I call the meeting to order.
I'd like to start by welcoming everyone this morning. First of all, thank you to everyone sitting in the audience for being here. We have a good turnout. It's a sign of a strong interest in this issue and in our democracy. Thank you, and congratulations for being here.
We apologize for the delay. The flight from Montreal to Ottawa had to turn back because of fog in Ottawa.
A voice: There's never fog in Ottawa.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: At any rate, we're here now. This is the 24th meeting of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. The format today is that each of the two presenters will present for 10 minutes. We'll see how it goes, but we may go to the second group of presenters right away, for 10 minutes each. Then we'll have a question-and-answer session, the public session, from 4:15 to 5 o'clock. After each set of presentations, there will be one round of questions from members, at five minutes each. That includes the answer. Both fit into the five-minute time slot.
We have with us this afternoon Mr. Michael Boda, the Chief Electoral Officer of Saskatchewan.
Thank you very much for being here, Mr. Boda, and for taking part in the discussion on the important topic of electoral reform.
We also have Professor Charles Smith from St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan. We thank him as well for being here.
Perhaps we could start with Mr. Boda for 10 minutes, please.
I would like to thank you for the invitation to appear today before the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
I would like to reiterate my interest in the topics being addressed here that aim to measure the strength of democracy in Canada and determine how the federal electoral process can contribute.
I am very interested in the discussion you have launched across the country and in the efforts you have made to strengthen and solidify our nation's democratic values for the decades to come.
Not unlike Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, who heads Elections Canada and oversees federal electoral events, I am responsible for overseeing Saskatchewan's provincial electoral events as head of Elections Saskatchewan. The mandate of my office includes managing an ongoing register of voters, regulating political parties and the finances of candidates, ensuring an appropriate level of readiness for conducting both scheduled and on-demand electoral events, and acting as a secretariat to our boundary commission. However, unlike my federal counterparts, I also hold investigatory responsibilities akin to those of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté.
From the outset, I must make it clear to members that while I'm very interested in supporting the work of your committee, I'm also one of 14 chief electoral officers in the country. In my role as a professional election administrator, it would not be appropriate for me to make recommendations on what electoral system should be selected for Canada's federal elections or to offer any assessment on the various electoral systems you have under consideration.
At this point in your deliberations, I expect that you will have already surmised that senior Canadian election professionals are quite serious about neutrality. I know that a number of my colleagues have declined your invitation to appear for that very reason. Within our role, we are intentional about not offering views on matters that sit clearly within the purview of legislators, and that includes offering an answer with respect to questions of what the best electoral system is for Canadians. Our job is instead to advise on making workable whatever system legislators and governments choose and to facilitate an ongoing examination and understanding of how the legal definition of the chosen system can be appropriately modified, as it inevitably needs to evolve within an ever-changing society.
Similarly, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to make recommendations on adopting or rejecting compulsory voting, a question of public policy for legislators to decide, but I do have some views on making such arrangements workable in the Canadian context.
On the topic of online voting, as Chief Electoral Officer it is not for me to advise on whether the time is right to proceed. It would be my role instead to offer insights on how promising new methods of voting may also present new types of challenges to an election system's integrity.
While I was born and raised in the province, prior to my appointment here in Saskatchewan in 2012, I spent two previous decades in the academy, and in conducting and assessing electoral events in both developing democracies such as Pakistan and Ghana and in established democracies such as Scotland and the United States. In light of this, I may be able to offer you some comparative insight with respect to electoral system implementation. I will need to apologize in advance if I'm simply unable to answer your questions. There's a bit of a self-editing process that's a requirement in my role as a senior election administrator, although my caution may be more than compensated for by the freedom of academic expression that my panel colleague, Dr. Charles Smith, enjoys.
Let me turn first to the topic of electoral systems.
In your efforts to evaluate the systems available to you, I encourage you to think about how many changes—and how any changes—may influence the engagement of citizens.
Election administrators tend to focus on service to the voter and on ensuring their experience at each polling place is positive and efficient. As committee members, you have the opportunity to think more broadly about the impact an electoral system can have on public participation. The decline in voter participation, not just in Canada but across western democracies, is well documented, and I share the concerns that have been expressed about the legitimacy of governance being at risk if this trend continues unabated. When looking at the electoral system alternatives available to you, you might consider whether a particular system would serve as a disincentive to voting participation, potentially introducing new barriers to voting as an unintended consequence, or whether it would provide incentives for participation and minimize administrative barriers to accessing the ballot.
Election administrators are universally concerned that all eligible voters have reasonable access to the ballot and that voting integrity provisions are kept efficient and do not have an unduly disenfranchising effect. Making voting easier, not harder, and adopting an electoral system that has an enduring tendency to encourage voting participation might be one of a combination of factors that would help to reverse the decline of Canadian voting participation rates. Across the country, first nations are just one example of a group that has not traditionally been engaged in electoral democracy and could be much better accommodated with improved ballot access.
I'm not here to tell you which electoral system would afford greater or lesser results in this regard, but I do believe that the legitimacy of governance becomes questionable when we see levels of participation drop to 50% of eligible voters or less. Those selecting a new electoral system I hope will keep this in mind.
As you consider making changes to our system, perhaps I can offer some tangible advice based on my experience.
In 2007 I served as deputy reviewer and director of the review of the Scottish parliamentary and local government elections. I believe the review of those elections offers good insights to your committee in what it points out and in what to avoid when implementing change to an electoral system. It also points to certain elements of the nuts and bolts of the election as a system itself.
In a nutshell, the Scottish experience showed that too much legislative change was introduced in too little time to incorporate it well. Roles, relationships, and accountability for coordination were not adequately defined. The combination of local government and parliamentary elections using a different electoral system and ballot design for each led to challenges for the voters. Ballot design was given too little attention and left too late in the process. Public education on a new voting process under two electoral systems was launched too late and was inadequate in scope. Also, voters were overlooked in the reform process, leading to disastrous consequences, with spoiled ballots and a significant erosion in public trust regarding the election process.
In light of this experience, as you consider making recommendations on important innovations to our electoral system, my advice would be to ensure adequate time is available for system change. Don't require too much change too quickly. An election is like a ship, not a speedboat; it can definitely turn, but not quickly. Also, ensure there is a mandate for a good public education process associated with any new system.
As I've noted, I'm deeply concerned about the decline in democratic engagement and voter participation in our country. Despite this and because of my required neutrality on what might be considered a partisan topic, I'm not going to offer a view on mandatory voting, but I do have some administrative design suggestions in the event your committee decides to move in that direction.
I would suggest that mandatory voting needs to be accompanied with mandatory voter registration and that registration should become automatic. This means that anyone who's eligible to vote must register and keep their registration current with regard to the details of their physical address, residence, mailing address, and any change in name.
Automatic registration would involve the state ensuring that a record for every eligible voter would be created through an automated mechanism and would be maintained without the voter needing to be involved. Admittedly, this would be a major administrative undertaking. Recent reports out of Australia have indicated that voluntary registration has been highly ineffective, even though registration has been mandatory there for many decades, and, of course, if a voter isn't registered, they can't be fined for not having voted.
This leads to the tricky aspect of having effective enforcement mechanisms for both mandatory registration and mandatory voting. In Australia the penalty for not registering to vote is $170, but it is discretionary and is waived once the person registers to vote. Failure to vote can result in a $20 penalty, unless a valid and sufficient reason is supplied to the Australian Electoral Commission and they waive that fine. Officially, the turnout rates in Australia are 94%, but this doesn't factor in the absence of more than one million of the 17 million eligible voters from their electoral role. Actual turnout is likely somewhat less than 90%.
The other question that needs to be asked is whether mandatory voting participation enforces meaningful democratic engagement. Australia has resorted to printing rotating ballots, where the choice order changes for each ballot issued to a lineup of voters.
Thank you, and thank you for allowing me to come to speak with you today. I really love the button you have that silences the microphone. I'm sure many of my students would like to have a similar button. Thank you again.
