats would then be allocated to the person who wins them. Let's say that four of those seats were won by the Liberal candidate, one was won by the Conservative candidate, and one was won by the NDP candidate. We now know where the six seats are.
Now, there are four more, and the four more come from lists submitted by each party. The percentage overall was 40% for the Liberals, 30% for the Conservatives, 20% for the NDP, and 10% for the Greens. The Liberals have won four seats: 40% of ten is four seats, and so the Liberals have the right number of seats. The Conservatives have 30% and have won one seat, and 30% of ten is three, so two from the list go to the Conservatives. The NDP has 20% and it has one seat, so it gets one seat from the list. The Greens, who have no seats but have 10%, also get one seat from the list.
The overall result is proportional. I've made it nice, with rounded numbers. It's never quite so neat, but the basic principle is the same: each party has an exact number of representatives proportional to the support that it has in this district, and everybody has their own MP. Everybody has one person of whom they can say: “I voted for that person. If I have a problem that I need my local representative to deal with, there is that one person who can't say no.”
On the other hand, let's say that there may be some local Greens who basically would like to have had somebody to represent them, but there was nobody elected from their party. Now they do have somebody, and instead of going to their local MP, who might be a Liberal or a Conservative or an NDP, they can go to the Green member from greater Ottawa to bring up their particular concerns.
That's how the system works. There are many aspects to it that I'll be happy to talk to you about. We have the experience from New Zealand, from Scotland, from Germany, and from other countries. We can learn from that experience and apply it to Canada, and that's what I suggest we should do.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear on this important issue.
While I don't have the credentials of my colleagues to the right and left of me, I have been a long-time proponent of electoral reform as a key element of democratic renewal. I recognize that design matters, whatever system one opts for, but I propose to talk more in my introductory remarks at least about the general merits of moving to a more proportional system.
While no electoral system is perfect, I believe the comparative evidence is strong that a more proportional system increases democratic participation and knowledge and trust in our political institutions. Since most democracies have now adopted some form of proportional representation, there is no shortage of evidence, although admittedly some of the evidence is ambiguous, such as that on turnout.
The choice between a winner-take-all system such as ours and a proportional system is often characterized as a choice between local accountability and better representativeness. In fact, however, we can and should choose a system that provides both. Of the many commissions in Canada that have examined electoral reform—and there have been many—all have recommended greater proportionality, and all have proposed systems that at the same time maintain local representation.
In a federation such as Canada, it is inconceivable that our electoral system not include local representation. From where I sit, that means some version of either single transferable vote or mixed member proportionality. Indeed, either approach not only ensures that the outcome of elections more closely reflects how people voted, but arguably, also strengthens local representation. In either system, every citizen has more than one representative and is far more likely to find one who shares his or her values and interests. And because every vote matters to the outcome, no riding can be taken for granted because it is safe or be ignored because it is out of reach. Because every vote matters, in that sense, every riding matters. There would be no more undue focus on swing ridings; no more so-called strategic voting where voters feel forced to chose the least bad option because their preferred candidate could never win in our current system; no more staying home because we think our vote cannot make a difference to the outcome.
With either system, no longer would we risk entire regions being shut out of government, as has happened on a number of occasions under our current approach. That means better representation, better and more regionally sensitive government, and stronger national cohesion and unity.
Yes, single party majorities, though not impossible, would be more difficult. But majorities would have greater legitimacy because they would actually represent a majority of voters, and from every part of the country. Caucuses would be stronger because they would be more diverse. Parliamentary co-operation would be the norm. Who knows, that might even mean less polarized and adversarial politics. And coalition governments can, the evidence shows, provide good stable government without the policy lurches that our current system too often leads to.
The evidence suggests that concerns about the proliferation of small parties in Parliament are exaggerated. And depending on design, it can be quite hard for so-called fringe parties to get in. In any case, one of the main benefits of a more proportional system is that it does indeed capture a greater diversity of views. And most important, in our current context in particular, PR makes it virtually impossible for a party that the majority sees as extreme ever to take majority control of the government.
I know, too, that some worry about versions of PR in which some members of Parliament would be selected by the party rather then the electorate—that is, selected from a party-constructed list. This need not be the case. Indeed, although I don't propose to opt for one system or another, I think it's important that whatever system is adopted, voters rather than parties alone determine the ordering of candidates. In the lexicon, I think that means a preference to open lists, if there are lists. Of course, how candidates are selected in the first place is an issue in our current system. These are questions independent of the electoral system we adopt. How open is the process for selecting candidates? How much is it controlled locally or centrally?
