Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for your very kind invitation to appear today. I believe that a country that is willing to examine its electoral system is much stronger for doing so.
Twelve years ago, the Law Commission of Canada published its report on electoral reform. I was a commissioner with the Law Commission and I participated in the production of that report. What I wanted to do today was to talk a little bit about how it was that we came to the conclusion that we did. I can say that in the 12 years that have passed since the publication of the report I have not changed my view that the mixed member proportional system is a better choice than the existing system, and is to be preferred over other alternatives.
However, there is one element of the report that I have changed my mind about in light of new information that wasn't available at the time of the Law Commission's report. That is the issue of open lists versus closed lists, which I can talk about in a while.
In looking at the question, as law reform commissions do, we asked, “Is there a problem with the existing order?” What we heard was that there were severe concerns about the existing system. You are likely very familiar with these so I won't dwell on them, but briefly, the existing system results in disproportionality, the creation of artificial majorities, regional imbalances, and what the Jenkins commission referred to as the creation of electoral deserts, in which whole regions of Canada may have little or no representation in the government. It results in the under-representation of women, minorities, and first nations peoples. It gives a sense of the lost vote—“Why should I vote? It's not going to be counted. It's not worth anything”—and may even lead to strategic voting, the feeling that you have to vote for a less preferred candidate because otherwise your vote simply wouldn't count. It can also lead to what is viewed as a hyper-partisan adversarial political culture in the country.
Having looked at these problems, our next step was to look at whether there might be some alternatives that would better address these concerns. In order to do so, we had to come up with some criteria, some political values that may be promoted in a given electoral system so that we could test the other models against these criteria. When I look at them, they seem congruent with the criteria mentioned in the mandate of this committee. We thought that fairness in translating votes to seats, proportionality, and giving citizens the sense that their votes will be counted were all important matters.
We looked at the promotion of regional balance. All parts of Canada should be represented in the government. We should try to avoid the electoral deserts or wastelands that can be created, which then sometimes pit one region of Canada against another. We wanted a system that would promote effective and accountable government and effective opposition.
We looked to demographic representation, the idea that the government should reflect the diversity of the people in the society, particularly women, minorities, and first nations people. We wanted a system that might better promote inclusive decision-making and consensus-building in place of adversarial partisan politics.
Having defined these criteria, we then looked at the different electoral models and tried to evaluate how they stacked up against these criteria. We looked at alternative voting and saw that it has benefits over the existing system. For us, the difficulty with alternative voting was in its disproportionality. It really didn't address the question of proportionality, and possibly it might make things worse. It didn't address the problem of regional balance. It didn't address the lack of diversity in terms of the representatives in government. So, we moved on and looked at systems of proportional representation. We looked at list PR systems, such as they have in Europe; the single transferable vote, used in municipal politics and for a time provincially in Alberta and Manitoba; and mixed member proportional representation, MMP.
What we concluded was that of those, MMP for us was the best choice. I think the key factor for us was the geographic representation that it provided, that direct link between the voter, the constituency, and the MP representing that. We thought it was important to retain that feature of the electoral system, and the MMP had that element, yet it also addressed the other problems we had identified. As for the lack of proportionality, it was addressed by MMP; the idea of the wasted vote, that was reduced in the system of MMP; the regional balance, that was addressed; under-representation of minorities and women... We saw in New Zealand there was a sharp increase in representation after the introduction of MMP in those countries. For that reason, we thought that MMP was a better choice.
Following that, we looked at criticisms that had been launched against MMP, to see if they carried any validity. The three criticisms that are often made against MMP are that it creates unstable governments, that it creates two classes of MP, the list MP and the constituency MP, and that it is susceptible of having a splinter group, a small political party holding the balance of power, which would be undesirable. We looked at that and we thought that these criticisms were exaggerated.
We looked at countries that do have MMP—Germany, Scotland, Wales, and New Zealand—and there's no evidence that their governments are unstable. Yes, they govern without having a majority, but they're not unstable democracies.
