Hello, dear colleagues. Welcome to our meeting this afternoon.
We have three new witnesses. First, we have Mr. Louis Massicotte with us here. Ms. Melanee Thomas will be joining us by video conference from Calgary. We also have with us Ms. Katelynn Northam.
To begin, I will provide some biographical information about the witnesses.
Mr. Louis Massicotte is a professor in the political science department at Laval University. He is the first person to hold the Research Chair in Democracy and Parliamentary Institutions, which he held until January 2011. Professor Massicotte appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in 2001, providing testimony about seat distribution. He has actively participated in the democratic development of over a dozen countries, most of them in French-speaking Africa.
Welcome, Professor Massicotte.
Melanee Thomas is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary. Prior to this, she was the Skelton-Clark post-doctoral fellow in Canadian affairs in the Department of Political Science at Queen's University. Dr. Thomas' focus is on political attitudes and behaviour, elections, and public opinion in Canada, with special emphasis on the effects that gender and policy have on these topics. Many of her current projects are funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Dr. Thomas is widely published, with some of her most recent works including a co-authored book chapter entitled “Women (Not) in Politics: Women's Electoral Participation”, a co-authored book entitled Mothers and Others: The Impact of Parenthood on Politics, and a journal article entitled “Barriers to Women's Political Participation in Canada”.
Welcome, Professor Thomas, from Calgary.
Last but not least, we have with us Katelynn Northam, who is a campaigner and organizer of electoral reform at leadnow.ca, a website dedicated to engaging and organizing Canadians on issues of national interest and concern. Ms. Northam has a master's degree in political science, with a focus on local government, youth engagement, and public policy, from Dalhousie University. She has participated as a youth advisory group member at the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, in addition to providing assistance and leadership with the Springtide Collective, which focuses on political renewal initiatives, and the Vote Smart Nova Scotia website, among other similar issues.
Each panellist will have 10 minutes to present, and then that will be followed by two rounds of questions.
During each round of questions, each MP will have the opportunity to engage with the witnesses for five minutes. Once again, the five-minute question period includes both the questions and the answers. If the five minutes are up and you have not had time to reply or give a complete answer, you may continue the next time it is your turn to speak.
Professor Massicotte, please go ahead.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, good afternoon.
I have published a book and several scholarly articles on electoral systems. When I worked for the Library of Parliament, here on the Hill, in 1983 and 1984, we were talking about implementing a proportional representation system to elect senators directly. As you can see, my interest in electoral reform is longstanding.
In the past 25 years, I have appeared numerous times before federal parliamentary committees and, as the chair indicated, also before special committees of Quebec's National Assembly.
From 2003 to 2005, the Quebec government required my professional services in connection with electoral reform, and my work influenced the design of the voting system set out in the government's draft bill.
I also served as secretary to the electoral systems committee of the International Political Science Association, and on the board of the Canadian Study of Parliament Group.
Finally, I would say in general that I am more of an electoral engineer than an advocate of the cause, in that I am used to analyzing electoral systems and their operational details, looking at all the methods available, and identifying their political consequences, all with a view to clarifying the political choices to be made by those with the mandate to make them.
I should have said I will make my presentation in French, but I am able to make an audible noise in this country's other official language, and I'll try to answer your questions in the language in which they are asked.
Rather than dwelling on the highly political issues of which system is best or what method should be used to make that choice, I will focus on the system that I know the best, the mixed-member proportional system, or MMP. It is the system in Germany and New Zealand, for instance. This system seeks to offer the best of both worlds, although it cannot please everyone simply because no system can do that.
Introducing MMP would have the following implications. I have identified 13, but there are certainly more.
First and foremost, because it is a proportional system, it would of course radically change the way politics works in Canada. It would make it very unlikely for a single party to win a majority in Parliament. I think governing coalitions will become increasingly inevitable. In Canada, as you know, we do not have a coalition culture. Coalitions are not viewed favourably by the political class and by part of the public. Political actors will probably adapt, but that adjustment will not necessarily be easy.
Second, introducing proportional representation will require painful adjustments in the established political parties, and strong resistance among your colleagues can be expected. To give you an example, a party that currently holds five out of five seats in a region would no longer win five out of five seats under a proportional system, but perhaps only two or three. For the five MPs in those seats, supporting electoral reform is almost an existential question because some of them will be left out, which will make the whole group rather nervous.
Third, designing the system will be very challenging, not only because it entails combining a proportional system with all its complexities, but also in terms of reconciling a majority system with a proportional system.
Someone has described it as the Mercedes of systems. That is a lovely metaphor, not only for geographical reasons, since the system originates in Germany, but for car lovers, it is so fitting.
Fourth, in Germany, Scotland and Wales, MMP was introduced in a vacuum, from scratch. That is often overlooked but I think it worth mentioning. At that time, there was no elected parliament. So the system was entirely new. This made for an easier transition, simply because those making the decision had no vested interest.
New Zealand—and this is important—is the only place, to my knowledge, where the system replaced a legislative assembly entirely made up of MPs elected as the sole representative in each riding. As you know, the system in New Zealand was not freely chosen by parliamentarians. It was imposed by referendums and parliament had to submit to the will of the people.
Fifth, MMP would be implemented in Canada where there are currently 338 MPs elected in 338 ridings. The total number of MPs to be elected will have to be decided, since there are two sets of representatives in this system.
