Colleagues, please take your places.
We appreciate all the witnesses being here today.
We have Professor Dennis Pilon, Department of Political Science, York University. We have Professor Jonathan Rose, associate professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University. From the Institut sur la gouvernance, we have Maryantonett Flumian, president.
We're sorry we're a bit late. We had some housekeeping matters we had to take care of, but we're very anxious to hear what you have to say.
The way it works is that you will each, as you know, be presenting for 10 minutes. Then we typically have two rounds of questioning, and in each round, every member gets a chance to ask questions. We'll figure out the timing of each round, but typically it's five minutes. The first round will be five minutes, I think. We'll figure out the math.
We're going to end at 12:15. We've extended our meeting by 15 minutes because we started late.
I would just like to mention one thing. The five minutes each member has covers questions and answers, so it's something everyone should keep in mind, the members and the witnesses. If there is a long preamble to a question, it leaves less time for answers. If you are not able to answer and there is a question hanging out there when somebody has asked a question and the five minutes are up, you can still address the issue the next time you have a chance to speak. It doesn't mean you can't follow up on the question, but it has to be at another opportunity, maybe when you're answering another question.
We'll start with Professor Pilon, for 10 minutes, please.
Thanks for inviting me to come, and I want to begin by applauding the government for bringing this issue forward and by applauding the parties that are supporting it.
This is a little bit about me.
I've worked on this topic for almost three decades. I've written two books and many research papers on the topic. My research is focused on real-world experience and results with different voting systems, and the historical and contemporary processes of reforming political institutions such as voting systems. I've also researched related topics on voter registration, voter turnout, youth participation, and the representation of social diversity and Canadian democratization more broadly.
I also have some practical experience in organizing elections as a former deputy district electoral officer in British Columbia. I was second in charge of organizing a riding for the purposes of a provincial election, hiring 300 people and training them to do the election day stuff, so I have a bit of practical insight as well as academic insight into voting systems.
We've heard from many people that there is no perfect voting system, but that doesn't mean there aren't imperfect ones, like first past the post, particularly from a democratic point of view. We call our system a representative democracy, but first past the post fails to represent effectively. It misrepresents the popular support for parties. It leaves over half of the voters contributing to the election of no one. It typically results in a minority of voters dominating majorities. It limits political competition. I mean, with such lousy representation, how democratic can the system be?
The reason is that the system was not designed to be democratic. Its origins are in the pre-democratic era, and it has been kept in place for electoral self-interest. Canadians have struggled to make their system democratic despite these institutional barriers. Proportional representation systems, by contrast, were designed to represent voters effectively, even if the motives of reformers were not always democratic.
My brief, which I've submitted to the committee, argues that the way we talk about reform tends to structure the debate that follows, and we've seen three views emerge since this process started. One of them frames the question as an issue of the Constitution and the need for a referendum. Another one argues that voting systems are just a matter of taste: it depends what you like, what you prefer. The last one argues that voting systems are quintessentially a matter of democratic reform, and I argue that only the last view is really credible.
Now, I'm not going to go into all the details of the brief. I want to sketch out the broad themes, and I can certainly expand on any of these issues in the question-and-answer period.
With regard to the constitutional arguments, there is no merit to them. We have seen a range of views, from the uninformed to the ridiculous, and the rapidity with which they are appearing in the media signals a kind of desperation from the right-wing think tanks that are sponsoring them. The referendum arguments are often clothed in a veneer of democratic rhetoric, but they are also weak and contradictory. Normatively, referendums should be restricted to situations in which voters can become reasonably informed to be able to participate in the discussions. Canadian provincial referendums on voting systems have shown this not to be possible.
Referendum advocates would have us believe that referendums will lead to reasoned debates and decisions on this question, but evidence suggests otherwise. The research on referendums, both Canadian and comparative, shows that the way that voters deal with issue complexity is to reject the process entirely. When people have rejected different options, it's often because they have no clue as to what they're being asked. In many cases, they didn't even know a referendum was going on.
The referendum arguments are themselves internally inconsistent. We are led to believe we must have at least a majority to change our voting system, but a government that represents 39% of the population is okay to make all of the decisions in the interim. Why is there a majority for one question but not the other? It seems to me that if a majority is the ultimate test of decision-making, then it should be applied in all democratic situations.