Clearly the choice of an electoral system will not address all the issues we may have. The electoral system is the beginning of democratic reform, and surely is not the end of democratic reform. However, a more proportional system would be a major step towards a stronger, more engaged, and trusted democracy. In a representative democracy, representativeness ought to count, especially in a diverse country like Canada.
Thank you. As I know I have very little time, I'll try to be very quick and to the point.
In your deliberation about whether to reform the existing electoral system, you will have to address two questions: the first, what will be the likely consequences of a new system, and, second, are these consequences good or bad for the country?
As a scientist, I can address the first question, and this is what I will do in the next few minutes. I have personal views about the consequences, which ones are good and bad, but I believe that my main contribution should be to tell you what empirical research tells us about the consequences of voting systems.
I will tell you about four empirical studies that I have conducted with other colleagues, each dealing with potential consequences of voting systems. My challenge is to present four of my studies, which are all very complex, and rich, and so on, in 10 minutes. That is two minutes per study. I'll be sweet and short.
The studies about the consequences of proportional representation consist in a comparison of what we have observed in places with PR, proportional representation, and in places under non-proportional systems, which are sometimes called majoritarian. The differences that we observe can result from causes other than the voting system, and these studies attempt to take into account these other factors, and to control for them. However, we are never sure that we have taken into account all of the significant factors, and thus we are never absolutely certain about our conclusions. This will be taken into account.
Furthermore, these studies do not tell us about the specific consequences of specific forms of PR. Still, I would argue that the most important decision you have to make is whether to adopt some form of PR or not. It is thus important to look at what the international comparative evidence tells us, so hopefully you will find these studies helpful.
The research I present deals with the first two principles for electoral reform that have been established by the committee: one, effectiveness and legitimacy; and second, engagement.
The first study is about whether turnout tends to be higher under PR. A study published with Agnieszka Dobrzynska in the European Journal of Political Research deals with turnout in lower house elections, a total of 324 elections in 91 countries.
The dependent variable, what one can explain, is turnout. We consider about a dozen factors that could effect turnout: GDP per capita, illiteracy, population size, and so on. For the voting system, we compare PR with non-PR elections, and we also look at the degree of disproportionality of the voting system, the difference in vote and seat shares for the parties.
We estimate the independent impact of each factor, controlling for all the others. Our finding for PR turnout, everything else being equal, is that it is three percentage points higher under PR. This study suggests that the adoption of PR might slightly increase turnout.
The second study is about whether there is less strategic voting under PR. The study was conducted with Thomas Gschwend from the University of Mannheim, and it deals with strategic desertion, which is defined as not voting for one's preferred party or leader.
The data is from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, a series of academic election surveys conducted in 25 democracies. All of these studies include questions about how much each respondent likes or dislikes each of the parties and leaders and which party they voted for. In each survey, we determined how many respondents voted for a party or leader that is not their preferred one. The mean in all of these 25 elections is 22%.
We then compare the proportion of strategic defection in PR and non-PR elections—22% versus 21%—there was no difference. The correlation between defection and the degree of disproportionality is nil. Multivariate analysis confirmed the same result: there is no relationship between PR and strategic defection.
Our conclusion to this study indicates that the adoption of PR is unlikely to reduce strategic voting.
The third study is about whether citizens have more positive evaluations of democracy under PR. This was a study with Peter Loewen, who was a student in Montreal and is now a member at University of Toronto, published in a book by Oxford University Press. The data again is from CSES, a group of academic studies and surveys conducted by academics in 20 different elections across the world.
Again, the dependent variable to explain is basically attitudes about democracy. We have three kinds of attitudes. First is satisfaction with democracy. How satisfied are you with the way democracy works in your country? The second is perceptions of fairness. How fairly or unfairly was the election conducted? The third is perceptions of responsiveness, with a battery of three questions. How much do MPs know about ordinary people in your country; how much do parties care about ordinary people; and how much difference does it make who is in power?
The independent variables, the explanatory factors, include the degree of disproportionality, the degree of democracy, and human development.
The findings are that more proportional systems are clearly perceived to be fairer; they are perceived to be just a little bit more responsive; and people are not more satisfied overall under PR. This study suggests that if PR is adopted, elections are likely to be perceived to be fairer, but it is unlikely that people will be more satisfied overall.
The fourth study is about whether PR produces governments that better represent citizens' ideological orientations. It is a study by Marc André Bodet, a student at UDM at the time, and now at Laval University.