I appreciate the leadership of this committee in allowing me to come to speak with you today. I address the question of voting system reform a little differently from some of the presenters who have come before me. I've been following quite closely all of the presenters before your committee. I love the online tool; that's great.
I'm more a political historian than I am a scholar of voting system reform, but I have a vested interest in this issue in the sense that I've been quite active in organizations such as Fair Vote Canada.
In my own research I examine the way groups in Canadian society—often marginalized groups—struggle to influence change or alter governments and government policies. Specifically, the questions I'm interested in are how governments can be held to greater account and, as a common question in contemporary political governance, how governments and legal institutions can be held to a higher level of transparency.
There are two arguments or areas I'd like to cover today. One is the historical question that has been presented to this committee as defence of the status quo, and the other is how I think the current voting system hides or distorts existing social cleavages. I'm going to use the example of Saskatchewan. Since you're in Saskatchewan, I thought that might be relevant for you.
On the historical question, on a normal level I begin with the observation that the current electoral system fails because it does not place voters at the centre of its institutional functioning. In fact, SMP or first past the post as a model very much originates in a pre-democratic era that was constructed by male propertied elites.
Critically examining the origins of the system is important, because opponents of voting system reform make the case, the odd observation—and I've seen some of my learned colleagues on this committee make it—that Canada's 150-year existence owes at least some of its stability and effectiveness as a democracy to the voting system. I'm curious about these arguments and curious about how they come about, as they seem to ignore the many historical injustices that have been done in the name of the Canadian state by elites, who did so largely with little accountability to the masses of Canadian society. Here you can point to the slow opening of suffrage to workers, women, people of colour, and indigenous Canadians.
My point here is not say that SMP leads directly to these historical injustices but to say that if defenders of the status quo want to equate SMP with Canada's 150-year history, they may have to own both the good and the bad of that history. I have yet to hear a clear historical account presented to this committee that effectively links how they see Canada today—as a bilingual, multi-cultural, open, and somewhat transparent government and society—with the voting system. The reason I think you haven't heard that is that such an account does not exist; in fact, it could not exist, because the argument has no basis in historical fact.
If you were to understand how Canada moved from a colonial, constitutional monarchy run by white male propertied elites to what it is today, you would need to look past the voting system and actually see the voting system as an obstacle. We've achieved great things in this country despite our voting system, not because of it. Different groups have fought to be heard despite the barriers placed in the way by our voting system, a system that has suppressed competition and poorly represented our political and demographic diversity.
The historical record shows that our voting system has been kept in place not for any of the loftier quasi-functional reasons offered by some defenders of the status quo but for reasons of power: it has served the two main governing parties well. That, I want to point out, is not an indictment of the modern version of those two parties in 2016, but a reminder that the real history of SMP is one that almost always blocked new ideas and the fair and representative account of the great social, political, and economic questions of our time.
Recognizing that, I would encourage members of the committee to understand the voting system as the product of political struggle. It's not divorced from political struggle; it is part of that struggle. SMP is firmly rooted in the 19th-century understanding of political power, one that is against diversity, pluralism, and, frankly, democracy. I think we can do better.
I believe this committee has a unique opportunity to craft a voting system for our 21st-century understanding of political power, and that such a system should put the voting public at the centre of its reason for being or raison d'être—and that's my one French account, because my French has fallen by the wayside since I lived in Quebec. I agree with Liberal MP Mark Holland, who said that every vote should count and that Canadians' views should be represented more accurately.
We are at a historical turning point, I believe, and I applaud the leadership of this committee for the work that it is doing. It's so rare that a sitting government agrees to examine this key aspect of our democracy. In going forward, I think it is crucial that this committee privilege a reform that will accurately reflect what Canadians say with their votes and will better represent the diversity of this country. Research shows—and this is clear—that when people are not at the table, when they're not present for the discussion, their issues and concerns are not really taken seriously. This is no longer acceptable in 2016.
Here I want to look a little bit at Saskatchewan. I think the current voting system actually distorts existing social cleavages and can lead to a false impression about what a place is actually saying when they vote. We examined how people voted in Saskatchewan over the past few elections, and it became pretty clear that our current voting system consistently does a poor job of reflecting what people have said with their votes.
In 2015 the Conservatives won 48.5% of the popular vote in Saskatchewan and they won 10 seats. Clearly, many people are sympathetic to what the Conservatives stand for in this province, but that 48.5% translated into 71% of the seats. The Liberals won 24.6% during the vote but only one seat—we call that Mr. Goodale's seat—in Saskatchewan. The NDP won 25.1% and three seats, or 21% of the seats. That's actually the best result in over a decade.
We examined elections from 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. The results are very lopsided, often giving all or nearly all of the seats to just one party, even though half or more than half of Saskatchewan's voters supported somebody else.
I have a chart in my notes, which I think was given to you. If you look at the numbers, you see a pretty devastating critique of our current voting system. The Liberals won 27.5% of the vote in 2004 and one seat, or 7% of the seats. In 2011 the New Democrats won 32.3% of the popular vote in the province and did not win a single seat.
The Conservatives obviously are a favourite of many voters in this province. In 2011 they won 56.3% of the vote, more than a majority, but 93% of the seats. What does that tell us when commentators look at Saskatchewan? They say, well, it's a very Conservative place, and clearly they want Conservative policies—but do they? These lopsided results misrepresent what's going on in the province and present a false picture to the rest of the country about who we are and what we believe. This can't be good for national unity or inter-regional co-operation. How can our political parties do their job of bridging the differences in this country if they're not represented accurately when they have this support?
The story doesn't end there. As of the 2011 census—I'm eagerly awaiting the next census to update some of these numbers—Saskatchewan has the second-largest indigenous population, as a percentage of the population, of all the provinces. If we assume that the population has not increased since 2011—it has, but let's assume it hasn't—15.6% of Saskatchewan's people are indigenous, but in the past two elections only two indigenous MPs have been elected from this province. In both of those cases, it's in the same riding in the north.
Justin Trudeau has said that we need to reset our relationship with indigenous peoples. Getting more indigenous peoples to the table to speak to their own concerns directly would seem to be a pretty important first step. This is particularly important, I believe, for indigenous people who live in urban areas. Half of the indigenous people in Saskatchewan live in urban centres, we're told by Statistics Canada. That would suggest that indigenous voices from urban centres are not represented in the voting system.
Following the TRC recommendations last year, it seems clear to me that there is a unique opportunity for this committee to expand accessibility and inclusiveness to the federal Parliament. During the questions, we could talk about how other jurisdictions have done that. Specifically, I was reading up on how the Maori were represented in New Zealand after the adoption of proportional representation.
I believe a reform to a more proportional system has the potential to transfer voice and power to indigenous communities, both on reserve and in urban centres, so that these voices can be heard. Saskatchewan is a diverse place, and I think it is time we had a voting system that reflects our diversity.
Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for coming to speak to us today. Welcome. I would also like to welcome the colleagues I am pleased to see here, in Regina. I would also like to extend a particular welcome to the members of the public who are here to listen.
I am the member for Joliette, so I will speak in French. It will be an opportunity to use the interpretation services.
I am pleased to see you and am eager to hear what you have to say tonight. There will be an open mike session. The committee is travelling across Canada to hear what you have to say.
I have many questions and very little time. I will start with Mr. Boda.
You said in your presentation that one of the things you can share with us, that we have heard already, of course, is that good electoral reform takes time. You need to go and see people, take the time to speak with them, listen to them, help them understand the system, consult everyone, clearly define each role, each step.
A few months ago, the federal Chief Electoral Officer came to tell us that if we wanted to make good on the government's promise to have a new voting system for the next election, changes would have to be made, the legislation adopted, approved in the Senate, discussed and everything before next spring, May at the latest, if not June.
Do you think that is a realistic deadline for a good reform?
Thank you for your question.
I am fundamentally concerned about the direction that turnout is going in western democracies and here in Canada.
In our last general election here in Saskatchewan, we did something that was a bit different. A document I'll be releasing to the Legislative Assembly in the next couple of months describes how we, instead of measuring the number of registered voters, changed to assessing turnout vis-à-vis the number of eligible voters.