Finally, as I will spell out in a moment, I think this issue is one of voter equality, and you don't put equality rights to a vote.
Now let us go on to the idea that voting systems are a matter of competing values and outcome preferences—a matter of taste.
There are two key problems with this argument. First of all, voters are not well informed about any of our political institutions and thus do not really have tastes about them. For instance, in two different surveys done 10 years apart, voters were asked if a majority government reflected a majority of the Canadian population, and they argued that it did. A majority of them said it does, when in fact I think everybody here knows that they almost never do.
Voters cope with political complexity through proxies, the parties that they support. When a party complains about something, then the public usually wants answers. If a party is fine with things, then the voters are usually fine. I think it's foolish to pretend otherwise. Voters have fairly informed views about the broad themes of politics that they prefer, but the details and the institutions are unavoidably an elite process.
The other problem with voting systems as a matter of taste is that it flattens out the values and makes them all equal, when in fact I think we should privilege democratic choices and disallow undemocratic ones. The problem with making a choice for majority governments as a value is that it suggests that's okay. It's okay for a minority of people to impose their views on the majority. I just don't see how you can make that a democratic argument. There are lots of arguments in favour of our system; they're just not democratic ones.
Therefore, instead of looking at voting systems as a matter of choice where all choices are equal, we need to judge our voting systems against what Canadians are trying to do with their voting system. In this case, I think the evidence suggests that they are trying to get their political views represented, so we need a system that will do that most effectively.
Voting systems as democratic reform start from a realistic sense of what voters are trying to do when they vote, and here we know from a mountain of evidence that voters vote party, as opposed to, say, voting for a local representative. Even when voters say they're voting for a local representative, we discover they're actually voting for the party, yet in trying to get those party results, our current voting system privileges geography, though geography is not the basis informing that vote. Thus proximate voters—voters who live close to each other—are privileged by our system, while dispersed voters are discriminated against.
This violates the voters' rights to have their votes count equally. This issue actually affects all parties. Voters of all parties find themselves marooned in different parts of the country, unable to make common cause with voters who agree with the kinds of things they would like to see represented. This leads to wasted votes, distorted representation of parties, and typically a legislative majority government that a majority of Canadians do not actually support.
This is wrong, because it's undemocratic, it's unrepresentative, and it violates some basic democratic notions of majority rule. Again, we do it this way not because of preferences or the Constitution, but because historically self-interested parties have kept it that way. Attempts to defend it involve contorted and convoluted arguments that frankly are unsupported by facts.
Let me conclude. I would argue that this committee's job is to move forward and just recommend that the government change our voting system to a proportional system. The only real barrier is political will. The government has a majority, and we have parties that represent a majority of Canadians whose parties supported this issue. I think there are plenty of reasons for the government to move forward, and here I would argue that the government shouldn't really worry about critics, because I think the critics' arguments are mostly politically self-interested. We've had a number of commentators suggest that there will be public outrage if there's not a referendum, but frankly, the only people who are outraged are the ones who are writing such editorials.
In moving forward, I think the government's voting system choice should be informed by facts, not speculation. This is key, because most discussion today is focused on myth, distortion, and outright speculative made-up nonsense. There is plenty of real-world experience with proportional representation to draw from for us to understand how this would affect Canadian politics, but comparisons should be with countries that are comparable to Canada—in other words, western Europe and New Zealand, not Italy and Israel, which are countries that have very distinct political histories and political situations that are very different from Canada's.
If we do that, if we take seriously an evidence-based approach, then just about every complaint about proportional representation can be shown to be without support. Whether we're talking about complexity, instability, too much stability, lack of local influence, etc., all these things can be shown to be without foundation.
Also, we could spend some time talking about the many good things that change would bring in moving to a proportional system. We could highlight how a change to any proportional system would immediately increase political competition. It would lead to changes in voter turnout. It would lead to improvements in the representation of our diversity, and it would end the policy lurch that we see presently with our alternation in government.
I'm happy to expand on all these things in the question-and-answer period.
