I call the meeting to order. Thank you, colleagues.
We will now start meeting 16 of our study on electoral reform. We have three witnesses with us this afternoon. We have Professor Matthew Harrington, Professor Thomas Axworthy, and Professor Pippa Norris, who is joining us by video conference.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to briefly introduce our witnesses.
Professor Matthew Harrington is president of the common law program committee of Université de Montréal's law faculty. He teaches U.S. constitutional law and property and trust law, and has published works on the economic origins of law, among other topics. Professor Harrington recently co-hosted a conference at the Université de Montréal, funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, about the relationship between the Supreme Court of Canada and common law.
Professor Thomas Axworthy is a renowned public servant, political strategist, writer, and professor. He is best known for his role as senior policy adviser and principal secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from 1981 to 1984, during which time he played a key role in repatriating the Constitution and introducing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He has made a lifetime's work of notable contributions to Canadian society, and continues to facilitate international action and co-operation as a member, and more recently as Secretary-General, of the InterAction Council. In 2009 Professor Axworthy chaired the advisory task force on democracy promotion for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform of the day. He was also chair and executive director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen's University. In 2012 Professor Axworthy was awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contributions to Canadian public policy.
Professor Pippa Norris is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, an Australian Research Council laureate fellow, and a professor of government and international relations at the University of Sydney in Australia. Dr. Norris is also the director of the electoral integrity project that is based at the University of Sydney and supported by the Australian Research Council and other foundations. Dr. Norris is one of the world's most cited political scientists. Her research focuses on public opinion and elections, democratic institutions and cultures, political communications in countries around the world, and gender politics. She was recently awarded the Brown medal for democracy. Other accolades include the Karl Deutsch award, the Johan Skytte award, and the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship. Dr. Norris's most recent books are Contentious Elections, Why Elections Fail, and Checkbook Elections? Political Finance in Comparative Perspective.
We shall start with.... Pardon me?
I think Mr. Reid was just expressing awe and how much he's impressed by our panel.
If it's okay, we'll start with Dr. Norris, please, for 10 minutes.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I really appreciate the opportunity to talk again with the Canadian Parliament about this really important topic.
There are really three issues that I think are worth highlighting.
Number one, what are the key options on the table? Those are partly about electoral systems but also a lot of details. Should there be a referendum, for example, to introduce any sort of reform? Should there be different types of mandatory voting, and so on? Number two, why reform the current system? Of course, the classic issue is that if it ain't broken.... So what's the problem we're trying to address in which a different change might actually work? Number three, what might be the consequences if we adopt one system or another? What would it do?
If we just take the first issue, in terms of the electoral system, as your committee has debated in the past, essentially there are the core four main options on the table. One is to obviously maintain the status quo of first-past-the-post majoritarian plurality systems, which have certain virtues, which are very familiar, and which are used in a number of countries, obviously including the United Kingdom as a result of the failure to reform, as well as the United States. I know that the preferential vote issue has been under question, the ranked choice, such as in the Australian House of Representatives.
The most popular option, which has been going on with many reforms in many countries, is the New Zealand option of the mixed member proportional, where it's like the German system, with one vote for the PR system and one vote for the single member. It's a mix of both majoritarian and proportional representation. Often what's critical are a lot of the details, such as how many seats are allocated to one or the other, or whether they're actually counterbalancing or are separate votes.
Last is pure PR, proportional representation, which is not really on the table, although clearly that's used in many, many countries around the world, producing a pure proportionality of votes to seats.
The question then is this: how are these really being thought through? What's worth emphasizing is that the devil is often in the detail in all of these designs, and therefore you really do need to look not just at the broad electoral law and systems but at basic procedures and things that I know are being debated, such as whether, if we're going to introduce any sort of reform, there needs to be a public mandate for it. Going through a referendum process is one issue that the committee is considering.
