Good morning, colleagues. Welcome to our witnesses.
I would like to thank them for being here with us today to share their ideas and their views on this rather complex issue.
This morning we have three witnesses: David McLaughlin, Craig Scott and Graham Fox.
I would like to summarize their biographical notes, starting with David McLaughlin.
David McLaughlin has extensive experience in the public policy sector and has held a variety of senior positions in both the federal government and the New Brunswick provincial government. Mr. McLaughlin served as the chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Premier Bernard Lord, and Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty. He has also served in the New Brunswick government as deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs, and policy and planning and in the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy. In the latter capacity, he managed the commission's study on democratic reform, which produced a report with over 80 recommendations for electoral, democratic, and legislative reform. He was also the president and CEO of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy from 2007 to 2012 and is a regular contributor to a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Policy magazine, and the Huffington Post.
Craig Scott is a professor of law at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He served as the Member of Parliament for Toronto—Danforth from 2012 to 2015. He attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. He obtained his Masters of Law from the London School of Economics. His academic specialty is international law with a focus on human rights.
Craig Scott is editor of the Hart Monographs in Transnational and International Law series and founding editor of Transnational Legal Theory. In 2000, he became a member of the Faculty of Law at Osgoode Hall, and he was Osgoode Hall's Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies from 2001 to 2004. As an NDP MP, he was the opposition critic for democratic and parliamentary reform.
Welcome, Mr. Scott. It is a pleasure to see you again here on Parliament Hill.
Graham Fox is the president and CEO of the Institute for Research on Public Policy and has an extensive background in public policy. Mr. Fox has served as chief of staff to the Right Honourable Joe Clark and has been an adviser to members of Parliament. He has also held a number of positions in public policy research organizations, including vice-president of the Public Policy Forum and executive director of the KTA Centre for Collaborative Governance.
Prior to joining the Institute for Research on Public Policy, Mr. Fox was a strategic policy adviser at the law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, where he provided strategic analysis and advice in a variety of public policy fields.
Before we get started, I will just mention the way we have been operating. After each witness presents for 10 minutes, we have two rounds of questions. In each round, each member gets to engage with the witnesses. What I mean by that is that questions and answers must fall within a five-minute time limit. We do two rounds in this format.
I would like to point out that if an MP has finished speaking in the five-minute period allocated and you did not have time to answer a question or say everything you wanted to, do not worry because you will have an opportunity the next time you speak to finish your thoughts and answer the question asked previously.
We will start with you, Mr. McLaughlin. You have 10 minutes.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for your invitation to appear before you today. Let me begin by wishing you, first of all, every success in your work on this important matter that will affect all Canadians.
I'm here as an individual with some expertise and knowledge of electoral reform deliberations, and as a deputy minister to the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy from 2003 to 2005. It is in this capacity that I'd like to share some observations and conclusions I hope will assist you in your own deliberations and recommendations.
The New Brunswick process and report was the most extensive democratic reform exercise ever conducted in that province. Electoral reform was a central but by no means the only focus of the commission's work. Specifically the commission was instructed to examine and make recommendations on how to strengthen and modernize New Brunswick's democratic institutions and practices in three main areas: electoral reform, legislative reform, and democratic reform.
Electoral reform is about changing our voting system, drawing electoral boundaries, setting fixed election dates, and boosting voter turnout. Legislative reform is about enhancing the roles of MLAs in the legislative assembly, and opening up the appointments process for agencies, boards, and commissions. Democratic reform is about involving the public more in decision-making and proposing a referendum act.
The commission's goal was to present recommendations that would bring about fairer, more equitable, and effective representation in the legislative assembly; greater public involvement in decisions affecting people and their communities; more open, responsive, and accountable democratic institutions and practices; and higher civic engagement and participation of New Brunswickers.
Our final report, which I have here, is over 200 pages long with some 100 specific recommendations. It provided research, analysis, policy recommendations, and even specific legal text in a process of just over one year of meetings. The driving mission animating the commission, which I commend to you in turn, was fostering a more citizen-led democracy.
This focus on citizens led the commission to develop three themes from which our recommendations flowed. Common to each was how democracy can be made to work better for “you, the citizen”. Those three themes were making your vote count, making the system work, and making your voice heard. When we were in doubt about our approach, or faced trade-offs and choices, as you undoubtedly will, this focus on citizens kept us grounded and focused.
I want to highlight three areas of our work germane to the committee's mandate: democratic values and principles, electoral reform, and citizen engagement. The commission began, as you did too, with a focus on democratic values. When it came to deciding the best electoral system for New Brunswick, we had to make trade-offs based on which of those values mattered most. You will, too.
The key principles we used to decide upon a new electoral system included local representation, which is the principle of all geographic areas of the province having a particular representative in the legislature to represent their interests; fair representation, ensuring all New Brunswickers' voices were fairly represented in the legislature; equality of the vote, ensuring each voter's ballot had equal influence in determining the election's winner; and effective government, the ability of the system to result in the easy selection of a stable government that is able to govern the province.
We used those principles to consider the strengths and weaknesses of various electoral systems and specific design features. These principles are similar to your list of values, with perhaps one notable difference: effective government. Your focus is on effectiveness within the electoral system. We also considered that, but the commission felt strongly that the outcomes of that electoral system had to include the notion of producing governments that could govern. Instability of legislatures and governments was much on our minds.