Thank you very much for inviting me to this committee. Like many Canadians, I've been following your crash course on electoral systems with great interest. As a political scientist who finds the topic as fascinating as it is complex, I've been really impressed with the facility with which the committee has understood the nuances of electoral systems as well as methods of representation. As you're quickly realizing, it's complex, and a bit like doing a Rubik's cube, in that if you change one thing, the other things change as well. However, unlike a Rubik's cube, there is no right answer. This is important, because if I were to summarize electoral systems in one word, I would say “contingency”.
Your steep learning curve in some ways makes sense, because you've heard from many of the experts on the subject. Therein lies an important conundrum. While I have no doubt you will master the details of electoral systems, I wonder about the Canadian public. How will they learn, and what is it they need to learn? I want to discuss the public learning component of electoral reform from my experience as academic director of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. I want to stress the importance of that in the overall strategy of engagement.
The other thing I want to do is briefly talk about the large electoral signposts and hope you keep that in mind so you're not distracted by the red herrings along the way.
Public learning is really the flip side of democratic engagement. This reform exercise has created an ideal opportunity for a national conversation. We all want citizens to be engaged, but true engagement cannot occur without a solid foundation of knowledge. We know that among citizens the variation is very high, and as Professor Pilon just mentioned, the average is very low. Discussions should be about rational reason-giving, not emotional position-taking, and the former requires knowledge. Rational reason-giving was the basis of both the Ontario and the B.C. citizens' assemblies. That's how they worked. They understood that you could not choose an appropriate system without first understanding what principles were important to them.
Canadians are not being asked to design a new electoral system, so I would humbly say there's no reason for them to argue for one or another. In my mind, that's the work of this committee. Where Canadians have an important role to play is to tell this committee and members of Parliament what values and principles are important to them and how these are evident in various systems.
Your committee has been given five guiding principles, which I think are instructive but not as clear as they might be. I might suggest refinement about what they mean, or at least to make sure you're using the language in the same way as others.
For example, some of the principles your committee is working under are about outcomes, things like “integrity” and “legitimacy”. These are not created by a system but are a product of them. Others are goals that a system should embody, such as “effectiveness” and “inclusiveness”, whereas others relate to the mechanics of the system, to how it works, such as “local representation”. Your principle of “accessibility” suggests the principle of simplicity with its language that “the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity”. Simplicity, I might add, was one of the principles chosen by the Ontario citizens' assembly. If I can paraphrase Albert Einstein, a good electoral system should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.
There are other principles not listed that have been used by other studies. Voter choice, chosen by both the Ontario and B.C. citizens' assembly, was an important one for citizens, but curiously does not appear as frequently in the academic literature as the others. This suggests that citizens think about electoral systems differently from experts. That's worth remembering as you hear from experts about their opinions on what's important.
Other studies have also refined what “effectiveness” really means. Does it mean effective parties, as British Columbia and Ontario defined it? Does it mean effective Parliament, as the Ontario assembly refined it? Or does it mean effective government, as defined by both the Law Reform Commission and the New Brunswick commission?
I would suggest that it will be really important for you to clarify these terms so that both MPs and citizens are clear on what it is they value and whether they're talking about the same thing.
In the Ontario citizens' assembly process, $6 million was devoted to educating voters. A strong, robust educational campaign is more than advertising, of course. This government has taken the useful first step of producing a consultation guide. I would take exception to one of your previous witnesses, who characterized your process as an “elite pleasure industry”.
I actually think this matters. If so, surely more is needed, both to persuade the public and provide basic education about how these principles resonate and to inform citizens once this committee reports in December. Frankly, this will be even more significant if and when a referendum occurs.
Let me shift gears quickly and talk about electoral systems. You've heard a lot about them. I think one way to think about them is the big debate in which they occur. Scholars like to talk about whether they are causes—they create greater participation, they create more parties, they create different kinds of parties—or whether they are effects—they're a product of a political culture or a product of regionalism or perhaps an institutional context.
In reality, they are both. Electoral systems both illuminate and reflect.
In the literature, we classify electoral systems using these two large categories that might help in your deliberations: output and mechanics. For output, we're thinking about proportional versus non-proportional systems, the big categories. To determine what serves our needs best, we need to go back to our principles. Do we want a system that increases the chance of a strong majority government? Do we want increased diversity in Parliament? Do we want an increased number of political parties? Those are all questions that force us to go back to those principles.
