Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the 15th meeting of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
We have three witnesses with us this morning. They are Professor Barry Cooper, Professor Emmett Macfarlane and Professor Nicole Goodman.
As usual, the witnesses will each have 10 minutes to make their presentations. I need to point out that, after the presentations, there will be two periods for questions. In each period, all members will have the opportunity to participate. They will have up to five minutes, including the answers to the questions. Speakers who do not have the time to finish their remarks can always make comments the next time they have the floor.
The question-and-answer segment for each member is five minutes, and that includes the answers. If for some reason there's a question left hanging and you don't have time to respond to that question because the five minutes are up, no worries; you can answer the question the next time you have the mike. We won't be deprived of any information or insights just because of a five-minute limit.
If you allow me, I'd like to take a couple of moments to introduce our witnesses.
As I mentioned, we have with us Barry Cooper, who is a former senior fellow at the Fraser Institute and has taught at Bishop's University, McGill, York, and the University of Calgary for the past 25 years. Professor Cooper has studied western political philosophy as well as Canadian politics and public policy. He studies the work of political philosophers as they relate to contemporary issues, specifically regarding the place of technology and the media in Canadian society, the debate over the constitutional status of Quebec, and Canadian defence and security issues.
Professor Cooper has written, edited, or translated some 30 books and writes a regular column in the Calgary Herald.
Emmett Macfarlane is an assistant professor in political science at the University of Waterloo. His current research focuses on legislative responses to court rulings and on the Constitution. He has also advised the Government of Canada on the process of Senate reform. His work has been published in the International Political Science Review, the Canadian Public Administration Journal, the Canadian Journal of Political Science and the Supreme Court Law Review.
Nicole Goodman serves as the director of the centre for e-democracy at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and is assistant professor at the school's innovation policy lab. Professor Goodman's research largely focuses on the impacts of digital technology on Canadian political behaviour and public policy, and she's widely recognized as a leading expert on the topic of Internet voting in a Canadian context.
She has co-authored numerous academic papers and reports for electoral management bodies and governments across Canada and recently led a study of the Ontario municipal elections to assess the effects of technology on voters, candidates, and election administrators. At this time Professor Goodman is involved with two Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded research projects to understand the impact of digital voting and e-democracy technology on municipalities and first nations in Canada.
Welcome. I can tell right away that this is going to be a very interesting and informative panel and subsequent discussion.
I would like to start with Professor Cooper, please, for 10 minutes.
First of all, thank you for the invitation. It's always nice to come to Ottawa when the weather is nice.
I teach political philosophy and war, not political parties and elections, so my remarks will reflect this approach to political reality.
Changing the electoral system changes one of the fundamental attributes of the regime, which in Canada we usually refer to as responsible government. Because fundamentals are involved, I'll have to commit a little political science, for which I apologize in advance.
First of all, changing fundamentals means you can't simply change the electoral system and everything else stays the same. A lot of things will change if we move from the majority-plurality system we have today to one or another form of proportional representation, or PR, as I'm sure you've heard it referred to. The kind of PR matters as well, but I won't go into that. The important thing is this: changing the electoral system is not just applying a new coat of paint.
Second, politics involves forming coalitions—of interests, of ideologies, of personal patronage, whatever—in order to govern. This is as true for chimps and bonobos as it is for human beings.
Parties part people in the sense of dividing them, but they also bring them together as they search for winning coalitions. Whatever the electoral system, whether plurality or PR, parties exist to form governments; that is their rational purpose. It is not just to promote interests and ideologies. Interests and ideologies are often promoted by organizations other than parties and are, within parties, often subordinate to forming a government, but here matters get more complicated, because different electoral systems incentivize people to form different kinds of coalitions.
Specifically, plurality systems incentivize people to form coalitions within a party to win a parliamentary majority. Brian Mulroney famously did so by forming a coalition of Quebec nationalists and westerners. Under PR, small parties, which may well represent ideologies or interests—or in Canada, a region—have no possibility and no ambition to form a government. They want to be part of a larger coalition in order to advance their ideology or interests that way. Governing with a PR system still involves forming a coalition, but now parties form them openly in parliament rather than within a big-tent party. That is, all PR systems incentivize persons to create single-issue parties to run on comparatively narrow agendas and do the coalition-building after the election.