We looked at the argument of the creation of two classes of MP, the worry being that the list MP, not being voted in, would be the second-class citizen. We saw that wasn't the case. In Germany, in New Zealand, they're both MPs and their parties ensure that the list members have an equitable division in terms of constituency work. In fact, for voter choice it enhances them, because you can go to your constituency MP, you also have a regional MP you can go to, and that may be a person from a different party.
Finally, the splinter-party worry and domination by a tiny, little party...well, that's controlled through thresholds, so we concluded that simply wasn't a problem.
After doing this, after deciding on MMP, there are a number of technical issues you have to address, if that were the route you were taking. There'd be the question of the open list versus the closed list, or the semi-open list. A decision would have to be made about that; you would have to decide about dual candidacy. Can a person run both on the constituency list and also on the party list?
On threshold requirements, what is it? Is it two-thirds, one-third for constituency versus list, or should it be sixty-forty, fifty-fifty as in Germany, and on what basis do you make that determination?
Finally, on threshold requirements, how severe do you want to make it? The more severe you make it, the harder it is for new parties to come into existence. It's a check against the splinter parties, but you don't want to make it too hard. You must get that balance right.
In terms of implementation, we thought that essentially there had to be a broad consensus. There had to be a public consultation and a broad consensus. We did not think there must necessarily be a referendum, although one should very carefully consider the possibility of a referendum on the matter.
One of the difficulties with a referendum, of course, is that in many cases, regardless of how much you try to have a public information campaign, many voters will not be informed and when it comes time to cast their votes it will be, better the devil we know than the devil we don't know, and first past the post will remain, out of inertia.
One possibility would be to have the referendum after the change. That may sound strange, but essentially what you'd be doing is offering people a trial period.
You'd say, “Voters, here's a new system. We've consulted broadly. This is what we are proposing to put in. Try it out for an election, and at the next election you'll vote on whether to retain it or revert to the old one.” Then, voters would be voting fully informed. They would have experience with the old system and the new one. You would have an informed choice made by the electorate, which otherwise is difficult to achieve with electoral reform.
Thank you very much.
I would also like to thank you very much for the invitation to address the committee. It's a wonderful opportunity, and it's a great thing that we are actually engaging in the process in Canada. Thank you.
What I'm going to do is answer some of the questions that were put to us in the documentation you sent.
The first question was on why electoral reform is important.
The system in which Canadians elect their representatives to the House of Commons is, of course, foundational to the manner in which our democracy is realized. Our elected representatives significantly impact the ways in which we govern ourselves internally and the ways in which we function on the world stage. Therefore, Canadians must be confident that their electoral system is effective and that their votes are reflected in election results. They need to know that their votes count.
Electoral reform provides an opportunity for examination and evaluation of our current electoral system, with a view to changing it if it does not align with the expectations of the electorate. It is critical to our healthy democracy.
In terms of the strengths and challenges of Canada's current electoral system, I think my colleague has given you many of those. However, as you've heard from many people who have presented before you in the last number of weeks, no perfect system exists. Each has trade-offs, strengths, and weaknesses. No system is inherently more democratic than another.
My preference is for a proportional system. There are many of those, and many ways they can be implemented. There is no one way to achieve what people call “proportional”.
There are questions that can be asked that invite comparisons, which will help us to find the best systems, questions such as these: Which system gives us the least fractious path to law-making? Which would least paralyze effective government? Which would push us most to months of post-election wrangling to create coalitions, and to the threat of evaporation of coalitions?
I'm not going to go through the advantages and disadvantages of each of the systems; I know you've heard these. I'm going to move on, then, to answer whether I consider Canada's current electoral system to be fair, inclusive, and representative, and I would say no on all three.
What do I think of mandatory voting?
