Good afternoon to all committee members.
Welcome to all the witnesses here this afternoon.
We welcome Leslie Seidle, Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community. We welcome, as individuals, Larry LeDuc, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, and Hugo Cyr, Dean, Faculty of Political Science and Law at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
I will briefly touch on the witnesses' credentials.
Professor Leslie Seidle is research director for the Canada's changing federal community program at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and a public policy consultant. He was also senior research coordinator for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, and is author of Rethinking the Delivery of Public Services to Citizens and numerous articles on immigration issues, electoral and constitutional reform, public management, and political finance.
Professor Larry LeDuc, as I mentioned, is professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. His publications include Comparing Democracies, Dynasties and Interludes, The Politics of Direct Democracy, Absent Mandate, How Voters Change, and Political Choice in Canada, as well as numerous book chapters and articles in journals such as Electoral Studies, Party Politics, Political Science, and Canadian Journal of Political Science.
Dean Hugo Cyr is a member of the centre of interdisciplinary research on diversity and democracy, of the Quebec association of constitutional law, and of the UNESCO chair for the study of the philosophical foundations of justice in democratic society. He was a visiting scholar at the European Academy of Legal Theory in Brussels and has served as legal aid with the Honourable Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada.
So I think we're going to have a very interesting, stimulating, and rich discussion this afternoon. I believe our witnesses have 10 minutes each, and then what we typically do is have two rounds of questions in which every member around the table gets to ask a question and you get to answer for five minutes. So the Q and A for each member is five minutes, and then we do a second round in the same format.
Without further ado, we'll start with Mr. Seidle.
I would like to thank the committee for their kind invitation to contribute to their important work. I can see that you are working hard this summer.
I will start by saying a few words about the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Founded in 1972, the Institute is a national independent, bilingual, nonprofit organization. Although it publishes studies recommending changes to public policy, it does not issue opinions on such issues.
In that respect, the comments I will be making today are mine alone and do not constitute a position taken by the IRPP.
Before I address some of this committee's mandate, I want to express a concern about a broad question that is not addressed in the mandate, namely, what is the overall objective that a new federal voting system would serve? What is the problem that is meant to be rectified? Put another way, how would Canada's democratic life be changed, one assumes for the better, by replacing the present voting system with another? To me this question hasn't been answered and I think it's front and centre in the work you have in front of you.
If you look a little further for an answer, you find in the Liberal Party platform from last year three sentences on electoral reform, one of which is the commitment that the next election will be the last one under the present electoral system. There's a heading before that sentence and it says “We will make every vote count”. This doesn't take us very far.
The Minister of Democratic Institutions has referred to the present voting system as “antiquated”. By this I assume she means it is no longer suitable for the purpose, rather like a piece of furniture that no longer goes with new decor in a room. But what is the purpose that the word “antiquated” is being linked to? Although political institutions need to be adapted to changing circumstances and we have done this in Canada in many ways, including through our federal arrangements, I believe they should be assessed on criteria other than age. After all, continuity and stability are important virtues in democratic arrangements.
Now turning to your terms of reference, you are asked to study viable alternate voting systems to replace the present system and “to assess the extent to which the options identified could advance” the principles for electoral reform that are enumerated in the terms of reference. When I read them over, it seemed to me—and I concluded this quite quickly—a logical impossibility for your committee to identify one alternative system that would serve all the principles equally well.
But maybe you're not working to that end. After all, your terms of reference referred to options with an “s”, not a single option. This leads me to my first main point today, that there's a need to prioritize the principles that alternative electoral systems are meant to serve. If you present one alternative, you should know what that alternative is meaning to do. If you present more than one, the same argument follows for the other systems.
I'm not going to prioritize those principles for you, I don't have time to do that. I'm going to engage in a more modest exercise today that begins by choosing—and rewording slightly—two of them that, in my view, should be given high priority. The first one is strengthening the representation and inclusion of Canada's diversity. The second is encouraging voter choice and participation.
The first one concerns in part representation of various groups within Canadian society. I'm not talking about party representation here, because I know that my colleague will be covering that and you've heard from, or will be hearing from, various people like Henry Milner and Dennis Pilon. But the representation of groups is not a mere counting exercise. We look and we see how many visible minorities have been elected in comparison to the population: that's valid. Why do we do that? We do it because as the composition of a decision-making body changes, so do the decisions. If we value responsiveness in decision-making, we should be concerned when certain groups are not well represented in our legislatures.
Let's start with women and see how well they fare in this House and other legislatures elected under different systems. You have two tables that have been handed out and if you look at the first one, I'll make a few points.
The first table is about gender representation. We see that in the four countries with majoritarian systems—Canada, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Australia—there is no example in which women represent even one-third of the members of the lower house, so they're not doing very well there.