None of this is news. I first learned about the effects of electoral systems as an undergraduate at UBC during the 1960s. The material we were reading was even older.
I have one last bit of political science. We all know that majority rule in free elections is the basis of democracy, but when there are more than two choices, there may be no majority for any particular rank order of choices. This “voters' paradox,” as it's called, is the electoral equivalent of “rock, paper, scissors”. More formally, it is the basis of Kenneth Arrow's impossibility theorem, which he described in 1951 and which helped secure him the Nobel Prize in economics 20 years later. The implication of this very complex argument is significant: there is no best electoral system.
To repeat, there are different incentives provided by different electoral systems, and these incentives are distinct from questions of establishing the franchise, homogeneity of electoral districts or constituencies, and what Canadian courts call “communities of interest”.
Let's look again at the consequences that a PR incentive system extends to a political party that is more concerned to advance a particular interest, ideology, or agenda than in ruling.
First, it leads to a proliferation of small parties. Even in a plurality system, the disintegration of the big-tent Mulroney coalition resulted in two little parties, Reform and the PQ. It took a decade for Stephen Harper to recreate at least part of the coalition in the Conservative Party of Canada. Outside Canada, between 2000 and 2015, 17% of PR elections resulted in single-party majorities. In contrast, 85% of majoritarian or plurality elections resulted in single-party majorities.
So what? That seems to be a pretty benign consequence.
The problem, however, is that when coalitions are formed in Parliament rather than within the party, large majority parties have to make concessions to small ones, including fringe parties. This is reason enough for small, intense, single-issue parties to favour PR.
The logic is obvious. If small-party ideologies or interests are supported by most electors, they become big parties. If not, they are in a position to leverage their small but intense support in exchange for supporting a big party in Parliament and getting the big party to legislate what they want—but notice that they do so against the wishes of the majority.
Democratic theory is rightly concerned with the tyranny of the majority. PR practically invites tyranny of the minority or minorities. In short, PR does not encourage the foremost political virtue, namely moderation, to say nothing of institutional stability.
The most obvious practical result is that PR elections lead to increased government spending as large parties acquiesce in the requests or demands of small ones in exchange for their support. One study has shown that increases in government expenditures are in the order of 25%. Moreover, PR countries tend to cover their increased expenditures by borrowing money, thus increasing debt. The generalized effect, therefore, is to increase the size of government, which increases the effective power of bureaucrats, and bureaucrats are not elected by anybody.
I should say in passing that the most obvious forgone benefit of instituting a PR system is that it becomes much more difficult to vote the government out of office. This practical advantage of plurality systems was clearly in evidence in the 2015 federal election and in the 2016 Alberta provincial election.
In that connection, so far as changing the federal electoral system is concerned, winning 39% of the popular vote does not constitute a mandate, especially when you ask how many of those who voted for the federal Liberals did so because that party promised to change the electoral system but didn't say how. I would suggest the answer is “precious few”, which leads to a final practical issue: the growing suspicion of, not to say cynicism with respect to, the motivations of government. Like all parties, the Liberals are rational actors and so will likely design an electoral system from which they expect to benefit. Whether they do is, of course, another matter.
A couple of lawyers wrote in the Toronto Star not too long ago, which usually supports the present government, “To allow a one-off parliamentary majority to unilaterally alter” the foundations for distributing political power “would be fraught”. Madison said something quite similar in “Federalist No. 10”, and so did de Tocqueville and many other democratic theorists.
Let me conclude by reiterating my first observation, that changing the electoral system is a change in fundamentals. In legal language it amounts to changing a constitutional convention, or what we now call the constitutional architecture. I need hardly remind you that constitutional conventions are the customs, practices, and maxims that are not enforced by courts but nevertheless constitute a practical political ethics. We were recently reminded of their importance by the spectacle of Senator Duffy.