Here are two scenarios.
Let us assume that the total number of MPs remains unchanged at 338. In order to make room for the list MPs, the number of ridings would have to be reduced to 160 or 200. As a result, none or almost none of the current ridings would be untouched by the redistribution. Almost every MP would have to accept that new voters would be added to their riding who might or might not support them; above all, they would have to accept that they would be representing much larger ridings in the future than what they currently represent.
Now another scenario.
To avoid these difficulties, you could decide to keep all 338 ridings as they currently are and to expand Parliament to make room for the list MPs. Depending on the ratio you choose, there would be 400 or 500 MPs. Without questioning the salesmanship of committee members, I don't think it would be easy to sell that to Canadians.
Moreover, the role and status of MPs will have to be defined. As you will note, reform proposals do not typically say much about that. They simply say that list MPs will help make Parliament more representative of parties' real strength, which is undeniable, and also more representative of demographic realities since there will be more women and aboriginal members, which is quite likely.
What is never spelled out since there is some uncertainty is exactly what the list MPs would do. Having studied various countries that have MMP, I can honestly say that there is no definite answer because it is not the same in every country. To simplify, I would say there are two different scenarios. The first scenario is the way it is in Germany, which is the same as in New Zealand. The second scenario is the way it is in Wales. Scotland is somewhere between those two.
The German scenario is preferable, in my view. The members are all equal in law because they represent the people as whole rather than a specific riding or party. There are not two classes of members, either in law or in fact. Some members are elected by different procedures, but they all have the same salary, the same status, and equal opportunities to join the council of ministers.
I will have to cut this short so as not to go over the allotted time.
The other possible scenario is the way things work in Wales, which is just the opposite. In Wales, a list member has virtually no chance of joining the council of ministers. Over the years, list members have truly become second-class members because the riding members refuse to accept them as equals. The seat assignment in Parliament is a real caricature: they are all relegated to the back benches, as though they were less important, so to speak.
I will now move on to the issue of lists.
Compensatory seats are based on the lists prepared by the parties. Nearly everywhere this system is in place, they are closed lists and people are elected based on their order on the lists. It is possible to have open lists where voters can change the election order decided by the party. I have noted that a number of you have expressed support for this. I could tell you about the implications of this system. Some are very attractive, while others, which you may not be familiar with, might be less appealing.
Double candidacy has been raised and will have to be considered. Under MMP, it is usually possible for a candidate to stand for a riding and to be on a list, for a very simple reason: the more successful a party is in a riding, the fewer names it has on the list. As a result, it is better to to try both avenues because when members declare their candidacy, the final outcome is not known. That is the beauty of democracy. Otherwise, if you think you will be very successful and run in a riding, but things change and you are defeated in the riding, you have lost the security that the list affords.
I must simply point out—as you have been told—that double candidacy is perfectly legitimate, although it will meet with a great deal of resistance among the public and among MPs. Mr. Benoit Pelletier also spoke about this.
Good afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to present.
I am coming to you today as an expert in gender representation and politics as well as an expert in Canadian politics. Broadly speaking, there are four points I would like to convey to the committee.
First, there are arguably many good reasons that we might want to introduce proportionality into our existing federal electoral institutions. Many of my colleagues have already spoken directly to this point, so while I am happy to answer questions on that, I am going to restrict the bulk of my comments to other things.
Second, my professional interpretation of the current Canadian political context is such that I can't help but conclude that introducing more proportionality into our electoral institutions on its own will probably not meaningfully increase representational diversity in Canadian politics. By representational diversity I mean the representation of women, the representation of visible minorities, and the representation of indigenous peoples as defined by the Canadian Constitution.
Every single one of these groups is present in electoral institutions at a rate that is so much lower than their demographic weight that they would be better represented if we populated our electoral institutions by random chance. That this reality exists means there are powerful, informal barriers that work to keep women out of politics, people who are not white out of politics, and people who are indigenous out of politics. Simply changing the electoral system is not going to address any of these informal barriers that are in place. I think we actually do ourselves a disservice by suggesting that simply increasing proportionality actually does anything meaningful for these informal barriers.
Third, there is some evidence linking proportional representation to increased diversity and representation. I'll outline this evidence in a moment if I have time, but I will also outline why arguably it won't work in the Canadian case.
There is absolutely no evidence, or very little evidence, to support three things. First, there is no evidence to suggest that changing the electoral system leads to a corresponding change in the diversity of elected representatives. This is New Zealand's experience. There is no evidence to suggest that a preferential ballot—that is, the alternative vote, mandatory voting, or online voting—will have any effect on representational diversity. To be frank, my fear is that by focusing on such processes as preferential ballots, mandatory voting, and online voting, the committee is not committed to or especially interested in addressing our representational diversity shortfalls in a serious manner.
Fourth, and I think the point I want to make most forcefully, there is simply no good reason now that we cannot have a House of Commons that adequately represents the Canadian public closely. By that I mean that it would be 50% women, about 20% visible minorities, and at least 5% indigenous. When I say that, I also want to cue that in 1996 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples suggested that indigenous Canadians ought to have their own Parliament. I would defer to that particular recommendation on that point.
To be frank, to suggest that somehow historically under-represented groups or groups that have been told in the past that they shouldn't participate in politics—this would be women, visible minorities, and indigenous peoples, again—somehow need proportional representation or need some kind of major institutional change to have representational fairness is deeply problematic.