We recommended a mixed member proportional system as optimal for the province, based on a consideration of all the alternatives in relation to the roster of democratic principles. Animating New Brunswick's discussion most was a peculiar outcome of provincial politics: big majority governments and small, weak oppositions. Between 1987 and 1999, you may recall, the opposition never won more than 20% of the seats in the legislature, despite the combined opposition parties winning between 40% and 52% of the vote during this same period. MMP would fix that.
MMP also proved appealing when considering the regional nature of urban and rural communities in the province. It also proved viable—and this was important to New Brunswick, as Canada's only officially bilingual province—to ensuring equality of representation between the English and French linguistic communities. MMP's ability to create regions mapped to linguistic boundaries, with party seats for topping up votes in a two-vote system, was deemed attractive.
We recommended a 56-seat house, with two-thirds single member seats elected via the current first past the post system, and one-third PR seats, choosing five MLAs from closed party lists in one of four multi-member regions on the basis of the party vote received within the region. The two-thirds:one-third split enabled us to both ensure necessary local representation while introducing a sufficient degree of proportionality to be meaningful in translating votes into seats.
A minimum 5% threshold in the separate party vote on a province-wide basis was required to be eligible to win any list PR seats. This was necessary to avoid a proliferation of single-issue parties with undue influence in the legislature.
Candidates would be required to choose to run as either a single member riding candidate or a regional PR list candidate, but not both, as a way to avoid perceptions of gaming the electoral system.
Engaging New Brunswickers in our process and the eventual decision on a new electoral system was central to our consideration. Frankly, despite best efforts with a dedicated website, the social media technology of the time, regional open town hall meetings, online questionnaires, an interim report, academic conferences, and partnering with civil society organizations, interest and participation in the commission's work was low.
We were of no doubt that we had done our own work thoroughly and fairly, but an electoral system is not the politician's or party's property. We felt strongly that a referendum was necessary to legitimize such a change. Our recommendation was for a double majority, comprised of 50% plus one of votes cast by at least 50% of eligible voters, in a binding province-wide referendum vote.
To ensure fairness and impartiality in the referendum process, we recommended a new referendum act for the province with extensive provisions for governing such a process to be held at the time of the next provincial election. It contained spending and contribution limits, establishment of referendum committees, registration of groups, voter education, and a new independent Elections New Brunswick agency to administer it. We also recommended a legislative assembly study committee to review the new voting system after two elections and report any improvements that might be necessary.
There were two conclusions from our work that may assist you in yours.
First, FPTP has good features and is both familiar and legitimate to most voters. After all, we do accept election night results, and Canada has progressed. However, it does have clear drawbacks and inadequacies that an MMP system could mitigate. MMP, we know, is more reflective of the democratic values of fairness, inclusiveness, choice, and equality of vote. However, MMP at the national level has never really been modelled or analyzed in a comprehensive way that I've seen, except for one Law Commission of Canada report. There are real consequences that we found in outcomes, based on the specific design of that system, that you will need to research and consider should you decide to recommend it.
Second, public legitimacy of a new electoral system is highly desirable and surmounts party and politician interests. It is about the citizen and voter in a citizen-centred democracy. A referendum is the simplest, clearest, and most acceptable way of conferring legitimacy for the long term, not just on the system but more importantly on the outcomes it produces.
I know this is contentious, so let me offer a second best but still viable option to you: provide for a validating referendum after two elections, based on a Parliamentary review of the system, and give Canadians the chance to accept it, perhaps with improvements, or revert back to the previous system.
I'd be happy to take any questions you might have. Thank you for the invitation and for listening.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair. It's good to be back. If I'd known I was coming, I'd have baked a cake, which is to say, I would have sent a paper. But I haven't and I'll send one afterwards.
Just to situate you briefly, yes, I did work on this file when I was a parliamentarian. I think the culmination, in terms of what went on in Parliament, was an opposition day motion in December 2014 specifically to test the waters on not continuing with winner-take-all electoral systems and specifically to endorse mixed member proportional representation adapted to Canada. The vote didn't pass, but it is noteworthy to know that 16 of the 31 Liberal MPs voting that day did vote with the motion. Therefore, I think we have the basis for the cross-partisan/pan-partisan discussion that this committee is clearly all about.
Let me start by explaining in brief several reasons mixed member proportional deserves to be at the top, or at the top along with one or two other proportional models.
The standard reason you've all heard is that it's the best of two worlds, which are the two principles from the committee's mandate. They are called effectiveness and legitimacy, but effectively it's the fair translation of the votes-into-seats principle and the local representation principle, which are both attended to by the model.
The second two reasons I want to point out are less commonly noted.
The first is one that I have been beating like a dead horse for the last three years, but others don't seem to talk about it as much. I think MMP takes local MPs and local candidates much more seriously than any other form of PR and more than first past the post. That's because of the potential for crossover voting. Voters can tick “local representative” and vote for candidate X, who happens to be from a certain party, and then go over to the regional MP lists and decide which party they want to support, and which person on the list if it's flexible. They don't have to be from the same party.
