I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, colleagues. Good morning to the witnesses today.
We have three witnesses: Professor Eric Maskin, Professor Peter John Loewen, and Jean-Sébastien Dufresne.
If I may, I will take a few moments to tell you a bit about each of them, starting with Mr. Dufresne.
Jean-Sébastien Dufresne is the president of the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle, a non-partisan organization working toward the adoption of proportional representation in Quebec through public education initiatives.
Mr. Dufresne holds an MBA in community economic development and was recently named one of the top 30 under 30 by the Journal de Montréal for his impact on the business world.
Welcome, Mr. Dufresne.
Professor Eric Maskin is an economist and a professor at Harvard University. In 2007 Dr. Maskin received the 2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for laying the foundation for a mechanism design theory. He has also made considerable contributions to the fields of game theory, contract theory, social choice theory, and political economy, as well as other areas of economics.
As a former student of economics, I am familiar with some of these terms. We look forward to hearing a bit more about them during testimony.
Previously Dr. Maskin was a post-doctoral fellow at Cambridge University as well as a faculty member at MIT and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
Welcome, and thank you for being present here in Ottawa.
Peter John Loewen is an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. Dr. Loewen wrote his dissertation on political behaviour at the Université de Montréal. He recently co-authored a book entitled The Behavioural Foundations of Partisanship, Participation, and Political Preferences in the Anglo-American Democracies. He is a frequent recipient of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants and awards focusing on political behaviour.
Some of his professional affiliations include being an associate member at McGill University's Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, an associate member at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Public Opinion and Political Representation, an assistant editor of the Canadian Journal of Political Science, and a member of Experiments in Governance and Politics, otherwise known as EGAP.
To provide a bit of an outline for how we proceed, each witness will present for 10 minutes. Then we will have two rounds of questions. In each round each member will get to engage with the witnesses for five minutes. That means the five minutes will cover questions and answers.
If, for some reason, there's a question asked at the four-minute, 30-second mark, and there's no opportunity to answer—and this happens quite frequently—it doesn't mean you can't answer at a later time when you have the floor. We're very flexible about that. If you want to finish your thought as you're answering a question at another time, please go ahead.
We will start with Mr. Dufresne.
You have the floor and you have ten minutes.
Certainly, thank you. We have a great deal of respect for them because they play a very important role.
Here are the four points that I will be presenting today. First, I will briefly describe the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle. I will also speak about the extent of mobilization of civil society in Quebec. I will then share some of our observations on the multiple public consultations held in Quebec. Finally, I will present our vision of the process that could lead to electoral reform at the federal level.
First of all, the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle or MDN is a citizen-based, non-partisan or rather, “tri-partisan”, organization because it reaches out to citizens with different political views. It also reaches out to people in different sectors, including education, unions and business. These people are all volunteers working toward electoral reform. I am a volunteer myself.
In my daily life, I am an entrepreneur and president of an international agency that represents publishers. So I am not an expert on electoral systems, nor am I an academic or a professor. I am however a person working with my colleagues on the cause of electoral reform.
The MDN was founded in 1999 in response to the 1998 election when the popular will was overturned in Quebec, that is, when the Parti Québécois formed the government although the Liberals had placed first in the polls. Our organization brought together a number of stakeholders in civil society and participated in several public consultations in Quebec. The estates general on the reform of democratic institutions were held in 2003, in which 1,000 citizens from all regions of Quebec participated.
In 2006, a parliamentary committee was tasked with studying a draft Liberal bill pertaining to a mixed-member proportional system. More than 2,000 people expressed their views and 86% of those people rejected the status quo and called for electoral reform.
In 2007, we saw among other things the report by Quebec's chief electoral officer regarding a mixed-member proportional system. Close to 20,000 people signed a petition that was presented to Quebec's National Assembly. At each of these steps, the MDN mobilized social actors to take part in the deliberative process. In a way, the MDN became a catalyst for key stakeholders in civil society, including union groups, youth, women, students and communities. The main actors in civil society were involved in this work.
I am talking about organizations that represent close to two million Quebeckers, or a third of voters in Quebec. It was a true deliberative process. These organizations worked out their positions and then engaged their members in a dialogue on the issue. This happened over several decades in Quebec, so it is not a new issue.
