Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you.
I acquired a fair amount of experience with voting methods during the provincial consultations in Quebec. I have not worked on the issue as much in the past few years. The last consultation was in 2007. I am however quite current on the research in the field.
To begin, the study of voting methods dates back to the year 105 AD. Voting methods were first studied by Pliny the Younger when it was noticed that a plurality of votes was problematic if there are more than two candidates. That is the subject of a fairly well-known legal judgment.
This problem was forgotten for many centuries. In the 14th century, the Catalan philosopher Ramón Llull began studying the issue, followed by his disciple Nicolas de Cues in the 15th century.
After being forgotten for a few centuries, the Marquis de Condorcet and chevalier de Borda rediscovered the problem of the plurality of votes during the French Revolution, in the 18th century. Finally, the English mathematician Lewis Carroll also studied the issue in the 19th century.
The purpose of this field of study, known as the social choice theory, is to determine how to choose the best possible candidate.
Another branch of the same field is equity theory, which pertains to proportionality or determining how to distribute seats in the fairest way possible. This was debated at length by the Americans in drafting their constitution in order to determine how they would distribute seats. They worked on this a great deal.
There is something very frustrating about all of this research. Each time, people started over from scratch because none of them knew of their predecessors' work. In the 1950s, the serious work began and mathematicians and political scientists made their contributions.
Once again, the problem is that these are two completely different branches of knowledge. In the field of political economy, people worked on voting methods, and in political science, they studied the effects of the various voting methods. We have everything we need to create a good voting method. The knowledge is there, but it is spread out in three or four fields whose experts do not speak to each other.
As a physicist, interdisciplinary barriers are not a problem for me. So I gathered parts of all this knowledge to get an idea of what should be done.
Official research began in the 1950s. The last original voting method that was invented is the German compensatory system, which dates from the roughly same period. Clearly, not a single voting system in the world right now has benefited from the research done in the last 60 years.
I have also read that the Society for Social Choice and Welfare, a group that works on the social choice theory, had only been consulted once, by the government of Mongolia, during an electoral reform. I will try to explain a few general rules to give you an overview.
There are two main groups of voting methods. There are the methods used to elect a candidate, either a mayor or a president. In our case in Canada, it would perhaps be the Governor General or the Speaker of the House of Commons. This group includes 20 or 25 voting methods such as the transferable vote, the N-round, the Condorcet and the Borda methods and so on. A bit later on, Mr. Côté will tell us about majority judgment voting, a recent innovation that I find very interesting. In short, these methods are used to elect one person, so if you want to elect a president, they are the best methods to consider.
In order to elect an assembly, Montesquieu favoured a method that would best represent the population. That is a completely different kind of voting method and is part of the proportional voting group. There are twenty or so of them, and they also have their share of problems.
As well, there are limiting factors owing to the limitations of the human brain. For example, we can work with series of seven items. We cannot do more than that. In an experimental vote I held with a number of candidates at Laval University in 2007, people lost sight of the seventh candidate. He no longer existed. In France, a similar experimental vote was also conducted. There was a tremendous number of presidential candidates. People were not able to evaluate more than seven candidates. It was beyond their abilities. Regardless of the voting method, we cannot exceed those limitations of the human brain.
Voting methods have an effect, and I doubt I am the first person to tell you that. In a plurality system, there is an economic incentive that encourages you to invest your money in the best candidate and, on voting day, there are just two main parties or two candidates left. For example, if you don't like one of the candidates, you will vote for the candidate who is most likely to defeat the candidate you don't like. This is a purely economic mechanism, which is disappearing though. Some disillusioned people will say, in their disgust with politics, that people will vote more sincerely. We see that in Quebec where this electorate keeps growing.
In proportional systems, there is a distribution known as Lefebvre's law. In plurality systems, it is Duverger's law.
In proportional systems, there is Lefebvre's law, a law in psychology, which corresponds roughly to the distribution of any good or service. Even ice cream flavours follow this law. People vote much more freely. As seen from the outside, a voter who votes freely is someone who votes almost randomly. The factors that a voter considers when voting are extremely complex. They can range from the tone of voice of the person speaking to him to what he ate six months ago—just kidding. A voter can even consider a political act from 20 years ago. So we have this exponential distribution.
This has repercussions. Let us consider the last election to try understand the impact of a voting method.
If we change the voting method, the outcome will not be the same. In the interest of transparency, I should say that I have been a Green Party candidate in the past. The Green Party could win votes, but the bigger parties would not win as many. Parties we have never heard of could emerge, such as a federal party similar to the wildrose party. The number of parties will increase.
When we do simulations, we cannot take the results from the last election and fit them into the new voting method. You would not get the same results.
With proportional voting methods, the best way to do the distribution from a mathematical point of view is what is known as the Webster—Sainte-Laguë method. In a purely proportional system, it is essentially the usual rounding. Mathematically, the simplest method is the best. The only drawback is that the usual rounding “fails” from time to time. From time to time, two parties will have the same ratio, although one party has twice the number of votes as the other party. As a result of division, both would go from +1 to -1 at the same time. We cannot get the exact number of MPs. Assume there are 338 seats. We would go from 337 MPs to 339 MPs, and there is no way of arriving between the two.
In the past, I built measurement instruments. In the United States, it happens once every 3,500 years when they do the seat distribution. It is clear that it would happen after two elections. Elections in which two candidates win the same number of votes are not supposed to happen, but it does happen all the same. That is something that will have to be included in the elections act because it can fail.
Lefebvre's law means that when there is an electoral threshold, for each percent of this threshold, 3% to 3.5% of the ballots go into the garbage. It starts getting complicated when the threshold is above 5%. In Turkey, the electoral threshold of discarded ballots is 10% to 40%. It is proportional, but it is not very different from our system. So we need to aim for low thresholds.
In a proportional system, everyone thinks you need 50% of the votes to get a majority. That is not the case though. Typically, if a party wins 44% or 45% of the votes, it will have 50% of the seats and form a majority. Here, it is 38%. That does not change the dynamics very much. The only difference is that, in a proportional system, coalitions can be formed more easily and there will be more majority governments. Just because it is a proportional system, that does not mean that a party needs the majority of votes to win the majority of seats.
This works relatively well on the whole, except for the stability problem with proportional systems. Problems can arise in two cases: if it is too stable or if it is not stable enough. It is really a combination of two factors, the degree of fragmentation of society and the degree of proportionality. This requires some thought. In a proportional system, the largest party wins about 30% of the votes. If Lefebvre's law applies in pure form and it is a uniform society, the biggest party will get 30% of the votes and will form a coalition with another party. The problem is that there have to be several parties in order to form a coalition. Otherwise, the same party is always in power with the coalition party on the other side. Then things freeze up.
There has to be enough parties. If the system is not proportional enough and if there are not enough parties, the situation remains completely stable and nothing changes at all. If there are really too many parties though, unstable coalitions are formed between three or four parties. The way society is organized is what determines the success or failure of proportional systems.
We have a fragmented society in Canada, but not as fragmented as elsewhere. We have the equivalent of four or five major political regions. In Belgium, for example, society is divided in two and Lefebvre's law applies twice. Moreover, Belgium has completely ridiculous electoral laws, resulting in an incredibly large number of parties. This complicates matters. Italy has the same problem. We tend to forget that Canada is an old country that has been around for 150 years. Countries in Europe such as Germany or Italy have a much shorter history. These are further considerations.