When we talk about proportional representation, there are a few reasons that people seem to think that PR leads to better representation for such groups as women, minorities, and indigenous peoples.
One is that people just make an ecological fallacy. They look at places like Sweden, they look at Scandinavia, and they look at places that have a different electoral system, and they say overall those systems tend to elect more women, which means that if we had one of those systems we would elect more women too. This is asking the wrong question, essentially, because these are systems that haven't actually changed the system; they have different norms, and so on and so forth.
Another of the reasons that people say women do better under PR is that there are more political parties to choose from. The idea is that if you have more parties, you have more access points for historically under-represented groups. The difficulty with this argument in the Canadian case is that Canada has always had more political parties at the federal level than our electoral system would predict. Given our electoral system, we really ought to only have two parties, similar to what the Americans have. You don't need to know much about Canada's political history to know that we've always had more. I don't think this is an issue of not having enough access points or not having enough political parties to choose from.
Second, one of the arguments that is made is that in proportional systems, or in more proportional systems, there is usually a party that acts as a contagion. This is usually a smaller party, it's typically left-leaning, and it typically starts making its candidates' slate more diverse and more representative of the population. Once that small party does that, one of the things we see in places like Norway is that larger parties follow suit. It's that small party acting as a contagion that brings the larger parties that elect more representatives online with more women, more minorities, and so on and so forth.
This was studied a long time ago in Canada. There is a party that has had a nomination policy on the books since 1984 for gender parity in representation, and for ethnicity and indigeneity in representation as well. This is the NDP.
Because this nomination policy has been present for a while, we can say with confidence that there is no evidence to suggest that having one party in the system that's committed to representational diversity and equity does anything to any of the other parties, so there is no evidence to suggest that this contagion that we see in proportional systems would transfer over to the Canadian case, because thus far it hasn't.
The other thing that's unfortunate to note is that there is no evidence to suggest that parties that actually make a step to increase their representational diversity actually stay there. I don't want to necessarily call out every party, but in this particular case—the one case I can't help but comment on—it is the Conservative Party of Canada between 2006 and 2008. There was a considerable increase in the number of women who were nominated in 2008 for the Conservatives, and it seems as though that was deliberate, but this hasn't helped: in the most recent election, the number nominated for that particular party fell back below 20%.
We can make these representational gains, but in the Canadian case, one of the things that's clear is that there is no reason to expect that we will actually keep them and no reason to expect that it will change if we change the electoral formula.
A third reason that people say proportional representation is good for women and for diversity is that proportional representation facilitates the introduction of quota systems, or one of the things that is said is that our particular system—single-member plurality—makes applying a quota difficult. I'm happy to speak to this point in greater detail in the question-and-answer period, but based on a survey from spring 2016—so if there had been an election this summer, it might have changed things, though I doubt it—there is no reason to suggest that a proportional system with a quota does any better than a proportional system without a quota.
The one system that seems to actually do well with quotas and does best with quotas happens to be ours. The difference between a voluntary party quota and a single-member plurality system for women's representation is considerable, compared to our system without voluntary party quotas, but quotas in other systems don't necessarily move the marker very much at all.
I would like to speak to New Zealand, and I hope somebody asks me that in the question-and-answer period because I think their experience is illustrative.
What I want to finish on, though, is what it means for us to have representational equity now.
In the 2015 federal election there were three political parties that at one point were at the top of the polls, so I'm using three parties that could conceivably win a majority of seats in the Canadian system as my reference point.
Any political party that's fielding 338 candidates simply needs to recruit 169 women from coast to coast to coast to run a candidate slate that is gender balanced. I would challenge anybody to convince me that those 169 women don't exist at any point on the ideological spectrum, because I am deeply skeptical of that. That means those three parties would simply need to recruit 507 women across three political parties from coast to coast to coast.
The question that has to be asked is why this isn't happening now. If it sounds ludicrous to suggest that we somehow can't find those 507 women, it gets worse for other historically under-represented groups. In the case of visible minorities, I understand visible minorities are a very diverse bunch of Canadians, but if you just wanted to find candidates who are not white and are not indigenous, a party would simply need to find 68 to run a representative slate of candidates who roughly match the Canadian population. This is 203 across Canada for three major parties.
As I said, I would never suggest that indigenous Canadians ought to be satisfied with only 4% to 5% of the House of Commons when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended their having their own parliament, but the one thing I would say is that if we're talking 4% to 5%, this would be 15 candidates out of 338. Why we can't find them I don't know. That's a mere 45 across three political parties.
I can't help but conclude that to suggest a change in electoral systems is needed to give women, Canadians who aren't white, and indigenous Canadians anything close to representational fairness—to suggest that we need electoral system reform for that—is giving the people who are recruiting candidates a pass.
The one thing I should be very clear about as well is that we have no evidence to suggest that voters discriminate against candidates on the grounds of gender or race. There's simply no evidence in the aggregate at the voter level for that, which suggests that those informal barriers that are really powerful happen somewhere else in the political process.
I don't think that political parties, the institution that's doing most of this recruitment, deserve a pass on this particular front.