In proportional and mixed systems, only a few of which I've included here, women are often better represented, sometimes significantly so, as in Sweden where 44% of the national Parliament are female. However, this is not always the case.
I've put in Hungary. Hungary is a democracy. It's having some problems at the moment, but nevertheless it's part of the European Union, and it was once a vigorous democracy before it was part of the Communist bloc, and so on. In Hungary only 10% of the members are women, and there's a proportional system in Hungary as well.
Taking the single transferable vote, there is only one major country that uses that for its lower house, Ireland, and women count for 22% there, a bit lower than the rate in Canada and a bit higher than in the U.S.
Now, turning to the second table that I handed out, but still on the principle of representation and inclusion, here I've provided data on racial and indigenous minorities in the four oldest Westminster-type democracies and the U.S. We can't look at PR systems in the same kind of detail, mostly because either we don't have data, as in the case of France, or there are no indigenous peoples, or they're almost not significant, or they're not measured, so I have taken countries mostly like ours.
In Canada, visible minorities are now quite well represented, with 14% of MPS compared with 19% of the population. That's from the 2011 National Household Survey.
This is considerably better than the case in the U.K. where non-whites are 13% of the population but have only 6% of House seats. In Australia the contrast is even sharper, although the measure is a little different. Some 28% of the population was born outside of the country. Now, a large share of these people are non-white, because of the source countries for Australian immigration. Following the 2013 election—we don't yet have data for the last one—only 9% of MPs were born outside Australia, so there is an almost 1:3 ratio there.
Looking at indigenous peoples, we have three examples. In New Zealand we have the Maori, who are now 14% of the population but have 18% of the seats in the House of Representatives. This is partly because there are designated seats in New Zealand for the Maori. There are at the moment seven of those seats.
In Australia there is only one indigenous member, and that member was elected in 2013. In fact, this was the first aboriginal ever elected as a member of the Australian House of Representatives.
In Canada, with which I'm sure you're familiar, we're doing relatively well, though still not comparably with the population, which is 4.3% indigenous, and 3% of the House are now indigenous members. There has been progress, as there has with visible minorities. There was significant progress between the 2011 election and the very latest one.
What does what I've just run through tell us?
First of all, and this is the first of the two additional main points I want to leave with you, voting systems are not determinist. They are not a set of gears that turn one way, and they are not always going to give you the same result when you put in the same kinds of input as you would in a factory. Just to take one example, we see that PR is often associated with better representation of women, but this is not automatic. I'll have a word about that when I conclude.
Secondly—and this one I really want to emphasize—political parties' rules and commitments, particularly at the candidate nomination stage, have an important influence on the representation of diversity, including representation of women. In Sweden, parties have for a long time placed a premium on nominating women. Some of them have voluntary quotas, and they place them relatively high on their lists, and therefore they are represented almost in parity in the Swedish Parliament.
This is a better result than happens in some other countries, because in those other countries often women are not placed as high on the list, and the result is not as favourable, all other things being equal.
Turning to the racial and indigenous minorities, we don't have as large a sample to draw on, but there's a point about our own system that needs to be remembered there, which is that we have moved in Canada, under a system which is antiquated, according to one person, and maybe some other people, to a stage where racial and indigenous minorities, visible minorities, are represented almost in relation to their share of the population. Our system doesn't do that badly. We don't do as well on women. One of the main reasons that this happened is that the parties, particularly the Liberal Party, and the NDP also, put up greater numbers of candidates from visible minorities and from indigenous backgrounds.
I'm going to conclude with just a short comment on the other principle that I mentioned, encouraging voter choice and participation. This is a huge area, but I'll just make a few points.
The alternative vote, as in Australia—I assume you know what these are all about, so I won't explain them—allows voters to rank candidates, but there's only one candidate per party. In some ways you have a little more choice because you're doing a ranking as opposed to just putting one “x”, so it gets a few points on choice.
Thank you to members of the committee for inviting me here today.
I was trying to decide how to start, particularly in a 10-minute beginning. I was going to start by saying that I think it's very unlikely that electoral reform will happen in Canada. And then I thought that was too pessimistic a note to begin on, given all your hard work on this topic, and also because I'm a reformer. I would like to see it happen, but I'm very pessimistic about the prospects.
I thought instead that I'll be slightly more cheerful and simply emphasize that it is really difficult to accomplish, in almost any jurisdiction. It isn't a Canadian problem. It's the problem that you run into when you're trying to change an institution like an electoral system that people have grown up with and are accustomed to.
Whenever I make this argument to students or to others in the course of the various debates in Canada, someone always brings up New Zealand. They say that New Zealand did it, why can't we? I'm always happy when they bring up New Zealand because usually they know a bit about New Zealand, but not very much.