We can make some general observations on the MDN's consultations and work. As several witnesses have said, the system must be changed. There is clear consensus on that. The unanimous preference is for proportional representation. Everything pertaining to a two-round majority ballot and a preferential ballot was removed from the advice we received from the main actors in civil society. We are looking for an appropriate solution in a context in which the political parties, it must be noted, all receive minority support in our society. A proportional system seems to be the best option.
We have even revised the guiding principles for our initiatives. This spring, we conducted an initiative involving the key actors in civil society and all provincial political parities, including the Liberal Party of Quebec. A number of important principles emerged.
First, we determined that any reform must reflect the popular vote as closely as possible. That of course means a proportional system. We then determined that there must be a strong link between voters and MPs. We also stressed the importance of equitable representation of the regions, or at least, maintaining the regions' political weight. This is a very important factor. Government stability must also be promoted. As other witnesses have said, other countries have ways of managing non-confidence motions to prevent governments from being suddenly toppled in proportional systems.
Moreover, it emerged that the system must be easy to implement and understand. This is important to citizens. We heard overwhelmingly in our work that the representation of women, youth and ethnocultural communities must be improved.
The MDN is also engaged at the federal level with the Alliance pour que chaque électeur et électrice compte. This organization brings together stakeholders from across Canada. Its principles are essentially the same as those I have just stated.
You have heard a number of objections in recent weeks. People have raised concerns about the trust between voters and MPs, the risk of creating two classes of MPs in mixed systems, double candidacies, the proliferation of parties, and accountability. The witnesses who have presented their work before you rely on conclusive data and empirical studies of the way things are done around the world. In places where proportional systems have been in place for years or even decades, these concerns no longer exist.
There was an event in Montreal a few weeks ago. We invited organizations like ours, but from different countries, to share their experience of electoral reform. The organizations from countries with a British tradition were all in favour of proportional representation. None of the organizations were in favour of maintaining a first past the post system or were in favour of maintaining that system in other countries. Internationally, there are none.
I would like to share our position on the process for electoral reform. In our view, legitimacy among voters should be the primary consideration in any process. It is very important for voters to be able to express themselves, but they must have confidence in the choice they make. They must be fully informed in making their choice. The best way to achieve this, in our opinion, is to educate voters on how an alternative system works, to allow them to consider the benefits and drawbacks of any proposed solution. Then, after two or three elections, the electorate must be consulted by referendum or some other way, to see if they would like to keep the proposed system or revert back to the previous system. In our view, that would enable voters to confidently make their choice.
How do we arrive at the proposals? Expert panels could examine the various existing models to determine which most closely match the principles the electorate supports. There could also be a citizens' jury. Those citizens could then provide their opinions and advice to the committee so they could be implemented for the next election.
In closing, I think you have a unique opportunity to fulfill a social vision, one that could shape Canada's history and benefit generations to come. You have the power if not the duty to ensure that no Canadian will ever doubt the value of their vote again. In our view, when democracy prevails, it does not matter which party forms government, because all citizens come out ahead.
Thank you very much, and thank you for the invitation to be here this morning.
I'd like to begin by mentioning five serious problems with first-past-the-post voting, the method currently used in federal elections.
The first problem is that it's often the case that the MP representing a particular electoral district is a minority MP, in the sense that most voters in the district didn't vote for that person.
Second, first past the post often leads to a serious discrepancy in Parliament, by which I mean that the majority party often receives much less than a majority of the votes. For example, in 2011 the Conservative Party had 53.9% of the seats but only 39.6% of the vote. There are many other examples of such discrepancies.
Third, the candidate elected in a district can often be wrong. I will say exactly what I mean by that in just a minute.
Fourth, a voter is in effect disenfranchised if she votes for an unpopular candidate, a candidate who is not likely to win the seat. If candidates A and B are the candidates who have a serious chance of winning, and I vote for candidate C, then in effect I have no say in the choice that really matters. I'm wasting my vote. I could vote strategically—that is, even though I prefer C, I could vote for A or B—but strategic voting itself is problematic for reasons that perhaps I can come back to in the question period.
