We'll just be a couple of minutes. We're giving some attention to some technical details with the sound system. Do not adjust your screen.
The reason we're waiting a moment is that we want to make sure that all the comments are recorded so that we can create transcripts of the testimony and also so that we can record the comments of those in the audience who will be taking to the mike when we have our open mike segment of the meeting. It's important, but it should be just a matter of seconds, thanks to this very capable crew behind us here.
In the meantime, I'll just say what a pleasure it is to be back in your town of St-Pierre-Jolys. We had a very lovely bus ride from Winnipeg airport, and upon entering the town, we were very excited to be here. You have a lovely town. You can tell just riding through on a bus that it's a great place. Congratulations on the community you've built here.
I'd like to acknowledge, of course, Mayor Fallis, who is here today.
Thank you, Mayor Fallis, for giving us the use of your community centre and for arranging everything that needed to be done for us to hold this hearing today.
By way of introduction, we're on a cross-Canada tour for three weeks.
We started in Regina yesterday and we are in Manitoba today; we will be going to Winnipeg this evening for hearings. We will be going to the 10 provinces and the three territories in the next three weeks.
We'll be visiting every province and every territory over the course of about three weeks gathering citizen and stakeholder input that will be considered for the report that we'll be writing and publishing and tabling in the House of Commons on or before December 1. As you know, what brought us here is a campaign commitment, a platform commitment, of this government to move ahead on electoral reform before the next election.
The way that this is being done is the House of Commons, through a motion, established this 12-member committee on which all parties are represented.
It is also unusual for all parties in the House of Commons to have a place on this committee. Normally, committees are made up of members of parties that are officially recognized in the House. Places on committees are assigned according to the distribution in the House of Commons, so, with a government majority, members of the government party form the majority on each committee. However, for this committee, we have done things differently.
On this particular committee, even though we have a majority Liberal government in the House, there is no majority on this committee. There is no Liberal majority; there's not any other kind of majority. This is a different committee in that sense, and all parties are represented.
I would also mention that they have a lot of pressure. It's a high pressure job. I don't know if there's information available on paper that gives the committee's website address, but we can give that to you later. You can go to the website to obtain reference materials on electoral systems around the world. You can also access an online survey, a questionnaire that takes about 30 minutes to complete. I believe that so far, 4,000 Canadians have completed this questionnaire, or at least that was the figure that was given to me earlier today.
There's a part of the questionnaire that provides you with some basic information on electoral systems, and then once you've gone through that stage of the questionnaire, you go to the questions. It's a great way to learn a little about electoral reform. This brings me to another point, which is that the committee's role is like all parliamentary committees that travel, which is to gather citizen input on an issue, and in this case, it's electoral reform. Unlike other committees, we have a dual role, which is to reach out to Canadians to talk to them about electoral reform so we have, I guess, in a sense, a bit of a public education function. We have this dual role, in a way. We're here so that Canadians can be sensitized to the issue of electoral reform and be engaged with it.
Now, in addition to our work, in addition to the work we're doing, the is also consulting Canadians. Her consultation is separate from ours. It's being conducted in parallel.
In addition to those two tracks of consultation, the committee has asked all 338 members of Parliament to hold individual town halls. I had a town hall in my riding. My riding is in the western part of Montreal. It's called Lac-Saint-Louis. I did a town hall as a member of Parliament, not as a member of this committee, last Thursday. We're gathering input in many different ways in order to get a sense of where Canadians want us to go with this whole proposal of modifying the electoral system.
I think we'll get going. Even though at this point testimony will not be recorded verbatim, our analysts are taking copious notes. They have been sitting next to me for 26 meetings, and I can attest to the fact that it may not be through a recording device, but I think they're getting pretty much every word. So not to worry; your comments will be well recorded.
I also point out that our proceedings are in both official languages, of course. You have headsets so that you can hear the simultaneous interpretation.
The way we proceed is that each witness has five minutes to present their ideas and views on electoral reform. Then we have a round of questions where every member of the committee gets to engage with any of the witnesses they want to engage with for a total of five minutes. That includes questions and answers. It's not like the questions can be five minutes and then the answers come after. Both have to be within the five-minute slot.
We will start with Mr. Richard Kidd, who is here today testifying as an interested individual.
The floor is yours, Mr. Kidd, for five minutes, please.
A voice: It's 10 minutes.
The Chair: You're absolutely right. I apologize. My mistake. It's 10 minutes.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me.
I'm here to tell you about an original voting method I've invented called the “every vote counts” system, or EVC for short.
My goal in developing this was to repair two glaring defects of first past the post: many votes are wasted votes, and seat distributions don't correspond well to the popular vote, or, as I like to put it, seat counts don't match vote counts. We need to ensure some degree of PR, even if it's not exact.
I'll start by saying that losing votes aren't the only ones wasted under FPTP; so are many of the winning votes. All a candidate needs to win a constituency is one more vote than the closest competitor. Votes in excess of that don't really matter. They're wasted. The voters casting those ballots could have stayed home on election day without changing the results.
With this in mind, I separated winning votes into two types: instrumental, those necessary to elect a winner; and superfluous, the excess ones. I experimented with a mixed member system, using equal numbers of constituency and proportional seats, whereby the instrumental votes elect the constituency seats and the losing and superfluous votes together elect the proportional seats.
The results were stunning. In nine sample simulations of real elections, eight provincial and one federal, the seat shares earned by the different parties corresponded to popular vote percentages with amazing accuracy—not precisely, but close enough to represent fair outcomes.
So version one of EVC was born. The instrumental votes elect the constituency seats. Losing and superfluous votes are entered by party into a pool of votes called the proportionality pool, or PP for short. Proportional seats are awarded to each party according to its share of the pool. Adding the two kinds of seats gives each party's final seat total.
I published the details of all of this in a booklet I mailed to all of the members of the original committee. Many of them aren't here today. It's the one I am showing, with a white cover.