Should there be, for example, compulsory voting to address questions such as low or declining turnout? Other issues can also be there for electoral procedures, and I know with the fair votes act in Canada, there have been questions about those as well, to make sure there's both inclusive balloting, whereby everybody who has a voting right can exercise that and is not discriminated against, but at the same time there's secure balloting, so that there's no question of impersonation or double-voting. These are the kinds of options that I know you've been considering.
Why reform the current electoral system? This is the basic issue. Clearly the Prime Minister committed Canada to think about this and for Parliament to put this on the agenda with the commitment that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under first past the post. Again, I don't think the process has necessarily thought through what the problems might be. Certainly that was the case in some of the early debates.
I looked, for example, at the democratic institutions minister and at the points of eight different issues that were mentioned. Some of them, you can clearly see, are critical issues, and some of them might be less so, but if we take the things that are being mentioned—for example, legitimacy, efficacy, diversity, simplicity, user-friendliness—you can't get all of these values in any one particular option. They are all trade-off values. Think about issues like first past the post being actually very simple for the voters to make their choice. They basically have to mark one candidate, one party, on the ballot, and then the parliamentary system takes care of the rest. If you have a double choice, such as the mixed member system, that gives people more options, but they also have to become familiar with, for example, a wide range of candidates or different issues on the ballot. They have to think about their strategic choices as well. For example, if they support a minor party, does it make sense to vote for that party in both parts of the ballot? Maybe under first past the post, strategically they vote for a major party under the single-member district, but under proportional representation they might vote for a minor party. Essentially you have different choices, and no one system will meet all the points that the democratic institutions minister has set out.
If you want to emphasize the issues of fairness, for example, to minor parties, then a more proportional system is clearly going to get you there. That is much more likely to bring in more minor parties with a lower vote threshold in order to win seats. On the other hand, if you want to go for local accountability, then you'll go for first past the post, because the single-member district is where voters can vote for the candidate, not just for the party list.
There are complex issues, then, with the values, and issues about what the consequences might be and what the problems are at the heart of elections held in Canada.
Lastly, to come to the issue that I'm sure is really the most challenging to establish, what can we say about the consequences? It's very difficult to go from one system to another. You can certainly look at other countries, as I know you have—you've looked at Ireland, you've looked at Australia, and you've looked at Britain—and you can examine the ways in which their electoral systems work, but again, it's often a bundle of choices. The way that the Australian system works, for example, with its mandatory voting and with its different systems for the Senate and for the House, won't necessarily translate into how those same things would work in Canada.
What we can do is make some projections on how each of these different options, the basic electoral systems, might work, first in terms of seats and then in terms of things like gender equality or diversity, and then in things such as proportionality.
Just in terms of seats, what are the basic projections? Well, we can take the last election results under the current system in 2015 and we can make a simple projection. If it was under a system of any of the other alternatives we mentioned, what might be the consequences? Or quite simply, if we look under preferential voting, which is, for example, the system that we use in Australia for the House of Representatives, this would reduce at present the number of seats that are allocated to the Liberals. They would go down substantially just on the same share of the vote from, for example, 54% to 30% of the seats. The other parties would also change quite a lot. We can see again that other parties would potentially benefit from this, but some parties would stay much the same.
If we go right through to a mixed member system, the consequences for seats would depend on how you have a balance. You might have half and half or you might say only a proportion of the parliamentary seats would go through the proportional system, while the rest would go through first past the post. Under that system you'll probably see a greater share of seats for the minor parties, which would be able to get in through the proportional vote even if they can't currently get in through the single-member districts, but that also depends on their geographic dispersion. If you're clustered, as in Quebec, then obviously you can still get in through the first-past-the-post system of single-member districts, but if your vote is dispersed across different ridings and different regions, then the minor parties are likely to do better under any proportional or mixed member system. Obviously that's a key thing to consider.
We have to say that the level of proportionality is another question, and that's about the share of votes to seats. That's often what people think about when they think about a fair system. Again, it's likely that a more proportional system is going to get a greater degree of proportionality, but is this basically a problem in the Canadian system? When I've run the analysis and looked at some statistics at the level of proportionality in the Canadian elections right back from 1945 to date, I don't find that's actually gone up a lot or gone down a lot in recent years. Again, is this a matter of concern? This is up to your judgment.