Fifth, unpopular candidates or parties may be discouraged from standing. For example, suppose I'm a candidate on the right but one who disagrees with the Conservative Party on some important policy points. I may hesitate to stand for office, because if I do stand, I run the risk of splitting the vote on the right, and by doing so I may help to elect a left-wing candidate. For that reason, I may deliberately not stand, and through that decision I'm not only depriving myself of a political candidacy but I'm also depriving the electorate of another political voice.
Those, I think, are five serious problems with first-past-the-post voting.
It turns out that there is a simple voting method that solves all five problems. In fact, there is only one voting method that solves all five problems, and that is majority rule.
Under majority rule, voters now have the opportunity to do more than just vote for a single candidate: they're allowed to rank candidates. Candidate A is best, candidate B is second best, and so on. The winner is the candidate who is preferred by a majority, according to the rankings, to each opponent. The candidate is the true majority winner. The candidate would beat each opponent in a head-to-head contest.
I have a slide to illustrate this. Let's imagine that the electorate divides into three different groups: 40% of the electorate likes candidate A the best, then B, then C; 35% put C at the top, then B, then A; and then the remaining 25% like B best, then C, then A. This is just an example. It's not meant to correspond to any real-life situation.
What happens under majority rule? Under majority rule, candidate B beats A by a majority because the group in the middle, the 35% group, prefers B to A, and the group on the right, the 25% group, prefers B to A. That's a majority. That's 60%.
Candidate B also beats C by a majority because the first group, the 40% group, prefers B to C, and the third group, the 25% group, prefers B to C. That's 65%, so B is the true majority winner.
Let's contrast that with what happens under first past the post. Under first past the post, you just vote for a single candidate. Presumably the people in the first group will vote for A, the people in the second group will vote for C, the people in the third group will vote for B. A is the winner because 40% is the highest vote total, and so we get the wrong candidate elected. A is elected under first past the post, but a majority, 60%, prefer B. For that matter, in this example, a majority also prefers C to A, so A is really quite a terrible choice from the standpoint of majority will.
Majority rule solves all five problems that I described because the winner represents a majority of voters.
One of the problems in Canada is the discrepancy between the proportion of seats that the majority party wins in Parliament and the proportion of the vote that it gets. That discrepancy is very likely to fall under majority rule, because now the majority party will have a majority in every district it wins.
Furthermore, a voter who favours an unpopular candidate will not be disenfranchising herself if she ranks that candidate first, because if there are two other candidates who are the real contenders, she can have a say between those two other candidates by ranking one above the other further down her list. She has every incentive to vote according to her true preferences.
Finally, a right-wing candidate who somewhat disagrees with the Conservative Party or a left-wing candidate who somewhat disagrees with the NDP doesn't have to worry about splitting the vote on the right or the left by standing because, to take the Conservative example, voters on the right are likely to put both this candidate and the Conservative candidate above any left-wing candidate, so there's no vote-splitting.
For all these five reasons, I would suggest that majority rule is a good deal superior to first past the post as a voting method. I don't propose to go into proportional rule. I'm happy to discuss it in questions, but I'm not doing so here because it's clearly a much more radical departure from the current voting system.
Thank you very much.
Should we change the way we vote in Canada? This is the principal question that's occupying this committee. It appears to me that the committee has decided that reform is inevitable. This is apparent in the unwillingness of most parties to consider a referendum on any proposed systems, as such referendums are hard to win. It's perhaps apparent too in the testimony before the committee, for while there's been refreshingly broad, evidence-based, informative testimony, there's been little in defence of the status quo.
Today I hope to make four observations, and my overall objective in making these observations is to induce some pause among members of this committee and your colleagues. I hope you will reflect on and give equal weight to the known benefits and drawbacks of our current system, as you do the known and unknown benefits and drawbacks of other systems.
My four observations are the following: first, there is a potential upside to electoral reform, but it seems limited; second, the downsides to electoral reform are unknown and potentially substantial; third, Canadian democracy already functions—well, perhaps; and fourth, for most of the problems ailing our democracy, there are potential fixes at hand that do not require fundamental institutional change.
Taken together, these observations suggest that the committee should not engage in wholesale reform of our electoral system. Instead, I argue, it should consider and recommend smaller, targeted reforms that might address the problems that currently beset our political system.