I thought I was finished, but it was not so. One loose end kept nagging me: the problem of practical implementation. It's a problem that plagues all mixed member systems, including MMP.
If EVC were used in Canada, we'd have to cut the present number of constituencies in half, from 338 to 169. This would make constituency reorganization a very difficult task. I worried about this for a long time before I came up with a viable solution. Before I explain it, I have to digress for a moment to discuss another innovation of EVC, the concept of the vote weight ratio.
In mixed member systems, including MMP, losing votes never have as much elective power as winning votes. It always takes more losing votes to elect a single seat. The vote weight ratio is a measure of the relative difference in voting weights.
Take MMP, for example. In a typical MMP election, the vote weight ratio tends to average around 3:1. It takes three times more losing votes than winning votes, on the left side of the ballot, to elect a single seat, so the winning votes have three times the weight of losing ones. That's surprising, I know, but it's true. In contrast, the vote weight ratio in EVC elections is always much better, often lower than 2:1.
As just one example, if the last federal election had used MMP with the two kinds of seats equal in number, the vote weight ratio would have been 3.03. Under EVC it would have been 1.76, which is much better.
Now, back to the main theme. One way of solving the constituency reorganization problem would be to include fewer proportional seats relative to constituency seats, say, two-thirds the number. That would allow more constituencies to be available for reorganization. In my brief, I suggested a split of 210 to 140 for Canada. That's a two-thirds ratio, for a total of 350 seats. That would be feasible. Reorganization would be much easier with 210 seats to work with instead of 169.
There is a drawback, however, to this two-thirds option. In a mixed member system like MMP or EVC, decreasing the number of proportional seats entails a rise in the vote weight ratio. That's because fewer proportional seats are available for the losing votes to elect, so their relative weight drops. If you attempt this two-thirds solution for MMP, the vote weight ratio jumps from an average of 3.0 to 4.0. That's 4:1, and that's unacceptable.
For an EVC simulation of the last federal election, the ratio jumps from 1.76, which was good, to 2.48, and that's not very good. So I had to find a way of bringing it back down again. The solution to this new problem lay in modifying a basic feature of EVC, the status of superfluous votes. If you thought my interpretation before was a bit fishy, you were probably right. You were right. I've argued that superfluous votes aren't necessary to the election of constituency winners, and that's true, but it's not the whole truth. If the voters who cast those ballots had stayed home, the result wouldn't have changed. That's true, but they didn't stay home. They went out and voted for the winners, thereby contributing indirectly to the results by not voting for the losing candidates. If they had, some of those losers might have won.
Superfluous votes therefore do count toward the election of the winners, not directly but indirectly, by withholding votes from other candidates. This creates another problem. Superfluous votes have a dual value. They help elect the winners indirectly, but they also directly elect some of the proportional seats. It wouldn't be fair to assign them that much voting power. So what to do?
The answer was to split the value of superfluous votes into two portions, one indirect and one direct. I did this by introducing a new variable into the EVC model, a quantity I called q. I don't have time to explain the details of this except to say that q is a decimal fraction less than one that is multiplied by the superfluous votes to reduce their contribution to the PP, and this is the direct portion of those votes.
How does this q solve the problem of high vote weight ratios under the two-thirds option? It's simple. Remember that losing and superfluous votes both elect some of the proportional seats. If the superfluous votes are lowered in value relative to the losing votes in the PP, losing votes get to elect a greater share of those seats than they did before. They gain weight and the ratio goes down. For example, using a suitable value of q can lower the ratio for the federal election I mentioned from 2.48 to 2.0, which isn't bad at all, so the vote weight problem is effectively solved, making the two-thirds option feasible for EVC.
By the way, no such solution exists for MMP, because it doesn't recognize superfluous votes.
That's the EVC system as it now stands, the version I summarized in my brief. I don't think voters would have any trouble understanding its basic operation. They wouldn't need to know all these details to grasp the idea that if their votes didn't elect a constituency winner or weren't really needed, they would count toward electing a proportional seat. EVC is really very easy to understand.
To conclude, EVC achieves its goal of ensuring that no votes are wasted—that's rather obvious—and seat counts closely reflect the popular vote. That's a matter for empirical investigation, and I assure you that it's true.
Note also that under EVC, local constituency representation is preserved; badly skewed election results never occur; shutouts never occur; small parties are treated equitably; slim majority governments, believe it or not, are sometimes possible with a minority of votes; vote weight ratios are fair; proportional seats can be filled on the basis of regional and other important criteria like ethnicity, gender, and professional expertise; and no specious vote transfer procedures are necessary for all voters to have their say in choosing their government.
Ladies and gentlemen, your committee faces a tough challenge in persuading Canadians to accept whatever electoral system you finally recommend. In my opinion, your chances of success will be far greater if you offer them a fair, effective, made-in-Canada system they can understand.
I'm confident that EVC would fill the bill. I think Canadians would take to it like ducks to water and I urge you consider it seriously.
Thank you for listening.
Thanks very much for having me in for the work that you're all doing on this obviously pretty important issue.
I'm a political scientist who studies politics in Canada primarily at the grassroots. This includes party organization in the constituencies, but more importantly, how members of Parliament represent the constituents in their ridings. My research over the last several years has involved shadowing MPs in their constituencies while they go about that task of being representatives, unfortunately not with anyone around the table today, though.
This research and experience has given me a deep appreciation of the role of constituencies and of community in shaping politics in this country, and especially the practice of representation. I want to spend my time today talking about local representation. I want to first talk about the centrality of local representation and service to politics in Canada, and then talk about the implications of this for the deliberations of the committee. There are other good things that electoral systems can help bring about, like gender equity, like proportionality, but I'd like to focus, given my own research, on local representation.