There is another important aspect. In a regional proportional system of whatever type, if there are fewer than six MPs, it is no longer proportional. The electoral threshold is based on the number of MPs and even with rounding off, you can only get half. With six MPs, you would have about 6% of the electoral threshold at most. It would be better with seven or eight MPs.
In Canada—you know Canadian geography as well as I do—, that is problematic. Prince Edward Island, for example, does not have six MPs. I mention that because in Zurich, Switzerland, someone went to court arguing that there were three candidates in his electoral district and that he would be voting for a party that has less than 10% of the seats. He pointed out to the court that the constitution declares everyone to be equal, yet his vote would never count and there is no possibility that it would in the future. The court found in his favour and that is why a mathematical solution to the problem had to be found.
In the Parliament of Canada, we have just about the right number of MPs. Theoretically, the optimal number would be 327, but we have 338. So we are very close. We do not have too many MPs and we do not have too few either. The opposite is true in some provinces in Canada where there should ideally be more. Moreover, a proportional system does not really have an impact on the representation of women.
In Canada, we have one of the worst contexts ...
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to share my research findings about a voting system that I call “rationalized majority”. The word “rationalized” means two things. First, it means “appealing to reason and not only to mathematics”. Secondly, it means “that uses ratios”.
The concept of ratios is familiar to everyone; we see it in finance and in other fields. Ratios are mathematical results applied to phenomena and that include an element of constancy. The definition of ratio I am using here is essentially the percentage of elected representatives in relation to the percentage of votes. It is quite simple.
There are historical ratios that have been identified by various researchers. I mention a few of them in the brief I submitted. Generally speaking, historical ratios are based on the party's role. For the party forming government, that is, the party that has the majority and is elected, it is about 1.2. That is the percentage of MPs in relation to the percentage of votes. For parties forming the official opposition, it is approximately 0.8. For third parties, it is about 0.5, but with many exceptions. The numbers are sometimes much higher.
We do not have to stick with these ratios. The ratios for third parties, for instance, can be much higher, which could be very interesting to examine in certain cases. For a parliament with 300 seats, for instance—we are not far from that—, a party could win 5% of the seats and 20% of the votes. This is of course true for a number of third parties, which is embarrassing and frustrating. In this case, the party's ratio would be determined by 5% of MPs to 20% of the votes. The result is 0.25. The party forming the official opposition would have a ratio of 0.8. So the number of MPs there should be is calculated as follows: 0.8 × 20% × 300 = 48. If by chance the party already has 5% of 300, that would be 15. So the party would be awarded 33 more 33 MPs.
If a party is one of the third parties, the ratio is lower. For example, 0.5 × 20% × 300 = 30 MPs less the 15 it already has. So the party would be awarded an additional 15 MPs. Depending on the party's role as determined by the results in a first-past-the-post election, additional seats are awarded to certain parties.
I have studied the federal elections from 1963 to 2015 and the ratios obtained are pretty much in line with what I just told you. There are some outliers though. Since 1984, for instance, the ratio obtained by the party forming government ranged from 1.5 to 1.22, for an average of 1.28 since 1963. This is very close to the historical ratio. For the party in official opposition in Canada, the ratio is 1. In the end, it is nearly proportional. That is an average. For a third party, the ratio in Canada is 0.85, but can be as high as 1.6. It varies from case to case. In 2006 and 2008, the ratio was 1.6. The third party with the most votes had a ratio that was as high as that of the party forming government, which is rather strange. This is one of the unpredictable aspects.
Secondly, MPs are awarded by rationalization, that is, people vote the same way they do now without any change. Mathematical adjustments are made after the fact. Theoretically, we could take the 2015 election results and apply this system by awarding MPs based on the ratios.
I have also calculated the number of MPs that would have been added to the Parliament of Canada if we had applied the rationalized system since 1963. I will not go into the details, but 111 MPs would have been added over these 17 elections. That is an average of 6.5 more MPs per election, which is not that many. All the same, it is more interesting than what is happening in Germany.
I also did a comparison with the mixed system in Germany.
It should be noted that initially, in 1949, there were two votes. Each voter had two votes, one to elect a riding representative by simple majority, as in our electoral system, and another that was purely proportional.
The German parliament was initially divided in two in a way. Some representatives were elected by simple majority and some were elected proportionally. This led to appalling imbalances in some cases. Many excess representatives were elected, exceeding the proportional ratio. This led to a very elastic house of representatives, which could have a highly variable number of representatives from one election to another. Above all, it contradicted the fundamental rule of proportional representation in that some political parties had far too many representatives.
Fifteen years ago or so, the Karlsruhe constitutional court decided to apply full proportional representation, but by offsetting the excess representatives elected by simple majority by reducing the number of representatives elected proportionally. I hope you are following me. So, for the overall result to be proportional representation, a political party with too many representatives elected by simple majority would have fewer than it should have by proportional representation.
Here, too, there is a problem. Some parties had so many representatives, even in excess of what the proportional system took away from them. The German house of representatives is therefore still elastic. Some people say it could reach 700 representatives, although in principle there are 598 seats. That has not happened yet. Right now, there are about 630 representatives. That is how Germany's mixed system works.
I wanted to transpose this system to Canada based on the results of federal elections since 1963 to see what it would look like. The simulation is not exact. It is not possible to transpose the percentage of votes obtained by the various parties in a first-past-the-post system to a mixed proportional system, especially not the German mixed system. As a result, one has to bear in mind that the calculation cannot produce exact results. It does give some indication, however.
There is an interesting point in defining a proportional system. There is a purely proportional system, which has incredible limitations that I will not go into.
Let us look quickly at Italy, which has that kind of system. It has the same drawback as all purely proportional systems, namely, that the parliament becomes completely ungovernable. To counteract that, the number of parties must be reduced or the governing parties must be given a true majority of representatives. Italy decided, however, that, in the case of a minority government, the party was awarded representatives. That is quite unusual. Since a majority is needed, the party is awarded more representatives.
That said, the current German system does not work that way. I made that point earlier and I do not need to repeat it. In my simulation of the German system in relation to Canada's system, I used our current Parliament. It has 338 seats at present, although the number of seats has been much lower. Two calculation methods can be used, either divide by two or multiply by two so that part of the House is elected by simple majority and the other part by a strictly proportional method with compensation, as is the case in Germany's mixed system at present.
Under this system, there are no additional representatives if a party does not have at least three representatives with a majority. So under this system, the small parties get their wings clipped. The system I am proposing, however, really gives the small parties an extra chance, without impeding the governing majority or the official opposition. This has many benefits.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Quebec City, the most beautiful city in the world. If there is something that brings us together, from the Green Party to the Conservative Party, it's certainly our love for Quebec City.
Ms. May, I knew that, one day, there would be something we would both agree on completely. Do not think that I will be reminding you of the last election results in Quebec City. That would disrupt our harmony a little.
Gentlemen, welcome to Parliament.
Mr. Dutil, first and foremost, you have my congratulations and thanks for becoming involved in politics and wearing the colours of a political party, no matter which one. I remember your campaign against Dr. Bolduc, in a provincial byelection right here in Quebec City. I was a reporter at the time. I salute you, sir.
I'd like to say something about your story of winners who are losers and losers who are winners. We are all open-minded here, but I can assure you of one thing: I will never defend that position and I will never run in an election where a loser can become a winner and a winner can become a loser. Nor will I ever run in an election where the vote of one citizen would be worth 0.99% while another would be worth 3.8%, as you said just now.