What is more important is that we might anticipate a court challenge from one or more of the provinces on the grounds that changing the electoral system violates a constitutional convention that has been in place since 1791. It clearly changes the internal architecture of the Constitution, which invites scrutiny by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Changing the electoral system obviously affects provincial interests. Just think of the constitutional requirement of four MPs for P.E.I. If that constitutional requirement were carried forward, one of my colleagues at the University of Calgary calculated that the House would contain over 600 MPs, which implies another kind of architectural change to the configuration of the chamber.
More to the point, the decisions by the court in the Nadon reference and the Senate reform reference of 2014, and going back to the patriation reference of 1980, are pretty good indications that the government would lose.
In short, thinking about a PR system for Canada is fine for political science undergraduates in a bar on a Friday evening. For Parliament seriously to consider this constitutionally suspect change is politically imprudent, to use no stronger language. A lot can go wrong and likely will.
I'd like to begin by thanking the chair and members of the committee for the invitation and the opportunity to speak today and share my research findings and thoughts.
Before I begin, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to the fact that the Centre for e-Democracy, which is an organization that's dedicated to generating, translating, and disseminating scholarly research findings about how digital technology is affecting our democracy and our societies, is releasing a report that looks at how Internet voting in local elections in Ontario affected election stakeholders such as voters, candidates, and election administrators. That report was released today on the centre's website. Thank you.
I have structured my remarks to speak to the applicability of online voting with respect to the guiding principles of accessibility and inclusiveness, engagement, and electoral integrity. I'd like to make clear that when I am speaking about online voting, I am referring to remote online voting, which means being able to cast a ballot from a remote location such as work, home, or perhaps overseas.
There are other types of electronic voting, such as from public kiosks or by electronic devices at a polling place. These latter options allow for tighter control by election officials and can minimize some risk.
Remote online voting offers electors improved access and has the greatest potential to reduce costs associated with casting a ballot. It is the only type of electronic voting reform that represents a substantial step forward in terms of voter access and convenience.
Voting accessibility is becoming increasingly important for Canadians. Turnout in federal and provincial elections has experienced a general trend of decline over the past 25 years, notwithstanding a few recent increases that have to do with the contextual considerations in those elections. At the same time, voter turnout in the advance voting period in the same elections has risen significantly. Why is this?
There have been some changes to the advance voting structure that may have created additional opportunities to participate, such as extensions in the number of advance voting days. Generally it appears to be part of a trend, also mirrored in other advanced democracies such as Australia and the United States, whereby voters are opting to vote in advance of election day.
Voters in these countries are also using other remote voting methods more, such as voting by mail. In the recent Australian federal election, for example, overall voter turnout was the lowest it has been since compulsory voting was introduced in 1925, but advance participation at the polls was around 24%. This is up from 16.9% in 2013 and 8% from 2010. Taking into account votes cast by mail, about 34% of the votes in that election were cast before election day.
The fact that voters are so readily making use of the early voting period and other remote voting methods signals that the contemporary voter wants options, or rather choice and convenience, for voting.
There is also evidence that improvements in access can address some of the reasons for non-voting listed in Elections Canada's survey of electors and Statistics Canada's 2015 labour force survey. In recent elections, the frequency of the explanation of “everyday life issues” is the largest category provided by non-voters to explain why they did not participate. This category includes rationales such as being too busy or out of town, illness or disability, weather conditions, or transportation problems. Online ballots can enable voting in situations of everyday life or health issues. These reasons for non-voting should be on the radar of the committee in their consideration of voting reform.
Access can be particularly important for special groups of electors, such as citizens abroad or military overseas, persons with disabilities, young people away at post-secondary schools, the elderly, and members of indigenous communities. Ten countries presently have active Internet voting programs, and five of these initiated the reform to improve voting access for citizens or military overseas: Armenia, France, Mexico, Panama, and the United States. Jurisdictions that have implemented these programs seem content with the added access for voters, and some have expanded the program to the entire electorate, such as Alaska.
Should the government decide to adopt mandatory voting, it would also be important to introduce reforms or measures to improve voter access to the ballot box, such as additional advance voting days, vote centres, or remote online voting.
Regarding the implications of online voting for engagement, I will speak first on turnout. A recent study of Internet voting adoption in Ontario municipalities by myself and my colleague, Leah Stokes, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, finds that the voting reforms increase turnout. Examining five elections from 2000 to 2014, we find that Internet voting increases turnout in Ontario municipalities by 3%.