I will conclude again by saying that the suggestion that Canadian women, Canadians who are not white, and indigenous Canadians need major institutional reform to achieve representation in anything close to fair numbers is completely indefensible from my professional point of view. As a Canadian woman, I find that assertion deeply troubling and borderline offensive.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me to be here today and for taking your summer to work on this important and challenging issue.
I'm the campaign lead for electoral reform at an organization called Leadnow. We represent hundreds of thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and about 19,000 of our members live in one of your ridings. What our members have in common is that they want Canada to have a fair economy, a safe climate, and an open democracy.
Leadnow is a fundamentally member-driven organization, which is to say that we always start from what our community thinks is important and then we work to bring their voices to the people with the power to make an impact on those issues. I'm here today to do just that. I'm not speaking on my behalf; I'm speaking on behalf of the thousands of people who think it's absolutely vital that Canada replace our broken first-past-the-post voting system with some form of proportional representation.
To put together this presentation, we surveyed our community to make sure we were representing them accurately. Nearly 10,000 people responded within 48 hours to our call for input. They wanted us to share some key messages with you today.
I wanted to start by reminding us all what it is that we're solving.
The Leadnow community strongly believes that our first-past-the-post voting system is broken. It does not allow people to adequately and fairly express their preferences, and that, in turn, takes away power and choice from the voter.
It makes elections a game of riding-by-riding math and strategy. This is an issue that impacts our relationship with democracy. It impacts one of our most basic rights as Canadian citizens, and it shapes our relationship with our elected officials. It makes it difficult for people to accurately and fairly express what they really want at election time.
The fact that millions of people at each election cannot effectively exercise that right is not something to be taken lightly. It's not an unfortunate side effect, and it's something that affected nine million people in the last election.
Canada is, quite simply, behind the times when it comes to having a modern voting system. We're one of the few OECD countries that still use first past the post, and we are the only OECD country that uses it at all three levels of government. We are outliers, and we're using a fundamentally unfair and unjust way to run elections, and that needs to change.
As a little context, Leadnow's involvement in democratic reform didn't start with the election of this new government. We've been working hard to improve Canadian democracy since our founding in 2011. Over the years, we've held hundreds of events, meetings, and consultations where the topic of electoral reform has come up time and again. We've made thousands of phone calls, we've knocked on thousands of doors, and we've stood in the snow and canvassed until our pens froze. We were all waiting for this moment when we would have an opportunity for change.
Our campaign for proportional representation is called Vote Better, and so far over 24,000 people have signed on in support. About a third of those people have come from volunteers going to festivals, going out to street corners, and talking to people on their doorsteps, listening to their stories about why we need a fairer voting system.
The reason we've done this is simple. Our community believes, as I know everyone in this room also agrees, that having an open and transparent democracy is absolutely foundational to moving forward and addressing the really big, pressing issues of our time. We need a democracy that's fair, inclusive, and collaborative.
Some of you might be aware that we have, in the past, also run a strategic voting campaign, and that in the election before that, we advocated for inter-party co-operation. We did so because our community was frustrated by the distorted results produced by first past the post.
Our preference would be that people would not have to work around the pitfalls of first past the post in order to express what they want. Strategic voting, as you know, happens when voters vote for who they think can win instead of who they might truly want. It happens when people are afraid to vote for their first choice lest it split the vote and empower their least favourite choice. Canadians have been doing it for a long time. Without good local information, they're often guessing at what the most strategic choice actually is. Expressing their true preferences and seeing that preference reflected in an outcome should not require strategy or access to polling information.
We believe this frustration with first past the post is commonly felt. I personally have spent a lot of time going door to door for both our election campaign and this campaign in various ridings around Ontario, although my colleagues have done so in other provinces, including Manitoba, B.C., and the Maritimes. I did not encounter very many people who were unfamiliar with the tough choices that first past the post forces them to make: should they vote with their hearts and accept that it may split the vote in their riding, should they vote for the candidate they think is most likely to win, or should they just not bother to vote at all because the conclusion seems forgone?
We know that first past the post can lead to big changes in the power structure of Parliament, even when the popular vote doesn't change very much. You see situations in which parties increase their share of the popular vote only moderately, a couple of percentage of points, but actually make huge gains in seat count due to how those votes are concentrated in key ridings. This can have the impact of propelling parties into majority governments without a majority of the vote, as we know, which we know can also give a party a tremendous amount of power. It also means that voters in those key swing ridings may get more attention than voters in the safe ridings. These are symptoms of a broken voting system in action.
Democracy is not a finished product, but something that we have to constantly refine. Fortunately, one of the things we have going for us in Canada is that we're a country full of people who really believe in democracy. Leadnow is a community full of those people, and this room is full of such people. The question, then, becomes what to do as the next step.
When asked this question, the Leadnow community overwhelmingly told us that they want to see PR replace first past the post, with 85% saying it was their preference, because it's the only way to address the fundamental flaws with first past the post.
We prepared a brief—which I don't believe you have in front of you today, but which you will have shortly—that presents more detailed reasons for our preference for PR. I believe many of the other experts who have been before this panel have already summarized many of PR's benefits, but we'll summarize a couple of the things that we think are most important.
First, it's fundamentally more fair. First past the post is what's known as a winner-take-all system. It gives the people who did not vote for the winner no voice. It also creates wild distortions in seat count, to the point where governments often receive majorities without a majority of the popular vote. In contrast, PR would make every vote count and give voters greater choice, without having to resort to strategic voting. Whether you're a Conservative in downtown Toronto or an NDP voter in rural Manitoba, you deserve to have your voice heard.