That goes against all democratic principles. It may fit with some things in the Bible. In Matthew 20, it says: “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” I won't go on because people will say that the Conservatives are talking about the church again. So let's forget that.
Mr. Dutil, how can we accept someone's vote being so disproportionate, especially when it is arithmetic, an algorithm, that turns fifth place into first place?
I know that all my colleagues are curious about that. As concisely as possible, try to give me a good argument that will convince us that such a system is a good one.
Votes are not valued equally at the moment. In a constituency election, there are four chances out of five that a person's vote will not count. That is how a lot of people interpret it. If candidates are defeated, the votes cast in their favour are not considered. If they get less than 10% of the votes, the chances of them being worth anything are basically zero. The system is already warped. You have run in a number of elections in a warped system and it has never caused you a problem.
Certainly, the result in a first past the post system is a natural one. The problem is that, in a proportional system, whatever the variable, something similar is going to happen. Whether because of the lists or anything else, distortions will naturally appear at the regional level. I am telling you that no system can prevent that. It is certainly an irritant. I do not know how many constituencies it occurs in, though. I don't know whether it's in a third of them or not. If we consider a fifth of them, there is perhaps 2% difference in the votes for the one who comes first and the one who comes last. That is what I do not know yet. I have not done any simulated calculations, because it is a lot of work. As I said, you can ignore all the constituencies where the result goes over 50%. I believe that a third of constituencies might be affected. Perhaps that is acceptable. I know that people are probably going to complain, to react badly, but the overall result will be closer to reality. Locally, it may be a little bit more frustrating.
There is another factor that I forgot to mention. Because of the vote-splitting, plurality includes a margin of error. In the case of Quebec, I calculated that it was from 20% to 25%. I do not have the figures at federal level, but I have calculated them for Quebec. In 20% to 25% of the cases, the one who won, who obtained most votes, who came first, was not the people's choice. It would have been different if the voting system used had determined the Condorcet winner, who is supposed to be the one who would beat everyone in an individual election.
The margin of error is 20% to 30% currently; we are used to it, we find it acceptable. People are elected, are welcomed into Parliament and represent their constituents. You are perhaps thinking about people who won because the vote was divided between three or four parties. There are some like that and I am sure that they make good members of Parliament anyway. Some people may feel that it makes no sense. However, I have noticed that, once someone is elected, people tend to consider that they are in the position legitimately. Those of you who received fewer than 50% of the votes, those who were elected with 31% or 32% of the votes, are very likely to have won indirectly. You came first but you were not the people's first choice. We handle it; that's the way things have worked for 200 years.
I do not see how it can change anything. Even proportional representation does not change a lot. The reason why there are more women members in countries that use proportional representation than in others is that the Scandinavian countries were the first to adopt that kind of representation. In the 19th century, the Scandinavian countries gave everyone the right to vote, including women. They were 50 years ahead of other countries.
A few years ago, Quebec ranked among the best in the world in the rate at which women were progressing in politics. For some reason that I do not understand, we slammed on the brakes. The voting system has little effect.
The problem that women have entering politics is often attributed to the fact that, once elected, members get themselves reelected for decades. I can think of constituencies where the same politicians are elected over and over again. Mr. Gendron, in Quebec, for example, has been an MNA for 25 years. So, as long as members, most frequently men, do not lose or do not leave their seats, access to women will remain closed.
If the voting system changes, 30% of members will lose their jobs automatically and, if there are enough female candidates, the proportion of women should increase, as it did in New Zealand. Then, the normal course of society will resume its rights.
I know that some people would prefer the list system they have in Rwanda, where positions are alternated between a woman and a man and a woman and a man. It is the only country in the world with that system. Almost all other countries that have a quota increase it by 2% a year, setting it just under the number of women that, according to the forecasts, should be elected if the trend is maintained.
Countries like Norway ended their quota because they could not get enough women. The Green Party in Norway, because of the rule requiring a third of women, could not get as many women as they wanted. So the rule was abolished.
I am very hesitant about quota systems. Some swear by them, but I do not.
Ranking seven persons or seven anything in order is known in psychology as a human limitation. I think Raymond Côté will speak more about that in a few minutes. It's just a limitation of the human brain.
I saw this in the French election, an experimental election they did. They asked people to use other voting systems, and in one of those you ranked your candidates. People were pretty reasonable for the first seven, but then the system crashed and it became random. At that point, it was more than what the human brain can do. It was just too hard.
I have a post-doctoral person in my university who is living in India, and they have sometimes tens of candidates on the voting tickets. They are that large, and it's just impossible to do. Some people say we could just have a cut-off and order the first five. Depending on the voting system, some might allow that and some might not.
As for the voting systems using some kind of ranking, there are about 20 of those. There is one, STV, which is used in Ireland, but I don't have much expertise on that. One that is very good is the Borda count, in which you give points depending on the order. I think it's done the way journalists might find the best hockey team. It's five points for the first one, four points for the second. It's very simple arithmetic. You find the best candidate defined as the most central one, the guy or woman who is most average. It's very nice if you want to elect a president or you want someone who represents the population.
There is a philosophy here. Do you want that for an MP, a member of Parliament who represents a riding? Do you want the best average guy, or do you want a Parliament that is very diverse? If you go for that, you willl end up with the most central parties. In Canada, in most cases, it would be the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. In some regions the NDP might be considered more central. You end up with a concentration.
I did a simulation in Quebec. I've never done it in Canada. In Quebec I ended up with Liberal, PQ, and three or four members of the ADQ. It usually wipes out those who are somewhat less central and it converges towards two parties. That's what we are supposed to fight against now.
I would use this in one case, though: the case of partial elections. At that point, you might want to reset the system to get a replacement guy. We're replacing the actual MP. We'll use one of those sophisticated methods to find the best average guy for the rest of the term. It might give a chance to another party that otherwise would not be detected by the system.
No. In the plurality system that we have in Canada, the party that wins the election usually has a higher percentage of members than their percentage of votes, except in cases when a government is elected with a minority of members. That requires a coalition government.
In Canada, contrary to what people think, we are very open to coalition governments. In fact, 40% of the Canadian governments have been coalitions. Since 1963, they have been in power about 20% of the time. One government that worked very well was Pearson's. It was not a coalition government but a government supported by the NDP. It was elected twice and it worked very well. It has been called one of Canada's best governments.
In Canada, when a party has a majority of the elected members, it forms the government. Personally, I favour parliamentary functions to be assigned according to the percentage of votes won rather than according to the percentage of members elected. At the moment, what counts is the number of members elected. In some cases, a party wins a majority of seats with a minority of votes while the official opposition has more votes in percentage terms than the governing party.
We have to turn that around.
Those kinds of situations have often happened in Quebec. With the system I am proposing, we could have turned things around, that is, we could have given the government to the party with the highest percentage of votes, rather than to the party that officially won according to its number of seats. However, there is one case in the history of Quebec where that logic was completely impossible. It was when the Parti québécois was elected and the Liberal Party, I believe, came second. The Parti québécois got so many MNAs that, even applying high ratios—like 1.2—the PQ could not be moved.
I don't think that a situation like that has happened in Canada, probably because we are playing with bigger numbers. In that case, the danger of such a problem happening is less in Canada. In general, the government elected with a good majority stays in place, just like in Germany.
Thank you for allowing me to speak, Mr. Chair.