Traditionally, when we measured it against registered voters, our turnout numbers were in the range of 65%; in this particular context, when we looked at it in the context of eligible voters, it went down in 2016 to 53.5% of eligible voters, but in 2011 it was 51.1%, so we actually saw an increase in turnout for this election vis-à-vis eligible voters.
However, to me—and the people of Saskatchewan will hear more about this in the fall—it is of fundamental concern, because so many voters have essentially checked out and are not part of the process.
Your question had to do with whether a change in the system would, in the short term or in the long run, increase voter turnout. I guess my response would be that I don't know. I can't answer that question, other than to say there are very many variables, many elements, in an election system—which is inclusive of an electoral system—that have an impact on voter turnout. I can't say that a change in the electoral system will have the impact of increasing the number of voters who turn out. What I would say is that it's one of those variables, and there are certainly unintended consequences to implementing new electoral systems as you move forward, so you don't know what might happen.
It is something that we have been looking at very much here in Saskatchewan.
There are 74 first nations in the province. A lot of people aren't aware of that.
Traditionally, in election administration in the province, whether on the provincial or the federal level, our relationship with first nations was a three-month activity. We would go to our chiefs and have a discussion with them about getting a list in time for the election and getting things organized. We would ask permission to work with them in order to achieve a general election in which they would participate.
Now we've taken a different approach at Elections Saskatchewan, which is that we believe we need to have a long-term relationship, an equal and respectful relationship, with our first nations chiefs, so we have reached out to our 74 chiefs in order to work with them on an ongoing basis.
I began as Chief Electoral Officer in 2012. This time around we began to ramp up almost a year before the process. We began to touch base with our chiefs and asked them to appoint individuals who could work with us to get the lists in place and we asked them to work on what it means to have identification for the process. As an election administrator, I don't focus on voter turnout. What I focus on is barriers. For every single voter in the province, I'm concerned about possible barriers; in that community, identification is an issue, so we began to work with them on that.
After the last general election, our next step will be to maintain relationships across the province with the 74 chiefs so that come the next general election, they will be aware of what is required to be able to vote.
It's about an ongoing relationship of respect with first nations chiefs and their people, and that's what we're doing.
Yes, and I think your question is a question that's being asked across the country. My chief electoral officer colleagues, including Marc Mayrand, are looking at this very issue carefully. How can we improve the voter experience?
You did see, during the last election, that there were questions of lineups. During the federal election there were initially lineups for advance voting in Saskatchewan. We reacted very quickly. The point is that our society is changing, and our needs are changing, and voters' wants are changing. They want to vote in advance more than they ever did before.
Some things we're looking at include looking at the election system—that is, not the electoral system, but how we run the balloting process. There's a lot of discussion right now about what is sometimes called the New Brunswick model or the teller model. It's been used in Australia and in the United States and elsewhere for many years. It makes the voters' experience more efficient for them, in that they're not tied specifically to a ballot box. They come in and we ensure that they're registered, and then it's more like a bank teller model, in the sense that they can go where there's an opening. It speeds the efficiency of the voting process.
There are those things. That's not even around the edges; that's a major improvement in the process. I know many of us are looking at how we could make those recommendations in order to improve the experience at the polls.
There are some other things. We talked about online voting, and there is also the idea of electronic voting. The question is, while balancing those two things of integrity and accessibility, how can you move forward into the 21st century and introduce technology into the process for those who don't have accessibility in order to test some of the technology? I would encourage that very much. How can you use mail ballots? Mail-in ballots are becoming popular in the United States, as many of you will know. Is that an option?
I think there's an opportunity for innovation, but again, going back to “too much, too quickly”, we have to think in terms of two and three electoral cycles instead of just doing it all at once. The Scotland experience has demonstrated for me quite clearly that it proves problematic when you make too many changes too quickly.
I know you are running a little bit behind, and I hope to be succinct in my comments.
I want first of all to thank the committee for inviting me to speak here today. I want to preface my comments by saying this is the first time I've ever presented in front of a formal parliamentary panel like this, so I'm a little bit nervous, as you can appreciate. I've conversed from time to time with a few people I know around the table, who assure me I can relax and I don't have to be so nervous. Hopefully I'll help you get back a little bit of your time, since there's only one of me and the other speaker wasn't able to be here. With that, I'll get right into my formal remarks and then pass it back to you for whatever questions might follow.
My name's Darla Deguire. I'm the regional director for the Canadian Labour Congress Prairie Region, which encompasses Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. I would like to commend the government and the committee on this consultation process and I thank you for allowing me to present today.
Examining how Canadians elect our politicians is a process that is long overdue. On behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress and our 3.5 million members, I'd like to state for the record that our current system of first past the post is outdated and fails to accurately reflect the voting intention or political desires of Canadians as a whole.
In the 2015 elections alone, nine million votes did not count towards electing a member of Parliament who would express those voters' political opinion. Far too often a party is able to achieve a majority government without even getting 40% of the vote. We have seen these false majorities in the last two general elections. In fact, we haven't had a legitimate majority in the last 30 years, and have had only four since the end of the Second World War.
Our current system can generate regional tensions in Parliament and push voters to vote against what they don't want instead of voting for what they do want. Electing a Parliament that reflects the diversity of our country has proven to be difficult.
In order to build a fairer system, electoral reform must be based on three principles: number one, no party should be able to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons without winning a majority of the votes; number two, any reform should ensure that the number of seats a party receives is proportionate to its share of the popular vote; number three, reform should also take into account the importance of local representation.
These principles can be reflected in several models of proportional representation. Throughout my remarks, I might also be saying PR, by which I'll obviously be referring to proportional representation.
With proportional representation, Canada will have a fair system that eliminates wasted votes and more accurately converts votes into seats in Parliament. In addition to allowing for a fairer and more democratic system, PR often provides other benefits as well.
Countries that have adopted PR have seen increases in electing women and under-represented groups as well as an overall increase in voter turnout, as high as 5% to 7%. Additionally, adopting a system of proportional representation can help address alienation and dissatisfaction, because people feel that their votes count. It can also improve attitudes toward the voting system and governance as a whole.
PR gives voters more power to set the government's agenda. It encourages people to vote for what they want instead of voting for who they think can win.
Furthermore, OECD statistics show that governments with PR are more fiscally responsible. Accountability is shared across party lines, and the risks of mismanagement are more costly. A party that loses support is guaranteed to lose seats and, as a result, political clout. This builds more transparency in governance as well.
While any form of PR would be welcomed, we think MMP, or mixed member proportionality, is the simplest way for Canada to move forward with new rules that we can trust. Canadians would still get to vote for their local representative and at the same would have a more fairly balanced representation in the House of Commons. With MMP, people would use a new ballot that asks them to make two choices: first they would vote for a local member of Parliament, just as they do today, and next they would be asked to vote for the political party that they want to represent them.
The first vote gets used to elect the local representative, of course. The second vote is used to balance each party's number of seats in the House of Commons, and, if necessary, to reflect their share of the vote. It is still possible for one party to win a majority government using MMP, but that only happens when one party actually gets the majority of votes. If no one party can do that, then parties must work together to get things done. The added bonus is co-operation among political parties, resulting in a much fairer approach to government that's less about adversarial politics and more about finding common ground in order to produce results and reflect the priorities of Canadians.
Under MMP, we would recommend an open list of names for voters to choose from. We would also suggest to parties that they create their lists in a fashion similar to the nomination process that they currently use in the ridings. We believe the majority of MPs should be elected locally in ridings, but believe the exact proportion should be examined every few years, similar to the way our current ridings are reviewed today. We would also suggest that the lists of MPs should reflect regionality. This would ensure that the lists of MPs have strong ties to the areas they represent.
Changing our electoral system to proportional representation is long overdue. In fact, public support for change is strong. An Abacus Data report earlier this spring asked Canadians about reforming our election rules, and the results were surprising: just 17% said they were comfortable with the first-past-the-post rules that we use today.