It's difficult to overemphasize the importance of local representation in a country both as expansive and diverse as Canada. Under the current electoral system, every citizen has a representative with some linkage to their local community, oftentimes very deep linkages, deep roots in their communities, and there's no doubt about who that representative is. Every Canadian has a direct local link to government, and their MPs arrive in Ottawa with distinctively local experiences that in sum reflect the diversity of the nation as a whole. Canadians expect their MPs to carry the unique views, needs, and concerns of their constituents from the communities of their ridings to Ottawa, and act upon them there.
MPs think that being attentive constituency MPs helps them get re-elected. We know from survey research that this is right. Canadians are generally dissatisfied with politics, but dig deeper and a paradox is revealed. Canadians are dissatisfied with the performance of politicians as a group, but oftentimes they're quite delighted by the performance of their own MP. How do we explain that? It may result from the representational work and the local visibility of MPs in their own riding, so this is a crucial and important part of democracy in Canada.
How does it impact on the deliberations of the committee? Local representation is often rightly seen as a strength of our current electoral system. Single member plurality, as the name suggests, organizes the country into relatively small ridings, gives each riding an MP, most of whom have a very strong link to the communities of the ridings. But other electoral systems also contain elements of local representation. A ranked ballot system, for example, would similarly preserve single member ridings in Canada. So, too, would MMP, a mixed member proportional system. This electoral system preserves constituencies and maintains constituency MPs, but it also adds list MPs, which brings about proportionality. If the committee wanted to maintain constituency representation, while also bringing about proportionality and all the good things that come with that, maybe the easiest way to do so would simply be to add 30 MPs who would be elected on party lists, while leaving all the constituency MPs alone. Cutting back the number of constituency MPs to make room for list MPs would hurt the quality of constituency representation.
STV, the single transferable vote, changes the nature of local representation by introducing ridings with multiple MPs. It doesn't necessarily hurt the quality of local representation, but it certainly does change it.
Ridings would tend to become quite large under STV. This was a consideration in the referendum campaign in British Columbia, after the citizens' assembly concern about ridings becoming larger. This is also a consideration for proportional representation systems, which would create problems for local representation as well.
In closing, I've seen the special representational bond built between MPs and their constituents in Canada. It's a bond that's nurtured by our current electoral system, the single member constituencies. I hope the committee would keep that relationship in mind when exploring alternatives to the current system or deciding to stick with the system as it is now.
Thank you very much.
It's a pleasure to be here in this beautiful town. You have very fine baked goods. We all can confirm that, and that's important.
I represent a rural constituency in northern British Columbia, and questions of representation are very important to all of us. It looks different, depending on where you're standing in the country. My riding is a little bigger than Poland, so I take challenge to your comment, Mr. Koop, that we have relatively small ridings in this country. We have a bunch of relatively small ridings and then we have a whole bunch of massive ridings.
I want to perhaps leave you confident that one of the committee's guiding principles is direct representation. We are considering models and proposals right now that have to go through that lens. I don't think the committee has heard about too many models that have suggested wiping out direct representation, or not that I can recall. There's maybe been one or two, but certainly not the majority.
Mr. Kidd, thank you for the innovation. It's part of what we're doing here as well. There's a whole library of systems out there, but looking for a made-in-Canada solution is something we're very interested in.
Have you seen the Elections Manitoba study that is just out today, I believe? It will be good for the committee to look at this as well. They looked at the last Manitoba election. The turnout was 57%, I believe. They interviewed people who voted and people who didn't. Of those who didn't vote, 50% said they would vote if their votes counted and if all votes were treated equally. That's as opposed to some of the comments you've made.
Does that result from Elections Manitoba surprise, confirm...? What does it do for you?
I'll start with Professor Koop and then Mr. Kidd.
Thank you very much, gentlemen, for your presentations.
I would also like to thank the residents of the town of St-Pierre-Jolys for turning out in such large numbers.
Thank you so much for a warm welcome.
My question will be in English. Don't worry.
I was quite interested in reading—and it took me two times to read—your proposal, Professor Kidd, because I had to map out the math. As you said, probably most Canadians don't need to know the mathematical formula for calculating q and so forth. We've been told that most Canadians don't want to look under the hood to know how things are calculated. From a voter perspective, it's simple because you're just putting the X. The calculation portion would be the Elections Canada officer having to create that formula to do the math.
One area of concern that we've heard is that most Canadians are not very open to the idea of adding more MPs to the plate. In your model, you mentioned increasing that to approximately 350, so 12 additional MPs to map it out.
In addition to that, you didn't mention in your brief if you preferred closed list versus open list. You had mentioned both but you didn't specify.
Now, the flip side, Professor Koop.... This is a great joint presentation. Given the fact that local representation is so important to Canadians and it is one of the guiding principles, if we were to adopt a model similar to Professor Kidd's model, what would you recommend in terms of those proportional seats? You've done a lot of work with local representation. What would you recommend? If we were to do it by region, for instance the area of Montreal, the people who would be on the proportional list probably live close to the urban centre. If they were selected, you would have a whole bunch of MPs in that riding, but further north of Montreal or south of Montreal, you wouldn't have them. Also, how would that work in terms of representation, the parachuted candidates and so on? Could you elaborate?
It's a very good question you asked.
No system is perfect. If we could find a perfect system, every country in the world would be using it right now. All systems have their pluses and their minuses, and the big challenge that's facing you is to try to figure out a system where the pluses outweigh the minuses, or they do the things that you want them to do.
Take first past the post: strong, stable government, local representation, great. Disproportionate? No. Well, you know you give up one thing.
If you use tier PR or list PR, you get perfect representation, all votes count the same and everything, but you don't have any local representation.
I could go on and on. There is a whole list of different things that you want. You have to balance it.
I hate to keep plugging my system, but if anybody has ever read this white document, you'll see near the end of it there's a report card for EVC in which I list from A+ down to B, the lowest rating. I don't know if anybody ever read it, but I think it's a good system because it does have a lot of pluses and not any minuses that I can really think of, except for the problem of expanding constituency size, and if you're going to have a mixed member system, you're going to have to do that, unless you want 500 seats.