My first observation is that there is a potential upside to electoral reform, but it is limited. The best evidence we have for this are the many well-constructed cross-national studies that seek to isolate and identify the empirical effects of electoral systems on various outcomes of interest. The basic conclusion, following testimony already given by André Blais, is that in PR systems turnout is higher, though by not much more than three percentage points on average. Citizens also feel elections have been more fairly conducted in PR systems. Those are the benefits.
On the other hand, PR systems do not eliminate the need for or the rate of strategic voting; they merely induce a different kind. They've asked voters to make other compromises, in other words. Most importantly, while PR systems may broaden representation, they do not improve the match of policy outcomes and citizens' preferences. What Blais did not note, Leslie Seidle and others have in their presentations, which is that electoral reform would likely increase gender balance in our Parliament, and in my estimation this is an unalloyed, unqualified good.
My own reading of the literature is that claims about greater economic performance, better fiscal management, and better policy are probably attributable to factors other than the electoral system. Of course, advocates of PR systems might argue that such studies somehow underestimate the benefits or the good effects of PR. I think it's a reasonable objection that cross-national, econometric estimates don't tell the whole story. A reasonable alternative approach would be to look to a country very similar to our own that has experienced a change in electoral systems, and observe the pre-reform and post-reform averages on several outcomes of interest. By doing so, we could perhaps say something about how electoral reform might change the politics of a country.
New Zealand, of course, provides such a case, for obvious reasons: it shares a colonial heritage with Canada and it has a long history of uninterrupted democratic rule, with power alternating between a small number of single parties that regularly commanded majority governments. In 1996, after a series of referendums, New Zealand moved to a mixed member proportional system and has held seven elections under this system since then.
I'll point interested readers to my written submission, in which I go through the data in more detail, but I'll list the top-line results. Electoral reform increased the effective number of parties in New Zealand, both the effective number of parties contesting elections and the number of parties winning seats. That's an unquestioned result. It also marginally increased the average number of parties in government, though it now seems that single-party governments are the norm. It certainly didn't induce large, broad coalitions after elections. It did not increase voter turnout or even arrest the decline in voter turnout in New Zealand, and it did not increase citizens' expressions of democratic satisfaction. Rather, these appear to have declined under the new system. The number of women elected in the last election is just five percentage points greater than in the last election in Canada.
For the things that matter, there is more difference between countries that share an electoral system than there is in the average across electoral systems. In short, PR systems make some things better, but they're hardly a cure-all.
My second observation is that there is some downside to reform, or at a minimum, there are some likely effects that could be normatively undesirable. It's for the committee to decide whether these things are normatively undesirable, but there are some likely effects.
First, reform will create a potentially permanent role for small regional parties. I'm happy to expand on that.
Second, small parties will potentially have outsized influence in government. If it is objectionable that a single party can hold 100% of government power with 40% of the vote, why is it okay that a party with 10% of the vote might hold 20% of the government power? It's a normative question, but it's one that should be answered.
Third, there will be increased incentives for political entrepreneurs to exploit social divisions. Some comparative data is helpful on this matter. If we compare the 15 western countries with the greatest foreign-born populations, we'll find in the last election in each country that the average vote share for parties in favour of reducing legal immigration is 3.5% in majoritarian countries; in PR countries, it's 8.7%. The average seat share of such parties that want to reduce legal immigration is 0.1% in majoritarian countries; it is 10% in PR countries.
Finally, a proportional system will invite greater government instability, in which governments survive for shorter periods of time and in which governments are more regularly introduced without an election. Whether this is normatively desirable is an open question; the empirical regularity is not.
My third observation is that Canadian democracy functions well. My own reading of testimony to the special committee and questioning by the special committee has suggested that the functioning of Canadian democracy has not been sufficiently appreciated.
Certainly there's much with which we can take some issue. Our country has experienced one-party dominance rivalled only by Sweden and Japan. We have, as in most other countries in the world, experienced significant decline in our rates of voter participation, though this saw a large correction in the last election. Perhaps most importantly, we do frequently experience parties winning outsized majorities on much less than the majority of the ballots cast. None of these are particularly good things, and they're all certainly well rehearsed as critiques.
What's noted much less frequently are at least four measures on which our democracy has performed well.