I must confess that I am a little frantic at the idea of being on the other side of the fence. It’s my turn to be grilled, after having perhaps terrorized some witnesses who appeared before four House of Commons standing committees on which I sat for four and a half years. I am ready to answer your questions.
My thanks to all the members of Parliament who are here to participate in this committee. This is a fundamental topic that I have been passionate about for a long time. It was one of the many reasons that led me to become active in politics.
I had the great privilege of being a member of Parliament for four and a half years. I was defeated in 2015. It was a great privilege for me to participate in four federal elections, in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. I mention that because, in 2006 and 2008, my chances of being elected were very slim. That was a huge sadness for my mom, who also wondered why I was running for the NDP.
That said, I always campaigned in the streets, and I knocked on an enormous number of doors. By so doing, I also had the great privilege of observing the voters’ behaviour. From then on, I got clues that led me to understand the extent to which our voting system influences their behaviour.
In my first campaign in 2006, I remember that we were trudging around in snow. I’m sure you will remember the never-ending, 56-day campaign; the one in 2015 was not the first. Voting day was January 23. In Quebec City, it snowed practically every two or three days; it was horrible. At the time, Jack Layton, my leader, was not too well known. I actually had to give voters an idea of who he was by describing him as the man with a moustache who was smiling all the time. People then recognized him and told me that they liked him very much. That allowed people to see me, not as a candidate, but as a representative of that party leader.
So, in 2008, in most Quebec homes, Jack was already a member of the family, so to speak. That allowed me to make a very important, very interesting observation. People already were extremely fond of Jack Layton. However, most people’s reaction was to tell me that they wanted to vote for me but they didn’t believe that I had any chance of being elected at all.
That behaviour is widespread. From square one, it is caused by our first past the post voting system.
For most people— by which I mean my mom and that group of voters—what is important is that their vote should have some use, by voting for the winner. During an election campaign, the real challenge is to consider who will win the election and how one’s vote can go to that winner, even if the candidate in question does not necessarily reflect the interests, the needs and the objectives of each voter. It’s a flaw in our current voting system, it is very imperfect and we cannot keep it. The status quo forces us to continue to live with results that do not reflect the will of the people.
This is also the case for a simple plurality voting system with two or more rounds. France operates with a two-round system, which has led to absolutely extraordinary distortions. Though my memory is very short, I might mention the surreal results of the presidential elections in 2002. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front national candidate, slipped into the second round. He was then humiliatingly crushed by obtaining only 17.7% of the votes, while Jacques Chirac obtained more than 80% of the votes. That showed that a huge number of French voters were absolutely not inclined to support Jean-Marie Le Pen. As a candidate, he even repulsed them.
That election was the catalyst that lead two French researchers to come up with the voting system that I am going to present to you. It convinced them that it was really necessary to give people another option.
I also went through the briefing note on voting systems. The preferential system has more or less the same problems as the simple plurality system. Arranging people in a hierarchy, ranking them, can lead to distortions that result in the candidate who, by all objective measures, should be the winner not necessarily ending up as the winner. That is because, by playing with the second and third rankings given to their candidate, voters can basically arrange for an unexpected candidate to come out on top.
We have been using the first past the post system for 150 years now. We could very well keep doing so. Up to now in Canada, to my knowledge, there have been no riots after the results of an election. The system seems to be accepted, even acceptable, for a good many people. However, unfortunately, it is a system that does not necessarily reflect the diversity of the voting and the opinions expressed. I repeat that it also gives results that can even be contrary to the interests of the majority of the voters, either within a constituency or nationally.
Today, I am introducing the majority judgment system. It was developed by two French researchers, Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki. The system breaks the hierarchical approach and the distortions that can be seen in the various voting methods around the world. My brief—which the previous witnesses mentioned—contains thoughts on election results. This has been studied for many years. Borderline cases have been considered by mathematicians, by great thinkers, who have shown the extent to which the result cannot reflect the will of the people. The majority judgment voting system really brings everyone's opinion together.
In my brief, I explain that Kenneth Arrow's theorem gives three very important criteria that a voting system must meet. It must always declare a winner for all voters, which our current system does not do. Then, it must prevent the addition or removal of a minor candidate from influencing the final result. Third, it must ensure that all votes are treated equally. I would go even further and say that it must ensure that the vote of each and every voter is considered in the result.
Let me explain how the majority judgment voting system works. Instead of creating a hierarchy or choosing a winner, voters express a judgment on each candidate. The judgment can range from “excellent”, which is really good for the ego, to “reject”, which can be very hard for a politician trying to survive personally.
I am exposing you to danger by proposing this voting system. You can get even later on when you ask me questions.
The two French researchers I mentioned conducted very interesting experiments during the presidential elections in 2007 and 2012. One of the things the experiments revealed is what I call the hidden thinking that a country's entire electorate does not see. We will consider the experiment in Orsay, a suburb of Paris; it was conducted as people left three polling stations in the municipality. Voters were invited to try the majority judgment system as they saw fit. The results were obtained both nationally and for the municipality of Orsay. Those results were very different. I kept five candidates in the Orsay experiment, but we must remember that, in 2007, there were 12 candidates.
In the first round of elections in France, Nicolas Sarkozy came first; Ségolène Royal, second; François Bayrou, third; and Jean-Marie Le Pen, fourth.
For the purposes of the exercise, I also chose a candidate from the Green Party—not necessarily as a tribute to Elizabeth May—simply because the difference in the percentage of votes for her was truly remarkable: she came in eighth. In France, she was still seventh in the town of Orsay. If you look at the results of the experiment with 1,752 voters, you will see that the hierarchy changes. With the majority judgment voting system, François Bayrou comes first; Ségolène Royal, second; Nicolas Sarkozy, third; and the first major change, Dominique Boynet, the Green Party candidate, is fourth. As for Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front national, ranked twelfth, so last. In his case, over 70% of the 1,752 voters graded him as “reject”. This made it possible to clearly show—which I find particularly important—the opinion of all the voters.
I did not want to tell you about the mechanics of this voting system. I especially wanted you to think about the fact that people can see their will truly and fully reflected in an election through a radically different voting system, which may well prompt a significant change in the behaviour of voters and politicians.
Mr. Chair, I see that my time is up. Thank you.
Anyway, I look forward to being grilled by members of the committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for inviting me.
I submitted a brief summarizing the findings of a small activist book that I wrote and that was published at the start of this year. It is called A Better Electoral System for Canada. I will summarize the conclusions of my brief.
In my submission, I drew your attention to the flaws of the voting system we are using before telling you about the two reforms that should be avoided and the two reforms that would significantly enhance our political life. They can work harmoniously together.
The flaws of the single member plurality voting system are well known. In my book, I mention some very striking figures. Last year, the House of Commons was elected by 48% of people who voted; 52% of people voted for candidates who were defeated. The Liberal Party won 39.5% of the votes, one-third of which went to Liberal candidates who were defeated. So the Liberal majority in the House of Commons was elected by 26% of the people who voted, and if we factor in abstentions, 18% of Canadians of voting age. If we did the math for previous elections, we would sometimes find even more distressing figures. I think that leaves significant room for improvement to reduce the dissatisfaction of many of our fellow citizens who think that our electoral mechanisms are very flawed.