These results are consistent with findings of other research on “convenience voting” reforms, such as voting by mail or early voting. These studies find effects in the 2% to 4% range, typically.
Other voting reforms the committee is considering, which are larger changes, may not have much larger effects on turnout. Adopting a PR system, for example, can increase turnout by 5%, while compulsory voting laws show a much larger change, with an average increase in turnout of 7% to 16% in advanced democracies.
However, even in places where mandatory voting is already established, such as Australia, there is talk of further improving turnout. Voter participation is complex, and no one institutional reform will be the silver bullet.
In terms of policy design and what the voting reform should look like if introduced, we find that when registration to vote online is not required, 35% more people choose to vote by Internet. We also find that there is less uptake of online voting when it is offered in the advanced voting period and not on election day. If offered, I would recommend offering online voting on election day.
Now let me say a word about non-voters. Evidence in Canada and in other countries with established online voting programs, such as Estonia and Switzerland, shows that online voting brings some infrequent voters into the voting process. Particularly in Canada, at the municipal level there is evidence that people, who previously were eligible to vote but were not brought into the voting process when online voting was offered.
With regard to age and engagement, online voting typically appeals to voters of all ages, though not disproportionally to young people, as is often thought. My research on Canada and findings from other countries, such as Norway, show that the youngest voters, those aged 18 to 25, are more likely to choose paper over online ballots, perhaps out of symbolism or ritual for the first time participating.
Emerging research form Switzerland finds that while older voters are likely to use online voting and remain loyal to the voting method, young people are more likely to try online voting once and then move back to paper ballots or back to abstention. Older voters will use online voting, but it's not the solution to engage young people.
I will end with some final words about electoral integrity.
Though security authentication and verification must be managed carefully, our lives are increasingly moving online. I am of the view that the modernization of government institutions is inevitable, and whether online voting is proceeded with or not, we are going to see technology creep into other aspects of the election process, such as the voters' list, voter registration, and ballot tabulation. Thus, the government needs to give due consideration to research in this area and how voting technologies might apply to the unique, contextual circumstances in Canada.
The integrity of elections should be a foremost consideration of parliamentarians. While some changes may raise questions about the impacts of certain reforms, taking no action, which is a decision in itself, could also impact citizen trust and faith in elections and Parliament.
If online voting is implemented, its deployment should be carefully thought out, researched, and trialed in a select area or with a particular group of electors prior to broader development.
Finally, process is very important. Electoral reform is not something that can be rushed; it is much better accessed as part of a careful and deliberate process. While a trial would be a practical step forward and change is inevitable, large-scale deployment needs to be well researched, considered, and planned.
I want to thank the committee for the invitation to join you today. You'll forgive me if I'm not as coherent as I could be, but we have a two-week-old baby at home, and it turns out babies come with a big dose of sleep deprivation.
The brief I submitted to you addresses a set of disparate issues relating to electoral reform. It explains why there are no significant constitutional constraints on Parliament's authority to implement reform. It addresses the nature of proportionality and reminds you that while PR systems are designed to result in proportional representation in legislatures, they do not necessarily result in anything resembling proportional exercise of power. It cautions you about mandatory voting and asks that you consider whether mandatory voting is anything more than treating a symptom of a set of problems rather than dealing with those problems. It presents an argument for why, I believe, political legitimacy may require, at the end of this process, a referendum to ensure that Canadians support whatever specific reform is advanced at the end of the day.
For my opening statement, I'd like to focus on exactly how evidence from social scientists, and especially political scientists, can assist you.
As the committee has already learned, political science can provide important insights about the operation, impact, and comparative evidence regarding various electoral systems, but there is no social scientific evidence that one can apply to assert that any particular system Canada might seriously consider adopting is more democratic than another, and this includes the first-past-the-post system.
As Professor Jonathan Rose has told you, choosing between alternative electoral systems is a question of values and trade-offs. In my view, there are those who advocate for PR systems with privilege, proportionality, and vote equity, and there are those who advocate for the status quo with privilege, efficiency, vote aggregation, and more direct or clearer lines of accountability. These values are all consistent with democratic norms but are emphasized by varying degrees by different electoral systems. There is nothing less democratic about a system that privileges parties capable of obtaining deep enough support to win single-member geographic ridings, nor is there anything less democratic about a system that seeks to ensure seats allocated in a legislature reflect popular vote shares.