First, our democracy has experienced more than 40 federal elections in dozens of peaceful transitions of power, both between leaders from different parties and between leaders within federal parties. This is a basic standard of democracy, and it's one that sets Canada apart from most other democracies. Indeed, Canada's run of uninterrupted democratic rule is among the longest in the world, surpassed by fewer than a handful of other countries.
Second, by the standards of their times, our elections have been fairly and freely conducted and our franchise has been liberally composed. Save the Canadian Pacific scandal and relatively pedestrian turnout buying in early elections, Canada's democracy has been a model of well-run elections.
Third, our democracy performs well in the political representation of minorities and indigenous peoples, especially compared to Anglo-American counterparts, and I refer you to Leslie Seidle's testimony in his written submission on that point. More historically, our political parties have a long track record of representing the broad diversity of our country, whether linguistic, confessional, or ethnic, without the emergence of explicitly ethnic or confessional parties. I wish to note especially that this has happened against the backdrop of founding groups and later waves of immigrants, who at various times viewed each other as unfit for common purpose and interaction. Put starkly, our country has long held the potential to be a tinderbox of identity. For the most part, we've avoided all but the smallest of fires.
On this, much has been made of the point that we are not Italy or Israel. This cannot mean that we are not a country that is characterized by competing economies, often deep religious and ethnic differences, and different ways of life. I assume that those who make this argument must mean that despite having the makings of a deeply divided and dysfunctional polity, we are not one. Our electoral system just might have something to do with that.
Fourth, our country has a long record of protecting the rights of minority groups. In more recent years, this has largely been the work of the charter, but before its advent it is still the case that protections were extended often because of an electoral logic. At other times they were extended because of the goal of broad coalition-building that is the norm within our political parties.
My fourth observation, and I'll close on this, is that for most of the problems ailing our democracy, there are potential fixes at hand that do not require fundamental institutional change. I wish the committee would take at once a broad and modest approach to reforming our democratic institutions.
There are, to be sure, shortcomings in our system. There are turnouts that are lower than we like. We don't yet have an even balance between female and male members of Parliament. Party leaders seem perhaps too strong vis-à-vis their members. Local party members don't enjoy real control over the selection of candidates. Parliamentary committees are sometimes weak and sometimes have neither the time nor the capacity to properly study and deliberate over policy.
This list is not exhaustive, yet there are potential solutions at hand for all of these problems, and they do not require a fundamental change to a central institution. Instead, the committee and the members' parties can explore a number of changes to parliamentary procedure, administrative law, and party rules that could address some or all of these problems. It seems more judicious to engage in a systematic and iterative process of improving our democratic institutions than it does to engage in wholesale reform.
Our electoral system is a central democratic institution. It exists in concert with a myriad of other institutions. It informs our politics not only through its rules, but also through the norms and practices which have evolved alongside and within it. We should carefully consider not only the upsides and drawbacks of reform but also the merits of our current system. On balance it is a system worth keeping.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
All the witnesses were very interesting, but I'll be directing my questions to Professor Loewen.
Professor, to some degree your concerns reflect my own concerns. I think I'm less an enthusiast of the existing system than perhaps you are, but I do think that while the current system is not the best that can be imagined, it is most definitely not the worst that can be imagined. I fear that the worst is actually a realistic scenario. I would define the worst scenario as an electoral system that has a predictable outcome in the next election in terms of causing one party or possibly two or three parties to do better than would be the case under the current system, and others to do worse, given the same universe of preferences as were expressed.
To do this knowing that this would be the outcome effectively systemically disenfranchises or reduces the value of the franchise of some votes and increases others in a predictable manner, not for every election but certainly for the next election. That, I think, is the underlying problem.
I get a sense that you share my view on this. In addition to what you've said today, I have some quotes from previous things you've written.
However, an alternative scenario was presented by one of our witnesses yesterday. Ed Broadbent argued that since several parties—the Greens, the NDP, and the Liberals—advocated some form of electoral reform in the last election, that would be sufficient to legitimize a new system. He argued that if the approval of those parties was achieved in the House of Commons, it would be a kind of supermajority, and there would be no need for some other approval mechanism to legitimize whatever new system came forward, regardless of its implications.