I think that has salutary impacts. In New Zealand, around 30% take up that option of cross-voting. It means that the local candidates are more likely to be able to attract votes for who they are, what they've done, what they can bring nationally from the local level, without having to worry about the strategic vote. I think this is an extremely important feature of MMP.
The second thing is almost heresy to say, but I think the idea of having a coterie of regional MPs alongside the purely local MP has a salutary impact on national politics. It already is taking a bunch of MPs away from the purely local. They're going to have to look a bit more broadly at the dynamics in a bigger area than a local riding. I believe, after three years on the Hill, that we have a deficit when it comes to a capacity to focus on national issues in our Parliament. It's far too localized by virtue of the system of 338 ridings set alongside each other, which somehow then has to generate a national politics. I think there would be some added benefit from MMP that way.
Some of the problems from the current system deserve to be highlighted because I think MMP does address them, as would any serious PR system. One is the “diversity of viewpoints” problem. When you have false majorities, you have less of a true diversity of the range of voters' opinions. You have a serous problem with lack of diversity of viewpoints coming from regions. Right now Atlantic Canada is represented by albeit a fairly large-tent party, but nonetheless one party. Toronto has gone without representatives other than one party. When the NDP swept in Quebec in 2011, we had 80% of the seats, with something like 42%, 43%, 44% of the vote. That was no fairer in our score than what's happened in many other contexts.
It exacerbates regionalism because people tend to start associating Alberta for example as nothing but Conservative, especially if that repeats itself over more than one election.
It also feeds into an unduly executive-dominated Westminster system of Parliament. The false majorities can give licence to that power dynamic. It can produce tunnel vision and ideological fixations in legislation, rather than forcing legislation to have to encounter the different points of view that the product of proportional representation elections tends to produce and our false majority system doesn't.
I also believe we have a system—and it can be exacerbated in different points in time—that tends away from consensus and collegiality, and toward adversarialism and hyper-partisanship, almost a gridiron style of politics that is tied a bit to the winner-take-all dynamic and the organizing for the next election on those same terms.
Alternative vote is a ranked ballot system within single-member districts that is on the table. The Liberal Party has put it on the table in its own policy book from some time ago. I just want to make sure that.... It is crucial that everybody know there is nothing about AV that would really counteract most, if any, of these problems.
The first thing is that, although it is unpredictable, it is almost always the case that, at least to some extent, AV will exacerbate the problem of disproportionality. Éric Grenier for CBC, using available data right after the last election, suggested that something like 224 Liberals would have been elected, instead of the 185 or so who were elected under the current system.
Beyond that, even on its own terms, AV is presented as a majoritarian system. I want to make sure everybody understands the limitations to that characterization.
First of all, it's not really majoritarian in the sense of a majority of first preferences. For many of the ridings, you have to add second preferences. That's the first thing that everybody has to note.
The second thing is that it doesn't even make sense of the notion of making every vote count, which was the top line in the government's platform in the last election.
For years, we all assumed that the expression of making every vote count really referred to proportional representation. But it's clear that if it was used in the Liberal platform, it had to be meant to possibly do service to keep open the possibility of alternative vote. However, that can't be the case when AV doesn't actually count every vote equally. It's not just that what happens is that when you count the second votes, you're only counting from the bottom up until somebody crosses the 50% threshold. You almost never get to counting the second votes of the first- and second-place candidates after the first round. It's actually a false presentation of making every vote count.
I would say that there's also a deceptive majority problem. I'll send you the chart where I've done the work on this. You can actually get candidates crossing the threshold of 50% plus one in the first plus second votes, while if you added up all of the first- and second-place votes, including those for the top two candidates, that candidate would not be the preference.
It's a system that has benefits, but you have to be very careful to know what they are and not falsely say this is about a majoritarian system. It's really not a majoritarian system of great consequence.
I'll end by saying that I spent three years as an official opposition critic for democratic reform making the case for PR, and the NDP's position was MMP. That was arrived at after the NDP studied it in the early 2000s. There have been various commissions across the country, including the one in New Brunswick that was really well outlined by Mr. McLaughlin, the positive experience abroad in Scotland and New Zealand, Germany, for example, and my own review. I do believe MMP is the ideal, but I want to emphasize that principled and respectful compromise can do the job too. It's central already to your work.
I would, for example, urge this committee to consider the U.K. Jenkins commission's idea of MMP, allowing ranked ballot voting on the local election side. You'd have to make sure that you don't have a split between local and regional seats that unduly favours the local election side, because the ranked ballot could produce greater distortions at that level. But if there are folks in the room who say there's an independent benefit to ranked ballot voting for local elections, it can be built in.
Similarly, I also believe you can design a single transferable vote system that would allow for a degree of local attention. You can divvy up multi-member district ridings for service functions. You can have a coordinated delivery of services even though all the MPs represent the entire riding, and you can approximate a form of local attention with STV.
There are ways to compromise and get to multiple goals.
There are many other institutional design features that I'm happy to take questions on, but I'd end by saying that I think this committee started extremely well. 's introduction talked about two mischiefs, not one. She talked about the problem of false majority. She also talked about why an alternative vote style system might address another set of problems. She wasn't exclusive, and the composition of this committee has, I think, given a jump-start to something that many doubted would ever be possible.