Second, it is more inclusive. We have seen some evidence that it is more diverse, although I appreciated Professor Thomas' comments on that today. We feel that it would help to prevent parties from focusing only on the regions of the country that are seen as winnable and instead produce policy that considers the entire country.
Third, it's collaborative. It would make politics less of a zero-sum game and force parties to work together across party lines to address those big issues. Our community has told us that they're tired of adversarial politics and they want governments to take the time to compromise and craft solutions that will stand the test of time, rather than spending their time undoing or amending previous policy decisions by previous governments.
I will end by relaying our appreciation and thanks from our community for taking on this issue. As I said earlier, I believe we all share common values of appreciation for democracy and we want to do what we can to be more inclusive of everyone.
We know that changing our electoral system is a big step. You've been hearing a lot of different arguments over the last couple of weeks, and you will be hearing more as you go out on the road. The Leadnow community believes that this is a time to be bold. This process has opened an amazing window of opportunity to leave a lasting legacy and give Canada an improved electoral system. The truth is that we lag behind the rest of the world in using an unsophisticated voting system to try to represent a population that is growing increasingly more diverse. It isn't meeting the challenges of representing everyone's voice, and that has impacts on real people. It's not just an abstract question of which system is best, but a question of whether we want to be committed to ensuring that everyone is included in our democracy. There is clear evidence that PR is the best way to rectify that problem.
I want to end with a quote from one of our community members in Toronto, who wanted us to share this message with you:
Political systems evolve. Let us not assume or be lulled into the belief that our system is a static and 'finished; done' project.
Rather, let us always and continually find ways—sometimes small, sometimes major—to better manifest democracy and representation. Let us never fear new ideas. Our current system has shown its flaws; it would be irresponsible to not try something new now.
Thanks for your question.
Yes, I said that Canada does not have, indeed, a culture of coalitions. I will cite two examples.
In 1999 in Saskatchewan, the NDP government—the incumbents—were reduced to a minority status, and a few Liberal members decided to go into a coalition supporting the NDP government. These gentlemen were both expelled from their party and treated as traitors.
Of course some of you will have a recollection of the second one I will mention, the 2008 coalition dispute—or crisis, depending on the version—in which for some people the very idea of a coalition was something totally immoral.
I said we don't have a culture, but we had a practice of coalitions in the past. This is forgotten. I don't know if this has been mentioned in your proceedings, but Ontario had a coalition government under Ernest Drury in 1919-1923. It lasted a full term. Manitoba had a coalition, under Bracken and his successors, from 1932 to 1950 or 1951. British Columbia had a coalition from 1941 to 1952. Saskatchewan had a coalition government under Anderson from 1929 to 1934.
The interesting thing is that these coalitions were quite lasting. We have the impression, based on the experience of some European countries, that coalitions, by definition, are short-lasting. These coalitions lasted for the full duration of the legislative term. However, we haven't had such coalitions recently because there is seemingly an assumption, I'm afraid, that if a party goes into coalition with another presumably stronger party, they are absorbed by this other party, and no party, of course, wants to lose its individuality.
One of the barriers I wanted to bring up today with regard to this committee's examination of changing our political system is the political financing situation in Canada.
Right now I think we have a very strong system, in that we have capped individual donations, we have banned corporate donations, and we have set spending limits. When we compare the Canadian system, especially to what's happening in the U.S., I would argue that our system is pretty good.
There's one thing that concerns me, in that there's a significant loophole in this process. In Canada an individual corporation or group can register as a third party for election advertising purposes and then make expenses to “oppose” the election of one or more candidates. As opposed to the laws for financing political parties or candidates, corporations can spend money on elections via this route, and corporations can therefore influence candidates.
There are also no limits on the donations that a group can receive from an individual, and individuals can therefore in effect exceed their political spending limits and influence candidates.
Further, a third party has to register with Elections Canada only once an election is called, which makes it difficult to track the activities of these groups with regard to their influence on our electoral process. Also, they only have to report donations that came in during the six-month period prior to the election, and there's no requirement to state which candidate a third party promoted or opposed, making it difficult for the public to know if members of Parliament are compliant with ethics guidelines on conflict of interest.
In the 2015 general election, over $6 million was spent by third parties on election advertising. To put this in perspective, the entire spend of the Green Party of Canada on the election was $3.9 million. There are examples in which individuals have given a large amount to an electoral district association registered as an individual third party and then spent considerably more on opposing or promoting a particular candidate in an electoral district. For me, this is a loophole of concern in this whole barrier situation.
I would ask both Dr. Thomas and Ms. Northam, given that there's agreement that this is a potential barrier, if they would agree that one of the recommendations from this committee should be that there should be tighter and more significant mirroring of federal election financing laws for political parties to third parties in order to reduce this barrier?
With the time I have, I'll go to Dr. Thomas first for a yes or a no.
Thank you for your question, Mr. Boulerice.
As to the way a person votes, the ballot is similar to ours, except that there are two options. On the left side of the ballot, the voter can choose a candidate and, on the right, they can vote for a party, that is, the list created by a party. So the voter casts two votes instead of just one. It is possible, by the way, to use the same system with a single vote for a candidate, if the vote is counted both for the candidate and for the party the candidate represents.