The first thing to avoid is proportional representation in districts where large numbers of MPs are elected, which allows many parties to have elected MPs in the House and poses a serious risk of political indecision and instability. All the awful speeches given by opponents of proportional representation are partially justified in cases where proportional representation allows the House to have a large number of MPs. However, it is possible to achieve proportional representation without this shortcoming.
I think the second thing to avoid is mixed electoral systems, combining single member districts with some kind of proportional representation. This would have little benefit compared to a simpler, more reasonable proportional system and it would be difficult or impossible to implement before the next election. The thing to have is moderate proportional representation in districts of three to five seats. I stole the term moderate proportional representation from Vincent Lemieux who was one of my mentors on these issues.
So the system to adopt is moderate proportional representation with a preferential vote. The two formulas are not at all conflicting. They could be easily combined and so would their benefits. Moderate proportional representation would not be very difficult to implement because it could be done by joining together the existing districts without changing their limits, without changing the number of MPs in the House of Commons and without changing the number of members by province. It would be less difficult and faster than establishing the new single member districts that would be needed for a mixed system.
Moderate proportional representation allows for a more equitable distribution of elected representatives between the major parties and significantly reduces the number of votes that elect no one. It would also have the advantage of ending the situation whereby it is impossible for major parties to have elected representatives in one province or region of the country. This is the case today, such as the Conservative Party in the Atlantic provinces. We have known for a long time that this regional concentration of elected officials is one of the most negative effects of the voting system on Canada. This is a very old and justified idea.
Thanks to the small number of elected MPs in each constituency, these benefits would be achieved without the risk of government instability caused by the proliferation of parties able to have elected representatives. Moderate proportional representation would ensure local representation, which is so important to so many people in Canada, as well or even better than the current system or a mixed system.
In a mixed system, some of the members do not have a home base whereas in constituencies with three to five seats, all members are elected in a territorial division. They share it with other members. Some may be allies, others may be opponents. The number of MPs relative to the population would remain the same. Members would not be further away or more difficult to reach. Sometimes, the physical distance would be somewhat greater in cities. If there were a single constituency in Quebec City, it would be no problem to meet with a member about the situation today.
This would not be very problematic in densely populated rural areas either. In Gaspé, there would need to be a constituency that goes from Montmagny to Gaspé. There perhaps distance might become an issue, but there would be four MPs who have their offices in the same place.
In the northern territories, we could keep three single member districts, where distance becomes a very unique problem. This would not change the overall logic of the system.
For constituents who want to approach an MP, I think multi-member districts with three to five members would be a tremendous advantage for them. First, most of them would have the choice of going to either a member of the majority government or a member of the opposition. Today, they do not have that choice at all.
Today, in the case of more than half of those who voted, when they meet their MP, they meet a member they voted against, whereas in the new system, they would almost certainly be able to choose between their three, four or five members. I am confident that the voters of Canada would love to have that opportunity.
To the moderate proportional representation, we have to add the ranked ballots. Preferential voting is the most effective way to ensure that every vote counts. They are never fully equal. I do not think that's possible. We can have a voting system in which every vote counts. In terms of being exactly equal, I don't think there's a system that produces that result anywhere in the world today.
Preferential voting should be a sort of ethical obligation, not in the voting system, because it allows voters to vote sincerely without fear of wasting their vote or of being forced to vote strategically. Strategic voting is not immoral. What is immoral is maintaining a voting system that requires a large number of voters to choose between voting strategically or casting a vote that is completely useless at election time. I think that's what's immoral, not strategic voting, which is a logical thing for voters to do.
Preferential voting places voters in a much better intellectual and moral position when deciding how to vote. It also has the advantage of allowing small parties to know what their real popular support is and to play a bigger role in public debate without the risk of proliferating parties in the House. It encourages major parties to address the concerns of those who voted for smaller parties, which they know had elected representatives through their second or third preference. Small parties do not necessarily have more elected members, but they play a much bigger role in public debate through ranked ballots. This might encourage the major political parties to produce less simplistic propaganda, because they always know that they may need their opponents' second or third preferences in a given constituency.
With moderate proportional representation, parties that get less than 17%, 20% or 25% depending on the size of constituencies or votes, cannot have elected representatives. So it makes sense to have ranked ballots between parties. For the supporters of those parties, the need for strategic voting does not completely disappear with proportional representation. We must add the ranked ballots. We can also have a slightly more complex system in which voters indicate their preferences not only from the parties, but also from the candidates. This complicates the counting of votes a little. I don't think it complicates the casting of votes for voters.
There is an electoral system like this in Ireland, which has its merits or flaws. For Irish voters, the system is not difficult to apply.
It is simply that we will have to wait for the results until the next evening because of how long it takes to calculate the results. This is something that can be extremely justified.
Do I still have a minute? I would like to conclude.
Mr. Derriennic, one of the things that strikes me about this matter, and based on my political experience, is the importance for the citizens of Canada, or at least of Quebec, to vote for a local representative. In my view, if we asked the people what is the most important consideration in making their choice, this would be one of the predominant factors.
You talked about a closed list system, and I understood it fully from your last explanation. I personally don't think it's so simple, but perhaps people could grasp it if it were explained to them.
Take, for example, Quebec City, which has seven federal ridings. So there would be one block of seven Conservative MPs, one block of seven Liberals, one block of seven New Democrats, one block of seven Green Party representatives, and so on. People would make their choices in order of preference, from one to five, for example.
By doing that, I feel that we would be overlooking the candidates' skills, experience and background. Once the calculations are done, some candidates might wonder how this or that candidate will be appointed. For example, the names of which seven candidates would appear on the Conservatives' list? In your view, would that be done from a list predetermined by the party?
Thank you, Mr. Boulerice. That's a very good question.
Basically, the system is very simple and requires a relatively simple mathematical operation.
For each grade, we compile the votes, the percentages. Whether we start with the worst grade, “reject”, or the best, “excellent”, we count the votes to reach a threshold of at least 50%. That's how we determine the majority grade. That's how the system got its name.
There are a number of aspects I have not mentioned, including the major advantages of this electoral system. Mr. Derriennic talked about the preferential voting system, which I personally loathe. Just like the first past the post system, that system is easy to manipulate. However, the majority judgment system is practically immune to external manipulation.
To illustrate the point simplistically, say that someone with a lot of money can buy their election by renting buses and surrounding themselves with many volunteers with cars, in order to give voters rides. In a close election, this would ensure the candidate has 500 or 1000 more votes in order to beat an opponent.
In the majority judgment system, since there is a threshold, the sole interest in filling up the buses is to engage more voters. The system completely prevents candidates from choosing voters to tip the balance in their favour. The people the candidate would transport and who would vote for them would be in the 50% of voters. That may be a bit difficult to understand, but this system is extremely transparent and prevents manipulation.
There are other aspects we can talk about, but I'll let you ask other questions.
Ms. May, I understand very well that you may have difficulty following me. I introduced two resolutions as part of my activism in the Quebec section of the NDP. The resolution was defeated both times, probably because the NDP activists weren't able to follow me on this.
The first thing is that majority judgment voting is a single-vote electoral system in which the results arrive as is. To add to what Mr. Ste-Marie said, the beauty of this system is that everyone has a voice. People also speak out about the candidates that they particularly dislike. Perhaps it isn't very good to encourage this kind of behaviour, but it might be worth using.
The other element is the lack of manipulation with respect to a first past the post or exhaustive ballot or preferential voting. In reality, if you really want to influence the vote of a candidate, there must be outrageous scoring and we need to convince voters who have a rather mixed or weak opinion of the candidate we want to defeat to issue an even stronger opinion. I can't imagine a single political party that would waste money trying to conduct an operation of that magnitude.