You have to balance. It's a question of balance.
Interesting. Because constituents are important we're trying to figure out, depending on which system we use, how large would you grow the riding and would the constituency MP be able to serve their members appropriately? It seems like the larger rural ridings don't have that same demand, anyway, so that's interesting.
I'd say that my riding keeps me very busy and on my toes all the time. I've met with a few different political science professors, and they said that ridings with huge minority populations tend to really rely on local representation and their MP perhaps disproportionately relative to other MPs in non-minority-heavy ridings.
In some things I've been reading I've also found that the current system has created smaller ridings, and that has allowed for minorities to actually do well with the sizes of those ridings, and get to elected because there are densely concentrated minority populations. That has given them an advantage, under the current system, to get the number of seats that we have currently. I found that interesting.
In moving to one of these other systems—and I would hope that parties are all moving in that direction, anyway, even if we ballooned the size of the riding, perhaps we would lose those minority representatives to actually win constituency seats, but maybe through the list representation it's my hope that we would put them back in.
You made an interesting statement about list MPs tending to support certain causes, certain other interests, and not necessarily those attached to a riding. That fascinates me a little bit, too, because I'm finding that this balance of being an MP, being able to maybe have something you want to achieve in Parliament but at the same time having a balance with the interests of your constituents, is really important and keeps you in a balanced perspective. You not only want to achieve your goals, but you want to make sure that everyone's voice is heard. I think those are good things that come out of our system, and those are things we wouldn't want to lose.
I'm a law professor at the University of Manitoba. I currently hold an endowed chair in international business and trade law. I've been doing that and practising law for about 35 years now. In the course of that, I did about 10 books on constitutional reform and institutional reform. There are two works that you might be interested in. One is “Valuing Canadians”. This is a study that I did for the Law Commission of Canada in 2003. The basic thrust of it was that it also ended up being recommended by the Law Commission of Canada in 2004.
I understand that part of the mandate is electronic voting. I did a study on that for the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada in 2013.
Both of these are available for free online, in both official languages. If anybody wants me to send them a copy, I'd be happy to.
What were the thrusts of the studies? “Valuing Canadians” argued that you could establish a reasonably objective framework for evaluating proposals. Now, it's absolutely true that there's no such thing as a perfect system; there are always trade-offs. The methodology with Valuing Canadians was to try to draw on international bodies and think tanks and see if we could identify some criteria that just about everybody would agree on. Then it was to evaluate five families of systems and make some recommendations. The analysis was intended to be objective.
The recommendations in “Valuing Canadians” concluded that the opinion was that there are two strong candidates: PR light, a very modest form of proportional representation adding to the existing system, or the first-past-the-post system. There was probably a slight nod in “Valuing Canadians” to PR light.
I can't summarize the conclusions on electronic voting in a few words, other than to say be very careful about cybersecurity. Electronic voting sounds great. I thought it sounded great—I was an enthusiast—but the more I looked at it, the more I was concerned about the implications to our democracy of cybersecurity issues and tampering.
I'm very grateful to have been invited here, because it's caused me to think about what I have thought since then. I have a couple of thoughts.
Things are not like they were in 2003: a couple of things have happened. One is, there have been proposals to do voting system reform in a whole lot of places, but none of them have gone forward. Now you might say there are systemic obstacles, but maybe there are some good reasons why they didn't go forward. We should think about that. Second, there isn't the same appetite, because a lot of the dysfunctions of 2003-04 have somehow been mitigated.
You think back to the era of people like me saying we have to do something, but a lot of the problems are less than they used to be. I'm thinking that parties adapted and voters adapted. Places that never had alternation have had alternation, for example, the permanent rule of the Conservative Party in Alberta.
We just had a regime change in my own province, Manitoba. The idea of the permanent government seems to have been mitigated. We don't have regional protest parties—the Reform or the Bloc, no puns intended. But voters have decided that they wanted to go more for national-oriented parties. So maybe, instead of changing the system to some extent, we adapted to it and have actually found within the system things that mitigate some of its worst features.
I have just one other thought, if I even have time for that.
Instinctively, when I think back on writing this book, I think now that, whatever rubric you put it under, I have to say after being an independent-spirited viewer of politics for 35 years, alternation is very valuable and very important, in my view. We tend to think, in real time, about everybody getting a piece of influence, right—the minority parties having a say—and that's important, but think about, through times, whether it is important that different parties assume office serially, that different teams get a turn to actually lead. I think that's an underestimated virtue of any political system, that different parties get a term. I can elaborate on why I think that's important. I think there are many objective and fundamental reasons why it's not only about voices for everyone while somebody's in charge. It's that different teams get a turn at being in charge.
I hope I didn't exceed my five minutes, but those are my thoughts.
Hi. My name is Darren Gibson. I'm the father of three girls, ages 4, 8, and 11. I live in Winnipeg in the riding of Elmwood—Transcona. I'm a union activist with a keen interest in political action and hold the elected position of Unifor political action chairperson. This work includes education, working on social and community issues, campaigns and solidarity, and participating in elections at all levels. In Unifor, we see all these components as part of our democratic engagement, and I wanted to share some thoughts with you today.
I'm here today because I believe electoral reform is the single most important issue to be addressed in Canadian democracy. If you, our elected representatives, fail to take this opportunity, it will be a long time before these conditions come around again.
I'm here to tell you that our membership is ready for change and expects me to lead that change.
Canada is one of the only western democracies still using first past the post. It's the same system we used in 1867 when we only had two political parties and a lot of people didn't have the right to vote.
One of the flaws with first past the post is that every vote does not count. In 2011, the Conservatives formed a majority government with 39% of the vote. Last fall, the Liberals were elected to a majority, but again the party only received 39%. No matter how you do the math, less than 40% does not equal a majority. Yet in our current voting system, that's exactly the result.