Misleading rhetoric about the various electoral systems may cloud our ability to properly identify these trade-offs that are associated with each system. There are accusations that first past the post produces false majorities that risk misrepresenting that system entirely. It certainly looks like a false majority is produced if one frames the system entirely on the basis of national vote shares, but that's not what the existing system is meant to do. In first past the post, the system effectively consists of 338 separate electoral contests with a seat at stake in each one. A party that wins a majority of those contests is not winning a false majority. Canadians might reasonably prefer this simple geographic form of representation. Similarly, accusations that PR systems bring inherent instability are not supported by the comparative evidence, nor is there any evidence that Canadian political parties, or the political culture within Canada or its Parliament, are somehow incapable of adjusting to a system that more readily produces minority or coalition governments.
It has been disappointing to see some of the expert witnesses appearing before you make normative assertions about the democratic validity of certain systems over others. These may be informed opinions, but they are grounded in normative preferences, ideology, and even partisanship. This is not to say they are illegitimate or somehow not valid. I would argue that you could make a valid, normative case in favour of any major electoral system, including the status quo.
The question becomes one of who gets to make the final call. With respect, political parties have too much self-interest to be trusted with the end decision. There is already sufficient anecdotal evidence that the parties each of you belong to are already entrenched in their views about the outcome of this process. It would be absurd, especially considering the arguments against first past the post, to enact an electoral system against the wishes of a majority of Canadians.
The government's campaign promises gave it a mandate to pursue reform, but they do not provide a mandate to enact any particular electoral system. An electoral change is not like any other ordinary legislation. Canadians should have a say in the design of the fundamental thing that links them to the state.
I'll leave it at that. Thank you.
Welcome to the witnesses appearing today.
I would first like to ask Ms. Goodman a question.
Many voters want to be able to vote online. They come up to us in the streets to tell us that it is 2016 and to ask us why it is not being done. The most common example they give is that they can now pay a telephone bill through their bank. So why can’t they vote in the same way? On the other hand, even though it is modern and user-friendly and can make life easier for a number of people, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, as they say.
We still have a system that works well. The law allows people to leave work at a certain time in order to go and vote. When you show up at a polling station, you only have a few minutes to wait. I have never waited very long to vote. You can find out the results two hours after the polling stations close. If the result is unclear, people open the sealed boxes and count the ballots again.
If that works well, you wonder why we have to move to something that a number of people see as quite risky. Here is an example of a vote that was not done online, but that was done electronically.
In the municipal elections in Montreal in 2009, people did not vote on paper ballots but they registered their votes using a machine. Initially, the company that organized the voting provided amazing guarantees as to the security of the process. But a year and a half later, we found out the company in question was unable to guarantee that the results that had been announced were accurate. In fact, we did not know whether the candidate elected as mayor of Montreal actually was the mayor of Montreal, which was somewhat of a problem.
What could you tell people to reassure them that the process is secure? The procedure seems quite interesting, but I do not see the need for it.
Thank you for the question.
Estonia is a much smaller country. I'm a social scientist, so I can only speak to the security a little bit from what I've studied, but they have a really robust system in place in terms of authentication. Since 2013, they've been working on verification as well.
You mentioned electoral integrity. There have been a couple of instances in which the integrity of elections in Estonia has been called into question, and I think they are important to highlight. One was in 2011, when a student claimed that he could tamper with the system by using election-rigging malware. Around the same time for the same election—but they don't think it's related—one vote was declared invalid during tabulation. They investigated this vote and what might have caused it, because someone could theoretically cast an invalid vote. No bugs were identified.
On the student issue, he wrote to the National Electoral Committee and to three major newspapers, and it eventually went to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal, arguing that although the student was an Estonian citizen and could be subject to voter disenfranchisement attacks, he knowingly put the malware on his own computer and his rights were not violated. Shortly after that, one of the other political parties also filed an appeal to dismiss all of the votes in the election, and that was also dismissed by the Supreme Court.