In New Zealand, it's important for us to know what they did and how they did it. It is a case study on electoral reform because they actually accomplished it. It took them nine years. It began with a government that came to power. The new prime minister boldly announced the end of “first past the post”. Then nine years later, after three elections, a royal commission, a parliamentary committee, and two referendums on the topic, they accomplished it. If you guys are in for the long haul, then it's possible that you might be able to follow the New Zealand track, as long as you can identify its various twists and turns along the way. But New Zealand doesn't show us how easy it is to reform a first past the post system that's been well established; it shows us how hard it is.
I'll come back to New Zealand later maybe in the Q and A because there are a couple of lessons we can take from New Zealand besides the sheer pessimism. Those lessons are about the process. Someone is sure to ask me about a referendum, for example. We can look at how the referendums fit into the New Zealand process and what they accomplished or didn't accomplish.
We can also look at Japan, but I don't have the time today to talk a lot about Japan. Japan is the other major democracy that did accomplish electoral reform. It took them 20 years, not just only nine years. The debate in Japan began in 1973, and 20 years later in 1993 they got it done. The process was very different from New Zealand. It took place solely within the parliament and solely via bargaining among the various political parties. A watershed election broke the grip of the LDP on Japanese politics in the early 1990s. The LDP government was succeeded by a seven-party coalition. That seven-party coalition essentially became the vehicle for accomplishing electoral reform, but only after they were able to secure the agreement of all seven parties. It was a long, difficult, complicated drive to consensus. They also got it done using a different process.
I could also talk about some of the provincial cases in Canada. Those are cases of failure, by and large, where they started out on an optimistic note and then ended up not being able to accomplish the reforms. Just mentioning these cases leads me to one of the major points that I want to make in my presentation and discussion today, which is to emphasize process over substance, especially at the stage that this committee is at in its deliberations.
There's a tendency in electoral reform debates—and I've seen this many times—for people to start with the system that they like or think they like. They say, ”Oh, STV, that's pretty good” or “Maybe we should have PR” or “What about MMP? It works nicely in Germany.” They're attracted to a model because they know something about that model and its virtues, and then they try to develop a process that would get you there, and the preference drives the process. So people will say, “Well, this one might sell” or “We might be able to get there by doing X and Y.”
I think it should be the other way around. I think if you start with process and don't get trapped into discussing too much the virtues and vices of various models, particularly models in other countries, you have a better chance of success.
I think this committee, to its credit, has already to some degree started that way, first because of the representation on the committee and second because of the enunciation of the principles on which your discussion is based. I suspect, however, that lurking in the background is a preference among many people for a particular system and a tendency to gravitate toward that discussion or at least to gravitate there too quickly. You're going to end up there eventually, of course, but that's not where we need to be. If we could get consensus on a process, then we could use that process to build consensus on reform. It's much harder to do it the other way around. I think that's one of the things the Japanese case tells us.
That brings me to the point on which I want to conclude, which is simply a restatement of what my colleague Peter Russell said to the committee yesterday, and that is that the basic principle of an electoral system should be to reflect the voices of the voters as expressed in the election. That's the core principle. It's also the core principle of democracy, and I thought he stated that principle very well.
We're often looking for electoral systems to do a lot more than that: we're trying to second-guess what the voters want or think they want or what their votes mean. But if the election gives you a reading on what the voters have chosen or what their thinking is at the time of the election and a system can then efficiently translate those voices into representation in the Parliament, an election then is not just a one-day affair that chooses a government; it is a continuing process by which the voices of those voters continue to be reflected in the representative process.
That's the principle I would stress the most, and it's partly why I will try to make a case, which I do in my brief—and I'm not going to talk about the brief in this opening presentation, but I will be happy to talk about it later—for list PR: I believe that list PR is the system that most efficiently performs that core task of an electoral system; also because it is the most widely used electoral system in the world and therefore we ought to take a look at it. Why start with hybrid models or models that are not used in very many places?
Every time I get involved in one of these debates, I hear a lot about STV, for example. It seems to be a fascination of certain of my academic colleagues in particular, especially the ones from British Columbia. There's nothing wrong with STV. STV is a very interesting model, but it's a largely theoretical model, and it's only used in Ireland and Malta. I probably couldn't pick out two cases that are much more different from Canada than those two. Consequently, the problem with STV that I often have is that we don't have enough empirical evidence on it and the way it might work in a geographically large, multicultural society like Canada.
We have plenty of evidence on PR systems of other kinds, because they're used in all kinds of different countries, large and small, east and west. As the most widely used and also most adaptable electoral system, adapting list PR is not just choosing someone else's electoral system; it is choosing a model that can then be adapted to the Canadian environment and made to work in the Canadian environment to accomplish many of the objectives that this committee has felt are the objectives an electoral system in Canada in 2016 should strive to accomplish.