Finally, what about public opinion? Do they have any preferences for any of these types of electoral systems? Well, public opinion on these sorts of issues is often soft, meaning that it's a technical issue. The public in many countries haven't often thought about these systems, and often it's only if they come to a real referendum that they actually think about those choices. Nevertheless, when we look at some of the public opinion polls in Canada that have been put forward on this issue, the preferences still seem to be to favour the current status quo, not to change. That's not surprising when people are asked in various studies.
Of the other systems, there seems to be a slight preference for the mixed member proportional versus either pure PR or ranked preference voting, but basically public opinion is not well formed on this issue. If you went to a referendum, the ideal thing would probably be to go to a referendum as in New Zealand, where you have, first, the question of whether the public feels there should be reform, and if yes, what type of system should be chosen.
My bottom money is that you'll probably go towards the mixed member system if any of the other choices were being preferred, because that system has the virtues of both single-member districts, which are familiar, and proportional representation, which gives a better chance to minor parties and to women and other forms of diversity. However, it's still probably likely that, as in the U.K. when there was referendum on this issue, overwhelmingly the public is not necessarily in favour of radical reform unless the problems are really put more clearly to the Canadian public.
Thank you very much.
I'll make five points in the presentation and spend a couple of minutes on each of them, though I am happy to provide the speaking notes later to the committee if they want more details. Some of the points have already been made by Pippa Norris, who really is one of the world's great experts on these issues and a woman whose writings I consult when I am asked about them. You are very lucky to have her here, and we'll all learn from her.
Of the five points that I want to make here, the first is that there is no crisis in democratic process or outcomes in Canada.
The second is that although there is no crisis, even superior systems can be improved, as the history of Canadian democratic practice shows, and I want to outline some of those important improvements in the various elements of how one runs elections.
The third point—which I don't have to emphasize, because Professor Norris has already done it—is that there is no perfect electoral system. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, and it is really a question of values, of differing perspectives, that will inform your own debate. There's no technical solution to the issue of electoral reform. It is basically a political process of deciding your purposes and values and what you value most. I ask the question that again Professor Norris asked: if our system in fact operates pretty well, what is the reform, and what problem are you trying to solve?
The fourth point I want to emphasize is that a consensus in a committee like this is crucial. It's difficult, but it's attainable. I want to refer to my own experience—the chairman raised it—about the creation of the special joint committee on the constitution in 1980-1981, which had an even more difficult set of issues than you're grappling with but eventually was able to reach a consensus, a difficult one.
The last and perhaps most important of my various points to you is that electoral reform, your issue, is just one piece of the democratic reform agenda. There is still lots of work to do even as you grapple with the issue of electoral reform. Electoral reform itself has such a tremendous impact on the role of the House, the apex of accountability, that I would recommend to you that as you grapple with all of the technical issues and the difficult issues—and Professor Norris has raised them—you must keep in mind the complementary reforms that will be necessary to make our system work under whatever system you choose.
I'll go very quickly, then, on those five points.
There's no crisis in Canadian democratic practice. We have had in this country in recent years a tremendous crisis, in my view, in the role of the Senate, and that was leading to tremendous disrespect for a critical institution in Parliament. The new government, though, has moved with dispatch and I think with boldness in trying to reform the Senate by making it merit-based, independent, and non-partisan. There are difficult and interesting challenges ahead to make that system work in our parliamentary system. However, that was a crisis and it was addressed.
I think there is less of a crisis when we look at electoral systems. When we look at the various assessments internationally, we see that the World Bank, for example, which sponsors a worldwide governance indicator project, indicated that in 2014 Canada had ratings of 96% in accountability, 91% in political stability, 95% in government effectiveness, 98% in regulatory policy, 95% in the rule of law, and 94% in the control of corruption. That's absolutely in the top ten of attainment.