I wonder if you could give me some feedback on what you think of the argument that a multi-party majority legitimizes an electoral system in the absence of any other approval mechanism.
I think it's a troubled argument, and I think it's a troubled argument for a couple of reasons.
On the facts of the case, I don't think we had an election that was fought over electoral reform. I think it was a long, long way down the list of issues on which votes turned and on which discussion occurred. The particular facts of the election suggest to me that it wasn't one in which there was a lot of discussion.
For the most part, we don't have elections that are typically fought over particular issues. That's the exception, and I think that's a normally defensible way of having elections. We choose leaders and parties and then we evaluate their performance. On the facts of the election, I'm convinced by that argument.
On the second point, I think this is a major institutional change. I'm not sure a convention has emerged that these changes have to be met by a referendum, but it seems to me that because it is such a fundamental change and because self-interest has such a clear potential to contaminate the debate, since parties are talking about the rules under which they'll be elected, perhaps there ought to be more of a check than just parties voting on it now.
To the third point, to be very bold about it, if you'll allow me, I've yet to hear an argument about the incapacity of voters to make a decision during a referendum that doesn't also condemn the decisions they make during elections. That is to say, the simple-minded, manipulable, easily confused voter who apparently won't be able to make a reasoned choice during a referendum is also the voter who elects everyone in the House of Commons. I think it's a dangerous discussion if we start to believe that voters are unable to make informed decisions on fundamental matters.
In sum, I don't think there is a constitutional convention preventing you from having a referendum, but I think that if 60% of voters in the last election were in favour of electoral reform, as seems to be claimed, surely it must be easy to win a referendum in that case.
Thank you to all the witnesses
I would like to thank the witnesses for their observations. They are most interesting.
It's difficult, I find, when we have panels with differing opinions. Diving in becomes more difficult.
Professor Maskin, you may be the only witness proposing this voting system, so I want to ask you some questions for clarification.
I think you'd agree with me that this would be, in Professor Lijphart's definitions, one of the majoritarian oppositional systems, as opposed to PR consensus.
I think you've put your finger on the difference, for me, in the very last line of your brief, so I want to dive in there. It's that while the first-past-the-post, majoritarian, and alternative vote objective is to select the “'right' MP” for a district, under proportional representation the goal is to select the “right” composition of Parliament. That really helps me.
I'm one of those very fortunate and honoured MPs who, at least in my second election, had 54.4% of the vote. Your system wouldn't change the result for any of the MPs in our Parliament who have over 50% of the vote in their ridings. Is that right?
Thank you very much for the opportunity. Let me make two points on that.
One is that there was a furtive and, I think, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada in the last election. Ultimately it's difficult to sustain that when, as a party, you have to have more than one issue on which to win and you have to convince people across a large number of constituencies that you are a candidate worth voting for. It's easier to sustain in countries in which the electoral system is more permissive. I don't hold the belief that the people of the Netherlands, for example, are inherently more racist than Canadians, are inherently more anti-Muslim, but I do see, for example, that Geert Wilders' party is garnering a very large share of the vote right now in the Netherlands, particularly because he doesn't have to face up to the difficulties of winning a large number of constituencies. He can simply appeal to a small group of people with, frankly, bigoted views across his whole country.
More generally, I don't want us to paper over the achievements of our country and how difficult it was to assemble it. There was a time when if you were the Prime Minister and you were composing a cabinet in Canada, you needed to have an anglophone minister and a francophone minister from Quebec. Not only that, you needed to have an anglophone minister who was from one of the mainline churches; you needed to have an anglophone minister who was from the Presbyterian Church, for example. You had to worry about representing Irish Quebeckers and you had to worry about various diversities within Quebec, not to mention all the other diversity that exists in our country.
We are a country that's been assembled together by people who are at various times really at odds with each other and don't have a certain degree of mutual understanding. Our electoral system created incentives for parties to paper over those differences, and in fact smother them and integrate people into parties as well as they could. I think it has a lot of do with the success of our country. At the baseline, we're probably a country that shouldn't have worked out, yet we did. That may be by accident, it may be by dumb luck, or it may have something to do with the electoral system that we had in the past.