Low voter turnout, I would suggest, is a systemic rather than a specific problem. Making voting mandatory is certainly not going to fix the problem. However, mandatory voting would engage more of the Canadian electorate in its fundamental democratic role. Making voting mandatory impresses upon people the importance and significance of voting. It is a community exercise, one that we participate in together for the greater good, the effective governance of our country.
As someone who runs the Centre for Constitutional Studies and who does research and public education on the Constitution, I'm constantly reminded of how little Canadians know about their democracy, their democratic system, and their Constitution. If mandatory voting would get them some small way towards understanding that a bit better, that would be great.
It is inevitable that online voting must be made available to the electorate. Voters want convenience with respect to voting, and online voting increases accessibility for those with disabilities. For example, remote online voting is already made available in Ontario and Nova Scotia. Canada is considered a leader in this regard. However, we must, of course, ensure that the system is designed to be secure, reliable, and, importantly, simple to use.
The big question that I'm going to attempt to answer today is what I think should be the future steps for electoral system reform.
First of all, as I understand it, this special committee will be tabling its report to the House. The extent to which the House itself can be brought to understand and appreciate the work that's been done by this committee, and to appreciate the number of Canadians who have stepped up to speak to you and give their points of view, and to consider your report, will be very important. If we could get some form of consensus or agreement within the House, that would certainly go a long way.
There will obviously need to be, at some point, a decision made regarding what electoral system we're going to choose for Canada.
Once that's done a strategy will need to be developed regarding reform, which will, of course, be contingent on the type of reform chosen. The decisions that need to be made, it seems to me, are going to be around the constitutionality of reform and whether constitutional amendment is necessary. If so, whether amendments can be made unilaterally or whether the general amending formula, which includes the provinces, the 7/50 formula, must be engaged. Then whether there should be a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the necessity for constitutional amendment if, indeed, there is a decision around constitutionality or that might in itself be a question one puts to the Supreme Court of Canada: is electoral reform a constitutional matter? Is the Canada Elections Act part of our constitutional architecture? Lastly, there will be a need to consider a referendum.
On the issue of constitutionality of electoral reform, does electoral reform require constitutional amendment? The Canada Elections Act would of course need to be amended, assuming a reform was suggested or recommended. The question is whether the government can simply table a bill or whether electoral reform requires constitutional amendment. That depends on whether reform of the electoral system is seen as constitutional in nature. The question is whether electoral reform fundamentally affects the role, functions, or the principle of proportional representation of the provinces in the House of Commons, which would affect the “structure of government that the constitution seeks to implement”. I'm quoting there from a paragraph in the Senate reform reference. That's the Supreme Court of Canada decision from 2014. It laid out what the court means by “constitutional architecture”. It's a very interesting decision.
Paragraph 26 of that decision talks about ”the structure of government that the Constitution seeks to implement”. The question is: would electoral reform affect the structure of government that the Constitution seeks to implement? My straightforward answer to that question is no, I don't see how it can engage the Constitution. But I know that you've heard from experts who have said it certainly does engage it, so I'm not purporting to be a legal expert in this regard. But clearly the nature and type of reform selected would impact this internal architecture.
Some argue that the electoral system is constitutional, given the Supreme Court Act reference and the Senate reform reference. The electoral system is not specifically included in the constitutional text, it's not referred to in the Constitution specifically, but some suggest that the impact of those two decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada is that the electoral system is part of our constitutional architecture.
My view is that these two references are different in substance than electoral reform. One was on the Senate, one was on the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The nature of reforms contemplated in the Senate reform reference for example would fundamentally alter its function. They were talking about electing senators, for example. Unless the electoral system proposed changes to the structure of government that the Constitution seeks to implement, in other words changes to the purpose, role, or function of the House, then it should not be deemed constitutional.