The variable to be explained is what we call “ideological congruence”, which is basically the absence of distance between citizens and government on a left-right ideological self-placement. The respondents have to locate themselves on a scale of 0 to 10, where zero is far left and 10 is far right. They can locate themselves wherever they want, and then they also locate each of the parties on that same scale. So we have an ideological placement for each of the respondents, and also the median perception of each of the parties, meaning where the parties are on that left-right scale.
We look at the distance between each citizen and the government. Of course, if you want representation, we hope that the distance will be as small as possible. The distance is what we try to explain. The explanatory factors are the degree of disproportionality, plus whether it's a new or old democracy.
The finding is that there is no more or less congruence overall under PR. PR does not produce greater or weaker correspondence between the voter and government ideological orientation. PR does not reduce the mean distance between citizens and government, but it does produce a parliament that better represents the diversity of ideological orientations. Similar results have been reported by a few other studies.
I have five conclusions from these four studies. First, the introduction of PR might slightly increase turnout; second, it would almost certainly enhance the correspondence between the distribution of ideological orientations in the electorate and in the House of Commons; third, it would almost certainly enhance voters' evaluations of the fairness of elections; fourth, it would almost certainly not reduce strategic voting; and fifth, it is very unlikely to make Canadians more satisfied overall.
That's a long question, but let me just get to the central aspect, which I think is what sort of regions it's based on.
In Germany, they started with the basic principle that each province, each land, would be a region. Therefore, if you had 75 seats in the Bundestag from a particular land, there would be 75 representatives in the Bundestag from that district, and half would be from districts and the other half would be from a list of the entire land.
The New Zealanders basically accepted this principle and applied it to the whole country, which is smaller than most of the German provinces. The Scots decided that there should be regions, even though Scotland is not very big. So there are, I don't remember how many regions, but each one has 16 members, nine elected from the district, and seven from lists.
So I think there has been a bit of a progression in that. What we would do in Canada, given that we're much bigger and the density of the population can vary significantly, is that we should take the Scottish idea. We should base it on regions, but there's no reason that each region has to have the same number of total seats.
Thank you to our witnesses.
One of the problems we are faced with is a practical matter. We get five minutes, and I feel the same frustration from my end, Mr. Milner, that you felt from yours when you learned you had three minutes left to wrap everything up.
I'm going to be directing my one question to you specifically on the theory that it's better to get a full answer from one person than to try to parcel it out between you.
Professor Milner, in your presentation you specifically make reference to one of the five criteria set out for this committee's report. It's specifically that we are to look for systems that “foster greater civility and collaboration among parties”. That is a quote from your brief, and that is actually part of our mandate.
I'll just point out that the Prime Minister has stated, I think inaccurately, that proportional representation—I think here his target was MMP, given that nobody is actually suggesting pure proportionality for Canada—actually causes division and confrontation. He says that “The problem with proportional representation is that every different model of proportional representation actually increases partisanship, not reduces it.” He goes on to say that “Too many people don’t understand the polarization and the micro issues that come through proportional representation.”
Everything you say indicates that you would disagree with that. I wonder if you could elaborate on whether he has it right and, if he has it wrong, what it is that makes PR, and particularly the MMP model, resolve or deal with the problem he is raising.
Well, there are really two aspects, and I'm not sure which one the was focusing on.
One is disagreement over issues, or we might even call it polarization. I suspect that, when you have proportional systems with more views entering the Parliament rather than being excluded because they don't get enough votes in any particular district to get elected, then there will be more disagreement.
What I'm focusing on is the second aspect, which is how that disagreement finds its way into discussion and ultimately into some kind of compromise or legislation.
The experience of proportional countries that I've been looking at for many years is basically that you don't have the kind of very confrontational attitudes, or you have far less of it, than you have, for example, in the British House of Commons or the Canadian House of Commons. So yes, there may be more disagreement, but I think the system basically says, “Okay, you express your disagreement, but since there is no majority government that could impose its will any time it feels it can, you're going to have to find some kind of compromise and some way of working out your disagreements.”
I don't know where Mr. Trudeau stands on that, but for me, the experience is very clear.
I'd rather not discuss Quebec, since the purpose of our meeting today is to discuss Canada. Nevertheless, the same issues come up, and regional size does indeed become an important consideration.