As to forming a government, that is a bit more complicated. The results are known quickly. I follow German elections, which are held at noon on Sundays. It is almost a ritual, I have followed them for several years now. The results are available very quickly. Many countries—and I am not referring to Canada—would do well to proceed that way.
How is a government formed? The results are reviewed that night. Then the political parties begin their negotiations. Sometimes they have already indicated their affiliation, but that is not always the case, simply because the outcome is not known. In the last federal election, for example, it was not expected that the liberal democrats would be wiped out.
The political parties negotiate amongst themselves. The head of state is not involved in this process. After a month or two—and rarely more than two months—depending on the circumstances, a coalition agreement is reached. It is a long and complex document. Ultimately, it is the result of the negotiations that took place among the various political parties that were willing to form a coalition.
There are various types of coalitions. Typically, the Christian democrats have allied themselves with the liberal democrats and the greens with the social democrats. This has changed in the past few years though. In two places, I believe, the Christian democrats are now allied with the greens. This change was brought about by the circumstances. The socialists have aligned themselves with the liberals in the past. The extreme left was viewed in the past as an unsuitable coalition partner. In the Länder or states of the former East Germany, at least, it is now considered an acceptable partner.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses.
In the first five minutes that I have, I want to zoom in on this issue of recruiting women candidates, because it's something about which I have a lot of personal experience. With the permission of Professor Thomas and Ms. Northam, I'd like to share my anecdotal experience and ask you if there's any academic literature to back up some of my intuitive observations about why proportional representation will help us have more women in Parliament.
My first anecdotal experience was that as a woman and as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, I was viewed as a desirable candidate by various parties. At different times I was flattered, yes. Leaders of the New Democratic Party, Liberal Party, and Progressive Conservative Party all, at one time or another, tried to woo me, and it was a very nice experience, but I said, “Oh, my gosh, I don't want to do that thing.” I'll tell you what my reasons were.
I've now gone through the experience of being at the other end of the phone, trying to convince really fantastic women candidates to put themselves forward and run in an election. I succeeded in the last election—not as well as the NDP, to give credit where credit's due, but 39% of our candidates were women. That's 131 women out of 336 candidates.
Here's something that I'm wondering may be an informal barrier or at least a factor that I can't find in the academic literature. Women say, “I'm prepared to work hard and I want to make a difference, but I don't want to jump into a pond full of snapping crocodiles. I don't like the culture of politics.”
I think Ms. Northam said earlier that the Leadnow community is tired of adversarial politics. My observation, particularly from consulting with Green Party members of parliaments around the world who deal with proportional representation systems, for the most part, is that when you change your voting system toward a proportional representation/consensual system, you change the culture of politics. It becomes less nasty. You do away with what Susan Delacourt describes in great detail in her book Shopping for Votes. You do away with targeted dog-whistle wedge issues and you create incentives for consensus and working together.
I would suggest as my last point—and then I'll ask for your comments, starting with Professor Thomas—that this may explain why, in looking for elected women in Canadian politics, there are proportionately far more at the municipal level, where for the most part we don't have political parties.
You're shaking your head. Do we not have more women elected in municipal governments? We always had, traditionally.
In any case, I'll turn to you now. Personally, I think this is a factor that won't come up in the reasons. You're right that if you just change your voting system and that's all you're looking at, you're not going to get more women. As a point of fact, democracies with proportional representation have more women. Personally, from my experience, this could be a factor. I'd like to know if there's any research on that.
I'll go to you, Professor Thomas.
Some people just like the cut and thrust of politics and are prepared to deal with that context, whereas other people are more more likely to say, “I'm doing important work here and I don't necessarily want to.”
What bothers women more now—and this comes up routinely in my classes, which is why I say we're on it when we're studying this—is what the Internet and social media do, because this gives a lot of misogynistic, really gross voices a very large microphone. It's very unpleasant and it's very violent. It's one of the things that is emerging because we have more women in executive positions, especially as premiers at the provincial level, so that's giving us the data that we need to work on this issue more systematically.
One of the things I will say about consensus politics, though, is there is an excellent study done by Tali Mendelberg and her colleagues at Princeton that notes that if you operate under consensus rules, women's voices never actually achieve parity in terms of men. They look at things like perceived competence, perceived leadership, actual numbers of speaking times, and number of times they were rudely interrupted by the men in the group. It doesn't matter how many women you have under consensus rules; you don't actually hit parity there. Where you actually do hit parity is when you have majoritarian rules with a supermajority of women. This is an experimental study, so generalizing from that into an existing set of political institutions is something I would not do.
One of the things I would also say is about the local politics myth. There's this idea that local politics is really friendly for women. I live in Calgary. Calgary City Council is not a friendly place for women. It hasn't been for quite some time, and I don't think it will be any time soon either.
This idea about local politics is a myth. Consensus isn't necessarily the thing that solves the sexist problem either. It seems nice, but I don't think it solves the problem.
I am rather under the impression that people have a preference for majority governments. With a proportional system, regardless of the type, there would probably not be any majority governments, for a very simple reason. In our electoral history since 1921, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a party managed to go over the 50% threshold. Mr. Mulroney, in 1984, is the last such case to date. So it has been quite a while.