Professor Norris's own electoral integrity project had Canada again as probably—and she can correct me on this—at the top of the majoritarian practitioners of electoral systems, with a rating of around 75% to 80%, ahead of the United States and so on. Again, it was in that absolute top rank.
This international assessment about the value of Canadian government practice and electoral practice has led, as we all know, famously to the human development index of the United Nations, where Canada has always been in the top 10 and sometimes has been number one. I think in 2014 we were number nine.
The strength of our government system and our electoral system has certainly had a positive impact on those achievements in the human development index. That is because—pride of position here—the Westminster system, with its combination of a concentration of power to get things done and an accountability related back to what David Smith, the brilliant scholar from Saskatchewan, calls “the people's House of Commons”—that combination of people sovereignty as represented in the House and the concentration of power for effective government—is really the secret of the Westminster system when it is working correctly. For most of our history, it has been working correctly in Canada.
I'll go to my second point. Even as I would argue that our Westminster system is superior, everything can be improved. The history of Canadian electoral practice when you look at it in all the dimensions of running elections—voter registration, election management, how wide is your franchise, party financing—shows that in every one of those important pillars of how one runs elections, over the last 300 years Canada has made tremendous changes and innovations. It's been a constant record of reform, leading to the building of those institutions that have led us to get such high responses on these international results that I have talked about. Most of them were initiated in the provinces, with Quebec leading the way on election financing, Manitoba leading the way on votes for women, and New Brunswick on the secret ballot. We can look at all aspects of elections and see a constant series of innovations in them.
The third point is that there's no perfect electoral system. I won't go into that because we just heard a very learned discussion on it.
On the committee process, let me just quickly remind you about that joint committee that we talked about. It met for months and had hundreds of submissions, but there were two key elements in that very difficult process.
The first was timing. The committee asked for, and Mr. Trudeau—the first Trudeau, my Prime Minister Trudeau—gave that committee length of time. He had a strong deadline, but changed that deadline to accommodate the needs of the committee, which asked for more time. The question for this committee is that the timing issue should be flexible in order for you to get it right.
Second, and equally critical, was that the representatives of every party had a tremendous impact on that committee. If I remember correctly, for example, the Conservatives on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms debate proposed over 20 amendments, of which I think seven or so were accepted by the government. The NDP proposed 40, of which over 20 were accepted.
The point is, the government was open and encouraged a consensus, and the committee then, though some had basic disagreement with the whole project, worked hard to make the substance work. Consensus can work.
Lastly, and I'll just end here, if this committee can achieve consensus and if you're given enough time to do so, or the government gives itself enough time to do this right rather than impose arbitrary deadlines, then as soon as you do that, a whole host of additional agenda items have to be covered. These include election debates, the role of Parliament itself, civic literacy, and many groups, not the least of which is our group at Massey College, which has a two-year program on a democratic agenda, including the idea of party policy foundations. There is much more to do once you help Canada solve this question of electoral reform.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am honoured to be here today, and I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee.
I should like to confine my remarks to just two points. The first is constitutional and the second is political.
The first issue to be considered is the extent to which a change in the current process of electing members of the House implicates the amending provisions of the Canadian Constitution. As the committee is no doubt aware, this issue is whether Parliament can proceed under section 44 or whether it must use the general amending procedure, also known as the 7/50 formula, set out in section 42.
As perhaps you are also aware, a great deal of ink has been spilled recently by academics in law and politics debating this particular question. The newspapers have been filled with editorials by various scholars contending that the abolition of first past the post may be done by Parliament alone, under section 44, whilst others contend that a new electoral system will require the consent of the provinces, under section 42. The degree of certainty expressed by my colleagues in this literature is rather puzzling to me, for I believe any conclusion is premature at this stage.