We need to look at the 15- to 20-year period in Quebec when the Bloc Québécois was very powerful, or fairly powerful, on the federal stage. In my view, Quebec's regions would have been better served under another system, even those where the Bloc won all the seats with half the votes or those where the Liberals won all the seats with 60% of the votes. Had the regions not been represented by a single party, they would have been better served. When the Bloc members were in the House of Commons, their positions were more partisan than regional. At least, the partisan aspect was more visible than the regional one.
As I see it, fiercely nationalist regions would have been better represented in the House of Commons if, instead of having seven Bloc Québécois MPs, they had had five plus one Conservative MP and one Liberal MP. By the same token, the province's fiercely federalist regions would have been better served if, rather than having only Liberal MPs, they had had a few representatives of other political stripes. As far as Quebec is concerned, that would have been better.
My preference is a system that reduces partisanship at the regional level. I'm not talking about the provincial level. I'm referring to large provinces with smaller regions. That plays an important role. Since Quebec is in a different boat, the outcome would be unique to the province.
In fact, there are two questions: AV versus first past the post, and then AV versus PR. The question of whether it is proportional.... It's not a proportional system, so I'll just address the first question, which is AV versus first past the post.
It's a single-member district, so it's very similar. The differences are not big. The only difference is, of course, that you rank-order your preferences, and a candidate has to receive a majority of support in their first vote or second vote or third vote. The major difference is that a party or candidate that is the second choice of many people gets more support and is more likely to win.
There have been some simulations. Basically, the system is not too different from first past the post, but a party that is the second choice of many would get more seats. That would be the biggest difference. It's up to you to decide which is the party that is the second choice in a given context, and then you'll see which party is most likely to be favoured at a given point in time.
That's the main difference. It's more legitimate, in the sense that every candidate who is elected gets at least 50% of the vote. In my view, that's more legitimate. It is still not proportional and so on in many different aspects, but it is, in my view, more acceptable.
I'd also like to thank my colleague Mr. Kenney.
Welcome to your Parliament, gentlemen.
The good thing about this week's exercise is that it gives us the opportunity to hear a range of views. We get to hear everyone's opinion. The views expressed by the bevy of distinguished witnesses here this morning all seem to converge, which is fascinating. It also speaks to the democratic nature of the debate going on here.
You all had very positive things to say about the proportional system, which would help prevent some of the discrepancies that can occur in some regions, and that makes sense.
Now I'd like you to comment on the role MPs play vis-à-vis their constituents.
I have been active in politics for eight years. I was directly elected in a single riding four times. I'd like to thank the people in the provincial riding of Chauveau and those in the federal riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, for that matter. I can say from experience that a relationship develops between an elected representative and their constituents, perhaps not quite a fondness but, rather, a trust.
I can't speak for everyone, but I think all would agree. We represent all of our constituents, even those who didn't vote for us. In fact, that may be even truer for those who didn't vote for us, so that they have a better understanding of our plans the next time around.
I'll never forget the first constituent I met in December 2008, in my constituency office on Racine Street. I'll call him Mr. Smith. He told me he hadn't voted for me—what a great way to start off my career. I told him he wasn't the only one but that we were going to work together, and that's what we did.
That's the beauty of the direct representation our current system offers. I'm not saying it's perfect, far from it. But no system is perfect. No matter what, a representative who is directly elected in a riding represents all the constituents in that riding. Weekends and evenings, we meet people at social and charitable events, and we support them. Regardless of political stripe, we have a close relationship with the people in our riding.
In 2012, the provincial electoral boundaries changed, and I lost two towns in my riding, Shannon and Valcartier, which had not voted for me, by the way. I was extremely saddened, not because I was losing people who hadn't supported me, but because, like it or not, I had formed an attachment to the people after four years. Those discussions—those interactions—play a role in how we think about policy, even though we are bound by party lines and have to stand up for the platforms we were elected on.
I'd like to know where all three of you stand on this.
In a proportional system, when the list is long, how can the elected member maintain that same closeness with their constituents? Let's flip the question. How can a constituent have that same close relationship with their elected representative, when that representative is swallowed up by the whole, as opposed to that constituent having voted directly for a single candidate in a riding?
That's the one area where I have not actually come down on a clear position. I know that people who are in favour of reform toward an MMP style tend to favour open lists, and I can understand why. It basically says this. Why should you be required to do what the party wants you to do? Why not do what you want to do?
On the other hand, we should also know that parties in their choice of whom to place on a list tend to be bringing in certain priorities—for example, under-represented groups, women, and so on—and those are not irrelevant. In addition, we should also not— and I want to say this carefully—assume that voters really want to be given so much choice. In some cases it will probably discourage them.