We need to adopt a fair system in which every vote counts, where there is equality in the vote, and ensure that every region has local representation. We want fewer reasons to vote strategically and more opportunity to vote for a hopeful progressive future. We want more reasons for young people and all those who have been alienated from politics to engage and participate.
A second flaw with first past the post is inequality in the electorate. Electoral reform is an equality issue. Under Canada's current voting system, every vote does not count. Every vote is not represented, and consequently, many people are choosing not to participate.
The largest demographics of those not participating in elections include young people, women, people of colour, and aboriginal people. The voices and needs of equity-seeking groups are vital to a strong democratic government. They are essential for true democracy.
There was a lot of talk about gender equality during the 2015 election. Now MPs have the opportunity to walk the walk by supporting Kennedy Stewart's private member's bill, Bill , the candidate gender equity act. The bill is based on laws in other countries that have elected more women to office. It links political subsidies for political parties to gender equity measures and gives incentives to parties to run more women candidates, which will in turn move us towards gender parity in the House of Commons.
Our national convention in August of this year overwhelmingly endorsed electoral reform as a proportional system that allocates seats in our Parliament in a way that gives weight to every vote.
Unifor has deliberately avoided focusing on a detailed model to replace first past the post. However, we expect this all-party committee to reach a majority consensus and to recommend a proportional system that is understandable and explainable to our members and the community.
In our view, you have all the information on voting systems that is needed to fulfill our aspirations. We did not want to allow your partisan concerns to block a majority. We did not want a referendum or another process that would make proportional voting impossible at the next election.
In our view, the people of Canada spoke decisively at the federal election by electing a large majority of MPs who stated clearly that they were committed to electoral reform. stated in the federal campaign that 2015 would be the last election under the current system. During the same campaign, when I was volunteering at numerous campaign offices in Winnipeg in the ridings of Elmwood—Transcona, Winnipeg Centre, and Kildonan—St. Paul and going door to door talking to voters, I understood that this promise must be upheld. The voters were discouraged. They weren't voting for their parties, who they felt would never win, or they simply weren't voting at all.
We're calling for a new electoral system in which we maintain a local representative, in which every vote counts, and in which our politicians are elected proportionally to the votes they receive.
Thank you for allowing me this honour of addressing the committee this afternoon.
Hi. My name is Gina Smoke. I'm a Unifor representative and of aboriginal descent. I'm here on behalf, I guess, of both Unifor and the aboriginal community.
I grew up on a reserve knowing what it's like to be a minority, having difficulties in trying to vote, and still seeing the same thing happening within our communities. I did not grow up being a political person. I think it was my mother who really pushed a lot of this upon me, learning how to put up a fight for our rights.
I, like Darren, worked in the various elections, and it was the first time for me to be out there knocking on doors. I worked in some of the lower-income, tougher areas of Winnipeg. The one thing I realized there is that we share a lot of similar issues when it comes to voting: not feeling that our votes counted, people not wanting to come out because of that feeling that they were under-represented. It took a lot of work explaining where I came from and how I felt about being out there and casting our own ballots.
I learned various things about how government works, not just provincially and federally, but on reserve. I grew up on one reserve with a hereditary chief and married into one that was electoral and so elected. The things that I see in getting involved with unions and learning about local executives and unions is that everybody wants the same thing: for our voices to be heard, to feel represented, no matter who you are.
I became president of my local within CTV. I was there for 19 years, and it took me a long time to stand up and want to put my voice forward. Part of it is that I have two kids of my own; I raised them by myself. You want them to have the same voice as everybody else and not go through the same things that I did on the reserve.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of changes that need to be made. Because of all these things that I've been through myself, I learned when I was the president of my local that every department within our company needed a voice, because they felt that if it was all for one department, nobody was going to care about the needs of that department. As the president, I made sure that our committees were made up from separate departments, and when we went to bargaining, it was the same thing.
I'm probably way more simplistic than some of these complicated analyses and everything. I think the government should be made up of equal voices within the government; that we shouldn't have majorities; that we should be able to all work together to get our voices out there. It's so basic to me. It's too complicated for nothing.
I think they need to make it much easier for the aboriginal communities, especially the northern ones; it's way harder for them to get out to vote. Why do we have to make it so complicated? We know who they are in these communities. Why do we have to come up with all these...? There are a lot of elders who can't speak English or read English. They don't drive, so why would they have a driver's licence? It's the same even in the community I grew up in, and it's not that far from here.
I just think there has to be a better way, and we all need to work together to make it happen.
They are, in my view. They're a moral necessity. They're not a legal necessity, but they're a moral necessity in my view.
That's something that's changed, too, in terms of the extent to which plebiscites have become common in the British Canadian tradition in terms of approving fundamental reform.
I asked myself, why didn't it happen? My view, again, is we should be thinking about it from an Olympian view. What's a system that will last a century or two? All of us tend to think in terms of the immediate. We're always influenced by what's going on right now.
I'm writing, back in 2003, we had one party rule for a time in New Brunswick, no opposition members. We had provinces that hadn't changed party stripe in decades. We had the strong regional protest parties and not viable alternatives to two or three main parties. A lot of those dysfunctions seem to be less common now. Is that good luck or has something happened?
My guess, my inference so far, is something happened, that in a way the parties and Canadians looked at some of the dysfunction and to some extent fixed it themselves.
In Saskatchewan you had a uniting of the right-of-centre party. It was the same at the federal level in Canada, so there was a viable opposition to the Liberal Party of Canada. To some extent, working within the system, we've managed to mitigate some of the worst features of first past the post. It has many positive features and some undoubtedly negative features, but to some extent, we mitigated them.