My friend, Yvan Dutil, who testified before me, and I studied physics together at Laval University. That's why we've known one another for so long.
I see the mathematical beauty of it, but also its simplicity, once you understand the basic principle. However, I know it's very different compared to other voting systems. Most people are unable to follow me on this. I keep on anyway. The great interest of this voting system compared to the others is that, strictly speaking, it is true that all votes count.
In fact, in the articles of the two French researchers, you can examine the results for each candidate: excellent, very good and so on. Voters can see, for example, that Raymond Côté obtained such-and-such a score, when they had rejected that candidate initially. They can also see that 15% of voters also rejected him in the end. Voters can also conclude that several people found that the candidate did not make sense.
I think this voting system will have a positive impact on our elections. At the least, it will bring a lot more fun than the other voting systems. That's one reason why I'm trying to convince you.
You consider the percentage for each cumulative qualifier. You count from the “reject” qualifier, and when you reach 50%, you get the qualifier that is applied to the candidate. When you have the “excellent” criteria, you calculate up to 50%, and you get exactly the same qualifier. That's the beauty of the system, basically.
From there, the candidates are determined primarily by their median grade, in other words, as you see in the examples in my brief, “satisfactory”, “acceptable” or “poor”. From the majority criterion, you make the determination based on the remaining distribution outside the median grade.
For the 2012 election, you can see that François Hollande came first with the grade “good +”. In fact, he won a larger percentage, beyond his median grade, compared to the more disgraceful or less inclusive qualifiers.
It's very simple. As I said to Ms. May, the other advantage of the system is that the winner, or at least the person who will be the representative, is determined in the first round. I personally don't like systems with two or more rounds.
Moreover, when the results are posted, voters can say that they gave a “very good” grade to the person who will represent them and be very happy with that. This aspect of the dynamic will significantly change voter behaviour.
As a future candidate, I'm aware that I have no choice but to tell my fellow Canadians that I will continue in politics. But the observation can be very cruel.
As you can see, a poll conducted in France in 2012 indicated that Marine Le Pen, who came third in the first round under the traditional system, came eighth out of 10 candidates because 47% of voters rejected him. His grade was “poor -”. This brings to light to what extent voters want nothing to do with extremist candidates like Marine Le Pen or his father.
First, the less conflictual effect potentially results, or should result, from the preferential vote given that, these days, the political parties exaggerate the differences between them. They do this all the time. We have proof: six months after an election, there are always commentators who say that the new government is acting just like its predecessor, and is itself doing what it criticized in the past.
Political discourse in our electoral system leads to the exaggeration of differences between the political parties, which isn't good for voter intelligence. I think Canadians are able to understand a lot of nuances in politics and understand that it's better to have a political discourse that's a little less simplistic. That should be an effect of preferential voting, in which we aren't just interested in voters convinced of the party, but where we know that we need to hold a discussion to get the second or third preferences of the others. That is a less conflictual aspect of the political debate.
Second, there's the regional question. The first Canadian political science article I read, when I was still French, was written by Alan Cairns in the 1960s. He explained that our voting system exaggerated the regional conflicts and gave the illusion that the Quebec of the time was fully Liberal and Alberta was fully Conservative, while that wasn't true at all.
So by allowing the representation of ideological minorities in the various provinces and regions, moderate proportional representation would also reduce the level of conflict. In terms of discourse, what strikes me in Canada is how society is much less conflictual than the political discourse. Let's take political discourse, particularly in Quebec, which pits the English, the French, the independantists and so on against each other. When we look at people's behaviour, we see that they are much more understanding and cooperative, even with people with different political views and who speak a different language, than the impression given by the political discourse. It's very unfortunate.
It would be good for us to have a political discussion that is a little more intelligent, a little more nuanced. This new voting system could help with that.
I think I've forgotten the beginning of your question.
I will introduce myself. I am the director of the Groupe femmes, politique et démocratie, and I am appearing here today on behalf of my organization. Our mission is to educate all Canadians on citizen participation, but especially the women we provide with guidance and support so that their numbers in position of power can grow.
Equal representation trumps everything else in a democracy. It embodies political pluralism, cultural diversity, as well as various peoples' living conditions.
I would like to remind the committee members of what the female situation is at the federal level. Women obtained the right to vote in 1918 and eligibility rights in 1920. Today, 95 years later, 26% of House of Commons members are women.
I have done calculations based on statistics provided on the House website. If we compare the percentages, the proportion of women has not even increased by 1% per election.
I continued with my calculations. I have made some forecasts. It would take 24 elections approximately every four years—so an entire century—to achieve gender equality in the House of Commons. That would take us to 2109.
Last October, after the election, we issued a press release to report on the situation, to celebrate certain advancements, including a gender-balanced cabinet. However, as that is not included in legislation, it will disappear, as the case was in Quebec, where we have already gone through a similar situation.
I would like to bring your attention to the fact that Canada ranked 46th, in October 2015, in terms of women's presence in Parliament and that, so far, as Ms. Romanado said earlier, we rank 64th.
So the message we want to communicate today is that we should find ways or add mechanisms in order to redress that inequality. Women account for 50.4% of the Canadian population. It's a matter of democracy.
Thank you for consulting us.
Unless I am mistaken, you seem to be proposing a reform that leans toward a mixed proportional system. But wouldn't that be like applying a bandage on a gangrenous leg? Doesn't the reform open the door to numerous potential changes in order to resolve a lot of existing problems?
We currently have a British system in place that has never really represented the popular will. The current system is a dictatorship where the leader imposes the party line and where the members, mainly the backbenchers, become useful window dressing much more in the ridings than in the House of Commons.
Quebeckers like to identify with their members of Parliament, who sort of become their spokespersons without a political party affiliation. I propose that provinces be divided based on their surface area. Two members without affiliation to a political party per riding would be elected for a five-year period—one man and one woman, for true equality in the House of Commons. Ridings would never be orphaned again, and we would never have to start from scratch because everything was tossed away after a general election or when a member changes.
In parallel, a party leader would be elected for a five-year period, in a general election, to become prime minister, select his ministers, run the country and convince the House of Commons to change laws and regulations. The ballot would be split into two sections. In the first section, Canadians would be asked to select a party and, in the second section, two or three party leaders would be proposed. Voters would have to check the name of their preferred leader for each party. Once the votes were tallied, the chief electoral officer would announce the winning party based on the Canadian vote total. For the victorious party, the chief electoral officer would announce the winning leader based on the vote total across the country.
In conclusion, “one person, one vote” is not a democratic formula. A village will always have more elected representatives than more sparsely populated rural areas, so the village ideas will always be first.
Imposing financial penalties so that parties would increase their female representation would not resolve the issue of gender equality.
Furthermore, asking that visible minorities be represented opens up a Pandora's box. If a black person obtains an appointment, does the same have to be done for an Asian person, a disabled individual, a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, an aboriginal, a transgender person, a young person? Where do we draw the line in terms of minority representation?
The age of 18 for vote eligibility is when most people are capable of understanding the options available and their consequences. Canada is a country where freedom is a priority. No one should be forced to vote.
In closing, the government should require the municipalities to have a permanent voters list, as they can easily keep track of who lives on their territory. All federal, provincial and territorial services should be connected to that list, so that it would always be as accurate as possible. People would no longer have to contact several services for a change of address. They would inform the municipality, and all the services would receive the information, as it is done in Germany.