That says to me and to the Canadian Labour Congress that the work of this committee is so vital to ensuring the trust of Canadians in our democracy.
What a pleasant surprise.
Welcome to Saskatchewan, not only where medicare started, but where the first human rights legislation was passed in 1945, prior to the UN declaration. I'm just reviving a little of the real Saskatchewan history, which often isn't represented through our voting system.
We are a group that brings forward a reality of voters that shows why a move to proportional representation will be good for the country, including the protection of the environment. Our group is on an interprovincial watershed—Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba—which was deregulated by a majority government that received a minority report under the omnibus bills under the past government.
PR, of course, does add representation that raises major regional issues, not simply local constituency issues. In our opinion, that's a good thing, because there are issues facing Canada that because of the fragmentation at present can't get on to the political agenda of governments and become part of intergovernmental policy and co-operation.
Our group has had people at meetings from 15 local communities in this watershed, one of the watersheds under risk in the province and the country. All of them trying to find a way to get some traction in the governance and policy-making systems. While I won't trace it here, I can show you how protection of a watershed falls between the cracks.
If we move to proportional representation, we know from comparative studies that issues around larger environmental systems and protection, as well as diversity and voter turnout, do change. I think in the comparative research there might be cultural and political like Australia. That is true. However, I think that if you look at the comparative stuff across the board, you're going to find that broad issues of interest that don't get fragmented by party and first-past-the-post self-interests are more likely to get on the agenda.
I would argue that charter issues, environmental sustainability issues, and overcoming regional polarization—which is falsified, in my opinion—have become paramount for the country. That's true across the world too, I would argue.
I guess we are saying to look closely at how a move to a more representative proportional system can strengthen the political culture. We're not talking about gimmicks for getting people out to vote, but lowering the voting age to 16 because you create a culture of involvement. If they're taking civics and they can actually vote and there are discussions and a good curriculum, which was the point of the election returning officer.... Our education is a factor in a democratic culture. Do a whole bunch of things at the same time, not to mix people up but to make the involvement clearer.
At present, we are living under a system that in fact does not respect majority rule. In the last three elections, 23%, 24%, and 27% of eligible voters created the government. The relevant figure is “eligible voters”, not those who voted. The ideal of full involvement in democracy is the ideal that your committee and all of us who are trying to strengthen democracy should work for.
The charter, which in my opinion is a strong basis for moving to PR, says that freedom of expression is at the heart of democratic societies. That's well known in democratic theory and human rights theory. If we can't vote by conscience for what we want and we either get disinterested or vote strategically, we're a step removed from freedom of expression.
The equality principle in the charter seems to me to be clear: one person, one vote; one person, one vote that counts. It seems to me the environmental imperative and the charter are both strong principles that move us away from the first-past-the-post system.
There are lots of examples of how environmental and human rights will become more central to governance, to voter turnout, to our political culture. The regional polarization in Canada is particularly serious. I come from a riding where our MP didn't even tell us that this committee was meeting. We found out about your hearings after you had already filled up your witness list, so I'm particularly pleased and grateful that we got in.
In Saskatchewan, if you're in rural Saskatchewan and you're of the 50% who didn't vote for the MP, there are huge barriers to accessing the political culture. Take first nations, for example. There weren't even voting booths in first nations communities in our constituency until the last election, when we had a candidate who insisted on it. It makes a huge difference if first nations don't have to drive to a rural poll. Voting is part of being in a community. That's another critique about online voting, by the way; it's not just the security issue. We vote as social beings, as part of a community that cares about things—local things for sure, regional things for sure, and water. That's why we vote. However, if the voting system is rigged or biased so that those interests can't somehow create a coalition of involvement, they will be invisible in the outcome, in terms of the election.
Those are our main points. We'll finalize our brief after we get more information; we're coming here as part of the learning process. Right now we have 13 points in our brief. We take positions on pretty much all of the things.... It has come out of a process of trying to see what happens when a group that's starting to form regionally around protecting the watershed starts to look at the system of voting, at what happens in terms of governments and the agendas that governments work with.
My guess is that there's not co-operation among Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba MPs—right now, on an all-party basis—to protect our watershed. I would think that would be worth checking. There should be. If a Conservative and an NDP and a Liberal are working to do that, that's fine with us. The political culture should be encouraging that co-operation. We think moving to PR—we're not taking a position on the kind of PR—will help move that political culture along.
Those are the main points. You have a written version, but our final one will come by the October deadline.
I was pleased to watch your presentations.
Mr. Harding, thank you for speaking. What you told us was very interesting. I am the member for the Quebec riding of Joliette, and the protection of water is a very important issue for us there, too. In this case, I wish you the best of luck in things.
I will start with a brief comment for Ms. Deguire.
At the start of your presentation, you said that the current system was causing regional tensions. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Canada is a federation made up of several nations. In Quebec, for example, we have our own cultural references, we don't consume the same media, and we don't have the same discussions. So it's normal that we won't always vote the same way.
In the last election, we voted for the party that currently forms the government. In the previous election, it was my colleagues' party that won by creating a huge wave. The reason for that was that the issues it was putting forward resonated with Quebecers at the time. The same thing happened in the Prairies, in Saskatchewan, when the Canadian Alliance swept the province. It reflected the concerns of the citizens at the time.
You both spoke about the need to put in place a reform that would rely more on proportional representation. I appreciate that. Your arguments touch me, and you have convinced me completely. Unfortunately, I don't think the current government will go for this approach. When it said it wanted to change the voting system, it was the second opposition party. Now, in the current system, it has a majority government.
I say this because we saw the same thing in Quebec. Both the Parti Québécois and the Liberal Party said that they would carry out electoral reform based on proportionality. But once they were in power, and had been well served by the current system, they did not.
Should there not be proportionality-based reform, what other measures that fit with your aspirations and values could be adopted as part of this reform?
For example, would it be interesting for the current government to put in place a preferential voting system?
Ms. Deguire, you have already partially answered my question by answering Mr. Cullen.
Alternatively, should we establish a system for publicly financing political parties where, because of this financial support, each vote would count for more?
For example, should seats be set aside for first nations in each province?
Starting with Ms. Deguire, I'd like to know what you'd be interested in if reform did not take the direction of a proportional system.
With the winner-take-all system, the other side of it is the losers are out. Winner take all means the losers are out. The losers are our neighbours and citizens. We know who they are. We know poverty, housing, food security. Come on, folks.
Right now in my community we have an MP, , who believes he's secure, and therefore he turns from the interests of the broad community because he doesn't have to address those issues. Now, he went from 56% to 46%, so he's through next time. If PR came, we would have had different representation from rural prairie Saskatchewan. It wouldn't be the blue zone, folks.
Don't ever assume that rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are all still in the aura of Harper. They are not. They never were. The values of co-operation, of neighbourliness, of planning, of responsibility for each other, of including each other in governance, even if we voted differently, are actually still very strong. They just haven't had a chance to come back.
It's funny: I'm rurban. I was born on an experimental farm in Swift Current, where Brad Wall comes from. My parents were part of the first medicare experiment in Swift Current, which led to the provincial system under Tommy Douglas. I used to drive Tommy Douglas as a kid, by the way. I was raised in that ethic.
He drove in cars with PCers and Liberals to rallies because they didn't have enough cars. They argued in the car all the way to the rally, they argued at the rally—and with the Socreds—and then they argued all the way home. They were always engaged and learning what it is that we're trying to do as political public servants.
That ethic is not here anymore, folks.
I'd love to. Here I am, which makes me very happy. I've bugged your clerk in Ottawa for the last two weeks on behalf of our group. It looks like advocacy and sticking at it might actually be able to penetrate the system.
In the town hall held by the MP in Regina, there were 300 people. How many people do you see behind me? In the minister's information session, which went very well, there were another 300 people, and these were different people. How many people do you see behind me? You see, you're not hearing the same vibrant thing I did, and I'm trying to bring it to you.