Also, there's a lot of open government initiatives that are happening. By the way, I'm a fan of the open government partnership. I'm a fan of a lot of the open government initiatives of the current government, and some of those mitigate some of the potentially worse effects of first past the post. I think we can't be stuck in a time warp of 2003-04. There were all these studies, all this movement. We have to think about why it didn't happen. Maybe that's significant and maybe there's a reason for it. Maybe there was a good reason for it, and I'm thinking that there were, in retrospect, some good reasons why it didn't happen.
I won't comment specifically on P.E.I., because I'd have to study it soberly before I would form an opinion.
There are many different forms of multiple preference ballots. There are forms in which you can do that with proportional representation, PR light or the full PR, or a single transferable ballot. Many people have talked about AV, because it's simple; it's the minimal adaptation to our existing system.
At page 56, or page 61 en français, there's a quote from Winston Churchill about that, which I have to admit I'm rather attracted to, which is—let me put it gently—not a great idea. The problem with AV, as Churchill says, is that it puts the most weight on the most worthless ballots of the least popular parties.
Why does the second choice of a small party count more than everybody else's second choice? It doesn't actually keep proportionality, and it has a lot of other problems, but I can't get past that problem.
In terms of the language of “plebiscite” versus “referendum”, I think technically one is binding and one is not, but to me it's not a legal question anyway. Legally you can do a lot of stuff without putting it to a popular vote. I see, since the Charlottetown Accord round, that there is now a morality of consent in Canada such that, if you're going to make big changes, the question should be put directly to the people in a vote.
May I say one other thing, quickly?
It's not a good idea to try to think of voting systems in terms of resolving politics as though we won't have ongoing disagreements, which is not a good thing. You can address a lot of problems within the system through the open government initiative. If there's an issue with, for example, demographic representation, there are a lot of ways to deal with that, within the parties and at other levels, without changing the voting system.
If you want to change the voting system, let's think first and foremost of its inherent issues in terms of the framework, but not as a substitute for politics. We should not dictate, “Okay, I'm on the left or the right, so I want to somehow get a system where I would win.”
I keep coming back to alternation. I've heard nothing ever changes in Manitoba, where people lost safe seats, where cabinet ministers in seats that would never change, changed at the last election. Every election is a signal to the current government, which is potentially affecting the next election.
Did I waste my vote because sometimes I vote for the guys who didn't win? No. Maybe it's sending a message, and maybe my team will win the next time. People say, “Oh, my view didn't prevail,” but I am in favour of parties and ideologies having office when I don't agree with them.
I'm in favour of alternation. I like the idea of different people, different voices having a turn. I like the idea of policies being evaluated and given a fresh thinking. I like the idea that one team of patronage seekers doesn't always win.
I like the idea that people who disagree get a turn in office, and they can live with the problem. If you think national security is easy because it's all about privacy, well, you try being in office and actually having to sign papers in which you're dealing with a terrorist threat, or you try being in office as the “we're all security” party and think of the consequences on personal privacy.
I like politics. I like alternation. I like disagreement. I like vitality. Anything that says we're just going to put in place the same bland majority coalition indefinitely or that doesn't allow that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, that you might change your mind, that you're not always right, and that other people should get a turn, I don't agree with. I like the vitality of legit politics.
Yes. Of course, there's a continuum: how much is consensus; how much is the ability of a government to take strong and decisive steps and pursue a program over the course of four years? Everybody, whether it's a question of how you elect them or how they behave once they're there, is at some point on the continuum, and none of this stuff is either/or.
First past the post was producing problems in terms of a permanent artificial majority in places. That really bothered me. There was not sufficient room for disagreement, because one 40% faction of society, whether Conservatives in Alberta or Liberals across Canada, was permanently in office. I thought that was discouraging people from getting involved, discouraging them from thinking they could make any difference, and so on.
First past the post has done a lot better in the last 15 years or so. Is that a coincidence, or is it because of these adaptations? I'm inclined right now, without a definitive opinion, to think that it's because of adaptations.
You want to be very careful about pursuing an alternative voting system that installs a permanent coalition of either the right of centre or left of centre. I think that's very unhealthy.
With respect to that, don't just think of parties, but think in terms of ideologies and teams as well as parties. If it's liberal, liberal-ish, and liberal-plus, or conservative, conservative-ish, and conservative-plus, the same team is constantly getting elected: the same people, the same approximate ideology. I think that's unhealthy.
I think dialectic is good. People should be able to debate. Open-minded people sometimes change their minds. People should be able to test out different ideas and live with the consequences and give somebody else a turn.
That's a value judgment. Some people might say it's more important to have stability, more important to have certainty, more important to have consistency. Personally, it's a political judgment of mine, I think that politics always benefits from foment, benefits from the dialectic, benefits from different people having a turn and taking responsibility for it.
Within that context, one book I wrote was Revitalizing Manitoba. If anybody thinks I'm a fan of the status quo, I've written 12 books to the contrary, including Revitalizing Manitoba, which is a fundamental critique of how our society operates. Pluralism is one of my most.... I put a very high value on it. Many ideas have some validity; almost none of them are completely right.
I enjoy a good argument. I think society benefits from a good argument and a sense that not only can you argue, but that once in a while you get your turn, you implement your program and see how that works, and we're the better for it, even if I don't agree with it.
I've seen some governments that did some things I very fundamentally agreed with. I think, for example, of Bob Rae's government in Ontario, which got in on the first-past-the-post system. You know what? In the long run, it was healthy that this particular ideology had a turn, that they got to test it out. Somebody who wasn't convinced it worked was Bob Rae, but unless the NDP had a turn in government, people like Bob Rae wouldn't have found that out. I think the NDP folks in Ontario deserved a chance to have their stripe have a turn and see how it worked out, as does everybody.
People who think in terms of change and forming a consensus also think in terms of whether you want to install some permanent coalition rather than some permanent party, which I think is a very bad idea. Instead of thinking that consensus is good, think: well, groupthink isn't good; smugness isn't good; constantly preserving the status quo isn't good; not being challenged in your ideas isn't good. There is room and there should be lots of room in our political system for change.