My name is Nicolas Saucier, and I am from Quebec City. I'm a former student of Mr. Derriennic's, and I was employed by the House of Commons through three Parliaments. So I am pretty knowledgeable on these issues.
I was always told that I had been born in a democratic country, but my life experience shows me that this is not the case, as no government has been elected with 50% of the votes since I have had the right to vote. Since I could vote, 1988 was when the elected government had the largest percentage of votes, with 43%. So 57% of people had voted against that government. The worst year was 2006, with 34.5% of the votes, meaning that 65.5%, or two-thirds of the population, had not voted for the elected government. Since my birth, only once, in 1984, did the elected government garner the majority of the votes, with 50.03%, by the skin of its teeth. Before that, in 1958, the figure was 53.6%. So 26 years passed between those two elections where the government was elected with over 50% of votes, and the gap will be 35 years if we assume that the next government will be elected with more than 50% of the votes in the next election.
That's not so democratic. My concern is that the two main parties have been very content with this non-democratic system for a long time. I am worried. I applaud the Liberal Party's effort in proposing this change. I am very worried to see that the Conservative Party has its foot on the brake and is riding almost on the shoulder in order to slow things down.
I have been hearing the nirvana argument a lot. I am a communications professor at the university. In argumentation courses, we hear fallacious arguments, such as the nirvana one. According to that argument, if the proposed solution is not perfect, it must be rejected. That's easy. You find a flaw in a proposed solution and you eliminate it because it is flawed. That's like seeing the mote in your eye when you have a beam in there, and I would even say on your forehead.
We have a system that has not been democratic for years, and people are splitting hairs by saying that all this may not be ideal. Any of the proposed solutions would be preferable to the status quo or the current system.
In closing, I wonder whether any of the members around this table were elected by more than 50% of the voters in their riding.
When we are trying to define what democracy is and to separate highly democratic states from less democratic ones, we first look at the representation system a state has chosen for itself. Therefore, the key criterion for assessing the democratic nature of that representation system is the representativeness of Parliament relative to its voters. Although Canada has a reputation as a model democracy, a cursory review of its democratic institutions indicates that it does not pass the most basic test. Our voting system is not representative. Each election is another reminder of that. The composition of our Parliament does not reflect voting intentions. In the last two federal elections, the government secured an absolute majority with about 40% of the voting intentions.
Canada has undergone major changes over the course of its democratization. It has become a diverse society where the expression of numerous and differing opinions is not only accepted, but actually encouraged, and I can attest to this as an immigrant. However, it is extremely unfortunate that the diversity of opinions that is our strength is not represented in Parliament. Let's look at a simple example. In the 2015 general election, only Liberal candidates were elected in the Atlantic provinces. All the citizens of that province with no ties to the Liberal Party were ignored.
The problems with the current voting system can be summarized in five points. There are probably more, but let's keep it to five.
First, the party elected by a minority of citizens can govern as a majority, as the previous speaker had pointed out by going over past elections.
Second, the system is unstable, as minor changes in voting intentions—variations by a few percentage points, for example—can result in major changes in representation. Once again, in the Maritime provinces, the Liberals went from a few seats in 2011 to all the seats in 2015. Did everyone in the Maritimes become a Liberal? I don't think so.
Third, the voting in each riding is limited to the candidates representing parties. If no Green Party candidate comes forward in the riding, citizens cannot vote for that party. The situation does not apply only to the Green Party, but to all unrepresented parties.
Forth, if a region votes for the wrong candidate, it is not represented within government.
Fifth, a vote consists of three decisions: the election of the government leader, of a party and of a member of Parliament. People generally like to think that they are voting for a member first, but in reality, few citizens know the name of their member or the candidate they are voting for. However, if we are voting for a member, why do we have parties, and why does the number of elected members automatically translate to the prime minister's election?
Similarly, the benefits of the proportional system can be summarized in five points. First, it truly represents the voting intention in Parliament. Second, it fosters a diversity of views and opinions in Parliament. Third, it is more stable for the parties, and their representation in Parliament is more stable. Between 2011 and 2015, we have seen Quebec go from orange to mostly red.
I won't repeat the arguments that have already been put forward in favour of the mixed proportional voting system, in favour of mandatory voting, in favour Internet voting, and so on. I think that is progressive and would be a sign of progress.
I would like to establish a parallel between our society and our voting system. For example, all students in a class have the right to speak and express themselves. At work, when I participate in a team meeting, all of us on the team have the right to express ourselves, since every opinion has value.
It's the same thing in Parliament. There are some 338 members, and each of you has the right to express yourself, as all opinions have value, even if their respective weight may differ. Everyone can speak out. Ultimately, the voting system should make the same thing possible. A person should be able to express their opinion, whether they have the support of 5%, 15% or 40% of the population.
I would like to establish another parallel. In a group, there's often one individual who is more shy and will talk less. In general, an attempt is made to get that person to talk, to express themselves even though they don't really want to. It's the same when it comes to the voting system. It is important to hear from everyone with an opinion, even if the individual talks less.
Conversely, some people may monopolize the conversation and talk a bit too much. We are willing to hear them out, but not all the time, as we also want to hear from others. It's the same thing in a democratic system. If a party has 40% of the votes, we don't want it to account for 65% of the talk in Parliament, to impede the conversation, to dominate the media and to do only what it wants.
I think it is important for everyone's voice to be represented, so as to reflect daily social mores in school, in university, at work and in Parliament. It is important for everyone's voice to be represented, for no one to dominate the conversation and for everyone to be able to express themselves.
I first want to thank you for this invitation to appear before the committee. The work you do is very relevant, and essential to the vitality of Canadian democracy. It is all the more important because if it leads to a reform of the voting system, it may have a very marked effect on the institutions of other Canadian bodies, because of the tendency of institutions to mimic each other. The choice your committee makes will no doubt have repercussions beyond the federal Parliament.
I thank you for this opportunity to share my views with you. I am not here tonight to discuss my favourite voting system or to share my personal preferences. My objective is mainly to put forward certain elements from the scientific literature concerning voting systems.
In 2015, there was a symposium on democratic vitality in Canada and in Quebec. It was organized by the chair I hold, in cooperation with Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec. In the context of that symposium, we surveyed Quebeckers to find out whether they supported certain electoral reforms. This poll was not done Canada-wide; it was only taken in Quebec.
This survey allowed us to see that the population would like to see a change in the voting system. According to the CROP poll done in 2015, around 70% of the population is in favour of some form of proportionality, should the voting system be reformed.
The strongest argument for a reform of the voting system is representation. We want to reduce the distortions that are inherent in the current voting system. There are two factors that could improve representation.
First of all, from a mathematical point of view, this would reduce distortions, stop penalizing the smaller parties, and stop benefiting the party that comes first in a disproportionate way. In the single member plurality or first-past-the-post system, there is a benefit for the one that comes first that encourages distortions. In Quebec, in the fairly recent past, on some occasions political parties that had the most votes found themselves in the opposition.
The second factor is ideological. The various currents that are present in society should also be represented in Parliament. This is why we have seen the integration of a type of proportionality in voting system reforms throughout the world. However, I would add that one of the most frequent arguments raised to maintain the current system is the connection between the member and his or her riding.