Around the same time, Estonia started to approach the 25% mark in terms of votes being cast online, and that also raised concerns. When you have more than 25% of the votes being cast online, arguably there's more incentive for someone to try to tamper with the election. The vote share in terms of online voters has continued to increase, and they have not had any issues.
Based, however, on this incident, they worked toward verification. There are different types of verification, but basically the simplest kind is for you to be able to verify that your vote has been cast as you intended. Universal verification is considered the best, and that's cast as intended, recorded as cast, and then counted as cast.
Let me say at the start that I'm not a big fan of referendums, as Professor Macfarlane said, but this is extraordinary legislation and there is a problem of legitimacy. This is not just idiosyncratic opinions of the two of us.
I think your common sense will tell you that if you're changing the rules of the game, the fundamental rules of the game, you have to make sure that the major players, namely the people of Canada, approve of it.
Now, having said that, what are the available ways of securing that kind of legitimacy? A referendum or another election, I suppose, where that is the sole issue, as the free trade election was a generation ago, might be one way of doing it, but it's unlikely that the Government of Canada is going to go to the people on changing the electoral system. It's a second-best alternative.
Ontario, P.E.I., and B.C., I think, have considered changing their electoral systems, and they've had referendums, and the proposals have all been defeated. If I were advising the Government of Canada at the moment, I would say that's probably not such a hot idea, because you're likely to be courting loss.
How, then, are you going to get legitimacy for this really basic change? I think it's a dilemma. I don't like referenda, but that would be one way, and the most obvious.
I'd like to thank our three panellists for being here today.
Again, Mr. Macfarlane, congratulations on the new addition.
Because it's so rare that we have an expert on online voting in our presence, I am going to dedicate my first round to the issue.
Two of the guiding principles that we have in front of us are engagement and then accessibility and inclusiveness. I did read the report that was issued this morning and I found it very interesting, because I am very much a proponent of a better understanding of online voter participation.
However, your report mentioned that the typical online voter is older, educated, and wealthier, and it stated that if we were to implement online voting, we would only see perhaps about a 3% increase in voter participation. According to the guiding principles, we're trying to focus on folks who would not normally vote, meaning those who are perhaps living in regions, those perhaps who have never voted before, and so on. Looking at the typical profile, I don't think that online voting would address the voters we're trying to reach.
Professor Macfarlane, you mentioned also that mandatory voting treats a symptom of a bigger problem. I think you're correct.
My question is really to Professor Goodman.
If we know that online voting would not actually increase participation by groups that we're trying to address, such as youth and people living in regions and those who don't normally vote, and that it would only increase participation by those who are already voting, what would be the cost-benefit analysis of implementing an online voting system, given the fact that it's not going to address the issues that we've talked about?
Thank you for the question. You raise a good point.
Typically, anywhere online voting is introduced, we see it mostly used among older, educated, wealthier people. It's a trend of convenience. People want to have convenience. We do see a lot of older people using it, the elderly and people in nursing homes. Some of them used the Internet for the first time. I was out in Nova Scotia and I observed some of the elections there, and they were voting online for the very first time.
It certainly can enable access. The general trend is for older people to use online voting. We do find that some groups of infrequent voters, people who have voted some of the time in past elections but not all of the time, or non-voters, people who have been eligible to vote previously but have never voted, are brought into the election process, but it's just modest.
With respect to your point on turnout, that 3% effect was over time in Canadian local elections. There is no guarantee, if the voting reform were implemented federally, that we would see that same effect because, if we look at voting by mail, which is another remote voting reform, we see that the effect is actually greater at the local level than it is in general elections. The same could be true for online voting. We don't know, because we don't have the data.
The problem in looking at countries like Estonia, for example, is that Estonia only allows online voting in the advance portion of the election and not for the full election. It's difficult to make claims about how a voting reform is impacting overall turnout when it's only offered in the advance portion of the election.
I'm going to move to Professor Macfarlane. I'd like to explore some of the comments you've made on referendums. I hopefully heard you correctly. One of the comments I heard you say was that there's no convincing argument against a referendum.