I'm the representative of a learning process, because as an environmental group concerned with watershed protection, our group decided that we had a stake in this. We held meetings and we did self-study. We've been to all three of the gatherings here. There are others here from our group. You see, we've learned an immense amount in the last month because we wanted to get ready for you folks, and most of the population is not going to go through that process.
Also, a referendum is a joke in terms of democratic consent, because if you have four things on there, one pure PR and two kinds of MMP, and then preferential and first past the post, a minority view is going to win the referendum. You all know that.
I was in Thunder Bay in the 1970s when they changed the name. They used to be Port Arthur and Fort William. The business community didn't like the vying between the two groups. There was a history to it; the English were Fort William and the immigrant workers were Port Arthur. I know the history there. On the ballot, they wanted Thunder Bay. On the ballot, there were three choices: Thunder Bay, Lakehead, and The Lakehead. Do you know which one won? Thunder Bay. All kinds of people were referring to the place as “the Lakehead” and had been forever, as in, “we live at the Lakehead”. That was our common identity.
Anyway, we're Thunder Bay, and I like it because it's an Indian name, but the vote was rigged, because the majority of people did see the place as the Lakehead. If they had said “Lakehead or the Lakehead”, it probably would have received 60% of the vote.
Participation and learning are really crucial, so I don't think a referendum is going to be creating consent. I think you need to have the courage as parliamentarians and as a government to get the process moving. People need to participate in an alternative to be able to evaluate it. I really think that's true.
Things can be reversed, but we need to change in order to bring the momentum of public participation onside, particularly at this period, because you know how far down we've gone. When I was active in the 1960s, when Pearson was the prime minister, we had an 80% voter turnout, and then it was 61% for a minority government for Harper. The Liberals brought it up, but the four million more who voted brought it up only to 69%, which is 10% or 11% below the Pearson period. Our goal should be up at the top.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak before you.
I'm president of the Regina—Qu'Appelle NDP federal riding association. This is on the ground, and it's what we're talking about. Our presentation was a product of a consultation within our federal riding executive.
We only have two minutes, although we had also asked to be a witness before the panel, which certainly concerns me, but so be it. We have some critical points to put forward. We believe that a proportional representative system would be certainly an improvement over first past the post.
We are not necessarily in favour of a ranked voting system because I think it would add a whole degree of complexity, and if anything goes wrong, then it's going to undermine public confidence.
A mixed member proportional representative system, we believe, best represents the principle that every vote counts. We've heard the term every vote counts, but from the point of view of our executive it's every vote counts to its maximum potential, and that's the key piece of it. A mixed member proportional system ought to represent, and as close as possible match, the proportion of the vote cast for a given political party in a given province. We believe that under such a system the emphasis must be on the province or the region.
There's a corollary to that, which is important for the Regina—Qu'Appelle riding, and it is that it has to acknowledge a gender balance when we talk about the list for such a mixed member system. It must acknowledge gender balance, first nations, and visible minorities.
This is a particularly sensitive issue for the Regina—Qu'Appelle electorate, because it is composed of 11 reserves. Think of that. We have 11 of the 71. A little over 21% of the population in Regina—Qu'Appelle is first nations, because we are also composed of both urban and rural—
I noticed that I'm one of the younger people in the gallery. We're obviously missing the demographic of the twenties and the teens, so my key suggestion would be that we seriously consider lowering the voting age to 16 or 15 so that people don't grow up to be disenfranchised teenagers who can drive cars and participate in society, except to the extent of choosing their lawmakers.
That's a key change, because even if we change the electoral system, it still won't matter to teenagers. If they don't become interested in democracy at a young age, maybe they won't stay interested afterward.
Just as a quick story, when I was a teenager at university, I decided to vote where I lived, in residence, as opposed to going home to my parents' riding to vote there. Had I travelled home, I would have changed the result of the election, because it ended in a tie, so I'm responsible for a tie in parliamentary democracy voting.
That would not be a problem if we had a proportional system, because then the losers would not be totally out and not have a voice for the next four years. We really need to make a system in which everybody has a voice. Even if we don't like what they're saying, they still need to be able to participate in creating our laws.
Right now I think we have a lot of problems in addressing serious issues like climate change because, as Dr. Harding mentioned, we have local representatives who are still beholden to special interests over the interests of the entire constituency.
My name is Ross Keith. I'm from Regina. I'm here today because I had a unique opportunity to have some very direct experience with the ranked ballot process. I have for you today one observation and one plea.
My experience was as a director of the Canadian Wheat Board. As you're probably aware, there were 10 elected representatives and five appointed representatives. I was one of the appointed. Those elected farmers ran in ridings about the size of your ridings. The experience we had with that was that there was an absolutely exponential improvement after the ranked ballot process was in.
I have an example for you, and it was very contentious, as you know. On the pro-Wheat Board side there was one farmer who was an expert in marketing. Another was an expert in transportation. They were both very strongly in favour of the board. Their supporters had to choose between persons with different expertise.
The same thing happened on the other side. There was one incumbent who was afraid to run because they might split the vote. In terms of your engagement item here, it absolutely had more power than this strict notion about PR.
My message is that I hope you plugged into that experience from the Wheat Board with the ranked ballot process. I'm assuming that you have talked to Meyers Norris and Penny, which was sort of our electoral officer, our Elections Saskatchewan or Elections Canada.
Here's my plea for you: do not let it become just a poll between PR or ranked ballot and first past the post.
At the meeting that Mr. Harding talked about, we had the minister in town the other day, and there was a member of the audience, also a member of Parliament, our local NDP member, who got up and asked for a straw vote, so people were talking then about PR, ranked ballot, and first past the post. That's not on. You can have the benefits of all.
As Mr. Harding said, this is a design exercise. You need to pick the best from proportional representation and from ranked ballot. I believe there's one on the Fair Vote Canada site—
Thank you for allowing me to speak.
My name is Jane Anweiler, and I'm speaking on my own behalf.
I want to make four brief points, hopefully.
The first one is making my vote count. This one is near and dear to my heart, because I have not had the opportunity to make my vote count lately and I believe making votes count is also one of this committee's prime goals.
During the last federal election I knocked on doors with a candidate, did leaflet drops, made phone calls from the constituency office, and cast my ballot, all for a party that I did not belong to. I felt that working for the party that I am a card-sharing member of and that I donate cash to monthly would be a waste, as my party's candidate did not have a chance of winning, and if I voted for him, my vote would not count. I was voting against a party I did not want to win instead of voting for the party I did want to win. In other words, I voted strategically.
The good news is that the candidate I worked for and voted for won, but it was not my party, and that makes me sad. I want my vote to count, and I want to vote for something and not against something. I ask you to please make that possible.
My second point is about proportional representation. Until two or three months ago, I had no real idea what this meant and I certainly did not know that many countries in the world use this system. Frankly, I thought most countries used first past the post and that only some tiny, mostly unknown countries used different voting systems. Boy, was I ever wrong. Now I know that only five or six countries still use first past the post and that a large number of countries use various proportional representation systems. My personal favourite is now called mixed member proportional representation with open lists.
The last few months have been very educational for me. I've heard that explaining and understanding proportional representation voting is very complex and confusing for voters. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer and I've managed to figure it out, so it can't be that hard.
Anyway, are we saying that all those people in all those countries that use proportional representation are smarter than Canadians? I think we can figure it out. Proportional representation seems the best electoral system to help this committee meet its goals of more gender equality, ethnic diversity, and regional representation.
Thank you. I thank the committee for inviting me to speak tonight.
At the very dawning of political science, Aristotle observed that the primary challenge for democracy is to produce a government that reflects and aims towards the common good; that is, it serves the whole community or polis, and not just a particular faction, not even the majority.
Does the way we elect our representatives serve the common good of the whole community? In Canada, I believe the answer is no. A majority government in Canada may have as little as 39% of the votes cast in an election in which only two-thirds of eligible voters even vote; thus you wind up with governments that have acquired the active support of a subset of 25% of the total electorate claiming practically all of the power.