I'm sure my friend and colleague Henry Milner already made the case for PR this morning, because he's been making it for years, and I cite him many times in footnotes to things that I've written. I won't restate what he has said, but I would certainly reinforce what I suspect he probably said. I think we have paid too little attention to the principles of list PR in the Canadian debates and too much attention to hybrid models that are theoretically interesting but not as proven in practice as many of the PR systems of Europe and elsewhere.
I'll stop there. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much for your invitation. You are certainly keeping busy in the middle of a very hot summer, which is greatly appreciated. You are working for all Canadians.
This special committee is mandated to study electoral reforms in order to replace the current first-past-the-post system with another that would increase public confidence among Canadians in that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated.
The new electoral system that will emerge from this reform process could result in more frequent minority or even coalition governments. A number of individuals have expressed the concern that this could encourage more frequent general elections and lead to political instability.
However, recent events in Scotland and Wales show that it is possible to modernize and streamline our parliamentary system while maintaining its intrinsic traditions and political stability. The parliaments of Scotland and Wales both elect their respective members through a form of mixed-member proportional representation known as the additional member system. While they have had minority and coalition governments, these two parliaments have not had to hold elections more often than every four or five years since they were created, namely in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2016.
The parliamentary system possesses a number of simple and proven legal measures to stabilize minority and coalition governments. Drawing from measures implemented by the United Kingdom and several other countries, I would like to suggest some minor modifications that could be made to our procedures to ensure the stability and political legitimacy of the governments formed following the anticipated electoral reforms.
These changes will also have advantage of bringing more clarity and transparency to our procedures. They will serve an educational purpose because it will be important to ensure that any changes made to our electoral system are accompanied by the public's better understanding of our political system. They might incidentally enhance the role and significance of a member of Parliament.
I will list four proposed changes that were all inspired by concrete examples drawn from other countries. Please refer to the appendix of my report for a list of the legislative and constitutional provisions on which they are based.
First, I propose to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to provide for the nomination of the Prime Minister by a vote in the House of Commons, to be held between the election of the Speaker of the House and the Speech from the Throne—with the appointment of the Prime Minister remaining the prerogative of the Crown, of course.
This proposal is based on the examples of Scotland, Wales, Germany and Spain, where, when there is no clear majority government, they make sure to have a clear decision on who should form the government and who should be its leader—who will have to appear before the Governor General to form government.
Second, I propose to establish the requirements for voting on non-confidence motions through legislation or amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and restrict these motions to what are known as “constructive” non-confidence motions or, at a minimum, explicitly provide for the possibility of a successor government following a non-confidence vote.
Let's start with the requirement for a constructive non-confidence motion. This type of confidence motion is required in Belgium, Spain, and Germany, for example. I would specifically refer you to the Spanish example, where the use of the non-confidence motion has been clearly regulated. Non-confidence motions may be moved a limited number of times and only during a certain period.
What is a constructive non-confidence motion? When a motion is passed to indicate that the House has lost confidence in the government, the motion must simultaneously provide for a successor government. Should the motion pass, this successor government automatically receives the confidence of the House. This is a mechanism to prevent the opposition parties from joining forces to overthrow a government and from taking advantage of an early election to increase their number of seats.
With regard to the possibility of a successor government should the House of Commons pass a non-confidence motion, I relied on the United Kingdom legislation. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides that where the government is defeated on a vote of confidence, an election will not be called until 14 days later, if there is no subsequent resolution to restore confidence in that same government or in the successor government that would have been formed in the meantime.
Third, I propose to amend section 56.1 of the Canada Elections Act to allow for the early dissolution of Parliament with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons. This enhances the role of members of Parliament. Once again, this proposal is based on an example of the British Fixed-term Parliaments Act. This is intended to give more weight to members of Parliament.
My fourth proposal builds on the third; in other words, if it can be done for the dissolution of Parliament, it can be done for prorogation as well. We can also make this requirement mandatory.
Therefore my fourth proposal is to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so that asking for Parliament to be prorogued or dissolved without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons automatically results in a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister. Consequently, the Governor General would not be bound by a prime minister's advice requesting the early dissolution or prorogation of Parliament without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons.
I emphasize that the current Standing Orders of the House of Commons stipulate that the election of the Speaker of the House does not constitute a question of confidence. The current Standing Orders already allow for some say about confidence.
The Standing Orders of the National Assembly of Quebec explicitly stipulate what are the issues that may be subject to a vote of confidence. There is a precedent in one of the provinces. In British law there is a clear provision on the conditions under which the vote of confidence can be exercised.
We would have the opportunity to provide for the specific conditions under which a government, which would be a minority government, could request the dissolution or prorogation of Parliament, to help stabilize the whole situation.
In closing, to ensure that this reform is successful, and while we are engaged in a major change, we have to consider an important public educational issue. A study showed that most Canadians think that they vote directly to elect a prime minister. Therefore there is a need for an education component to clarify how our system works.