It would appear to me that the question of which amending procedure is required must abide the advent of an actual proposal. This is because I believe the Supreme Court's recent jurisprudence on amending the Constitution has created a great deal of ambiguity and confusion, so much so that I think it's now nearly impossible to determine whether a change in the method of electing members of either branch of Parliament is significant enough to require provincial consent. In short, while I'd like to say that changing the method of electing members of the House of Commons might be done under this section or that section of part V of the Constitution, if asked, I would be constrained, like any evasive lawyer, to say that I'd have to get back to you on that.
That's simple, because the Supreme Court has made a muddle of the amending process. The starting point for the analysis is the Supreme Court reference and the Senate reference. In both these cases, the court took up the question of how the composition of institutions may be changed. In both cases the Supreme Court took an extremely limited view of the process of constitutional amendment on the grounds that when amendments work a substantial change to the essential character of an institution, or where such a change would affect the rights of the provinces in a significant way, the amendments must utilize the 7/50 process.
In both cases, the court refused to limit its analysis to a purely textual review of the constitutional provisions, and this is significant. On the contrary, the court held that amendments to the Constitution are not confined merely to textual changes. They include changes to the constitutional architecture, although the court does not define for us exactly what the constitutional architecture is. It is this reliance on constitutional architecture that poses significant problems for navigating the waters of amendment. As of this moment, it seems difficult to predict whether the court might regard changes to the electoral system as merely housekeeping matters, allowing use of section 44, or whether such changes would constitute an alteration to the fundamental nature or role of the House and thus require the 7/50 formula.
My own view is that eliminating the first-past-the-post system might implicate section 42, given the court's treatment of recent attempts to alter the manner of selecting senators and justices. In striking down the attempt to create a system of advisory elections for the Senate, and an accompanying proposal for term limits, the court made it clear that changes that would fundamentally alter the Senate's role as a body designed to provide for sober second thought would be constitutionally suspect. Some have argued that we can ignore the Senate reference on the grounds that there are specific provisions in the Constitution dealing with the appointment of senators, but in the Supreme Court reference, the court struck down an attempt to alter the qualifications of justices.
Bear in mind that in the Supreme Court reference, what was before the court was an act of Parliament. What was before the court was an attempt by Parliament to change one of its own statutes.
The court declared that Parliament’s authority to amend the Supreme Court Act was limited because the act has, over time, essentially taken on a constitutional character. One might argue therefore that any attempt to alter the essential character of an institution or any attempt to alter a system of selecting members which then changes its essential character would trigger that 7/50 formula.
The use of constitutional architecture in the Senate reference as well as the concept of essential features in the Supreme Court reference are, I think, so devoid of precision and substance that one cannot say in advance whether a specific proposal will trigger the requirement for the 7/50 general amending provision. Morever, one might wonder whether the court would actually be inclined to treat the Elections Act as it did the Supreme Court Act and declare that first past the post is entrenched in the constitutional architecture. The Supreme Court Act of 1875 established the initial qualifications for judges. One would have thought Parliament would have been able to change that, but the court declared it could not do so. After the long period of time, it has become part of the furniture. One might question whether the Elections Act, and various predecessors, have done exactly that. I don't say; I wonder.
At this point, therefore, I think the committee is regrettably in the position of having to anticipate in advance whether any specific proposal will disturb the court’s so far nebulous concept of constitutional architecture or significantly alter what it calls the essential features of the House.
If pressed, I would suggest that there are two ways that the committee might do that, or any proposal might do that.
The first would be any system of voting that alters the relationship with, or the rights or the powers of, the provinces—perhaps a significant reworking of ridings that would dilute representation in some way. Of far greater concern, perhaps, is whether any reform system would substantially affect the relationship between the Prime Minister and the House. It could be argued that a Westminster-style government implies the stability provided by a prime minister able to control the House without frequent resort to coalition.
I regret that I can't be more specific on this point, and I dare say that if anybody comes forward and says, “Oh, go ahead and use section 44,” ask them if they're willing to bet the House on that, because until such time as the court defines “essential features” or “constitutional architecture”, no one can ever really predict whether any proposal that comes from the House will be regarded as mere housekeeping, thus implicating section 44, or whether it is a substantial change, requiring use of the general amending formula. The point I would simply like to make is there is no way to know at this point.