I was looking through some notes. Yesterday we had Professor Lijphart speak to us and present some comments I found to be useful. He talked about the danger of a vote being based on voter confusion and misinformation. We've heard other witnesses talk about how a referendum doesn't lend itself to complex questions, and when we get into this kind of thing, it is very complex. We've heard that results are highly volatile and unpredictable. They involve emotions and often outright lies. We've seen this in the case of the Brexit referendum with the parties that campaigned against it. One of them would take all of the money that was saved, not send it to the European Union, and put it into health care. The day afterward, they said, “Oh, well, we can't actually do that.” You have these outright lies being presented in referendum campaigns.
Other issues also come out, including general dissatisfaction with the government. A recent example was in British Columbia. We had a transit referendum in the Lower Mainland that was looking at an additional tax to pay for transit improvements. That referendum became not about the question but about the effectiveness of Translink, the body that oversees transit. What people ended up voting on was not the question being asked but something completely aside from that question. It was defeated.
To me, these start becoming compelling reasons to not have a referendum.
The last comment I have is one that came in from Twitter. The comment was from somebody in account lifestyles strategies, and they said, “I do not want to vote on something I don't understand. Can we not let government do its job and let us try the new system before voting?”
With all of that, are there any compelling reasons in there to counter your point that there are no convincing arguments against a referendum? When I see that kind of package of things, to me it says that maybe this isn't the best way to get input from Canadians. I turn it over to you for any comments.
I concur that Canadians are as intelligent as New Zealanders and I just reject the argument made by the Liberal minister and the Liberal Party that Canadians are too uninformed, too stupid, too unwilling to learn to be capable of making a decision on this matter themselves.
This leads me to the questions I wanted to pose to Professor Cooper.
Professor, you made the comment that there is no best electoral system. I would submit to you, however, that there is actually a worst electoral system, and that would be not MMP or STV or alternative vote. It would be simply a system that has a predictable outcome on the vote—that is, it shifts the nature of how the next election would turn out even if Canadians have the same preferences they now have. We can guess at how that would work by looking at, for example, projections that have been made as to how different systems would have affected the outcome of the 2011 and 2015 elections. I think what we need to do is avoid a situation in which the mandate, real or imagined, the government got in the 2015 election is used to effectively change the rules of the game so that even if everybody voted the same as they did in those elections, we would have had more seats for the governing party.
Yesterday we heard from Harold Jansen, who did a study that showed that the alternative vote system would have produced improved results for the Liberals both in 2015 and in 2011, and pointed out a previous study that shows that earlier elections would have similarly been changed in favour of the Liberals. He said that on the three occasions in Canadian history when provinces adopted a system—didn't hold a referendum but simply adopted a system—that was distinct or different from first past the post—and this would be B.C. in 1950, Manitoba in 1921, and Alberta in the 1920s—the driving force was partisan self-interest of the party then in power. The new system would favour that party. Then when each of those three parties switched back to first past the post, they were similarly driven by the naked partisan self-interest of the party then in power, which would benefit from going back to first past the post.
The question I'm asking you is this. I believe this is the most convincing argument for a referendum. I say this without any prejudice as to whether first past the post is better or worse than other systems. I'm asking whether you agree that I am right that this is the real reason that a referendum is in this case a useful safeguard for the Canadian people.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Macfarlane, I am very pleased that you covered all the bases in pointing out that proportional methods of voting do not necessarily lead to unstable governments. It is a myth to make claims like that and I feel that it is important to say so clearly. On the contrary, these methods of voting can provide very stable governments. We have seen that in a number of western democratic countries, like Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
On Twitter, a person by the name of Jesse Hitchcock is following the committee’s work and wants us to talk more about what lies at the origins of the low turnout at elections.
In that context, let me suggest an idea to you, Ms. Goodman. I feel that the current method of voting, the one we call “winner takes all”, is an obstacle to participation. In some ridings in Quebec, members have been elected with fewer than 30% of the votes. In other words, the votes of 70% of the electorate were not counted. They just went right into the garbage.
I will take the results in the riding of Rosemont-La Petite Patrie as an example. In that riding, there was little motivation for Conservatives to go and vote. They had little chance of winning the election. The same goes for New Democrats in Mr. Deltell’s riding. We often hear people asking themselves: “Why would I go and vote? My vote will not change anything.” If proportionality were a factor, perhaps that vote would not make a difference in the riding, but it would count later as seats are redistributed.