Following the example of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, I propose that we capitalize on this electoral reform to clarify, in some sort of Cabinet manual drafted by consensus, all the expectations associated with forming a government and proroguing Parliament.
The British experience showed us how effective and useful such a manual can be when in 2010 none of the parties won a majority of seats. That evening, there were no rushed media calls of the type, “If the trend holds, the next government will be formed by...”. The political parties were given the time they needed to negotiate among themselves who would form the next government, rather than allowing the media to decide that very evening who would be the next prime minister. This is a step forward for democracy.
My negative example...I wrote that paper right around the time of the British referendum on the alternative vote. You have to understand, first of all, the government's purpose—or at least the Conservative half of the government's purpose—in that referendum was to basically defeat the proposal. That was its agenda. Second, the campaign was almost as chaotic as the Brexit campaign: loaded with disinformation. I'll give you a little example. This is more of an anecdote, I guess, but it says what I mean.
They won. They tried to have some controls on the British campaign in 2011—spending controls as well as advertising controls and so on. The campaign started on a particular date, when the rules came into effect. On day one of the campaign, the leader of the “no” campaign held a press conference, and she announced that they were against AV because it would cost three billion pounds to implement it. People had no idea what they were talking about. But the signal beginning of the campaign was not whether this was a good system or a bad system or desirable or an improvement or anything; rather, it was this out-of-left-field assertion that it was going to be very expensive.
Then, they tried to figure this out over the next few days. It turned out that what she was saying was that they would need voting machines to implement it, and the purchase of voting machines for the whole country would be very, very expensive. Well, it took three weeks, basically, to get rid of that assertion, but the damage had already been done.
I wrote a piece on a blog at that time, before I wrote the paper that you've referenced, which referred to that as the disinformation campaign. The main tactic that was used to defeat the proposal was simply disinformation. You can put out this nonsense, in many cases, and it sticks. It sticks, and you don't have enough time to recover from it in a short campaign.
That's the kind of risk of a referendum. In the piece I wrote that you quoted—and thank you for citing it—the point I wanted to make is that referendums, to be effective as a democratic device, have to be more deliberative. You have to really engage citizens and get them to seriously think about or deliberate an issue. That takes time, it takes information, and it often takes a very extensive publicly funded information campaign. But referendums are contests to win. When you get involved in a short referendum campaign, one side or the other is trying to win, and we saw that again with Brexit.
Disinformation is the main vehicle. We're used to negative campaigning in elections. There's plenty of negative campaigning in referendums as well. It's a very, very effective tactic. If you're setting out to defeat a proposal, disinformation is one of your best tools. So I tried to think about how to limit that, or prevent it, if possible.
I have said many times to witnesses that I found these panels very inspiring. I have many questions but too little time.
Mr. LeDuc, about a possible referendum, you claimed being concerned about spurious arguments. However, that is how we can lose elections. During the 2007 Quebec election, Mario Dumont said, on the subject of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, that $40 billion was about to “go up in smoke”, which went against the “economy first” Liberal slogan. He was absolutely right, but nobody believed him and he was called a clown. However, he was right: $40 billion was about to burn to nothing. The outcome was that he lost his election.
It might be possible to ensure a process for conducting an education campaign independently from political parties. It would certainly be much more legitimate. Indeed, why do we do this? We don't do it for political parties, or for insiders, or for academics. We certainly don't do it for ourselves. We do it to ensure that when the rules of democracy are changed, the people can feel they are an integral part of this change process. This could have a positive impact on the outcomes and on stability.
I would like to hear your thoughts not only on legitimacy, but also on the need to have the public give us answers on this debate, so that we can really accomplish something, and to take the time required to get it done.
What's the rush? Considering that we have been following this procedure for about 200 years, we might as well take the time we need for this process. I have the feeling that we are being told to hurry because we have been talking about this for 21 years. Let's stop for a moment. I wouldn't be able to find anyone on the street who could tell me the difference between the proposed models or indeed anyone interested in the subject. In short, we should take all the time we need.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
I think we certainly need to do that.
Some of the polling evidence, which perhaps others have cited in testimony before the committee—I know André Blais was here this morning, but I did not hear his testimony, so whether he was able to cite some of this or not, I'm not sure.... I think some of the reservations that people have about elections in Canada and the way they are conducted touch on that point: people's feelings, especially if you live in a constituency that is considered a safe seat where the levels of competition are low from election to election and where you're told how important the election is, but you start to realize that your vote is not going to make much difference or the choices you're being presented with are not the choices you would like to see.
Now, those things don't come out explicitly in polling, but they're there. You can see that people have that feeling that they're being told the election is really important and that they should go out and vote, but yet their vote is not going to do anything; it's not going to accomplish anything in the place where they live and given the choices they're presented with.
You're trying to some extent to counteract that.