But if I'm wrong, and electoral reform is found to be constitutional, then how would we go about amending the Constitution? There are two ways. One is Parliament proceeds unilaterally using its exclusive jurisdiction under section 44 of the Constitution, or you go to the general amending formula, which includes the provinces. You've heard from experts, I know, who would say if you went to the 7/50 formula that would be the death knell for reform. The question you would need to ask, of course, is whether or not the nature of the reform you were proposing engaged the provinces' interests in such a way or changed the nature of the House in such a way that the provinces needed to weigh in.
The argument has been made that moving to a proportional system such as MMP would engage provincial interests to the extent that the general amending formula would be needed. Again, that would need to be determined, probably, if there were a question, by going to the Supreme Court of Canada. As views about whether and to what extent electoral reform engages the Constitution, a reference to the Supreme Court on this issue may be wise, especially if a proposed electoral system will change electoral boundaries.
Clearly, legal opinions on this subject need to be sought. A reference would provide certainty and would prevent constitutional challenges to processes, procedures, and legislation that would potentially take years to resolve in the courts. It would also provide legal legitimacy for the electoral system that is chosen.
I am suggesting that the time it takes to go to reference might be shorter than the time it will take to have challenges brought to the courts after the fact if no reference is sought.
This is a safe option but one that would significantly extend the time needed for the electoral reform process. I'll leave it at that.
As for a referendum, I'll just quickly say that there is no legal requirement for a referendum. It should be avoided if at all possible; that is, if processes can be put in place to ensure the political legitimacy of reforms, then avoid the referendum if possible.
My friend's suggestion of a referendum after a try-out period is one I had not heard, and it might be one that should be considered.
Barring a process or processes that can achieve the level of political legitimacy of a referendum, one should be held with the following caveats: of course—and you've heard this from others—a referendum should be carefully strategized; the question asked to the electorate should be clear and unambiguous; educating the public should be done in a non-partisan and objective manner; use of appropriate social media, television, and print media to provide neutral, accurate, accessible information to the electorate about proposed changes is essential; and information needs to be presented in multiple formats and in clear, understandable fashion.
Planning for and executing a referendum will take time. It is a process that should engender pride in Canadians and trust in their government. It cannot and should not be rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline such as the next election.
Thank you to our witnesses. You've come from Edmonton, and we've come from Vancouver, so I guess it is an open question who was more inconvenienced by the fact that we're meeting here.
I want to deal very directly with the question of referendum. I should tell you that, from the point of view of my party and of myself, there is no possibility of what we would regard as legitimacy without a referendum and, to be clear, a referendum before as opposed to after.
The reason for saying before as opposed to after is easily illustrated by a number of analogies. Would it have been more legitimate for Quebec to separate in 1995 and then hold a referendum after the fact to see if people approved? The Brexit referendum has been frequently criticized. People don't like referendums, but would it have been better for the United Kingdom to separate from the European Union and then find out whether voters liked it? The Charlottetown accord is something similar. We were all told that this was something that was really good for us, we needed it, and it was going to resolve our national unity crisis. But in the end, voters rejected it, and I think it would have been very wrong to impose that on Canadians without having consulted with them first.
I want you to just imagine the problem that arises here. Let's say we decide we'll have a referendum after the fact. We'll put into place MMP. I'm not being disrespectful of MMP; I think of all the alternatives it's the one that probably makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. But let's say we put the new system in place, have an election, then have a referendum, and it turns out the majority of people don't support the system after we've just used it. They've effectively said that this system, the system in which you've just elected a government, was illegitimate and that, to some degree, the government elected by it has a legitimacy that's tainted. To me this just invalidates the whole thing.
Someone actually said, “Why don't you have the referendum at the same time as the new election”? Can you imagine if you get your system rejected and get a new government? What do you do then? So holding off the referendum so we don't find out what people think for a year or two, I don't see how that improves it. This is just a terrible idea, and it's clearly just not legitimate once one thinks it through.
Having said that, I do think the idea of having a referendum, approving a system.... That's what they did in New Zealand. They had a referendum, adopted a new system that the voters had approved, and then held a referendum a little while later to see if they still approved it. It turned out that, of course, they reinforced the decision they'd made about a decade earlier; they thought the system was a good one. That, I think, makes some sense, and it does establish that, whether we adopt a new system now or change that system after the fact, people are sovereign. That would be the observation I'd make.