The problem is our outdated, distorted, and inequitable first-past-the-post system or single-member plurality electoral system. That awareness of the problem has reached new levels in Canada is demonstrated by the fact that at least three national parties ran on an election platform in the last federal election, a year ago, that included electoral reform. The proportional composition of this committee reminds us that any meaningful reform must have, if not complete consensus, at least bipartisan or multipartisan support.
The problem is clear, and so too is the solution. Canada needs to adopt an improved electoral system based on the principle of proportional representation. My preferred option is a mixed member proportional, or MMP, system that combines a certain proportion of first-past-the-post seats with an established number of top-up seats. Examples of MMP are found in Scotland, New Zealand, and Germany, as well as in the proposals advanced by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly in 2007 and the Law Commission of Canada in 2004. As this diverse array of examples shows, MMP is a flexible system that is easily adapted to the unique features of Canada's complex federal system.
The basic outline of my preferred model is as follows: we reduce the first-past-the-post ridings to between 60% and 70% of the current number. The remaining 40% to 30% of the seats will be filled by candidates elected from a regional list. Large provinces will be broken down into distinct regions for electoral purposes.
For example, Ottawa and the surrounding area would form part of an eastern Ontario region for electoral purposes. For smaller provinces, dividing into distinct regions may also be an option. For example, Saskatchewan could be a northern half and a southern half. In smaller Atlantic provinces, especially PEI, perhaps the regional top-up list would be for the entire province. These are details that could be settled in legislation or by the federal electoral boundary commissions of each province.
Either way, I think two things are clear: first, determination of regions should reflect the principle of community of interest; second, the regions should respect the contours of Canada's complex federal apportionment formula. As such, it's unlikely that the regions will be perfectly equal in size and number of MPs.
Voters would have a two-part ballot. On the first part, the voter will select the candidate running in his or her riding. On the second part of the ballot, the voter will select the party. It's the results of the second part of the ballot that will allow correction for the disproportionality produced by first past the post.
How will MPs be selected from the regional list? There are several possibilities. A closed list is determined by a process internal to political parties, whereas an open list allows the voters to select from a list of candidates provided by the parties in a manner similar to a U.S.-style primary contest.
Scotland uses a closed list. The Law Commission of Canada proposed an open list. However, my preference is a runners-up model, in which the slate of elected members the party gains for the regional list is drawn from the best runners-up of that party's candidates in that region.
I like the runners-up model for a couple of reasons.
First, these are candidates who have some electoral support in the community; they are not appointed by party leaders. In some cases these best runners-up may have acquired many thousands of votes.
Second, the runners-up model would help parties attract good candidates to run in ridings that are not considered winnable under the current system. It would give candidates and parties incentive to really invest time, energy, and resources in what would have otherwise been considered marginal ridings. The best runners-up can also provide the mechanism to replace the regional list MP who resigns.
I follow the Germans, who have a 5% threshold for regional list representation, but I agree with the Ontario Citizens' Coalition that we accept so-called “overhang seats” rather than compensate other parties, as is done in the German system.
In the discussion period, I would be happy to answer any questions about the details of mixed member proportional, the distribution of seats, open lists, thresholds, overhang seats, or how constituencies and regional MPs could balance constituency work and work together.
In the brief time I have left, I'll focus primarily on the philosophical, psychological, and normative dimensions of Canada's electoral reform debate.
In the 19th and 20th centuries the democratic movement was animated mainly by the battle to expand the franchise of previously marginalized groups, especially the poor; racial, linguistic, and religious minorities; women; and young adults.
In the 21st century there's a new challenge confronting democracy, which is a struggle less heroic than the suffrage movements of the past but in some respects no less important. Our task is to transform an electoral system we inherited from past centuries when these ideals of equality were only dimly perceived and to redesign the great electoral machine of democracy in order to give substantive, concrete meanings to the democratic principle of treating every vote equally. In the past we strove to expand the orbit of democratic rights; now we live in an age of enhanced social technologies that make possible the practical realization of these rights in an electoral system that empowers our citizens.
I believe mixed member proportional satisfies all of the guiding principles outlined in the public statements of the committee's directorate. It would ensure effectiveness and legitimacy by reducing the distortions of first past the post and better translate voter intentions into seats in Parliament. Mixed member proportional will also ensure a greater sense of democratic engagement, as voters will feel that every vote counts, because for all intents and purposes practically every vote will go toward electing a member of Parliament.
Mixed member proportional also promotes accessibility and inclusiveness, because under-represented and marginalized groups will be more likely to be elected to Parliament. If they are not elected from the single-member riding, then there's the additional opportunity of being elected as the candidate in the regional top-up format.
Moreover, mixed member proportional avoids undue complexity in the voting system, as it would require nothing more than adding a second party-only ballot to the traditional candidate ballot.
As for integrity, mixed member proportional would practically guarantee a power-sharing government of some kind, unlike first past the post or ranked ballot in a single-member constituency, in which efforts to compromise only a small number of votes can reward a party with total victory in a riding.
Finally, mixed member proportional enhances local representation over any electoral model that relies solely on single-member constituencies, because with mixed member proportional the typical Canadian would have more than one member representing his or her community.
I applaud the committee directorate's statement of principles guiding our examination of the various options available for reform. My one criticism is that the stated principles of effectiveness and engagement are perhaps a little too timid.
I urge the committee to consider the principle of empowerment in your deliberations. Empowerment goes beyond engagement and effectiveness. It is a radical and profoundly democratic principle. It means literally every single voter having the power to elect a representative of choice and every citizen experiencing the subjective feeling of being part of the sovereign general will of society.
This lies at the heart of my problem with the idea of a ranked ballot being used in a single-member constituency to produce a fabricated majority, which is sometimes called the “instant runoff” method. In this model, if your first choice does not have sufficient support, then the voter is told, “Don't worry; the system will take your second or even third preference and reassign it to another candidate.”
This certainly requires a greater degree of engagement for the voter, who now has to ponder the intensity of personal preferences ranging from “Great, I love this party or candidate“ to “Well, this crowd at least doesn't make me violently ill.” This may be engagement of a sort, but how is this empowering? I don't feel empowered when I go to a store to buy something only to be told I can't have what I want, but they can sell me something else I don't like as much. I feel disappointed or annoyed in that situation.
The only system that empowers the voters is one that ensures, to the greatest extent possible, every individual's vote—their first choice, their real choice—will help elect their representative in Parliament.
Parties lose elections and candidates lose elections, but the voter should win every election. The electoral system that most contributes to this sense of empowerment is PR, whether it produces proportionality through regional top-up seats or some other way.
In conclusion, now is the time to take seriously the new creed of innovation that is sweeping through all of our political, economic, and social organizations. On every university campus in Canada, we see signs heralding innovation and transformation. Can it really be the case that we are thoroughly unsentimental about every aspect of our communal life, except the way we elect our members of Parliament?
The principles of justice may be eternal, but the mechanical structures and the social technology of democracy need to be revamped and improved periodically. Canadians are ready for a more consensual and inclusive form of political representation.
Future generations will say we did a good thing in introducing proportional representation. They may just wonder what took us so long.
Thank you very much.
I want to thank you for having me here, and I want to thank all of you for all the time I have watched you on TV. I know the hours you're putting in, and now you're going across the country. It's a lot of time. As a citizen, I appreciate all the work.
I'm going to talk about a couple of things, and a third one if I get some time. You are going to hear a differing opinion here.
First I want to talk about accounting systems for the alternative vote electoral system. I will refer to the alternative vote system as “ranked ballot” from here on. When I say “ranked ballot”, that's what I'm talking about.
Then I'd like to talk about the citizens' assembly process that lead to the referenda in B.C. in 2005-2009, because that's actually where I live.
Third, if there's some time, I'll just touch on the claim that the ranked ballot creates even larger false majorities than first past the post. I may not get to that.
I only have my talking notes right now. You will be getting copies of my presentation. With the short notice, I didn't have time for translation and distribution, so I apologize for that.
As you alluded to, Mr. Chair, I wanted to talk to you about the Borda count system for the ranked ballots. I don't believe that's come up in any of the discussions so far. Maybe some of you are familiar with it.