The second approach is to think about mechanics. How does the electoral system work, and what is its relationship to the output? When scholars discuss mechanics, they're usually talking about three things.
The first is how voters would mark their preferences. Do they rank them or do they make a choice? Ranking offers greater choice, but it might surprise you that sometimes ranking doesn't affect the outcome of the choice. A categorical choice is simple but may not reflect preferences accurately.
The second issue you're facing in mechanics is how many representatives you want per district. One allows for simple accountability, but it can't be proportional. As you increase the number in each district, you increase, perhaps, proportionality, but you perhaps may sacrifice the connection between the representatives and constituents. Moreover, you may sacrifice local representation. These are trade-offs that need to be carefully weighed.
The third element of the mechanics is the formula, and you've talked about this in the last few days. The formula is basically how you decide who won. The plurality formula is simple, as you know. A majority formula ensures that there's legitimacy. A proportional system ensures that vote share equals seat share, but may sacrifice local representation. A mixed system offers what some might say is the best of both worlds, but it does create two classes of MPs.
I want to reinforce the model of the Ontario and B.C. citizens' assemblies. They were based on deliberation, not consultation. It's not enough to ask people for their opinions when doing so may only reinforce their existing beliefs. There needs to be an honest and robust public learning campaign that establishes connections between these principles and others and how they correspond to the kind of representation you want.
The conversation here and in the public has put, I would argue, the electoral cart before the horse. It has emphasized the product of those values, the electoral system, and not their trade-offs.
Let me leave you with a final thought. While Professor Pilon and others have argued that there is no one perfect system, I want to quote Richard Katz, who argued that there is a perfect system. He argued that the best electoral system, depends on “who you are, where you are, and where you want to go.”
At this stage, rather than focusing on systems, I hope you give these three some significant thought.
Good morning, distinguished Chair, Vice-Chairs, and members of the committee. I'd like to begin by saying a few words about the Institute on Governance and our work in advancing better governance in Canada and abroad.
The IOG, as we call ourselves, is an independent, not-for-profit, public interest institution that advances a better understanding of the practices of good governance in Canada at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. We also work with indigenous governments and not-for-profit organizations, and over the last 26 years we've worked in 35 countries around the world.
For us, governance is concerned with the governance ecosystem: with the frameworks, the strategy, with how decisions important to a society, a community, and an organization are taken, and, fundamentally, how accountability is rendered. Our work is guided by five principles that mirror the ones that are guiding the work of this group.
We deal with legitimacy and voice, direction, performance, accountability, and fairness, and as I said, these are mirrored in the work that you are doing.
This committee has been asked to identify and conduct a study of viable alternative voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. To assist you in addressing these areas, my remarks will address three broad domains: why voting matters, how votes are counted, and how citizens vote.
I'll discuss the governance considerations I believe this committee should assess as they move forward and I will talk about the first and the third domains—that is, why voting matters and how citizens vote in conjunction.
For the second part, I'd like to clarify that my comments will not be on the merits of a particular electoral system, as I will leave that to the experts in the field whom you have already invited to speak and who are speaking this morning.
To begin with the last point,
I would like to start with the issue of encouraging voter participation, specifically through such measures as mandatory voting and online voting. I propose this order because I think voter engagement is as big an issue for democratic legitimacy as the selection of a specific electoral process.
While in principle I am not opposed to mandatory voting, I think that such use of public authority should be considered only as a last resort to address low voter participation.
On political principle, relatively few people support mandatory voting. The electoral franchise implies an absolute civic duty to vote, which we must uphold to the full extent of the law.
In fact only twenty or so countries have mandatory voting, and of those only half strictly enforce this requirement by imposing penalties.
The public purpose pursued by many who advocate for mandatory voting is principally to raise voting participation and thereby improve the legitimacy of elected representatives, and a broadened legitimacy of elected representatives ensures a broadened legitimacy of government, which is a most laudable public objective.
There are also a number of other measures that could be implemented prior to mandatory voting in order to improve voter turnout over time. Taking the prescriptive that the administration of voting is simply another element of government service delivery to the citizen would, in my view, go a long way in bringing this design within a modern philosophy of citizen-centred government service.