A study was done in 2011 which appeared in a scientific publication in 2014. This was a survey of Quebec parliamentarians who sit in the Quebec National Assembly or in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Among other things, they were asked about their perception of citizens' expectations with regard to their work as parliamentarians, either their work in their ridings, or as lawmakers and comptrollers of government. The vast majority of parliamentarians said that they believed that citizens expect them to be highly effective representatives of their riding, that they be very generous with their time, that they be very present on the ground, and that they work hard on resolving the individual problems of the constituents in their riding.
The objective was to see whether Quebeckers' expectations were in keeping with members' perceptions about them. To our great surprise, we discovered that there was a large discrepancy. These were not at all the main expectations of the Quebec citizens who were surveyed in a CROP poll.
The main expectation citizens had of their MP was not that he represent their riding. What they wished for first and foremost was that he be a good comptroller of government, whatever his political affiliation. Citizens want their MPs, even if they are ministers, to be good stewards of government activity and question government policies above and beyond the party line.
So the argument regarding the connection between the member and his riding has to be nuanced. Currently, there is a gap between what the Quebec population expects and the perception members have of the population's expectations. Of course there may be regional variations. In less urban areas, the connection to the member of the riding is considered more important. Be that as it may, there's an important gap in perceptions.
The other element I want to emphasize is whether or not it is legitimate for Parliament to act on this. There is a debate on whether the voting system is a constitutional matter and whether it necessitates a major change. My interpretation, both in my teaching and in my analysis of the constitution, is that there is no constitutional convention governing the voting system. It is true that an electoral law has a particular status and demands that there be a consensus before it is changed. But a referendum on reforming the electoral system would be first and foremost political and not legal. It falls under the purview of the political actors.
I would now like to discuss the limits of electoral reform that would affect the voting system. According to the scientific literature, it is a mistake to think that changing the voting system would increase electoral participation. In fact, the growth in the participation rate that is related to the voting system is marginal. We are talking about a few percentage points. I would add that it is not probable that such a change on its own would diminish mistrust or the cynicism people feel toward the political class.
The Eurobarometer, which measures data within the European Union, has an index on the decline in the level of trust citizens have in parliaments. In Europe, voting systems are often different from the one in Canada. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries, proportionality has been integrated into the systems. According to Eurobarometer data, for about 10 years there has been a decline in the level of trust in all parliaments, whatever the voting system used. The crisis of confidence does not only affect parliamentary systems that use the first-past-the-post system. The crisis of confidence regarding elected representatives and parliamentarians transcends the voting systems.
Be that as it may, a reform of the voting system has to be seen as one measure among others to restore trust in our institutions and elected representatives. In our symposium we discussed partisan discipline. For instance, how can parties make party discipline less rigid? Paradoxically, it is stricter in Quebec than in Ottawa, and it is stricter in Ottawa than in London. There would even be an advantage to reviewing the evolution of the British political system, to see how the members of the different political parties benefit from greater leeway than elected representatives in Ottawa.
Gender parity is also an issue. The poll that was done showed that there is support for that parity. If the committee would like to see it, I could table a copy of the poll that was done at the time.
I want to thank you very much for this invitation to appear before the committee. It is an honour to have this opportunity to speak before you.
I understand that I was invited as a citizen, but especially as a former commissioner of the Law Commission of Canada who took part in preparing a report on the reform of the electoral system. I am going to say a few words on the Law Commission of Canada before talking about the content of that report.
The commission was created by an act of Parliament to provide independent advice on the improvement, modernization and reform of the law in Canada. We worked on several topics such as mediation, and we produced reports on topics such as security, intellectual property and family law. We also produced a series of reports on indigenous peoples. These reports were tabled in Parliament so that it could be made aware of them and could implement our recommendations, or not. It was amazing for a team made up of independent persons to be able to contribute to the democratic debate.
Unfortunately, the Treasury Board of the previous government put an end to the Law Commission of Canada by eliminating its budget. May I take advantage of this forum to encourage you strongly to restore the Law Commission of Canada. Those among you who are older will remember that first of all there was the Law Reform Commission of Canada, which then evolved into a different form as the Law Commission of Canada. I think this was a good model, but you need to find one that can withstand the tampering that can occur from one government to the next, and which our voting system may in fact be responsible for.
I will now address the voting system. In connection with electoral matters, the Law Commission of Canada examined the institutions that define our legal concepts and enact our laws. The issue was whether a system that embodied the values of the 19th century still embodied the values of the 21st century. Like you, I listened to the comments of citizens who testified in this regard, and the Law Commission of Canada also heard their criticisms. They were the same in 2002 and 2004. And so I have a good understanding of the situation you are faced with. It was in response to those criticisms of the democratic process that the commission began that project. It saw that there was a level of discomfort with our current system. Since 1945, the results of federal elections have been out of balance, in that they favour the parties whose electors are concentrated in certain ridings, as compared to the parties whose electors are spread out throughout the country.
The commission first produced a consultation paper after having met with experts, such as professors. Afterwards, we held discussions for two years, based on that document. We consulted citizens and experts, and when we had questions about certain aspects, we launched other studies. Two years later, we had a 230-page report containing 23 recommendations, which in our opinion are the best replies to the various complaints you've heard earlier and have probably heard in the course of your work. This work was funded by the electorate. The report was entitled: Voting counts: Electoral Reform for Canada.
We had to identify values upon which to base reforms. We identified a certain number of values, and measured the various political systems in order to determine those that best embodied preeminent values. You will not be surprised to learn that the electoral system should be fair, which means that the number of MPs from each party should correspond to the percentage of votes it receives; that Parliament should better reflect the constitution of society, that is to say include women, Aboriginal people and minorities, and that parliaments should encourage the expression of a wide range of points of view. In addition, people still feel it is important to have a certain relationship with their local member of Parliament, although that value is evolving.
We identified other values such as the need to have an effective government that can manage the state, the need for a responsible government, the need for an effective opposition, and ensuring that each vote counts and that each region is represented in decision-making processes, and that the decisions reflect a variety of viewpoints and are more inclusive. I have listed them rather quickly, but I encourage you strongly to read the document. They are better explained in it.
The system which in our opinion best reflects these values of the 21st century is a proportional representation system under which 66% of members would be elected as they are now, and 33% would be elected from lists. This 33% would allow us to correct the imbalance created by the current system. The idea was to tell the population that we had found a solution. It consisted in offering two votes: one to elect a member in a riding, and another, on the basis of lists, to elect a representative. Of course, these lists would allow us to encourage the inclusion of women, aboriginal people and members of minorities.
The cost of implementing such a measure could be limited by increasing the size of certain ridings in order to limit the number of members elected in them, and by increasing the number of representatives chosen from the lists.
I encourage you again to read the report, because various problems are raised in it. We wondered, for instance, if a member elected from a list should have the same status as a member elected in a riding. Many other questions were raised and we answered them in the report.
In fact, I understand that reforming the electoral system is not easy. You are facing quite a challenge. At the time, I spoke with the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians, and I felt a certain resistance on their part. Many of those who were elected in a certain system feel that if this worked for them, why change the system that allowed them to get elected? So you are going to have to deal with the political arm that designs the system, but also with the politicians who work with it.
The system we proposed is in my opinion easy to sell to the population. There would be two methods: 66% of members would be elected in ridings and 33% would be chosen from lists. In my opinion, that proportion would correct the imbalance and reflect the values of the 21st century.
I will stop here, and I would be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you very much.