So we should get used to coalitions. Can those coalitions be stable? I think so. They are simply made up of several political parties. The Prime Minister's authority within the political system would not be as strong, as he would have to deal with cabinet ministers from another party who would have a certain power over him. It would be different from the current situation, where the Prime Minister is extremely powerful. As you know, some are portraying him as a monarch. So that would be quite a change.
I wanted to clarify something here. Although I have listed all the potential complications of a mixed-member proportional model, my intention was not at all to criticize or discredit that system. I have studied it in theory, but I have also used the experience of consultations that were held in Quebec and in other provinces. What seemed to us brilliant from a technical standpoint—the idea of dual candidacy—was viewed by some people as an abomination. As the old expression goes, if the front door has been closed, try to get in through the back door.
I think that's very unfair. I can tell you that this has not been seen as a problem in a number of countries. New Zealand and Germany have integrated and understood the system well. I did not have time to mention this, but Chancellor Kohl is the longest serving German chancellor to date. There is some competition with the current chancellor, Ms. Merkel, but he served for a long time. He was defeated twice in his riding, but thanks to the list, he was able to remain a member. I looked at his biography to see whether anyone had made a big deal out of that in Germany, but no one had. Perhaps we would be able to prove it here.
As for dual candidacy, we have noted something, especially in Quebec. Mr. Pelletier actually talked about this. Many members, starting with Mr. Pelletier himself, were terrified of seeing someone they had defeated in their riding end up in front of them, as they saw this as a threat to their grip on the riding.
That is not seen in Germany. That's all I can say. There is a tradition of collaboration and consensus dating back to the post-war period, prior to which, it was not a pretty sight. That much I can guarantee, as they say. The country went through difficult times and experienced the consequences of hate ad nauseam. Prior to the war, in the 1920s and the 1930s, German politics were extraordinarily polarized. Germany has now become a country of consensus, and things like these work.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
As I'm sure you have heard, New Zealand switched to mixed member proportional in 1996. They also had dedicated seats for their indigenous population. For Canada, I think New Zealand's experience will be much more useful as a road map than anybody else's who's used mixed member proportional or any other system without making the change to it. This is why I think New Zealand is the most important comparison case.
People will say, as I know I said when I was a younger student, that in 1996 there was a jump immediately from 21% women in the New Zealand legislature to 35%. Since then, though, it's remained pretty stagnant. They go between 34% and 41%. It currently sits at 38% after the 2014 election. This just suggests that although we've moved the bar, New Zealand is still stalled.
The reason, I think, has to do with where the women are. If you just dump the women into the party list seats that are meant to be top-ups, New Zealand shows that most women came from that. People actually said that New Zealand shows that women can't win in the districts. We know from places like Canada and Britain, and especially from Canadian voters, that Canadian voters certainly don't discriminate on the basis of sex, yet in the New Zealand experience you saw it, and then people actually started to articulate that women can't win in the seats.
The difference between 1996 and 2014, when they had their last election, is that women were about 30% of members from both district seats and from list seats. What we've not seen is parity. New Zealand switched their electoral system, and it gave a certain kind of access point for women. I'll concede that when they made that particular system more proportional, women got into the legislature through those list seats, but they've not hit 50%. What it enabled people to do was to explicitly say something sexist about women's abilities to win elections, which we know from other cases isn't true. What we end up seeing now is an equalization between women in the districts and women on the list, but they're still 20 points away from parity, so there are still informal barriers.
To begin, I have a brief comment. Professor Thomas, I am sure my colleague would agree with you and would be very happy to hear you say that, if there were financial consequences for political parties that do not field an equal number of men and women as candidates, the problem would be solved overnight, because that is exactly what he proposed in his bill.
Ms. Northam, I would like to hear your thoughts on the radical idea that a voter could vote for their first choice, for the candidate they would like to see in Parliament, and get what they want. This is in fact the case in the majority of democracies and Western countries. In Canada, we have a system that creates systematic injustices.
I'll give you two examples and I would like to hear your reaction.
On Vancouver Island in the last election, the NDP won 33% of the vote, the Green Party, 25%, the Liberals, 21%, and the Conservatives, 21%. Yet five NDP MPs, who are all excellent and who I like very much, and one Green MP, were elected, but no Liberals or Conservatives. Even though Liberal and Conservative voters account for 42% of the votes cast on Vancouver Island, they have no representation in Parliament whatsoever.
The same could be said of my NDP friends in the heart of Toronto. They are there and account for a considerable vote share, but they are not represented either.
The same is true for Conservative voters on the Island of Montreal. They are there, represent a percentage of voters, but they have no representation.
In your opinion, what should we do to ensure that NDP voters in the heart of Toronto, Conservative voters in Montreal, and Liberal voters on Vancouver Island have a voice in Parliament?
Thank you for the question. This links very closely to a project I have with my co-editor, Amanda Bittner, who's at Memorial University, and an international panel of scholars looking at the impact of gender and parental status in politics. A number of things come through very clearly from that work and from other research.
First, something that will always be an issue in Canada is the commute. That sounds really quite trite, except I'm in Alberta, and a weekly commute to Ottawa is something that I, and I imagine a number of people, simply would not do. It's just not on. The people who are doing it know how difficult it is. For people who are considering it, this is one of these things that become problematic.