Simply put, if voting is more user-friendly and highly accessible, more people may be likely to vote. Everything possible should be done to facilitate voting, from registration to the actual act of voting. With modern information technologies, many impediments to voting or things that make voting more difficult could be lifted or greatly reduced. For example, we have a permanent electronic national voters list; if only it were available at all polling stations across the country in real time. This is a no-brainer in this day and age.
We might have a vote-anywhere policy that would facilitate the exercise of the franchise, notably by students who leave their permanent place of residence to attend college or university just around election time, if we stick to the current cycle. People could vote wherever they were on polling day, rather than having to return to their place of registration or having to change their registration to their new residence in order to be able to vote on polling day.
The lifting of such administrative burdens might give a particular boost to voting in marginalized groups in Canada, who may benefit from an increase in accessibility to voting, and among youth, since it's critical to retain the large increase in first-time young voters in the last federal election so that they continue over their lives to perform their civic duty. I say this while well understanding that in rural and remote areas of this country, we do not yet have the standard of connectivity to be found in the rest of the country, but perfection should not be the enemy of the good. We can start to work at modern-day solutions in full recognition of this reality and hope that we can implement something in rural and remote Canada as well.
Another example is limiting vouching to one per person. This has brought an undue restriction on the administrative flexibility of the voting process that may have had an impact, in particular for elderly voters in seniors' residences, where it was customary for staff to vouch for several residents who lacked identification, as well as in indigenous communities. Stopping this practice may have been a remedy to a non-problem.
However, I would suggest more importantly that the ability to vote online would make a difference as well. We manage polling pretty much as we did 100 years ago. Except for the permanent voters list that is composed and updated electronically with data input from Canada Revenue Agency, our voting process is entirely paper-based and very similar to what is was in the early 20th century. Polling stations do not have electronic access to existing voters lists and have only a printed list of voters for their poll, on which they cross off names as people come in and vote. Voters are given a ballot.... You know the process; I don't need to go into it.
It's extremely slow, and with the new additions that have been added to the administrative process, it is slow and clumsy for our day and age. To paraphrase another Canadian, after all, this is 2016.
Many service providers at all levels of government and in the private sector—even banks, for heaven's sake—don't let their customers or their citizens wait in line, because they know that often this causes them to lose their patronage. They've taken the turn to modernity. The electoral process has not. People line up and wait to exercise their franchise at polling stations.
A survey commissioned by us at the Institute on Governance—not yet published, but I will make it available to the committee after my appearance—shows that Canadians widely endorse online voting. I believe that technology that could and must ensure both the confidentiality and the integrity of an online voting process must be aggressively explored now, while we still have a few years to go.
Citizens live their lives online through their mobile devices, and few remember life without Google. Google is just a decade old, yet antiquated paper-based electoral processes already feel like an aberration in this world. People live their lives online, do their banking online, and pay their taxes online, but they can't vote online. A younger generation does not understand this, and frankly neither do I. I say let Canada be at the vanguard of piloting, experimenting, and implementing online voting as quickly as possible.
By the way, under the the Fair Elections Act, this would require the authorization of Parliament, and I quote section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act:
The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting processes, and may devise and test an alternative voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters or, in the case of an alternative electronic voting process, without the prior approval of the Senate and the House of Commons.
This is a very, very high bar, which I have no doubt discourages the serious examination and investigation of these modern administrative matters that affect the democratic franchise.
Most importantly, because an increase in voter turnout can equate to government's legitimacy, methods to improve accessibility are but one of the viable alternatives. I'm talking specifically about civic education. Parliament has a duty to ensure that its citizens understand the importance of their participation in strengthening the principles of sound public governance. With a civic education strategy that starts by targeting grade schools and high schools, we can ensure that there are more first-time voters, regardless of the voting system we choose, and that many more will become voters for a lifetime, continuing to support the ongoing foundation of democratic governance. I believe that Elections Canada should be institutionally positioned to play a leadership role in this strategy.
In other countries, such as Australia, electoral commissions or agencies have the responsibility to not only administer elections but to objectively inform citizens of their civic duty by providing accessible tools and resources. Thus, I believe that this committee should consider recommending expansion of the mandate for Elections Canada to include providing foundational and objective education and awareness programs to young Canadians, marginalized Canadians, and new Canadians.