My final point, I guess, would be that perhaps it's not the case that we have that degree of social enmity today, that we have these differences that could be exploited, but when I look at the rise of anti-immigrant parties in otherwise developed countries, I worry that such divisions might be exploited in our own country, not to mention regional divisions that still exist as well.
Those are my concerns.
I have some questions for all of you, but I have a couple of rounds, so hopefully we'll get some opportunities.
Professor Loewen, I think I'll start with you.
In front of me here I have a few comments that you've made. For the benefit of everybody else, I'll read them—they're very brief—and then I'm going to have a question based on that.
It was actually last summer, I think before the election was even completed, that you made the comment, and I quote: “Those who wish to reform [our voting system] should do so with a clear mandate over detailed plans and with broad public approval.”
Here's another comment you made, and I quote:
Whatever one thinks of the merits of different electoral systems—and there is much to recommend a variety of different systems—it seems remarkable that this decision would be left to parliamentary committees and then a simple vote of the House.
I sense that your use of the term “remarkable” wasn't meant to have a positive connotation.
Then following the election in December, you also wrote:
In short, one cannot argue at once that we need reform to address false majorities and that this government has a mandate to change the electoral system.
I would certainly agree with your comments. There are good reasons for those comments, but I wondered if you could explain a bit further for the committee, and for the record, what your reasoning is for why the current plan of committee study, and then a vote in the House, is, as you've said, “remarkable”, and I presume in not such a positive way.
I think the thing that's special about the decisions that the committee is making is that they have a direct impact on how you are elected, which is to say they have a direct impact on whether you'll remain in your roles and whether you will have better or worse chances after the next election of being returned.
This is another way of saying that you're not disinterested parties in making this decision. I think there are any number of decisions you make from which you would remove yourself if you were an interested party. That's a principle, for example, that governs how cabinet ministers can make decisions over financial matters. It seems to me that it's a very important decision and it seems to me that's it's one for which, because you all have such a self-interest in it, you ought to get the approval of the voters.
There is a secondary consequence, and there are two scenarios that I can imagine. One is that you choose a new electoral system, and for whatever set of electoral dynamics, it locks itself in. You never get a group of parties that want to change it again. However, Canadians don't like the system. That's seems to me to be relatively undesirable as an outcome.
The other outcome, I suppose, would be that you might come back to me and say, “Don't worry; we can just change it again.” Then we start to get into the territory of the electoral system becoming a continuous election issue, with parties always looking for advantage after the next election. They're always changing and redesigning the system to their advantage. I think that's a worrying state of affairs and a worrying potential.
It seems to me that one way around that is to say that you have to have all-party consensus on how to change an electoral system. That two years ago, when Parliament was considering changing issues around what piece of ID you could use to vote, I heard some members, and certainly many academic colleagues, say that you have to have all-party consensus if you want to change a matter even that small. I can't imagine that we can then change the electoral system without all-party consensus. If you believe the first thing, you ought to believe the second.
The other point is, why not just ask voters?
To start with your second observation, my only observation is that if you want to look at cross-national evidence and take all the good things that are higher on average in PR countries, you should take the negative things as well. It appears to me that you're more likely to have anti-immigrant, anti-legal immigration parties winning seats in PR systems in largely diverse countries than you are in majoritarian countries that have largely diverse populations.
To your first point, I think that this is a normative question, and the question is really this. You can imagine an array, after the next election, in which.... New Zealand hasn't completely fragmented as a system. The two principal parties, Labour and National, are still winning 40% of the vote or thereabouts in each election, but imagine an arrangement in which one of our traditionally larger principal parties wins 45% of the vote and forms a majority coalition with a party that wins 6% of the vote. They now hold the majority of the seats in the Parliament in that coalition.
Gamson's law would tell you that the power that would go to that other party would be proportional to their contribution to the seat share, so why is it that a party that got 5% of the vote ought to have 10% of the power within the cabinet? Why is that more desirable than a party getting 100% of the power on 40% of the vote, or 100% of the power on 45% of the vote? That's a normative question. I think it's one that the committee needs to explore, but the reality is that in PR systems, coalition governments are more common than in majoritarian systems. Coalition governments have some good that is attached to them, but they have some drawbacks, not least of them blurred accountability and behind-door compromises that occur after an election and between elections, not before elections.