Many voters have limited choice. They know which party they like and they can probably also either vote for the local candidate who is from that party or perhaps they have some reason to support a different local candidate. But to assume that they are capable of choosing within a list of people who may not be very local, who may be in part of their region, but the region could be somewhat larger, and to expect them to make that choice, I'm not sure that's entirely desirable.
I don't have a problem with what we call closed lists. That's what they do in the countries that use MMP. Remember, the maximum list size we're talking about now is five or six, because I don't think we want any regional districts with greater than a dozen or 13 total seats. So the number of names coming from the list will never be more than five or six, and we have to remember that. That's the secondary part of the system.
People who've gone to these countries, like Germany, say the real emphasis is on the local MP. That's the one the emphasis is on. Typically, people who are elected from the list, if there's a vacancy in their local districts, will try to get elected in the local district. That's where the emphasis should be. So I do not insist that voters should be able to choose from the names of a regional list, but this is a relatively secondary discussion on which there are good arguments on both sides.
I want to thank the witnesses for joining us today.
I have a question about the decisions Canadians made regarding electoral reform. As you know, four provinces put forward electoral reforms. In three of those provinces—British Columbia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island—voters flatly rejected those changes.
As mentioned yesterday, in 1959 and in 1968, Irish governments proposed changes to the electoral system that would have benefited the parties in power, but the electorate rejected those changes in referendums.
Yesterday, experts from New Zealand told us they held two referendums before adopting their current system. A third was held to give voters an opportunity to reconsider their decision.
A witness also told us yesterday that was a constitutional convention, according to the Jennings test. Peter Russell said we shouldn't talk about constitutional conventions or such abstract notions because of the obligation to ensure democratic legitimacy by giving voters the opportunity to judge their electoral system. That's not up to politicians but, rather, voters.
My question is for all three witnesses.
What is your take on Professor Russell's view and on this convention that exists in Canada?
Mr. Milner, earlier I talked about Quebec's geopolitical situation, being very familiar with it. I said that the devil was in the details and that agreement on the need for a compensatory mixed member proportional voting system simply wasn't enough to settle the issue.
Asking questions about the process strikes me as fundamentally necessary. I'm glad to see that, unlike some of the witnesses we've heard from, Mr. Blais believes a referendum has to be held.
When our mandate got under way, those in favour of a referendum were painted as people who wanted to stand in the way of change, but I think that was a mistake.
The process matters. In Quebec, we had a draft bill, a very concrete proposal. We travelled all over the province, and that gave us an opportunity to see the real problems in every region of the province. It didn't lead to a transformation because the government of the day wasn't interested in letting the public decide the issue.
Some witnesses claim that people aren't familiar with the issue, that it doesn't interest them. Therefore, they argue that, as agents of a representative democracy, we have all the legitimacy needed to push ahead. The executive branch says last fall's federal election was the last to be conducted under the current voting system. The minister says that the system has to change but that holding a referendum is out of the question. In a nutshell, we are off to a bad start when it comes to doing things the right way.
We have just a few weeks to consult the entire population of a country as vast as Canada. Wouldn't it be much less reckless and more realistic to, instead, come up with a draft legislative proposal, open it up to consultation, and then ask Canadians to decide in a referendum during the next election? That would prevent this current exercise from ending in failure, would it not?
I'd like to follow up on that.
Doctor, you've been quoted as saying that whether a referendum is deemed essential or not, what's most essential is what comes before that referendum. Of course, this is a part of what could possibly come before.
We have another leg of this committee's work that will involve engaging people across the country. One of the values that we were talking about that we hold dear is fairness. One of the mandates of this committee is also to engage those who have been disengaged for some time. Inclusivity and accessibility are what we are trying to achieve.
Do you have any ideas—and this can go out to all of you—about how we can enhance the work of this committee and really reach out to those people?
Regardless of what we do, we want to make sure we have complete engagement in the voter turnout. Also, as my colleague was saying, we have representatives who represent this country. I come from a minority group and I'm also a woman, but some of these things could start becoming one-offs. I heard a statistic on the news yesterday after watching the Democratic Party convention in the United States that something like 80 countries have elected women as the leaders of their country, but those were all one-offs. Only under five of those countries have ever done it again.
How can we improve the system so that we're not just having a couple of years here and there where we have great representation, but make it something that we hold as a value going forward? Engagement is definitely important for this committee. How do we improve on that?