Would voters not be motivated to get out and vote if their vote could count and give them a voice in Parliament?
I just saw reading Twitter and saw that Elsie Wayne just passed away, and having just asked you the question about the two surviving Progressive Conservatives of 1993, I just thought I'd share that with colleagues. She was a great lady.
To return to the topic at hand, Professor Cooper, you put forward the notion that there were really only two ways that you could think of to create the extra legitimacy around changing a voting system. The vast majority of the witnesses we've heard, including Professor Macfarlane, but constitutional experts, have all said there's no requirement for a referendum. Everybody's pretty clear that constitutionally it's the job of Parliament to design a voting system. We've had changes in our voting system since 1867, federally and provincially, without any of them going to a referendum.
The question that comes to mind is whether there is some other way, given that I'm also persuaded that a higher level of legitimacy makes sense when you're changing the voting system. I'll ask all three of you if any of you would consider, and whether you think there's any merit—and I wish I could find where I'd seen this, in what paper—in having a vote in Parliament that required more than the bare majority in Parliament. In other words, a change in our voting system might require something more. I have an open mind on this; I'm just looking for what you think about the idea of, say, requiring two-thirds of parliamentarians for a change in the voting system, so that we wouldn't have a ricochet where one party in power could change the voting system and then another one could change it afterwards.
Could we just go down the row and see if any of you think that has any particular merit as another way of enhancing the legitimacy of a change that is in Parliament's hands legally and constitutionally? I would say we have a mandate based on how people voted in the last election, but I'm not going to dive into that with you with the time I have.
I guess from what you say there is a specific mandate, but you also mentioned there's been a lot of misleading rhetoric around various systems that we've been exploring. It was, I think, a little striking because I haven't heard any of the witnesses say this before. You said that perhaps Canadians might prefer the simple geographic form of representation, and that it's the local geographic seat that wins, and that within that seat they're winning a plurality of the vote, and the party that leads has the majority of those seats.
We've talked a lot about local representation, geographic representation, as valuing accountability, valuing the attachment to community, and about members of Parliament understanding their local community. Now, a large geographic district, as in Ontario or any other province, actually a lot of the northern concerns are very different from the Niagara region, let's say, and their concerns are very different from the GTA region. In our caucus we tend to discuss what various MPs are advocating for in their regions, and it can be quite different at times.
In a new system, whatever it may be, how do we protect that value of being able to get a local representative who can advocate for you and who can facilitate a resolution for you?
Let's say an individual walks into my constituency office. I can help facilitate a solution for them, and there may be more concerns of that type in my area than in my colleagues' areas. Sometimes we discuss the different issues that we have in our different areas. How do we go about doing that in the new system?
One of the benefits of having the honour of chairing this committee is being able to listen intensely to some fascinating testimony. One of the frustrations is never being able to say anything, except to cut people off at five minutes.
I would just like to make one comment. It is not in any way a defence of the status quo, but it's just a thought.
I find that people tend to simplify our system a lot. I'm speaking also as a parliamentarian who has been sitting in the House for a little while. A lot of people will say this government has a majority and they can do whatever they want, or your government has a majority, or whatever. I explain to them that in fact it's not really the case, because there are many checks and balances in our system.
We have the courts. We have provinces, and we can see the power of the provinces whenever the federal government tries to negotiate a national program. We have the media. The media are definitely critical of all governments, as they should be. We have unions, for example, in collective bargaining that put brakes sometimes on governments, even governments with big majorities. We saw how the Mulroney government's attempt to reform the pension system was stopped cold by an octogenarian with a microphone on Parliament Hill . We saw how the Diefenbaker government—and I'm not singling out the Conservative governments—had a huge majority going into the 1960s, and it just collapsed.
Is it not partially right to say that our system doesn't give absolute power to a party that has less than 50% of the vote? It just gives a stronger hand to one party to negotiate the obstacles in its way in trying to exercise sometimes a national purpose.
You have 15 seconds, because I don't want to be unfair and extend the meeting a little longer.