When we count the ranked ballot in the usual way, we usually drop the person with the least first preferences, and then reassign the second preferences. This process is continued until somebody has 50% of the vote.
There are some concerns with the regular ranked ballot counting, and the Borda count method takes care of them. I'll go over three of them right now.
Sometimes, when you drop the first candidate—the lowest candidate with the least first-choice preferences—you can drop the candidate who is actually most preferred. That's referred to on the Elections Canada website in one of their documents.
Also, the regular accounting method can sometimes inadvertently pick a majority winner when in reality they are not the most preferred candidate.
Finally, one of the criticisms of the ranked ballot is that second and third preferences that are reassigned should not be worth as much as the first preference. I see that as a valid criticism. That also is one of the concerns, and it's taken care of by the Borda count.
The Borda count method is simple to use, and for the reasons that follow, it gives a more accurate result than simply dropping people off if they are the lowest first-preference candidate.
First off, no candidate is dropped. Second, every preference level of every ballot is used to calculate the total. Third, every preference on a ballot is given a value according to its preference position.
For example, if you had six candidates, the first vote would be worth six points to a candidate. Then the second vote would be worth five points, then four, then three. If there were eight candidates, the first would be worth eight points and then seven points, and so on.
Let's say you have five candidates running. A first preference vote is worth five points to each candidate. Let's say Mary Smith gets 10,000 first-place votes. She gets five times 10,000. If she gets 5,000 second-place votes, she gets four times 5,000. Those are totalled up for each candidate, so in the end you get a more accurate total then simply dropping people off.
Second, I wanted to move to the citizens' assembly and the referendum in B.C. When I talk about the single transferable vote, I'll usually say STV, just to keep it shorter. If I talk about proportional representation, I'll say PR.
We're talking about referenda and citizens' assembly, and I think there are some important lessons to be drawn from what happened in B.C. The whole process looked very democratic on the surface, but I don't think it served the citizens as well as it should have, and I don't think the citizens' assembly served the citizens as well as it should have.
First off, we had one choice only, which was the single transferable vote, or STV. It's a cumbersome system. It has a very complex counting system. I think they were trying to keep it simple, and they were promoting it as “simple as one, two, three”, but it's not simple. It's actually quite complex, as I said. I think the ordinary citizen—in fact, I'm sure the ordinary citizen—would have trouble doing the math when you're counting for STV.
To defend the complex nature of STV, they used the statement that you don't have to understand the inner workings of a car or a computer to use one, implying that you could use STV but not understand it, and that would be fine. However, I think one of the things that's very important for the committee to keep in mind is that the system, including the counting system, has to be easily understood by all voters, or by the majority of voters. I know you've heard that before, but I think the citizens' assembly and the whole process out in B.C. is an example of that.
Yet there was that 58% in 2005. I think it won almost because it slipped in under the radar, almost under the cover of the ranked ballot portion of the single transferable vote, because when you talked to people—and I talked to probably hundreds of people between the vote in 2005 and the revote in 2009—it became pretty clear that people voted for change. That was the word I heard all the time—change—but when you asked them more questions about it, they didn't really understand much beyond the simple one, two, and three. They understood that it was a ranked ballot, but they didn't understand a whole lot more beyond that. There was some perception of larger ridings, but they didn't understand the consequences. I think that's important to note.
You remember the two professors you had here from Ireland. I think Mr. Kenney asked if having referenda in Ireland was a positive experience. Professor Gallagher said that it was, that they've had a lot of referendums. He made another couple of statements and then said that he would refer it to his colleague. Right away, Professor Marsh said no, that it hadn't been a positive experience, with a few exceptions, and that he would have to disagree. He said that voters basically did not understand or weren't aware of what they voted for, and they weren't aware of what the results of that vote would be.
In the example here in B.C. that I was talking about, they knew they would have a larger riding, for example, but in my riding in Vancouver, it would have been six times larger. We would have had six small ridings combined into one, which would have resulted in maybe six times the number of candidates. They hadn't thought about maybe having 20, 25, or 30 candidates.
I want to say that the PR lobby is very strong in Canada, and it's the PR system that prevailed in the citizens' assemblies in Ontario and B.C. as well as in the commission in P.E.I. before the referenda in all three of those provinces. The voters wound up with nothing each time. That's my main concern. I felt that we would have been better served in B.C. if we'd had at least a couple of options—a simpler ranked ballot, maybe, and then the proportional representation of choice, but they went with the single transferable vote.
PR always does well in opinion polls. It's been well promoted. It's intuitively easy to understand. On the surface, it seems fair. However, it's a fairly major change to our current system.
Each attempt to reform has always pushed for the implementation of a full PR change. I'm not totally against PR, but I'm just saying that for now, how about ensuring that the voters don't walk away empty-handed? That's my main point. I suggest going for a smaller and easier-to-implement improvement that is within the voters' comfort zone at this point, and to maybe revisit things in a couple of election cycles. I'm hoping that we do get some reform, but I think it's important to keep it simple, easy to understand, easy to use, easy to count, and easy to implement, and, of course, it has to be fair as well.
I don't know how my time is, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses. It's nice having...I won't say opposing, but differing views in front of us.
Mr. Ward, you talked about the runners-up, the extra MPs, the proportional part of the MPs coming from a runners-up list rather than an open or closed or party list at whatever regional level. You're saying that if there's a proportional seat that will go to the Conservatives, it's the next most popular Conservative as chosen by the electorate.
Prof. Lee Ward: Right.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Okay. The other lists were just general comments.
Mr. Husum, I have two concerns. One is that the system you've suggested to us isn't proportional, just to confirm. In the two families of voting systems, if there are two broad families, one is the proportional side. If the voters vote 20%, it tries to translate that into 20% of the seats and 20% of the power.
The second concern—we've had a bunch of research that's been brought to the committee—is that there's a preference for centrist parties. We use this for leadership races. People are familiar with a similar type of system for leadership races, or nomination races within a riding in some cases, in which one person is going forward.
To Mr. Ward's point about satisfaction, my concern is from looking at this through the eyes of the voter. Using the point system or whatever system we use to count, if it's still my third preference who represents me, why am I meant to be more happy? If the results in Parliament are not at all proportional to what people had actually intended, and the counting and the voting turned it into my will, why am I leaving this exercise happier than when I went in?
I think it would, because you would have to make an argument that would have some resonance in the community. You'd have to have some kind of response.
To be clear, if you have mixed member proportional, you will have single-member ridings, and you could have a situation in which a candidate wins a riding but his or her party doesn't meet the threshold, a situation they call “overhangs”.
In the German system, when you have an overhanging seat, you compensate with seats for the other parties, for mathematical reasons that I'm sure Russ could explain better that I could, or you could go the route of saying, “No, we'll just let it stand”, so if you have a very popular candidate who may be an extremist and for some reason is very popular in that riding, it's contained to that riding. It isn't something that meets the threshold, so therefore it won't be included in the calculations for the proportionality.
However, it also means that a really good candidate could win in a riding, could excel, and that party would see benefits later on. People might say, “I really like that candidate. I'm going to think about that party in a way I hadn't thought about it before.” I think it would work both ways.
I think extremism is a function of political culture rather than of the system. We are not an extreme country. It's true that we are a regional country and at times that has led to extreme problems, but I think PR would reduce the sense of regional blocs being represented in Parliament, because you should, in principle, see greater representation of all the major parties in various parts of the country, and you would still have avenues for smaller parties to break through. I think it's the best kind of balance of them all.
Again in response to Mr. Reid's question, I am agnostic about the threshold. I don't think 5% is.... I mean, that is unique to German history. There was a history of extremism in Germany, so it made sense, but I'm not sure Canada is Germany, and I think that probably a 3% threshold would work. That would be the kind of debate I would love to see us have, because we'd have moved forward so far in that case if we did.
Thanks to both of you for your testimony on this late evening in Regina. I appreciate having the two views.
We hear a lot about possible solutions or alternative voting systems for us, but often we don't get into the nitty-gritty of what it is actually going to take to implement if we adopt it, or what the possible consequences are of implementing it.