The comments that you both made about the need for public education and really thinking that process through are absolutely legitimate. It's been repeated over and over again, including by people who were involved in the process in British Columbia where, of course, they did get a majority in favour of changing the system and would have changed the system were it not for their undemocratic 60% threshold. That's my rant. Thank you for listening.
In the two minutes I have remaining, Professor Paradis, I want to address the one constitutional issue that I think is paramount and that does take a number of our options off the table unless we want to go through dealing with the 7/50 system, and this is the principle of proportionate representation that is baked into our Constitution and cannot be changed without some form of amendment.
As long as we come up with a system that does not change the number of seats in the House of Commons—which is doable either under STV or MMP—I can't see a constitutional problem. But if you were to change and say we're going to have a top-up of 15% per province, which is one of the numbers that's been tossed out, you'd have to have it 15% for every province, it seems to me, or else you'd run into a problem. That is not necessarily easy to do, especially with the small provinces.
Can I just get your comment on the concern I have there? Is it legitimate or not legitimate in your view?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Professor Wood and Ms. Paradis. I am very pleased that you are here with us today on this major Canadian tour, which we are conducting to discuss the electoral system.
This committee has a mandate to study the many options that can be used to change the voting system, but also other issues concerning the electoral system.
Professor Wood, first I want to thank you for your work with the Canadian Law Commission in 2004; this is an excellent report. You are still in favour of these recommendations for a mixed-member proportional system.
I also want to thank you for your helpful suggestions for combating certain myths that circulate about mixed-member proportional voting systems. You say, for example, that this kind of system produces stable governments, preserves a local connection between voters and members, and does not cause an excessive increase in the number of small political parties represented in the House.
With regard to the connection with voters, the report states that, in Germany, even list members have close relations with their fellow citizens. They have offices, they receive people, they meet with the organizations of civil society, and they deal with individual files. As Mr. Broadbent said, this voting system may be the best of all possible worlds because it offers the advantages of both proportional systems, majority and mixed-member.
You have changed your mind about closed and open lists. I find that interesting. I used to be more in favour of closed lists but am beginning to lean toward open ones. On what regional basis do you think lists should be constituted?
It is perfectly understandable why there might be a list for Nova Scotia, for example, but regional realities are very different in Ontario and Quebec. How would you divide up members who are elected on a broader regional or, in some instances, provincial basis?
Madame and Monsieur, it's a real pleasure for me to meet you.
I think we are the first ones to recognize that the electoral system is not perfect, but there is no perfect system.
If it existed, we would have it,
as we say in French. But this is the true reality.
There are some things that exist about the so-called proportional system. You know, this is the panacea for so many people, but the reality is not there. The problem we face with our system many times is the same with the proportional system.
The experts acknowledge that changes in voting systems do not really have an impact on voter turnout rates. It is more the election issues and personalities that increase turnout, not the electoral system.
However, it is generally recognized that a proportional system means there are more small parties than in a regular system, which is not bad in itself. That is called "democracy". I will come back to that a little later.
Talking about the strategic vote, we heard so many people say in the last election that we needed a strong strategic vote to get the Conservative government out and all that stuff. I know what I'm talking about; I'm a Conservative MP. I heard that a lot, but not in Quebec City, because I won. But I recognize that. This is why I have the authority to say that.
Whatever the system, whatever reality we'll see, people will say, I want to get this government out, and the best way is to have one party that will attract the most votes. Whatever the system, you will see that people will vote strategically. Sure, I recognize that in the actual system more people will vote strategically than in the other system, but you will not erase it; that's the reality of democracy.