There are lots of folks out there, nay-sayers, commentators, who are assuming that behind the scenes—not for the members of this committee but behind the scenes—one of the goals is for this to all end up as a big noble failure and that there will be a deadlock, an impasse, nothing will come out of it, and we'll keep the current system. I don't think that has to happen. I have a skeptical optimism that I believe we can do much better, and I believe you're starting that because this very committee is formed in a way that proportional representation would form committees in the future. You guys can do it. It will itself be proof that a system can work like this in the future.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
Since it began holding hearings, the committee has met many experts who have spoken about the characteristics of various voting systems, the experiences of different countries with these systems, and whether or not they could be implemented in Canada considering our geographic and demographic realities as well as our political system.
Naturally, these considerations are very important. However, in my presentation this morning, I will instead focus on the committee's mandate, the deliberative process, and engaging citizens in this debate, which may have an outcome with all sorts of consequences for the democratic system, whether intended or not. In that sense, although this was not planned, I will echo a number of the points that Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Scott have already raised.
That is why the manner in which Canadians are engaged in this deliberative process is so critically important to any eventual proposal for reform and to the legitimacy that proposal will have in the eyes of voters.
It is exponentially more important that we get this right, than that we get it done on time.
With regard to the consultation tools that have already been announced, I applaud this committee's efforts to create more opportunities for people to express their views on this issue. Your decision to hold meetings across the country and the availability of an on-line questionnaire are obviously good ways to engage the people who want to be heard.
They are opportunities to express an opinion. However, to develop a broad consensus among voters, which, in my opinion, is vital to the the long-term success of a reform proposal, you must also create opportunities to share, to exchange and to move forward.
The consultation process that's been launched currently allows for the articulation of interests, but it is less clear how those varied and sometimes competing interests will be aggregated into a public consensus on the best way forward.
Canadians should have as many opportunities as possible to state their views, but a genuinely deliberative process should also capture the changing of views as individuals hear from others or consider new evidence. As elected representatives of the people, members of Parliament can certainly support that process by staying connected to the evolving views of their constituents and reflecting them in their interventions in Parliament. However, party policy and party discipline will put limits on their ability to do so freely if constituents have views that differ from that of their party, legitimate limits perhaps, but limits nonetheless.
On an issue of such fundamental importance to the democratic system, Canadians themselves must participate meaningfully in the debate and their collective wisdom must drive the outcome. Thus, the question that came to me as I was considering this process was how we graduate from public consultation to citizen engagement. With this in mind, I'd make the following observations for the committee's consideration.
First, I'm not sure the average voter yet knows what problem we're trying to fix. Every voting system comes with distortions and flaws, but what is it precisely about the outcomes of single member plurality that we think are deficient? This very point in the public's mind that alternative voting systems would yield more desirable outcomes is in itself a matter of contention.
The committee's mandate is to make recommendations to the House, but should the government, based on the committee's advice, decide to produce a bill, public leadership will be required to ensure there's broad support for the intention of reforming the electoral system, which I humbly submit does not currently exist. In order to achieve any measure of consensus on reform, we must first ensure that there's a common agreement that there is a problem to be fixed and a common understanding of what that is.
Naturally, I recognize that the committee was given a very specific mandate and must operate within a given framework. However, perhaps it would be possible in your exchanges and in your reports to remind decision-makers that the educational dimension of this debate is vital to the way forward. The information booklets on the reform options provided by the committee are very useful, but eventually the government will also have to show leadership and convince Canadians that the reform is necessary and a priority.
Second, the mandate of this committee lists principles and values that any proposed reform should support or enhance, namely, effectiveness and legitimacy, participation, accessibility, integrity, and local representation. To my mind, the mandate gets it right in the sense that the right principles were identified. The work that remains to be done is the public debate on prioritizing these five principles in the event that they conflict.
As citizens, do we prefer to sacrifice a little local representation in order to increase the participation of groups that are currently underrepresented, or do we prefer a voting system that protects at all costs the link between the elected representative and the territory?
Both options can be defended, but we must reach a consensus.
It is on these values and principles outlined in the committee's mandate that the public debate should be centred, at least in the initial phase. The eventual debates on the mechanics of voting systems should be based on how we collectively feel about these values and how we've agreed to resolve the conflicts among them if and when they arise.
A common understanding of the relative importance of these values for Canadians will also ensure that the eventual choice of a voting system can be assessed against a public declaration of shared values rather than tactical partisan interests, and on this specific issue of designing the engagement exercise, either as part of this process or any subsequent legislative process if a bill does indeed come to Parliament.
I'd encourage the committee to reach out to expert practitioners, such as Don Lenihan, who have direct experience working on engagement exercises within parliamentary and government processes.
As a final observation and echoing a point that Professor Scott made, I want to reflect on the composition of this committee and the choice that was made to ensure that it was more reflective of the popular vote than the makeup of the House of Commons. In an important way, that makes this committee a prototype of the typical committee of the House of Commons elected under a more proportional system.
One of the principles mentioned in the committee's mandate seeks to foster collaboration in the political processes. The committee's composition makes it possible to go beyond the recommendations and demonstrate this collaboration in your work.