My political point is rather more straightforward. Regardless of the constitutional question, I would suggest to the committee that some form of direct consultation with the Canadian people is required, and I think everyone agrees with that. The arguments for a referendum have been rehearsed elsewhere, and I think little would be gained by my recapping them here. My own view is that referenda are incompatible with a Westminster-style government. I believe firmly in the sovereignty of Parliament and I think it is regrettable that the Canadian Parliament has, in recent decades, become rather timid in asserting its place in the constitutional system. I think both the House and the Senate ought to be more vigorous in asserting parliamentary prerogative. After all, the essence of the Westminster system is that the people are best represented in their Parliament, and not in the courts and not in the executive.
To some of my colleagues I know that makes me a bit of an anachronism, a dinosaur, in suggesting that the most appropriate way for electoral reform to be accomplished is by a subsequent parliamentary election. At present, I don't believe that it's possible for us to claim that there is a mandate, a democratic mandate, for any particular electoral reform. I would suggest therefore that the most appropriate way to gauge the support of the Canadian people would be for the government to go to the country a second time. At various times in our history, significant issues have been presented to the people in the form of an election. Recall the 1988 Canadian election, which was fought primarily on the question of whether the North American Free Trade Agreement ought to be ratified.
In conclusion, I would suggest that the most appropriate way to engage the consent of the people would be for the government to prepare a proposal that can be the basis of a subsequent election. That might occur by having the government resign right now, a prospect I know is fatuous in the extreme, or simply waiting until the next election.
In short, the most appropriate thing to do is to make the 2019 election about electoral reform.
My questions are for Professor Norris.
Professor, you referred with respect and with admiration, I think, to the process by which New Zealand adopted its new electoral reform system, the MMP system, in the 1990s. Others—at least one other witness—have been much less respectful of at least the motives of those who set up the process, although I think people are universal in their respect for the maturity with which New Zealand voters dealt with the system.
I want to go back and ask you a couple of questions about this. New Zealanders are the masters of something that I don't think exists anywhere else in the world, which is the preferential referendum, the referendum whereby you have more than two options. I want to ask you a bit about this.
In 1992-1993, what happened was that in 1992, the New Zealanders held a referendum with two questions. The first was, “Are you in favour of getting rid of first past the post?”, to which 84.7% said yes. The second question was then, “Which system do you favour?” Happily, this produced a majority in favour of one system, with 65% in favour of MMP, because it was not a preferential ballot. It was actually just to list off their preferences, and there could have been a big shemozzle in which 20% might have gone for each of the alternatives, or at least no majority for any alternative. That was done. Then a year later, more or less, a second referendum was held on MMP versus first past the post.
Subsequent to that, they've had a second preferential referendum, which was structured differently, over their flag. This occurred in two stages, in November of last year and in March of 2016. In this case, what whey did was structure it somewhat differently. You ranked the four preferred options that had first been chosen by a select committee in order, and then in the second ballot, you took the winning candidate and voted versus the status quo.
I'm just wondering, looking at those different variations, if you have any thoughts as to what is the best way of approaching a preferential referendum.
This afternoon has been an excellent session for me just to reflect on where we're at with the committee. We've had some wonderful testimony again. I really appreciated the questions that were put to us at the beginning about some of the critical things and questions we need to look at. I've been reflecting on that as I've been waiting for my turn at the microphone.
To the questions about why reform, why reform now, and whether we have a crisis in process or outcomes, I've been reflecting that this isn't the first time we've talked about a need for reform in Canada. It was news to me, as I got into this committee, that it's actually been talked about for about 100 years at various times. To me that's fascinating. It points out that there are things.... Maybe we're not at the crisis mode that we saw in New Zealand, where there were really skewed results and people were unhappy, but I've been reflecting on it. I've been out door-knocking, and during the campaign I was out, and a great number of people said to me that they weren't voting just because they've lost faith in the process, that their vote doesn't count.