These are normative trade-offs that have to be made, and the committee ought to consider them, but I've yet to hear a very convincing argument—and I'm open to being convinced—about why a party that has a very small percentage of the vote should receive such an outsized share of cabinet power when they're in a coalition, and why that's desirable—and perhaps it's not, right? I've yet to hear an argument as to why it is, and that's more likely to result in a PR system than in a majoritarian system.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Professor Maskin, but first I have a few introductory remarks.
During the last election, the Liberal Party said it would be the last one to be held under the first past the post system, the voting method that has been used for 149 years. This committee's mandate is to explore the various options available.
From the outset, Mr. Arend Lijphart provided information about the two main types of voting systems, the majority system and the consensus-based or proportional system. The alternative voting system you are proposing today is part of the same type of voting system that we have now and that we want to do away with—which is what the Liberal government promised—because it causes distortions and leads to false majorities.
It seems that the alternative voting system you are proposing is another way of creating a majority. That is problematic though for people like us who want Parliament to represent citizens' choices and voices. The only comparable example in a western democracy is Australia. The alternative voting system there produces very marked bipartisanship that quashes the voices of citizens who do not vote for these major parties.
Consider the most recent election in Australia, where the main parties are Coalition and Labour. In 2016, these two parties won 97% of seats. In 2013, they won 97%, in 2010, 96% and in 2007, 99%. There is a 15% to 25% distortion in the votes cast.
It is as though, in your system, someone whose first choice was the Green Party but, knowing that the Green Party will probably not win, decides to vote NDP as their second choice, Liberal as their third choice and Conservative as their fourth choice, because that is the last party that they want to avoid at all costs. There is a good chance they will end up with a Liberal MP, which is neither their first nor their second choice.
Suppose you go to a dealership to buy a car. Your first choice is an electric car. They tell you it is a very good idea but that it is not possible. So you decide to buy a hybrid. They tell you it would be a good option also, but there are none available right now. Since you don't want an SUV, you choose a van as a third choice, but that is not what you set out to buy and you don't want a van. Why should a voter be stuck with a van if that is not what they want?
After hearing from various experts, it is clear that every electoral system involves some bias due to strategic voting. It is a question of values. Values determine our choice. All of the systems have drawbacks.
There is something that annoys me. One would expect that a voting system would not distort reality and the real political dynamics of geographical area. The minister or my colleague on the right says that what happened in 1993 is one of the reasons why we must change the voting system, because it led to regionalism.
It is a good thing in a way that this happened though. That is perhaps the only positive effect that the current system has had in Canadian history. After the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, it meant that, at these important junctures in Quebec and Canadian history, the two voices expressed were reflected in Parliament.
Reducing the realities of Quebec to a geographical region is as mistake, I would argue. In 1867, in the discussions that led to our form of parliamentary government, the Fathers of Confederation stated that the national identity of Lower Canada must not be obliterated. If we are looking for an electoral system tailored to Canada, we have to be clear about which Canada we are talking about. Is it the Canada after 1982 or Canada in 1867?
That said, when you talk about ideological pluralism, I can see a problem. You say there is a discrepancy and that a small party could form government with a larger core. That is what ideological pluralism is. Perhaps that will be what the population chooses so it can have a voice in governance. If a small party represents the people who voted for it and if its election platform is compatible with a bill implemented by the largest party which has the largest vote share, I don't see how this poses a problem mathematically speaking.
Ideological pluralism cannot be reduced to mathematics however. We have to go further. I sympathize with the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle, but I don't understand why its representative skirted the issue twice with regard to involving the population. In my opinion, for the population to be confident, it must henceforth become a participant in the decision. That way, it could judge what happens over the next four years. This would allow us to break away from partisanship and the aura of experts and insiders.
Mr. Dufresne, you represent the insiders. That works perfectly for our democracy because you will enlighten us. When I'm out on the street and visiting people though, they have no idea what we are doing here. Our mandate is to consult them and not to decide for them. Some experts have said—and this is scarcely an exaggeration—that democracy is too important to be left up to the people.
For my part, I think you should reconsider your position. Even if we are pressed for time, we will not achieve anything and we will remain entrenched in our positions. Electoral reform will not go anywhere if people are not involved, and to get them involved, we have to let them decide.