Professor Ward, you mentioned something, and my little thingy went up and went ding, ding, ding—sorry. It's been a long day.
You mentioned that there might be some rejigging of boundaries and so on, which always makes me a little nervous, because we just went through the exercise last year, and at the end of the day, as much as we want to make sure that whatever it is we're choosing is what Canadians want, we also have to be mindful of the costs.
I'm a little concerned that compared to something that might be very simple to implement, implementing something as elaborate as what you're suggesting would come at a significant cost. I'm just throwing this out there, because it's not a guiding principle, but it is something that we have to be mindful of as representatives of the Canadian taxpayer. I can't go to Canadians and say, “Listen, I'm sorry, but you're not going to get x amount of money out of the budget for this, because we spent a lot of it changing the system.”
I need to make sure that we understand what the ramifications are of whatever it is that we're going to propose when we're doing this exercise. I haven't been able to get witnesses to tell me concretely what all the costs and all the ramifications are of choosing system X or system Y, but that will definitely factor into our recommendation. Do you have any data for that?
I think that's a very good point. I'm not sure the public is as invested in the current system as we sometimes think they are. There may be a natural and kind of healthy reluctance to change without understanding the full ramifications of the change, but for Canadians generally—and as a political scientist, I say this with a sad heart—I think we do need a civics lesson as a people, and we need to take our institutions more seriously.
One of the things I find when students ask me whether it matters if they vote is that the sad truth in many cases is that your vote really doesn't matter as an individual, unless you're in a highly competitive riding, in which case your vote really matters.
As you know, we had some very close races in Saskatchewan in the last election. I live in Regina—Lewvan, which had one of the closest in the country, and maybe the closest. My students were electrified by that race in Regina—Lewvan. In the other parts of Regina, they knew so-and-so was going to win, but wow, this was quite something. Not only that, but there was a kind of calculation that kicked in when people starting thinking strategically and started asking me questions. I said that I couldn't tell them how to vote, but I could tell them how to find out about the issues they care about. I saw a much greater engagement. The data is there to show that when you have closer contests, you will get greater turnout.
As a general principle, I think, one effect of the greater PR system is that it would take away the sense that your territorial location will determine your significance as a citizen voting in an election, the sense that by simply being a Canadian citizen voting in an election, you will have contributed in some way to the formation of our Parliament in a meaningful way, not just negatively.
There's a very abstract sense that the general will is all of us. Mechanically, it's almost impossible to do that, and I understand that we're going to have thresholds and there are going to be areas of traditional strength for different parties, but if we can diminish that as much as we can mechanically, I think you will find a greater spirit and engagement.
Even from the sense that the losing candidate in my riding put up a good show, I think people got a sense that now this was beyond just symbolism and that it would actually be in some way represented in Parliament. I'm absolutely convinced—and the data is very clear—that the country should have a form of proportionality built into the system. The turnout is higher.
There are other things, too, such as the question of mandatory voting. They're all really interesting questions and important ones, but I think even such a simple thing as introducing a significant amount of proportionality will increase turnout. So too, perhaps, would greater choice, so maybe we could even just have multiple choices on the ballot, but again, I think there's the sense that you're still getting winners and losers.
Hello, my name is D-Jay Krozer. I'm the vice-president of Local 609 Unifor in Saskatoon. Furthermore, I'm a student of economics and political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
In October 2015, you were given a mandate by the people of Canada. You have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here, and I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to convince you to exercise your mandate.
All major political parties, except for the Conservatives, campaigned on reforming our electoral system, and pledged that 2015 would be the last federal election held on the defunct single-member plurality system, better known as first-past-the-post electoral system.
I ran as an independent in the constituency of Blackstrap in 2006. In 2006, I received a phone call from an irate voter saying, “What the heck are you doing? Don't you realize you're taking votes away from a good candidate?”
The point I want to make is that it was the first time I realized that voters were actually voting strategically in Canada. I had been under the mistaken belief that people voted for candidates they liked and for things they believed in.
I've been working elections for some 40 years now. I do not have a very good track record, but I keep doing it because I believe in Canadian democracy.
I find that Canadian voters are negative voters. We tend more to vote against what we don't like than for what we do like. Because of our first-past-the-post electoral system, politics has become very negative. What used to be the topic of choice around the dinner table has become taboo. Electoral apathy is rampant because people believe their vote doesn't count.
Opponents to proportional representation claim that proportional representation results in unstable minority and coalition governments. However, coalition and minority governments tend to be more co-operative and collaborative. As Germany and other democracies employing proportional representation have shown, they can be very stable and effective.
A few analogies came to mind tonight. I wanted to say how awesome I feel to be here. I was really impressed with what I heard from the presenters and from the thoughtfulness from you guys. Some people might be a little bit hesitant believing that this is real.
Picture yourself in Athens at the birth of democracy. Someone says, “Let's have everybody vote, and everybody's opinion will matter.” The answer is “No, it's going to take way too long to count all the hands, and then we're going to have to pay somebody to actually count them. They'll have to be an employee. Yeah, let's forget about that.”
A second analogy comes to mind whenever I think about proportional representation. I think about how people fear this dialogue and this co-operation that's going to go on in the House of Commons. Then I think how if either I or my husband was the one who made all the decisions in my house, it would end either in divorce or in extreme depression of one of the parties.
This is something we cannot fear. This is natural. Dialogue is natural. Speaking to everybody who has an existence in Canada is natural and it's right. When we talk about proportional representation compared to different things, I think STV sounds like a very tiny band-aid, and proportional representation sounds like what we're really looking for, what Canadians really want, because it's the right thing to do.
One of the reasons that it's the right thing to do is because of minorities. I don't know if that's been brought up to you yet or not. In New Zealand, for example, the Maori people have a place in the House of Representatives, a voice, a platform to speak from. They might not be able to pass a vote all on their own, but how many of you have had experiences with an aboriginal person coming to you and telling you something about their culture that you had no idea about before that? You couldn't believe you had never thought of it, and it was actually compatible with a bunch of things that your party thinks.
That was my experience in 2015 when we had the national election. I discovered that it was actually on principle that some aboriginal people don't vote. The idea is that we don't want them voting in our elections, so we're not going to vote in theirs. We're not citizens of Canada; they made a treaty with us.
Then we think, “What? I thought you thought you were a citizen of Canada.”
This is just mind-boggling. We can't just continue to have them sitting at round tables all the time. Our government goes and meets them at the round table, but they should actually be in our government.
I'd like to thank the committee for coming to Regina and hearing our voices.
My name is Rod Williams. I am from Regina. I work at EVRAZ steel and pipe, and pipelines are safe. I also have a lot of friends who wanted to be here, but they are on shift. I also have friends and family who are right now on their combines harvesting, bringing in the canola, the wheat, the durum, the barley, and the hay.
As I said, I appreciate coming here, and please let it be known that a lot of them would be here, but this is also their time to make their money.
I'm a proud Canadian, as are all of you. I am a Conservative member and I'm a supporter. I value all of your opinions and your views. I have learned a lot coming here tonight, and I have learned a lot at Erin Weir's town hall meeting back on September 6, I believe.
My view on electoral reform is that you have to let the people decide this. That's what you take back to the House of Commons. According to a recent poll in The Globe and Mail, 73% of Canadians prefer a referendum. I heard the term “deliver empowerment” here tonight. Okay, let the people study this, and then have a referendum to decide it.
I value what the leader of the Green Party, Ms. May, said here tonight about stampeding support for parties for whatever the reason. I do appreciate where you're coming from on that.
In closing, no matter where you stand on this issue, you all should put your trust in Canadians and your supporters and let the people decide. Whether it's in the coffee shop or at a sporting event or wherever, one constant I hear all the time—and it doesn't matter what political hat you may wear—is “It doesn't matter what we think anyhow.” Well, let's reverse this. It does matter. It is imperative that Canadians have a say. Do you know why it's imperative? If you want this to be successful, it's best that you let the people decide now, not later. If you want change, let's validate the change.