Now I come to the voting system, first past the post.
Some feel that this element of our electoral process would be the single most important reason for the long-term trend of voter apathy identified by scholars and experts. A major feature in our democratic system is the election of majority governments, with examples of minority governments being a more common feature in more recent times.
I think he's good, too.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Scott Reid: I want to thank all the panellists for being here.
I wanted to start by asking Jonathan Rose a couple of questions, and this may take up all the time I have in the first round.
You are, of course, one of Canada's two or three leading experts on citizens' assemblies, and you've spoken very favourably of them based on your experience. I'm just quoting you here: “A citizens' assembly—where real learning, deliberation and consultation takes place—is actually a higher threshold for legitimacy than a referendum”.
As someone who takes referendums very seriously, I'm impressed by that.
I wanted to ask this question. A year ago, you said, “I think it shouldn't be a blue-ribbon panel deciding this,” meaning electoral reform, “or politicians. Whatever decision is reached, it should be put to a national referendum for approval.”
Is it still the case that you would regard the gold standard for changing the electoral system and ensuring that it's legitimate as a citizens' assembly followed by a referendum on the decision arrived at through the assembly?
I'll touch briefly on this, and you can see it in my written submission after this presentation.
I would think that, yes, citizens make the greatest connection with what all of this means to them in terms of outcomes. What is our parliamentary form of democracy, based on democratic principles that we hold dear in this country, meant to do? That's their litmus test for how this works: How well do we work together? What compromises do we come to? The mechanisms and modalities are important only insofar as they help us to achieve those outcomes. Here, I think, you have to step back a bit from the very particular questions and ask about those outcomes.
If you ask about those outcomes, I would also ask the committee to look at a few other things. If we change the way we elect parliamentarians and therefore the balances you are trying to create within the system, also give some thought to the implication this has, because Parliament in and of itself, without the functioning of government, does not end up in outcomes. Isn't that right? It's the combination of the two.
We have some parliamentary conventions you should look at. What does loss of confidence mean in a house that functions in a very different fashion? Explore that, because that may give you insights in the reverse order into what you're trying to achieve. Explore the issues of what dissolution means in a world in which loss of confidence may be explored in a very different fashion.
What does it mean? We know that historically, in our current system—and this doesn't mean we shouldn't change it—loss of confidence leads to dissolution. Is that what's going to happen in a world in which we may put other mechanisms in place? This is an important part of our governance fabric, which leads or doesn't lead to outcomes being achieved by the way we manage things.
We have a few of those conventions in place that we should be paying some attention to. If we make these changes, then let's not repeat some of our past behaviours. If we vote to make these changes, how do we put these things out, in terms of conventions and how they're to behave, in a most transparent fashion? Does an incumbent prime minister publish for the House and for all Canadians an understanding of what those things mean, so that the Governor General is instructed as to what the presumed wisdom is and so that Parliament knows how to behave, and also the various constituent components of cabinet?
What happens if we propose a system—and I could live with any of these systems, and God bless democracy—in which we have multi-party members of cabinet? The issues of cabinet solidarity have been fundamental to the way we function. How would we explore those? I'm not saying we shouldn't look at them.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I welcome the witnesses to their provincial Parliament, or rather the federal Parliament. I apologize, it's an old habit of six years.
Ms. Flumian, I will start with you. I have been listening to you for a while and find your comments very interesting, of course. I understand from what you said that you truly value the work we do here. That's great and we appreciate it, but ultimately, the decision is not ours to make.
About a month ago, in this very room, at this table, on that chair by your side, the minister responsible came to testify. She was specifically asked whether her government would be bound to follow the committee's recommendation, if there happens to be one. As you know, this committee will be travelling across Canada to hear from experts and citizens like you.
This is a serious effort undertaken by all political parties in the House and normally it would lead to a recommendation. However, the minister told us that she would not be bound by it.
What does that mean, Ms. Flumian? Ultimately one person will make the decision, and that is the Prime Minister. He controls the executive, that is, the cabinet. He also controls the majority in the House. Therefore, it's not the entire population who will decide on our new electoral system, but rather one single person: the Prime Minister.
What are your thoughts on that?