The way in which the committee conducts its business and reports back to the House will be instructive as to how Parliament under a new system would behave. You have the opportunity to foreshadow what electoral reform might yield. Process in this case is content.
The political sensitivity of the issues you must consider may increase the risk of trying to achieve consensus among you, but the signal it could send may also increase its rewards. In contrast, a result that is more akin to the expected majority report by MPs from the governing party and dissenting reports from all the others may be less encouraging to those who hope that a change in the electoral system will bring more collaboration to our politics.
On that specific point, let me say that, like Professor Scott, I think the committee is off to a really terrific start on that front.
Therefore, Mr. Chair, I would like to thank you very much once again for your invitation. I wish you good luck. I would be pleased to discuss this matter with members of the committee and to answer their questions.
I want to turn to substance. I agree with your analysis of alternative vote. I think you're entirely correct in how you describe it. I think it has an additional problem in Canada, and that is that, unlike most first past the post systems, where you tend to get a party of the right and a party of the left battling it out, and you get a government of the left or the right alternating, in Canada we've tended to have a party of the centre governing. The Liberals, therefore, have a systemic and predictable advantage under the AV system.
Harold Jansen who appeared before us pointed out that both in 2015, their best election in three decades, and in the 2000 election, the worst election ever for the Liberals, they'd get more seats under alternative vote than under the status quo. I asked about previous studies, previous elections. He said one had been done on 1997 that confirmed the same thing, and I've since looked up that study. It appears to be the case that, given our party structure, perhaps not forever but at least for the next election, this produces a predictable result. That is significant because you could get a smaller percentage of the vote than they got this time and still get a majority under AV, and therefore get 100% of the power. In fact, this is the opposite of the kind of proportionality that I think we're looking for.
Having said that, I'll now move on to your discussion of MMP. Again, my sense, from what we've heard from witnesses, is that MMP tends to work better in the Canadian context than in the other proportional models for reasons I won't go into or else I'll do all the talking. You mentioned a model, which was recommended by the Jenkins commission, that involves proportionality through a list, and then has alternative vote at the riding level. You said you think it may have some merit.
I'll read the Jenkins commission's report in due time, but the concern I have under this system is that if we implemented it here, one party, the Liberals, would get all or the vast majority of the riding votes, and the list seats would therefore go to the other parties. This would produce, at the very least, an odd balance in Parliament. It might not be the end of the world, but I want to ask you if that strikes you as being a problem, given the nature of Canada.
It led us to MMP with the broader mandate that we had and with those other principles too of effective government, quality of the vote, etc.
When we had to make certain trade-offs, we looked at different systems, so we looked at AV, we looked at STV, we studied Germany, New Zealand, all of the same kinds of models. As a specific example, we knew then New Brunswickers were really quite keen and fond of having their local MLA. Losing that connection would have undermined that citizen focus, if you will, so we put that in there.
We also had recommendations with respect to how parties could reform themselves, and that was getting a bit at some of the issues that Mr. Thériault raised. Again, we wanted more transparency in the process.
We thought a two-vote system was not complicated. Everybody can count to two, but we thought, with the citizen focus, that a more complicated system with large ballot sheets might actually not be the best thing for voters. It began with the principles, Elizabeth, but then as we worked through the various design elements, they helped us make some of those choices.
My final point is that parties are legitimate actors in this system. Fairness to parties, in a way, is not something you can absolutely discount. But if it's all about parties and if it's seen to be about parties, then you have lost your way and the system will have lost its way.
Get it right. I didn't make the promise—
Mr. Blake Richards: Fair enough.
Mr. David McLaughlin: —but I do believe there is great merit in studying our electoral system. As somebody who has studied it but also as a voter citizen, I'm open to change for it. I do see the inadequacies of the system. I don't want to stand on ceremony here, but I do think you have to allow a process that is inclusive enough, expansive enough, and timely enough. Give yourself some more time, if you can, to get your own deliberations right. I do feel that December 1 is rushed. I know you're working very hard, harder than Canadians perhaps recognize and appreciate, but there you are.
At the end of the day, my point is that it's still a Canadian system, and we want to know that this work has been done. We want to know that we have a chance to reflect on it. We also want to know what the consequences are of the change. We get the consequences of no change. It's status quo. Life goes on. We have managed. But with regard to the consequences of change, if they're not illuminated, if they're not brought forward in some way, then I think you will have a lot of explaining to do. I think that's unfair to our democracy, to our society.
I would absolutely encourage you to take more time. I know that then does impinge upon the timing for the next election, but we gave ourselves two elections in New Brunswick. The evidence is there: everybody who has made fundamental change has either given themselves time or has at least allowed a safety valve, if you will, of a referendum, in terms of the people's vote, to do that. We will accept the results of that referendum, I'm sure, even if it's squeezed in that time.
Therefore, in the spirit of offering up something, perhaps as a compromise solution, I suggest perhaps a validating referendum after we've had a chance to see the system. Canadians will want to know that they have a chance to opt out, not just be forced to opt in. It's that distinction that I know you're wrestling with. I don't think you've arrived at a satisfactory solution thus far, but you still have some time.
I would like to thank our three witnesses for their remarks and their wisdom.