The idea that local politics is good for women comes from a lot of research in the United States that shows that women who actually get into politics say something along the lines of “I want to do it at the local level, because I want to be able to drive to where I work as opposed to flying to the state capital or to Capitol Hill.” In other words, there isn't necessarily something about local politics per se that makes it friendly for women; it's because there is a work-life balance and things like commuting are addressed.
The other thing that comes through pretty clearly is the nature of political work and what this means for children. In the province of Alberta, where I reside, we have some interesting things happening. We went from having a legislature that hadn't even addressed maternity leave and pregnancy and small infants to having two major changes, with maternity leave programs not only in the legislature but in cabinet. One thing that's come through very clearly from the last Parliament is that the nature of political work itself doesn't lend itself to maternity or parental leave, which is challenging, especially when care facilities don't exist in that particular workplace or close to that workplace for the care of infants, for example.
When we look at places like Australia and Great Britain as well as historical evidence from British Columbia, we see that it also becomes problematic whether individual members can do such things as job-share on committees or even bring a breastfeeding infant into committee work. In British Columbia, in the British House of Lords, and in Australia individual members have actually been barred because their infants were seen to be strangers. When that gets presented as being ridiculous, my example from the British House of Lords is that they then said that breast milk was a refreshment, and refreshments were not permitted in the committee. That's why the breastfeeding mother couldn't be brought in.
I wish I were joking about that, but I'm not. If you're looking at women who are my age, in their thirties, and thinking about how they want to balance their professional life with other aspects of life in general, these are considerations that definitely kick us out of the pool.
It will be interesting to see how many young fathers are prepared to participate in these sorts of things as well. I want to say that these things certainly do hit women in a particularly gendered kind of way, but I don't think it's helpful to phrase them exclusively as women's issues. It's just that being a parent in politics is very different. What this means in the U.K. is that the majority of members of Parliament who are men are parents, and the majority of women who are members of Parliament are not. My British colleagues have identified that as a problem.
I would say that the distribution of votes and how that maps on to the distribution of seats is a different question from what the population looks like and what the representatives look like. Those things ought to be seen as distinct.
Of course, since I have indicated that I think political parties across the spectrum are part of the representational problem when it comes to representational equity, I can't say that partisan equity is a way of getting at representational equity.
The reason we talk about demographic weight is important. It's because we know that women are going to be ideologically diverse and they're going to have a diverse set of policy preferences and a diverse set of policy-relevant experiences that will cut across a number of partisan preferences and partisan boundaries. The same holds for visible minorities and the same holds for indigenous peoples. As a result, the kinds of questions that need to be asked for the solutions would be what you actually want the representatives to look like.
For women I think this is easier, because we can say women are 50% of the population and therefore ought to be 50% of the representatives, or you can make the argument that this should happen. What we need to avoid, though, is the idea of replicating other forms of inequity. Having 50% of the representatives made up of white, wealthy, educated professional women does not solve the problem.
What we also want to see is diversity within communities. Right now, when you look at visible minorities and indigenous Canadians by demographic weight, you see they're more present in the current House of Commons than women are, but they're disproportionately masculine, older, and all these other sorts of things.
Mr. Matt DeCourcey: Do you have a—
Prof. Melanee Thomas: Therefore the question has to come—
I'm laughing because my colleague and I were talking about recruitment right now and we think we should recruit you, Professor Thomas. You would be an excellent politician, except for the fact that you won't travel and you may be too sensible.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Ruby Sahota: I don't want to be testifying and I do want to learn as much as possible from all the witnesses here, but I am from a minority group and I am a woman and I did run in this last election. I have a young son, so I have a young family.
I can attest to why I made the choice and to the barriers that I felt I faced and still face today, and why I've talked to a lot of other women I know, trying to encourage them to run, and the responses that I get from them.
Some of the barriers have to do with that Internet stuff you were hinting at earlier, the dirty politics that can be in an election campaign. Certain ridings are more prone to that than others, depending on who you're running against and what they're known for. Some women don't want to risk the negative impact it might have on them. They fear it may have a worse impact on them than on their male counterparts at times.
I can definitely tell you that it wasn't the electoral system. Most women who want to get into politics like the competitiveness and like politics. That's why they're there, but it's also some of the stuff that my colleague Ms. Romanado mentioned. It's after the fact.
I sit on the procedure and House affairs committee. We've been looking at a lot of factors that we can change in Parliament in order to make it more inclusive, to allow more people to make that decision to run. A lot of people don't do it because of the travel that you mentioned.
They don't do it because of the work/life balance. How can that be attained? How can we ensure our children aren't strangers on the floor? How can we make those procedural amendments, such as maternity leave? There are so many things to consider that are inherent obstacles for women. I know some are for men as well, but there are other biological factors and problems that women have that men don't encounter.
It's so complex. Why more women aren't in politics is such a complex issue. It's very simple to just say, “This is the reason, and we can solve it by either PR....” Had we had a PR system in place today, you could maybe make the link that maybe we have a gender-balanced cabinet because PR countries lead to gender-balanced cabinets. Well, no, they don't. It's political will, as you said. If you want to do it, you'll make it happen.
I definitely agree that we need the political will across all parties, regardless of what party it is, to get that mirror image in Parliament.
Thank you for your testimony today. You've given us a lot of other things to think about.
I want to open the floor to you and Ms. Northam. If there's anything else you want to say in conclusion before you have to leave today, things that you weren't able to testify to today, I'd like to open the floor to you to do that.