Also, in the line that you quoted from my brief I was citing Alan Cairns, who wrote in 1968, so these arguments have been around for a long time. I could have cited other things, but I cited the Cairns article because it is the single most widely cited article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
A student did a tally of this some time ago, a listing of how often articles are cited, and Alan Cairns' article on the electoral system and the party system, written in 1968, was the most-cited piece in Canadian political science. My colleague Peter Russell yesterday stressed the idea that this argument, as Mr. Thériault has also just mentioned, goes back to 1921. So these arguments have been around for a long time.
Now, we know why we have first past the post in Canada: the British gave it to us. And they didn't just give it to us; they gave it to every other British colony and dominion in the world in the 19th century. It is an electoral system that has worked okay in some places and not so well in others. It's probably not a good system for India, for example. The reason India has first past the post is simply its British colonial heritage.
But the British didn't differentiate; they didn't do studies of their colonies and conclude that in colony X or colony Y STV might be a better model, or maybe PR. They just thought that the British system was the best system and gave it to everybody, no matter when this happened or what the venue was.
Well, then societies change, as Professor Russell pointed out yesterday. Canada became a multi-party system in 1921, and it has been ever since. This system doesn't work as well in that environment. First past the post doesn't work very well anymore in Britain. Look at the cleavage with Scotland.
The idea that there's this glorious 19th-century British model that should be our first preference.... It has never been chosen in Canada and doesn't even work very well in the place that is its ancestral home.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Gentlemen, welcome to Canada's Parliament.
Mr. Seidle, we can understand that it would be far more interesting for everyone to talk directly to each other, but there you have it, there are too many of us and we have to meet with dozens and dozens of experts. We have to proceed in an orderly manner.
Mr. Chair, I have to commend you on the way you are chairing this meeting. You are doing a really good job in rather difficult circumstances.
Mr. Seidle, rest assured that you will have all the time you need to express your views to the leader of the Green Party.
The quality of our discussions here today is evident. Once again, we have excellent people here, namely three university professors. I will remind you that the committee would greatly benefit from listening to a great academic.
who has a lot of things to say about a new way of doing electoral reform, the Honourable . I wish everybody would understand that everybody would win if Monsieur Dion could be a witness at this committee.
Earlier, my Bloc Québécois colleague, Mr. Thériault, referred to an event that happened about ten years ago in provincial politics. I agree in part with what he said. Indeed, sometimes people vote for an election platform and the elected party ends up not implementing it. A number of very recent examples come to mind, but I will not address that today, because this is neither time nor the place. I will have the opportunity to do so at another time.
I will, however, mention a specific detail. The event that Mr. Thériault described earlier did not occur in 2007 but in 2008. I remember it very well, because I was a candidate at the time.
Let's now turn to the issues.
Mr. Cyr, earlier you mentioned four changes that could be implemented, including the nomination of the Prime Minister by Parliament, the vote on constructive non-confidence motions and the requirement for the agreement of two-thirds of MPs to dissolve the House. From what I understand, that does not directly pertain to the electoral system.
Can the changes you are proposing to give even more power to MPs be made in the current first-past-the-post system?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My thanks to all the witnesses for joining us and making their presentations.
I want to get a little bit into a comment that we don't know what the problem is. I'm just going to throw it out there.
There's a reason this committee was struck: Canadians feel that their vote doesn't count. I'm just going to clarify this, because yesterday a witness told me, yes, votes are counted. That's not what I'm saying. Their voice doesn't count. What they were intending to do at the polls is not reflective of who actually represents them. That's the problem.
There are other issues that we're facing. We're facing issues of low voter turnout. We had an increase in the past election, which we're delighted about, but we still have that issue to address. Now, electoral reform doesn't just talk about the actual voting system, but other issues as well, as you have highlighted. You said there are other problems that we need to address, and that's what we're looking at. Would mandatory voting be an issue? Would online voting be an issue, and so on and so forth?
My question relates what Professor Seidle said. You mentioned in your documentation that regardless of the voting system, the system chosen doesn't seem to address the under-representation of women and/or visible minorities, indigenous people, in office. I appreciate your saying this because we have received other testimony that there is a correlation between the voting system selected and the number of people in these under-represented groups actually sitting in Parliament. So I want to thank you for that.
We've heard about list PR. We've heard about the current first past the post system. What I do want to know is what voting system, in your opinion, would address the problem that I just asked about, that Canadians are not feeling that their vote counts?
Would all three of you give me your opinion which system you feel would address that specific problem?
Yes. I'll mention two things that come to mind that I think could be done. They may not be realistic, but we could at least talk about them.
One is based on what I said earlier about Japan. If this committee could serve as a vehicle for developing any consensus proposal whereby all of you had a proposed reform that you could sign off on and present as an all-party recommendation to the people of Canada, I think you could put it to a referendum and have a reasonable chance of bringing it across.