Mr. McLaughlin, I appreciate the levity in answering Ms. May's question. I think it reminds us that we can't predict the outcomes of elections. I know that the election in 2006 was called early in New Brunswick, I assume with some thought of partisan advantage, which turned out the other way.
It gives me an opportunity to clarify the record for my friend Mr. Reid, who I believe adds a lot to this conversation as well, that Harold Jansen, yes, did opine that perhaps the AV system would lead to a certain result in perpetuity, but then came to this committee and essentially contradicted himself, saying, no, we can't predict the outcomes of elections not knowing what a different system will deliver to us and not knowing what other issues will be in play at that time.
I do have a question about the process, which I'll get to in my second question, but I want to talk to you, Mr. Scott, about a comment you made about the importance of campaign promises. I would say that this could be an arguable merit of the system now, that parties deliver platforms, visions for how they want to steer the country. Voters vote, hoping to see those commitments enacted. We've had some testimony that in different systems of PR, you muddle some of the campaign visioning or the platform visioning that takes place. That's one thing I'd ask you to comment on, where you see the relative trade-off there and how we should present that to Canadians.
The second question is about this idea of fairness and equality of the vote. I'll agree that elements of PR allow for votes to be counted in fair ways. Have you seen any of the testimony from Dr. Maskin, who presented to us the idea of the majority rule, where effectively each winning candidate is preferred to all the other candidates in a particular riding? Do you think it would be fair to present both an MMP system as a way of achieving fairness in the vote as well as this system when we speak to Canadians?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank our three witnesses for being here with us this morning for this fascinating study. In particular, I would like to thank Mr. Scott for returning to see us again. I have to say that I really wish he could be in my shoes.
Mr. Fox, you said something very interesting just now. You said that people have to understand the problem before they can talk about how to fix it. That makes perfect sense. You're right because really, who gets up in the morning thinking, “The first-past-the-post system creates distortions. Single transferable vote could be the solution, but Canadian geography would result in tensions between rural and urban areas”. People don't spend a lot of time thinking that way.
Even so, people feel that their votes are wasted. They don't always do the math, but nine million of the votes cast in last year's election are not represented in Parliament. On Vancouver Island, 21% of the people voted for the Liberal Party and 21% for the Conservative Party, but not a single MP from either of those parties was elected. In the Maritimes, NDP and Conservative supporters voted for their parties, but not a single Conservative or NDP MP was elected. I'm not even going to talk about what happened in Toronto.
On the ground, people ask us, “Why should I vote if it won't make a difference? My vote doesn't matter”.
In 2008, when I ran for the first time and was not elected, people told me, “Why should I vote for you, Alexandre? You're not going to win”. People feel that there's no way to make their vote matter in Parliament.
Mr. Fox, how do you think we should tackle this issue?
I would like to start by thanking our three witnesses for being here with us today.
As my colleague mentioned earlier, those who want to change the voting system to a proportional system, mixed-member or otherwise, always talk about how people regularly tell them their vote doesn't count.
Yesterday, however, the Institut du Nouveau Monde representative talked about a survey that revealed the real reasons people gave for not voting. Survey respondents said that they were too busy, that they were dealing with a problem with voter registration, that they felt cynical or uninterested in politics, that none of the planks in the candidates' or parties' platforms interested them, that they did not trust the parties, that they were out of the riding, that they had health problems and so on.
I get the feeling that people saying their vote doesn't count has more to do with the fact that their political party didn't win the previous election. That frustration can carry over from one election to the next. Am I right about that?
Regardless of the voting system in place, voter turnout is down worldwide. That's why changing the voting system will not, in and of itself, motivate people to vote in greater numbers or develop a greater interest in election issues. I think what we really need is a culture- and education-based change.
You said it well. The three young people who came to talk to us really emphasized the importance of civic education about politics. Is that right?
Would you please comment on that?
I wrote a piece for Graham's publication that offers up some suggestions as to how you might consult more and improve the process.
In short, I suggested things that were done previously under the constitutional process, under Joe Clark, such as a bigger conference, citizen conferences, if not a citizens' assembly; independent academic research that the public could see and that you could put out to people to show that you are considering the trade-offs and the issues; and a series of online things that you are starting to do. There are a number of things that you can do to engage people beyond just the traditional committee process.
I would encourage you, if you are going to go down that path, to do it sooner rather than later because of the time constraint, obviously, that you are working under, whether it is December 1 or whether you give yourself some more time. It is not a lot of time.
Second, to really make that work.... When do Canadians focus? They focus when it matters, or when they think a decision is coming. Right now, you are in a fairly broad, expansive learning mode. At some point, you have to be in a deliberation mode, and you are going to be deliberating specific options or specific choices. At that point, I would really encourage you to go public with a shorter paper or some specifics to say, “This is what we are thinking. This is where we are heading. It really does matter, and now we want your input on this.” Then you have to find some way, again, to get input on those specific things.
Until you put something out that is more explicit, more specific, and more real to Canadians, I think it will be an interesting notion, but everybody has other things to do. We have struggled with that in New Brunswick, even with a dedicated process, and we had lots of engagement in terms of devices. It is still very tough. This is an off-the-top-of-the-head recommendation, but feel free to read the piece as well, if you would like.