Now I am going to talk about the lost vote. I am sorry, but no vote is lost in a democracy, except if a person does not vote. A losing vote is not a loss. That is the difference. There will always be winners and losers. That is what happens in real life. If everyone votes for the same person, then everyone will win. Otherwise it goes without saying that there will always be losers. It is not because people lose that their votes are permanently lost. A losing vote is not a lost vote.
Nearly 99% of Canadians who vote have a voice in the House of Commons, and that is because they voted for one of the five parties represented there. Everyone in my district is represented in the House of Commons. Furthermore, even though it is a small number, 1.8% of the people in the district of Louis-Saint-Laurent voted for the Green Party and are represented in the House. I have never heard anyone say that his or her voice had been eliminated and that that was a terrible thing. No, their voices are there and very well represented by Ms. May. I do not think she is listening to me. That is unfortunate.
Okay, maybe one day she will understand that.
Here is my question.
Yesterday, Mr. Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer, said that what we need in this country if we decide to change the electoral system—I think Mr. Mayrand is a partisan of that issue—we shall have a lot of support in this country.
There are two options for him. One is the support of 75% of members of Parliament or a referendum. What do you think of that?
Indeed, and I absolutely agree that there are many challenges with referendums. The clarity of a question is probably one of the most important things. Having a referendum conducted properly, to ensure that the will of voters is expressed clearly, is perhaps a difficult undertaking.
And yet when I hear concerns about a problematic result what I hear is the concern about having a referendum because one might not get the answer one wants. If the question is put correctly and if the evidence is understood, there is no such thing as a problematic result. The result is going to be the will of those who are deciding through the referendum.
I've heard this repeatedly through the debates that we've had and it troubles me, this assumption that the only just result is the result that one advocates. You don't always get what you want in democracy. If you did, we wouldn't need democracy and we wouldn't need elections because we would all just agree with each other about everything. Democracy, whether through referendum or in a representative democracy, is a tool by which we agree to govern ourselves and there is sometimes disagreement.
I, too, agree with your earlier statement. I would love to see consensus at this committee or in the House on any number of items. I think any legislator who ever passed or ever tabled a bill or a motion hoped there would be consensus and that people would agree with them and support it. But the reality is that there are sometimes opposing views that can't be reconciled and this is the business of governance: how to have orderly government and as best as possible, how to allow government to function with the support of people.
These are very difficult questions. As many of the other experts who have spoken to our panel have already stated, there is no magic solution and no matter what system we may end up moving toward, there will be trade-offs and there will be difficulties and people will ultimately remain unsatisfied and think that the system is not perfect.
If I may just switch gears completely to the first point you spoke about—or maybe it wasn't your first but it was early in your opening remarks—I would like to talk about online voting. We had an expert speak to us yesterday who very strongly made a very compelling case. I see all the nods around the table of those who heard it. The witness completely scared the whole room and the committee around the possibility of an election being hacked, and maybe an election being hacked without our knowledge of it being hacked. A country could wake up and find that two years ago the election result that happened was in fact a fraudulent or a hacked result.
This witness was very compelling and there weren't too many people left in the room who had much interest in online voting when she was done. It was characterized by one of my other panellists who asked if there were ways to make it safe, and ways to mitigate, and the analogy was that any such exercise is similar to talking about how to make drunk driving safe, and that there is no way to do it.
Can you suggest a secure...?
I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak here today, and I'd also like to thank all the committee members for deciding to travel around the country to give as many people as possible an opportunity to have their say on this very important issue of reform of the federal electoral system.
The written brief I've presented focuses on three main points: the current voting system provides only weak accountability at either the local or national level, it exaggerates regional divisions, and a system of proportional representation would best meet the principles for electoral reform as stated in the committee's mandate.
I'm very pleased the committee has come here to listen to Albertans speak on this issue. I was born and raised in Alberta in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember seeing a picture of Canada's federal electoral map with Alberta a solid blue, but no matter how blue Alberta was, the federal government in that era was always red. It was a picture that masked the diversity of political opinion here in Alberta as well as in other provinces. It was a picture that fed a deep sense of alienation from federal politics and the federal government that was certainly ever-present when I was growing up here. It was a picture that was, to a significant extent, created by our electoral system.