Now, the campaign would also have to be structured in such a way that people could understand it, had enough information about it, and had proper fora in which to debate and discuss it. But I could envision a process like that.
I don't know your committee well enough to know whether that is even conceivable, but if you could produce a report with a recommendation and say this is what we believe should be done and we all agree, I think it would be very powerful.
The second model that I like is based on the Ontario experience. I thought the citizens' assembly was a brilliant idea—borrowed from British Columbia, so I should give credit there. The citizens' assembly was a relatively new idea at the time that both British Columbia and Ontario adopted it. I thought it worked brilliantly, but then they didn't carry it through.
It got closer in British Columbia than in Ontario. In Ontario, the government basically changed its mind and undercut the assembly at the final stage. It didn't fund the education campaign properly; it allowed the assembly to be demonized in the press; it didn't provide any spending arrangements.
But I could imagine a process like the Ontario process that was extended, or maybe more like an improved B.C. process, and if you were to recommend something like that and then give that body enough time to work and to develop its proposal, which might then later be put to the people, I think this is a model that would have a reasonable chance of succeeding.
How much time it would take, I'm not sure. I doubt that you could do it between now and December.
There are two fundamental principles, which are quite different. The first one is cross-party consensus, and probably a parliament is a better milieu in which to build that consensus, or a forum like this.
The other is the argument that politicians shouldn't be trusted to tinker with institutions and that therefore you need to set up some kind of extraordinary body, such as a citizens' assembly or a convention that operates at arm's length from the political process as it normally takes place day to day.
We have to come up with the definition of the word “local”, and that's very tricky. I think all list PR systems have districts, except for the small handful that have one single national constituency—and there are only a few of those. They're mostly smaller countries. The Netherlands, for example, has a single national constituency.
Some of them have larger districts than others. Some of them have districts of different sizes. That's why I said that if I were designing a party-list PR system for Canada, I would consider district size to be one of the major considerations to look at. I would also want to entrust that actual task to boundary commissions, as we do now, rather than to try to make it an inherent part of the system design. There are a lot of difficult technical issues related to geography that arise in Canada that you need to pay attention to.
I think as Canadians we want a system that provides effective local representation. How small your districts have to be for us to effectively do that is a more technical issue that needs to be worked out. In Spain, which I use as an example in my brief, but it's only an example—I don't argue that we should emulate the Spanish system here—the districts range in size from the smallest one of two members to urban ones that go up to 12 or 13 members. I think Professor Russell made the point yesterday, although he was talking about the STV system, that he thought that in Toronto you could have districts with larger numbers of members, whereas in other parts of Canada you might not want to have districts so large.
I think those are issues that could be addressed by a Canadian-designed, party-list PR system. One of the attractions of that is that it's very flexible. It's a very flexible system in terms of the number of seats, the number of districts, and so on.
One of the problems with MMP that we discovered in Ontario with the citizens' assembly, or an issue they got hung up on and could never figure out a way to resolve, was the size of the legislature. This was coming in just after the Harris government had reduced the size of the legislature and persuaded people that they needed fewer politicians. But to design an MMP system, you need a bigger parliament. Typically, the people in Canada who advocate for MMP say, “Well, we'll keep the present districts and just add some seats.” Well, how many do you need to add to make it truly proportional? Quite a lot. It's not coincidental that Germany has a 600-member parliament, because a half of the seats are district seats and a half of the seats are list seats.
In party-list PR, you can keep a parliament of about the same size as it is now, and then vary the district magnitude as necessary across the country, depending on which province we're talking about or which geographic area. There would still be some large districts, and some people might not like that, but I think that's an area where you have a lot of flexibility in the design. You have much less flexibility under some other models.
Yes, to Mr. Kenney's point, we had actually suggested a form of a citizens' assembly back in February when this process was being discussed. Indeed, the question of legitimacy, I think, has been raised by all of our witnesses and others. It's not just the system that we present or this committee recommends, but also whether it is both legitimate and seen as legitimate in the eyes of the voters—otherwise, resistence will be high.
One small thing I want to pick up on is your comment, Mr. LeDuc, when asked about polling. It's one of those things where the question matters. I would assume this is also true of any process that involves a referendum. The carefulness in which we would approach voters with the question, the tendencies in referendums to misspeak the truth by those who wish to push against....The leading Google question in England the day after Brexit, I believe, was, what is the EU? One assumes complete voter awareness when talking about a referendum, which is a dangerous thing when talking about vested interests in a political question.
I want to talk about both productivity and stability because I'm trying to get to outcomes. I'm trying to get to the voters' position on this. If we put forward a system, it has to satisfy what the voters are looking for, not just that their votes are reflected in Parliament, that they cast their ballots, and it's this way, but also that this Parliament and those parliaments are able to function well.