Yes, I certainly agree with the idea that simplicity and understandability are important criteria. Voters have to understand how the system works, and they shouldn't have to wait until the computer is finished two days later to find out who won.
In terms of experimentation, I'm generally pro experimentation, but you also have to be careful about the irreversible experiment, right?
An incumbent party could put in place a system which keeps them or their coalition in office forever. They could say, “Well, vote us out.” No, you can't, because the system is rigged so they cannot be voted out.
I believe New Zealand had a referendum going into it, and then they had a referendum on whether or not to keep it.
For whatever it's worth, whether I agree with the system or disagree with the system, whatever the question, whatever people come up with, I don't believe in the elitist democracy view, and I've been consistent with this for over 35 years. I believe that you have to have a popular buy-in on changes that are of a fundamental nature.
Whether I disagreed with the proposal or agreed with it, I would be committed, then, now, and in the future. One thing I don't think I'm going to change my mind on is that the incumbent class doesn't get to permanently rig the system. You have to have the morality of consent, which nowadays in the world is a referendum or a plebiscite.
I wrote an article in the Manitoba Law Journal
, which did a run of what would have happened in Manitoba if we'd had PR light all along. There were some majority governments and some minority governments, so I thought it actually worked pretty well.
PR light means you keep the current system, but add a small number of seats to compensate for the disproportionality of the first-past-the-post system.
The way you allocate seats in the PR light model, the proportional part, is not that if the Liberals get 40%, they get 40% of the PR seats; you find out who's most under-represented. Let's say the Green Party had 5% of the vote, but got less than 1% of the seats. You would say, “Who is the biggest victim of first past the post?” They would get the first PR seat. Then you would say, “Okay, who's most under-represented? You get the next PR seat.” It's compensatory. It tries to counterbalance some of the dysfunctions of first past the post.
The idea of “light” is that we would predominantly keep the benefits of the existing system and we would try to mitigate it by having a limited number of PR seats. By “light” I mean we could still get a fair number of majority governments. So it would be “light” enough that if a plurality of people, a strong plurality, want a majority government, we could still get it, and it would be the most reversible one, because you wouldn't have a whole lot of people who owe their jobs to proportional seats voting against going back because their jobs depend on it.
PR light seems to me now, seemed to me then.... In the book the argument was that the best two system candidates from the criteria were first past the post and PR light. That continues to be my view. It's just a question of where the balance of wisdom lies, in light of what's happened since then.
In terms of the idea that we have to do something, the Liberal Party platform had a lot of really good stuff about open government. It also said, on Senate reform, “We don't want to spend a lot of the people's time on constitutional negotiations. We want to get on with the priorities of the country.”
Even though this is one of the many things I spend a lot of time on, I'm not sure the biggest priority of Canadians right now is redoing the election system at a fundamental level. There are a lot of open government reforms we can do within the system. You can read the Liberal Party platform; there are about 30 proposals, and I think about 29 I agree with. There are a lot of reforms you can do without doing a fundamental reform of the system, and we would be the better for it, having a more democratic, pluralistic Parliament regardless of who wins. All you need is a good initiative.
More free votes and performance-based government: you actually measure outcomes. Rather than just guessing, ideologically, “I think this is good”, well, count: “This is actually reducing crime” or “This is actually increasing crime.”
I always give the example of the Republican right in the United States, which has become soft on crime again. It wasn't because they changed ideologically; they figured out that if you put people in jail for 10 years rather than giving them a chance to rehabilitate, you have destroyed them as potential contributors to the economy, you have made a mess of their family, and this is hurting everybody. It wasn't because people woke up and had an ideological epiphany.
On a great many issues, I think there is a lot more room for consensus than we have. If we would actually be willing to reason together and look at statistics, facts, and the lessons of experience, we could achieve a lot more consensus, but you have to be prepared to measure stuff and measure it dispassionately: independent budget office at Parliament and credible independent metrics, metrics that don't change.
One of the books I am working on right now is studying the international experience with happiness metrics. The United Kingdom is innovative in terms of measuring well-being.
I have about 30, but if you ask me to list the top two, I would say more metrics and more free votes in Parliament. The one that is less talked about is the metrics stuff: actually measuring outcomes rather than thinking that because we have an ideology, it corresponds to reality. To get to a more consensus-based, more pluralism-based, and better government, being more open to empirical evidence and letting reality tell us what's happening rather than ideologically dictating reality, I think that would be a reform that all governments would benefit from.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman.
My name is John Alexander. I am a Canadian citizen and 75 years old. I started to vote when I was 17 and joined the RCAF in the 1950s. At that time, if you were old enough to die for your country, you were old enough to vote. I have voted in every municipal, provincial, and federal election in which I was entitled to.
As a matter of fact, in October 1970, when “Wacky” Bennett, the premier of B.C., made his famous statement that B.C. would be the first out of Confederation, not Quebec, I made sure I was on the B.C. voters list even though I was working in Germany. The vote did not happen.
First, why don't we look at the problem we are trying to fix? What? No problem? That takes care of that. There is no fix required.
Some would say that first past the post is an old system. Admittedly, it has served us well for 149 years, although I have been told that it existed in Nova Scotia in 1757, which I cannot prove. I am holding a pencil here. The first pencil was made in 1565 in a small town in England, and I don't see anyone trying to reinvent the pencil.
Others say that first past the post does not give a 50% plus one majority to the winner. So what? Fifty per cent is just a number. It could easily be 55%, or anything else. To artificially boost the number of votes by using weird and wonderful count-back systems makes no sense. Half of today's Parliament is made up of MPs who did not get over 50% of the vote, nor did today's government, as they only achieved 39%. This means that 61% rejected today's government. As a matter of fact, our Parliament does not use a 50% threshold for any of its votes. It uses a majority win and that is that.