First, we chose the closed list because of the feeling that, if the lists were closed, then the parties would make a bigger effort to put more women in particular on the list. That was a concern of the commission at the time, to try to increase the number of female representatives in the legislature.
Second, we were concerned that open lists would result in real intra-party competition as candidates vied for share of voice relative to others to move up the list and get votes, and therefore this would put parties in a position of being overly competitive, and would demean the political process a bit.
Third, perhaps peculiar to New Brunswick, was the sense that large population centres could overpower smaller communities. If you had a list member from one city or bigger town within a community, then they would get more votes relative to others. There was a sense of unfairness. Those are the things that drove us there.
Again, with that process, it's not a far leap to say let's not allow the candidates to be on lists as well as local member candidates. We were concerned about two things.
One was this potential gaming of the system, that they would say that you got elected on the list. They saw you put your name there. Partly what was of concern to us was creating two-tier MLAs. It's not a guarantee, but how you arrive in office, or how you arrive in your legislature, your House of Commons, does have a bearing on how colleagues treat you and react to you, and potentially more importantly, how citizens or constituents would react to you. That was a feeling that it would be better from a non-gaming perspective, that the public would see the system as your choice, you won or you didn't win, end of story.
Remember, the systems, especially New Zealand's, were relatively new. We did hear evidence, from talking to New Zealand folks, about this sense of second-class or first-class MPs or MLAs. It was a way to try to address that.
Over time you guys work things out in your daily business, but that was what motivated us.
I would like to touch on three subjects.
First, Mr. Fox, if I understood you correctly, you would rather do things properly than hastily. I gather Mr. McLaughlin feels the same way.
It seems to me that, on this file, the worst-case scenario would be for the legislative branch—which we represent—to finish its work on December 1 and let the executive branch decide what happens next. I don't think that three weeks is enough time to get a clear sense of what voters from coast to coast want.
That being said, it would be good for the committee to agree on the recommendation to leave the matter in the hands of the legislative branch and perhaps a citizens' assembly. There has to be a second stage before the executive deals with this issue. The executive branch might well decide that the lowest common denominator is that everyone wants change, and it might make a unilateral decision—backed by its parliamentary majority—about what that change should be. That would be a complete failure. I see you nodding, so I guess you agree with me.
Let's talk about gender parity.
Judging from what has happened in Quebec, some mechanisms have a greater impact on parity. However, no system, not even ours, can provide absolute control over gender parity.
I've done recruitment, and I've observed that merely getting a woman to run in a safe riding is not enough. The problem is everything that being in politics at the federal level represents.
It would be great for Parliament to address work-life balance. I have been a member of the Quebec National Assembly, and I can tell you that work-life balance there is much better than it is here. If we don't make things better, we won't be able to do that kind of recruitment and achieve parity even if we have lists. We would miss out on some excellent candidates in certain age groups.
What are your thoughts on that?
Let me start. I'll let my colleagues reflect a bit more.
Force them into some trade-offs. You have to do it. Find out what they value most. Come up with your series of principles, explain how they can work in comparison to others. I suspect that local representation will be very close to the top of the list. They'll want to know who their MP is. They want to know where you live, because it's that accountability and that possibility of throwing you out afterwards, the blunt democratic instrument, that's fine.
That would be one example that I think would jump up to the top, but try to force them a bit on that. Then, if you can, find out what they really want from an electoral system in this sense, and let me rip off what Elizabeth May said in terms of the central authority, the executive authority. Do they think it will cure this versus something else?
You may have a role in helping to address myths as well as improvements. Don't let the myths stand out there, that if we change the electoral system we can fix A, B, C, and D. Help them understand what those absolute choices are and help them appreciate where this is an improvement but not a panacea, if you will.
Off the top, that would be something that you could think about.
I will just answer briefly.
I think Dave was sort of predicting what might rise to the top. In terms of the closed list, keep in mind that there is a direct analogy. People are actually already faced with closed lists in our current system. It is a one-person list, but the party is the one that generates the only person you can vote for. If you are leaning toward a particular party or a set of principles, you know who is on the list generated by the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the NDP, the Greens, etc. It is all transparent, and the ability to then tick is an added element.
You know who you are voting for on these lists, and then you can evaluate: “How did they produce that list? I am not going to vote for a party that produced the list this way. I am more inclined to vote for a party that produced it that way.” “Closed list” doesn't mean they are closed in all senses; it just means you can't go in and change them.
The last thing is that, when I went on a tour as official opposition critic—I think about 12 different sessions across the country—I started with a list of something like 10 or 11 different principles or variables. They had to be a lot more specific than the ones for the mandate of the committee. I got people to fill out at the beginning, before there was any discussion at all, where they were on that. It took about five to 10 minutes, then there was whatever the session was, and then I had them do it again.
This was slightly biased, because people were coming knowing I was NDP, knowing we are already in favour of PR, etc., so it didn't represent Canada, but it represented where people started—that was most valuable—and then it represented change. The change wasn't so great, but for your group the changes could be quite important.
The way it worked is that we thought the parties were legitimate actors. They had the right to incent and choose the folks they wanted to represent them, but we wanted to create an incentive and a public pressure on them to do so.