I'm going to go to present a couple of comments from Twitter. The first one is from Sebastian Muermann, who says, “Going forward, process of elimination for what is NOT going to work in Canada will be a good tool for [our group and] will allow us to move forward”. Indeed, we've heard that we may need to find a smaller number of items to take to Canadians instead of this huge shopping list. Another person, Ken S., has posted on Twitter, “#redherring”, and noted there are some that we shouldn't be looking at.
In my mind, I'm not quite ready to start throwing out options. I'm still a bit higher up. I came across a quote from Professor Milner, from an article in late January, that indicated that we need to be identifying principles to move forward, that this ought to be paramount. From Mr. DeCourcey we had started to talk about values, and we heard that fairness is one of those values. In response to Mr. Cullen's questioning, Mr. Himelfarb said that we need to have principles.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on what these principles should be. Ultimately, who should help us define them? Canadians are going to have to buy into this, the principles that will guide us moving forward, which from there will help inform this handful of systems that we take forward and the ones that we throw out.
I put to each of the panellists: what principles would you give to us, and how else do we get those from Canadians? We've heard that we need to have a system that's designed in Canada to meet our unique needs, and to me, the principles are a key part of that.
I'll throw it out to each of you: what are those principles? Who else should be identifying those principles? Your thoughts would be appreciated.
No, you expressed your view, and I gave you the time to do so. The practitioner in me expressed his view as well. I feel I have some moral authority in this area given that I was duly elected four times by voters. So I know what it means to work directly with the people.
Often, I have people from other ridings coming to see me, or I refer them to colleagues because they have certain things in common. Fundamentally, we, the 338 members of the House of Commons, are the representatives of our ridings and, above all, the people in those ridings.
Mr. Blais, you said earlier that you would like all the parties to support a referendum and to come to an agreement if it led to change. In fact, you mentioned my party by name, the Conservative Party.
Mr. Blais, I can assure you and all Canadians following us right now of one thing. If, by chance, a referendum is held—something we strongly support—and the outcome is in favour of change, we will accept it. Our democracy does not work on a sliding scale. We can't be in favour of a decision and hold a referendum or, like some, claim it's not worth holding a referendum because the proposal won't be accepted. That's what I call democracy on a sliding scale.
In a democracy, we must consult the people and trust the will of the people. Who are we to say we won't bother holding a referendum because the public won't be on our side? That's a rather high-handed attitude.
In the short time we have left, Mr. Blais, I'd like you to speak to us about alternative, or preferential, voting.
I've been accused sometimes of being very direct, so I'll apologize in advance.
We've been listening to testimony now over the course of the last few weeks, and I think we can all agree that there is no perfect electoral system. We all have heard this multiple times.
We have been given a mandate with specific guiding principles, including effectiveness and legitimacy, engagement, accessibility and inclusiveness, integrity, and local representation. These are the guiding principles that this committee has been tasked with. We've been tasked to identify tactics that will address all of these guiding principles, as well as an alternative voting system. I don't think an alternative voting system will address all of these issues. In a perfect world, it would. It does not.
We've heard today that there may be a 3% increase in turnout should we move to a PR system. We've heard that it would not significantly change voter satisfaction. We've heard pros and cons for various voting systems, and today we heard a lot about the positive aspects of PR.
I'd like to flip it on its head and ask if you could give us some of the challenges, some of the negative aspects, of PR, given these guiding principles, which I believe were sent to you. If you could elaborate a little on these, it would be helpful.
We're trying to identify what won't work for Canada, and I'd like to hear both sides of that story.
Let me just finish what I had to say.
We have experience from some countries and could say that in some, you have coalitions that tend to be repeated, with the same parties tending to be in government. You have grand coalitions, which some people think is a good idea, like in Finland where the parties generally work together. In Germany, it often happens. You could say, well, that's unfortunate because we really need a strong opposition and so on.
There are a whole number of things we can look at in countries with proportional representation and ask whether these things are what we want. My answer would be that if we don't want them, we can probably build into the system certain ways of their not likely happening.
I want to add one other point, since this is going to be my last chance. Looking to the experts who were consulted on this, some 169 electoral experts in different countries—I have the numbers in front of me—basically 75% to 80% of them prefer a proportional system, and of that number, more than half prefer MMP. These are the experts.
Now you may say that we're biased and so on, but that is the factor to keep in mind. Countries, given the choice, have taken proportional systems, and experts, given the choice, have preferred proportional systems, and within that have preferred MMP.