In conclusion, I say to you, what is the problem? Let us retain first past the post voting as our Canadian system. And have a referendum? You betcha.
My name is Kate Storey. I come from Grandview, Manitoba, which is in the northwest of Manitoba. Thank you very much for coming here this afternoon.
I'm going to tell you what the problem is. First past the post is broken, or at least, it's broken for me. I don't like divisive politics. I think parliamentarians should work together. I don't believe that any one parliamentarian or any one party has all the answers. I believe we get good decisions when we force people to sit down and work out their differences rather than fighting over them in the media.
I say no to referenda because we know they are very easily manipulated by those who have the power to do that. They're not the voice of the people. They're a voice of power.
I don't like any system that leads to a majority government, because, as I said, I think people should sit down in a minority, work out their differences, and get better results. I would like to see a proportional representation system.
I don't know which one that should be. I don't know if you've talked about dual-member systems or not. My reasoning is that I live in one of the very large ridings. We are very split demographically, and the majority doesn't care about most of us minority voices. My MP doesn't pay us any heed.
I heard you talking about the problem with ridings that are too big. Well, we are way past that. There is no way for an MP to visit every community, and as far as I'm concerned, it wouldn't matter if the riding were twice the size. I would like to see proportional representation.
Hi, my name is Ed Alexander and I live at Buffalo Point in Manitoba. It is a first nation reservation although I am not a first nation person. I represent only my own views here this afternoon, and perhaps those of others who are not here.
There are four points I want to make. First, the public perception of the importance of candidates and MPs has decreased. Second, political parties have become a necessary evil. Third, leadership cult has been given too much importance. Fourth, my view of the best solution to electoral reform is the alternative vote. I'll briefly touch on those.
I believe that many voters today have forgotten that they are electing a member of Parliament. They think they're voting for a party, or they think they're voting for a party leader. They are covered that way.
I think also that in some cases they feel they are voting for a person who has to go and vote the way they want, take their particular view to the government, and enforce it on the land. I look at gun control as the type of thing that happens there.
Parties also, I think, treat their MPs poorly a lot of times, in that they treat them as puppets on a string. They vote the party line and that's it, or else.
When I vote, what I look for in my ideal candidate is integrity, intelligence, and courage; that is, he is willing to stand up against the party and against the extremists in his own constituency.
Political parties, I think, have value in bringing people together to study and establish policies and positions. Unfortunately, when it comes to implementation, these positions are often guided by what's best for the party, rather than what's best for the country. They sometimes sink to very low levels with attack ads, which does not improve our system at all. I know all the members are good, honest people. It must then be through the parties that corruption comes into our governments. That's another reason why I'm not too happy with them.
I don't think I need to say much on leadership cults. I just think we're paying way too much attention to that, rather than the consensus made by the members. I believe we will get consensus among people if we go through the AV system.
My name is Bruce McKee. I'm from north of St. Adolphe, which is just south of Winnipeg. I'm part of the Provencher constituency, which is very large. I want to thank the chairman, the MPs, and staff for coming today to be part of Provencher and to see our beautiful countryside here. I'd like to welcome you and thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
I want to encourage the committee in these meetings to maybe advertise this more broadly. I was surprised not to hear this morning on my local radio station 1250 that this meeting was taking place. I would like my fellow constituents across this riding to have the opportunity to be part of these meetings, which I think are very valuable. I just want to encourage you to make sure it's well advertised. I also want to encourage you to advertise the online questionnaire so that you get a good broad spectrum of what the people want to see in these types of talks and considerations.
I want to very much encourage you to make sure that before changing anything, you get this right. We should stick with the current system, which has served us well for over 100 years, until we're convinced that this is right and Canadians have given voice, to give you an okay for you to proceed, through a referendum. I think this is the best and most acceptable way to continue and to bring this to a point where Canadians have felt that they have had their say and have confirmed that this is the right way to proceed.
I want to thank everybody for the time you've spent away from your families and loved ones to do this across the country, and to affirm what you're doing in Ottawa. You're serving your country, your nation, and your constituents, and I just want to thank you for that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to echo what the previous presenter just said. We are all in your debt, because you choose to serve our country. We all do that in our own way.
Let me make three brief comments. I heard today that the system we have is a time warp; let's come up with a model, try it out, and make sure it works, and it's simply time for change.
We will celebrate, a year from now, our 150th birthday. By any measure, this country shouldn't work. If you go from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, it takes you almost a third of the way around the world. You get to Minsk, which is halfway between Warsaw and Moscow. We are an improbable country. We cover five geographic regions. We don't have a common language. We have several time zones, five, six, seven, depending on how you measure it. We don't have common geography. We don't go back thousands of years in history. Yet in 150 years we've become one of the most, if not the most, desirable places to live in the world.
My contention, as us old farmers say, is that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Unless you can come up with something that will show us how it will be better.... I'd very much like to hear from the committee how you think it will improve.
Also, if you take away the direct vote, my sense of it is this. I ran for office five times and was elected four times. The last time I ran third and the voters sent me home, but that's another story. If you take away our direct vote, my sense is that voter turnout will go down. I haven't heard anybody talk about voter election turnout in provincial, municipal, urban areas. They are way down. By any measure, people should be in a better position to understand those issues as opposed to federally, when we talk about fiscal and monetary policy and everything else. Voter turnout is way down in those areas.
Unless you can come up with something that improves everybody voting, I think voter turnout—
The Chair: Thank you—
Mr. Charles J. Mayer: Can I make one last point?
The Chair: Go ahead, one last line.
Mr. Charles J. Mayer: The last thing to say is that there is no perfect solution. We know that. Somebody said that the best solution is a benevolent dictator. Lord Acton, over 100 years ago, put that to rest when he said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There is no perfect system, but ours is as close to it, as we have it now, as we'll ever get it.
Thank you very much.