I strongly believe that the House of Commons is intended to be an inclusive body that broadly represents the national community as a whole. What we have is a body that represents the plurality of opinion groups in 338 local ridings. It excludes other opinions at the local level, which results in an inaccurate reflection of the aggregate strength of those groups at the national level. Accountability at the local level is important. That's why we need proportional representation instead of the situation we have now, where in some ridings, from one election to the next, competing opinion groups take turns choosing the local MP, while in other ridings one group maintains exclusive right to representation in election after election.
Proportional representation provides a group of MPs responsible to the community as a whole. Imagine, for example, a three-member district with two MPs from party A, and one from party B. In the next election, party A knows it's not going to win all three seats, but they want to hold on to the two they have. Party B wants to take one of those seats away from party A, while other parties are also evaluating the possibility of taking a seat away from either A or B.
Instead of a plurality of voters determining one representative for the whole riding, multiple opinion groups are included in selecting several MPs. It would be a more inclusive and accountable system of representation.
My briefing has evaluated four electoral systems—first past the post, the single transferable vote, mixed member plurality, and a list PR system—against the principles of electoral reform described in the committee's mandate. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses; however, the current voting system is clearly out of line with those principles.
I therefore urge the committee to recommend a proportional representation system. Which PR system the committee chooses depends on the weight the members place on each of those principles.
Let me begin by saying it is an honour to be able to present my work to this committee. I'm here today as the creator of an electoral system called dual member proportional, or DMP for short. My objective this afternoon is to introduce DMP to the committee and explain why it would be the best choice to replace our single-member plurality electoral system. I plan to accomplish this by first discussing why DMP should be considered when there are already multiple alternatives to choose from. Then I will briefly explain how DMP works. To conclude, I will highlight how DMP aligns with two of the committee's principles of electoral reform.
Primarily, the committee has heard recommendations to adopt some form of single transferable vote or mixed member proportional. While both of these systems would be more effective than the status quo in terms of ensuring the votes of Canadians are actively reflected in the House of Commons, each one has features that make many Canadians uneasy with the idea of reform.
STV requires the creation of large multi-member districts. Not only would this be a significant departure from the present system, it would also be impractical to bring this type of reform to many areas in rural Canada. To implement MMP it is necessary to establish a second tier of representatives elected through the use of party lists. Both of these features have been met with skepticism by many Canadians.
In contrast to these alternatives, DMP has been designed to eliminate the need for these unpopular features. It doesn't require large multi-member districts, introduce a second tier of representatives, or use party lists. Instead it retains the simple ballot design and highly localized representation of the current system, while ensuring that all Canadians are given an effective vote. A handout has been provided to committee members that shows a sample DMP ballot.
DMP has a comprehensive design and has been subjected to thorough testing and review. This, in addition to its retention of features that are valued by Canadians, has allowed DMP to quickly gain traction. Not only does it now have supporters and collaborators from across the country, but it may become the first proportional electoral system to be approved by voters in a plebiscite and adopted by a provincial government.
On April 15, DMP was officially recommended by the P.E.I. Special Committee on Democratic Renewal for inclusion in the province's upcoming plebiscite. This decision is a testament not only to the level of rigour that went into the development of DMP, but to its ability to make Canadians more comfortable with the idea of electoral system reform.
Briefly put, DMP works by creating two-member districts where the first candidate is elected by plurality and the second by a process that ensures proportionality of the results. More specifically, proportionality is achieved by using the regional voting results to determine the number of seats each party deserves, and the individual district results to determine where each party will win its seats. In other words, DMP optimizes election results by simultaneously working to give each district its most preferred representation and each party its deserved number of seats.