There are all of these issues. We're seeing declining voter numbers and lack of representation by certain groups and all sorts of things. Is that the kind of crisis point that we need to be at, or is that not good enough to be the catalyst for it? Our government has heard that there are pressures facing us that should take us down this path. Then there are questions again about the options and improving superior systems. We've tweaked and seen changes made to the electoral system in first past the post.
To all three of you, are we stuck with first past the post? Have we not reached a critical point in Canada, or is this the only system that will ever meet the needs of Canadians? I've been reflecting as well that we've seen referenda across provinces to look at electoral change, and they've all failed. Why do we fail? Why have we never moved past what we have? Is first past the post the only solution for Canada?
Professor Norris, perhaps I can start with you. Then I'll come back to our witnesses here.
I'm going to continue from that message of simplicity. I asked a question about it yesterday and I think sometimes people scoff as well at that, saying that it's still simple no matter what system you use. We heard from an Australian witness that they had ballots as long as a mile, but yet it works there for some reason, and it's simple.
I had a gentleman in my town hall on Sunday get up, and somebody asked me on Twitter whether it was hijacked by a certain party and that's why the person was calling for simplicity. It wasn't somebody hijacking or anything; it was simply a man who had come out of sheer interest because he knew nothing about the topic. I would say it was a very small percentage of those people, but it was more people who were there for a certain purpose. I was very appreciative of having this person there. They're fairly new to the country, I believe, probably arriving in the last 10 to 15 years or so. He said that maybe you guys know better up there on the panel, so pick a system that you think is better suited for us, but just make sure we understand it and make sure it's simple because I'm not sure why we're even messing with this.
I looked at him and I thought, “That's interesting. There are quite a lot of people who don't realize what we're doing.” Around this committee table we think we're doing very important work, and among my political colleagues everyone understands that this is a very important issue, as well as some groups that study it and are interested in it, but the general population is asking, “What are you talking about?” When you're trying to get people out to the town hall, they're asking, “What do you mean? What's first past the post?” I even had people who are in politics ask me what that was.
Therefore I ask you, how highly do you value that? Having mentioned that our country is accepting new immigrants to our shores day after day, do we not have a responsibility to also make sure that we're taking them into consideration? One of the fundamental key principles that we're looking at in this committee is inclusivity. Inclusivity also means those people. Inclusivity means making sure people of all educational backgrounds can also understand how to go to the polls and how to vote and how to have access.
What are your thoughts on that, and what system do you think could work in that regard?
This almost seems like we lined this up because, Dr. Norris, I too have a grid and have been doing the exact same thing you have been doing in identifying those objectives we have that we want to achieve and how we can achieve them, whether it be through an electoral voting change or federal solutions.
For instance, in terms of encouraging voting and participation, we've heard from witnesses that we can think of things such as mandatory voting, reducing the voting age, talking about civic literacy, or making it attractive for people, but that does not involve changing the voting system itself.
In terms of accessibility and avoiding undue complexity, there are simple ballots. We've talked a bit about maybe giving voting day off to make it easy instead of people having to leave work, trying to find a babysitter, and so on. In terms of increasing women representation, trust me, it was not the voting system that made me decide to run for office, but maybe quotas can be addressed in that regard.
Given the fact that we know that it's not going to be one thing that will fix everything...and, Dr. Axworthy, you talked about the consequences of whatever it is that we decide to do. For instance, what are the complementary reforms that are going to be needed?
If we decide to go with an MMP system, for instance, and we end up increasing the number of people in the House, well, first of all, we don't have the space for 600 members. How is the committee work going to be done? Do those who are on a list get to do the committee work, and those who are elected in the riding have to do the constituency work? That's going to change who decides to run for office in terms of recruiting people, because maybe someone wants to do both.
Those are all the things that are going to be impacted by whatever it is that we decide to do. So I'd like to get your thoughts on that. It's not going to be a one-stop shop in terms of an alternative voting system that will fix everything. I'd like to get your comments.
I'll happily share my grid, too.