I'm so delighted to have all of you here today. It's been a very enlightening panel. You guys have been very diverse in your views, which is nice to see.
We've been hearing a lot about what voters really know. What I'm hearing is that they don't know the system.
Mr. Rose, you were saying what they do know is what they value. From your experience with Ontario citizens' assemblies, you said that simplicity was one of the things that they highly valued.
Ms. Flumian, you said that the most important value is the connection between a parliamentarian and his or her constituency. We were talking a little about perspective. Is it our perspective? Is it the voters' perspective on what system we need to move forward with?
What I do know and what this committee knows is we need to make progress. You stated a little earlier, Mr. Pilon, that we haven't always had constituency offices. This is a new phenomenon, and now all of a sudden we're so caught up on that being important. Let me tell you, I do door-knocking. I do talk to constituents who walk into my office. I think that is part of the progress we have made in Canada. That is how we progress. I think it's been for the better, not for the worse.
My question to you is on that connection between constituents. I have constituents who don't just come from that Canadian perspective but who have immigrated from all over the world. They come from different systems and different perspectives. The one thing they pretty much unanimously tell me is they love Canada because they cannot connect with their member of Parliament in any other country the way they can here.
Not just for me do I value that connection with them, but for them. That's what I hear day after day. At the door during the election, I heard, “You're here now. What makes us think you'll be here later?” That connection and that availability are so important to them.
Whatever progress we make, would you say that's something we cannot risk losing at this point, now that we've made that progress?
Thank you. It would be a pleasure.
This my fundamental message: whatever recommendations your deliberations take you to, rest them on our entire governance ecosystem. People want some change. People want evolution. Our system has to evolve in order to maintain that primordial connection directly with citizens, which I think is fundamental to our democratic system of governance, but understand the whole system.
In Ontario, when the work of the constituent assembly was done, the government essentially took a pass. That may have had an impact on the results of that reform. That's why I'm saying to look at the entire ecosystem and understand the role of all these folks, because you were challenging the status quo at all levels. You're not simply challenging your relationship or whose perception it is, citizen perception or parliamentary perception—quite frankly, those should overlap as often as possible—but look at the entire system in which you're going to nest your recommendations.
There is no magic bullet. The answer is not first past the post or proportional representation or some combination, because fundamental to all of this is reforming and evolving your roles as well. Whatever system we have, you're getting elected by some mechanism to help govern Canada.
In today's day and age, the more connection you have, whether it's through constituent assemblies, whether it's through other mechanisms.... The value of a constituent assembly is highly deliberative. The problem with the constituent assembly is that it is deliberative for the people who are in the room; the rest of us think they've drunk the Kool-Aid. They didn't go through the same process and they don't understand it.
I put much more value on your deliberative discussions—because that's what you're here to do every day—than I put on the value of others externally to it, especially when I'm a public administration expert myself, a governance expert myself.
The answer is to connect as much as possible, but connect on the questions that are going to matter, and nest the questions you're going to be asking Canadians in the aspects of the system, of which voting is only one dimension.
As I said earlier, the reason there's a malaise in the country is that there is a strong view that there was a big disconnection between those who governed us and the way we're governed and what we tried to say to those who are governing us, and that is Parliament. It's the government, and Parliament definitely is not composed of some amorphous...it's all of you individually and the roles you play.
What is the importance of the not-for-profit sector? Where does it find its voice? Does it find its voice through...? Those are fundamental questions that the way we exercise the vote are supposed to address. Therefore, nest your recommendations, your deliberations, within that broader governance ecosystem. If you change one, you'll change another.
I was a public administrator for 30 years. If we change minority government models—which I'm not arguing we shouldn't—and if the cabinet is composed of multiple types of parties, it changes the role of public service. Good. Good on us. Let's explore what that means. Let's not get into unintended consequences that are bigger than what we're trying to correct by not understanding the implications of this aspect of your questions and the implications they have on the broader democratic governance system.
Quickly, I think there are a couple of elements in what you said that need to be highlighted.
As I've said earlier, I think it's an ecosystem; therefore, conventions, which are constitutional in our world and evolve over time, play an important role, and people need to understand them. Legislation is important. The role of the three orders of government is important.