This is where I got cut off last time, so I'll put my question now. We've had experience in Canada of minority parliaments producing, enduring national policies: bilingualism, the social safety net, medicare, the flag. The list is long.
Is it fair to say that while we certainly don't have a culture of coalition governments—we've only had one—our culture around the sharing of power in minority parliaments, just by results, forget partisanship, has worked for Canadians? Is that an exaggeration of the facts, given our history? Let me throw in the Federal Accountability Act too, as part of that, as something that did come out of a Conservative minority.
I will go right to the heart of it. It reflects what's in that paper, but also the experience with electoral reform in other countries as well.
Electoral reform proposals are generally put forward by parties when they are in opposition, but they can only act on them when they are in government. Now, it would not surprise any of you people to know that there is a little bit of a change in thinking in the way you look at the world when you're in opposition as compared with the way you look at it when you're in government. In Ontario the Liberals were in opposition when they made that proposal. They then came to government. It took them three years to decide whether they were going to go forward with it or not. I phoned up one of my students who worked at Queen's Park the day after they announced the citizens' assembly. I asked why they were doing this now, three years into the mandate, only a year before the next election. He said it was a campaign promise. They were ticking a box. They promised action on this. They were going to have a citizens' assembly. But the citizens' assembly was not necessarily designed to bring in electoral reform. It was designed to debate electoral reform.
Then the government, over the course of it, when it saw the way it was going, changed its mind. It's no mystery why it changed its mind. The Liberal caucus was split on this. I don't have a measure, but probably the majority opposed it. A few Liberals in the McGuinty cabinet supported it. The premier himself was back and forth on it, but eventually came down on the side of being opposed to it, even though he publicly remained neutral. You moved from a position where one party was supporting reform to where it no longer was.
Something similar happened in B.C. between the two referendums. The government was rather enthusiastic about the citizens' assembly at the time of the first referendum, which is why it did better. They changed their mind at the time of the second referendum, and not so much opposed it as just lost interest in it.
I mentioned that New Zealand took so long, but it's in the context of two governments of two different parties, both of which changed their position on electoral reform over the course of their mandate. It was Labour in opposition that put forward the reform and then appointed the royal commission, but it was also Labour that tried to undercut it. When National came to power, they had criticized the Labour government for its inaction, and therefore they decided to act. When they changed their mind, they tried to basically defeat it in the second referendum and failed.
That's not an unusual story in politics. I'm a student of politics as well as a student of electoral systems, and when you look at it through that lens, why would anyone be surprised?
Mr. Cyr, a few short minutes ago, you referred to the election of the Parti Québécois minority government on September 4, 2012. I was a candidate in that election. You talked about the media. I was a journalist for 20 years, so please allow me to provide some context to your narrative.
Technically, you are correct. The day after the election all the media talked about the first woman premier being elected, when in reality we had a minority government and absolutely nothing was official. However, the night before, the outgoing Premier, Mr. Charest, had publicly announced that he recognized his opponent's victory. After that, it could be surmised that things were pretty much settled.
I also want to point out that we have some very nice electoral traditions in Canada. This happens in Quebec, but I am sure that it has also been done for years at the federal level. The loser always calls the winner, and this a wonderful practice that we must preserve. It can sometimes be a bit surprising, but it commands respect. This was beautifully illustrated in the documentary À hauteur d'homme, which shows Mr. Landry, after his defeat in 2003, taking the time to call the premier-elect.
I have American and French friends who watched this documentary. They were very surprised to see that our politicians and party leaders talked to each other on election night. I will not name him, but one of my friends said it was unthinkable to imagine that happening in his democracy. So much the better if we are fortunate enough to live in a democracy that allows our leaders to talk to each other in a civilized manner and respect the very foundation of our democracy, namely, the choice of the people.
This is very interesting. I'm very happy to be here today. Democracy is a very important issue to me. In 2006 I had the opportunity to be an election observer in Haiti. When we look at our democracy we can really see how lucky we are.
You talked about consensus. For me, this is not just a matter of consensus. What really matters is what the people tell me. As an MP, I represent a riding and I talk to my constituents. The people of Charlevoix, Beauport or Île d'Orléans do not all think alike. In a democracy there must be choices. We must be able to hear yes or no. First and foremost, we have to be able to explain to people what we want to do. That's what I think.
You said earlier that, to start with, people do not really understand what is involved. In Canada, we fight for not voting, while in countries like Haiti people fight to vote because they want a democracy. Our democracy is not perfect, but we have one, and we can talk to each other. When we leave the House, we can walk together and talk without bashing each other.
I want to understand. You spoke about consensus. How can we make ordinary Canadians, those we meet at Tim Hortons and everywhere, properly understand this issue? It's not just a matter of educating them, but also of knowing what they, themselves, want. I think that requires more than just a small committee of politicians or academics. You have done a great job, but if we want to change democracy, we must listen to the people.
What are your thoughts on that?