Let's go back to how you operate. You operate in a competitive environment. You are seeking a political advantage in the best sense of the word relative to your competitors, putting your best foot forward in one way, showing that you are more in favour, on one issue or another, showing your representation. In how many campaigns in the past while have we had party leaders showcasing candidates behind them, a number of women, a number of visible minorities, etc.? This is the party's way of adapting to a new reality and a new pressure within the country under a first past the post system, and we show the candidates that we have to say we look like Canada, if you will.
Again the issue you raised was one we wrestled with and there were strong opinions on both sides. But the trade-off we made was that we wanted to have more women elected as MLAs. There were other issues there and that seemed to us, the commissioners, to trump the other kinds of concerns.
I don't want to diminish this, but Mr. DeCourcey, as you raised the issue of transparency and democratic legitimacy, it was something that we wrestled with. In the end, we made a choice based on the trade-offs. It's a legitimate example of how you will have to work through the stuff as well. And we did hear from parties too.
I'll reinforce what I said earlier. Parties are legitimate actors here. We need strong political parties. They are the partisan vehicles in the best sense of the word to allow views and issues and ideas to be debated. I'm in favour of partisanship if it allows for clarification of ideas, if it gives choice. I think that's a good thing in democracy.
So a bit of perhaps going the other way on the closed list, I get it, but that was our reasoning.
Before I ask my question, I would like to point out that Mr. Cullen and I do not embody a great deal of diversity in many respects.
Yes, we are both men, and we are both white. One of us has a beard; the other is clean-shaven. However, we are very different in one very important respect that is typical of our electoral system. Mr. Cullen's riding covers 330,000 square kilometres. It is larger than Poland. Mine is 11 square kilometres. The circumstances governing our work as MPs are extremely different.
When we look at the systems in Germany, New Zealand, Denmark and the Netherlands, we see a number of very interesting things. However, we can't just copy-paste. That's why I like Jean-Pierre Kingsley's suggestion about being informed by what is happening elsewhere but coming up with a made-in-Canada system. I feel we should really think about that.
If we want to achieve proportionality, I think there are three ways to do that. We could have provincial lists, regional lists within provinces—some provinces are larger than others—or amalgamated ridings, which would result in multi-member ridings with three, four, five or six members representing the same small region.
Obviously, that would work well for Montreal, but it would not work as well in Mr. Cullen's riding or the Northwest Territories. We have discussed this with witnesses who expressed differing opinions on the subject.
Can we have a system with first-past-the-post ridings in some cases and amalgamated ridings in cities and suburbs allowing for a degree of proportionality?
I would like to hear from all three of you.
It's a great question, and I would concur heartily with a “made in Canada” system. You'd be informed by electoral systems elsewhere, but we have different realities. It's language, of course, and other things, but geography is perhaps the biggest defining thing.
In New Brunswick it meant that...to do the proportionality that we came up with, without increasing the size of the House. That meant that the single member ridings were a bit larger; they were very tiny, but they were larger. It was what some of the people wanted. You have to think about that if you're going to go this way to try to address this issue, which I think is very legitimate. Do you want a bigger House of Commons? How do you allow for that, because you will have these kinds of inequities, and you will still want to keep the variances down to a manageable level in terms of representation of population, which is part of a process of redrawing boundaries, which you will, by necessity, have to go through here.
I don't know if some kind of hybrid system is the right system. Again, I go back to my presentation; we haven't had that kind of study here. We've had studies of mixed member proportional. We've looked at the key principles, but the application of it with maps, with boundaries, thinking about the roles of members of Parliament, how many in one province or region versus others, that's really quite consequential and matters a lot to voters. It's an interesting notion, and I encourage you to pursue it and see. You may end up saying, we need a larger House of Commons, and the euphemism for MMP becomes “many more politicians”.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. David McLaughlin: It goes from there. It's not to be pejorative or anything.
I'm in favour of the default position of letting voters decide because that works for us. At the end of the day that typically works for the system.
One of the reasons is that we accept the results. We have good winners and good losers. Good losers around the table, if you will, who then participate in a different way, not having won the main prize, the main chance, but agreeing to participate as loyal opposition, or as members of the opposition, etc. That's the nature of the system, so we accept it and we move on.
I've been involved in referendums. I was involved in the constitutional referendum in 1992 with Prime Minister Mulroney. I travelled everywhere with him on that basis. And yes, I saw first-hand where the animus toward him personally helped colour the results, etc.
So other things can come in, but to say that the public didn't know about the issues, didn't know all the things that were in Charlottetown.... They liked Charlottetown as a package; they didn't like individual elements. So perhaps too much was put forward, so that's learning.
We do know as well from elections why it is that, as practising politicians, you tend to go out door to door with your literature and hammer one message—and I've been a campaign manager—to the exclusion of others because you try to simplify it, and you try to put it in terms that matter to the public. You haven't yet found that sweet spot on this issue. Perhaps it will emerge in the process.
In the absence of a compelling argument to change—something that Graham said at the outset—or in advance of a concerted, independent effort of education, of information that in my view would have to accompany a referendum process, then the public will, I suspect, revert to they're not certain they trust this, or they're not certain, etc., and then probably that's more of a vote for the status quo.