However, behaviour is equally important. That's what's driving Canadians nuts. A party system that controls and is almost oppressive, it seems, to those on the outside looking in, in forcing how people must vote is part of what people are trying to fix. If we think that the answer to that question is the electoral voting mechanism, then by all means address it. However, if you're asking me how you might structure a conversation with Canadians, and therefore a report, I'd go to here. I'd start with values.
You have to start with values because then you can have a conversation about whether they are or are not reflected in the system that we currently have. You have to deal somehow with the bias of incumbency of the system we currently have.
If you paint a picture of the fact that we should evolve, then your next question is going to be whether you evolve at warp speed or incrementally.
I think everybody agrees that there is something about this ecosystem that's not working, but I don't think the conversation with Canadians should be about the specific technicalities. It should be about what outcomes you want. If we all come to the conclusion that we want to increase voter turnout but we change a system in a way that confuses them overly much, it will drive down voter turnout and create greater apathy in the system. How do you combat that?
I think that's a misreading of sections 40 and 41. I don't think that one aspect is spent.
For the parts of sections 40 and 41 that detail specific things that have been superseded, of course, those aspects are spent, but the intention of it clearly says that electoral matters are in the hands of Parliament, and that still stands, in my view, constitutionally.
You have to understand that Great Britain imposed various voting systems on different countries. Ireland is a good example. They imposed STV because they wanted to keep the different Irish groups apart, and then they would be weaker in resisting British rule. You see all those kinds of choices around the world. Now, it just turned out that it worked for the Irish and they liked it, so they kept it. It's one of those things that didn't work out.
However, in the Canadian context, Britain didn't do that. Probably the biggest influence on our voting system was the pre-Canadian voting systems that we'd already used in the united Province of Canada and the various colonies, so in that sense the politicians were just carrying on with what they did before.
Where people go wrong is in saying that our Constitution says that we should have a constitution similar to Britain's, so that means first past the post. Of course it doesn't, because while Britain used first past the post in 1867, they certainly weren't set on single-member ridings. There were multi-member ridings. They used the cumulative vote and the limited vote for different elections. They used STV for university elections, and all of this to the House of Commons.
If we're using the mother ship as our influence, then there are plenty of examples of their experimenting with different voting systems.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
What we are talking about today is the heart of our democracy and one of the most important things we have to decide, because the way we elect people is the heart of everything. All of the rest belongs to the choices that we make to elect our members. Everything—budget, taxes, policies, international affairs, defence—belongs to those who have been elected. It is the heart of our country.
This is the heart of our democracy. As far as I'm concerned, the method we use to elect people is the most important institution. It is more important than the Governor General and the Prime Minister and anything else. This is why it's very touchy. When we talk about institutions, we must be sure of what we're doing when we make any move.
We think that the best way to be sure we are making the right choice is to ask the people what they think. I'm not the only one who thinks like that. Let me quote a famous senior minister of the Liberal cabinet, the , former Liberal leader, academic for 20 years, well recognized from coast to coast, who said:
Precedent makes holding a referendum necessary in Canada: changing the voting system would require popular support.
It was not a Conservative who said that. It was a senior Liberal cabinet minister, the backbone of the government, who said that. I disagree with him on many issues, but I do respect the fact that he's an intellectual, an academic, well recognized, a Ph.D. On that issue, I can assure you that he's in the right place. In politics in a democracy, we are always in the right place when we ask people what they think about what is best for the future.
We all recognize, too, Mr. Chair, that our present electoral system is not perfect.
It certainly isn't, and woe to anyone who thinks otherwise. There is no perfect system. That is why you must be very sure of what you are doing if you want to change anything. Keep in mind that it took 11 years for New Zealand to complete its process.
Mr. Pilon, we do not agree on the referendum. You are quite right to think as you do. You're not the only one with this view. The same applies to us, as we are not alone in wanting a referendum. People from all walks of life do, including sovereignists in the Bloc Québecois, renowned great federalists like Stéphane Dion, and us, Conservatives. We believe that, if we have to change the electoral system, which is the most important institution in our democracy, we must do it by consulting Canadians.
Mr. Pilon, you do not think so. Do you think we should not hold a referendum? On what authority could you claim to know what is good for people if you don't ask them?