While there are many options when it comes to the number and size of the regions, I'm strongly recommending that Canada be divided into four, as follows: Quebec; Ontario; Atlantic Canada, comprising Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; and western Canada, which would encompass B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the three territories. With this choice of regions, all Canadians would see the full benefits of adopting DMP. In other words, every Canadian would know that their vote would have a meaningful effect on election outcomes.
However, this important principle could easily be compromised by deviating from my recommendation. In particular, I would caution the committee on defining smaller regions. For instance, making each province a distinct region would exclude the territories from reform. Additionally, it would bring a much lower degree of improvement to small provinces, most notably P.E.I., than to large provinces such as Quebec. In my view, it is imperative that the committee give every Canadian, regardless of their place of residence, a meaningful vote. There should be no exceptions.
I will now turn to the committee's principles of electoral reform. While DMP satisfies each of them, I will focus on two.
DMP would align with the principle of effectiveness and legitimacy by virtually eliminating distortions in election outcomes and strengthening the link between voter intention and election of representatives. Unlike some proportional alternatives, it would also respect votes cast for independent candidates. Ultimately, DMP would give every Canadian the confidence that their voice is helping to shape the composition of their government.
Since every MP would belong to and represent a two-member district, DMP would preserve local representation. Importantly, MPs would remain accountable to the local constituents and would rely on their support for re-election. Furthermore, the use of two-member districts would allow Canada to retain the close relationship all MPs have with their constituents. However, DMP would not merely retain the status quo; instead it offers to improve upon this relationship. Simulations of past Canadian elections demonstrate that approximately 80% of districts could be expected to be represented by two different parties in future elections. This would significantly increase the number of Canadians who are represented by a candidate that they voted for, and provide a large majority of Canadians with a choice between two MPs from different parties to approach with their concerns.
This committee has the chance to recommend that Canada start a new chapter in its democratic history. I sincerely hope it doesn't pass up this rare opportunity.
I will now be happy to answer any questions the committee has.
First, I'd like to thank you for inviting me. I'm a retired professional engineer. My job number one these days is to be a grandpa for three kids.
I've prepared something here. I'm not sure where this reform thing is going to go, but I wanted to leave something for my grandchildren, so they at least knew we tried. One of the things that happens when I don't sleep very well at night is that I watch Supreme Court hearings. When I get tired of watching that, I sometimes fool around with mathematics and things like that, to make sure that my left lobe is still connected to my right lobe.
One of the things I ran into, and I have some training in mathematics, of course, because I am an engineer, was a minimization exercise. There is a way to maximize representation in a numeric sense, if we can spot something. The basics of democracy is one man, one vote. The basis of our parliamentary system, both in Ottawa, and in Edmonton, and in our provinces, is that we have something that should be roughly equivalent equality between representatives. We shouldn't have one rep, for example, like Ms. May, who I guess represents about 660,000 votes in this country and has one seat.
Even more disturbing than that.... It's not about PR for me or my kids, as much as we're concerned with the cleavages that have been happening because of the first past the post system. To hear people talk in Ontario and Quebec, as I have in my various previous travels heard people talk about Alberta, you'd think there wasn't anybody here except true blue Conservatives. Fortunately for us, in the last election we stopped the circus that we see playing out in the United States, which is something that Cicero and the Roman senate would have been commenting upon in terms of giving them circuses.
What I stumbled into was this. If you calculate the number of seats allocated within each province by the number of votes by that party, you get a number. It's just a calculation. You then pick the first party with the most votes and allocate the seats in the House by a declining plurality order. If you look inside your own website, you publish two numbers: how many votes and what percentage. If those ridings that have the largest plurality are filled first, then what will happen as you go down the list is that you'll get...in Alberta's case I think we should get 21—how many seats there are mathematically—and you fill the ones with the highest plurality first.
Then the second party gets its chance to fill its seats by plurality order, and guess what? All the parties that came in second, third, and so on, who won outright in first past the post, will also get filled. At the end of the day, out of the 338 seats, you'd only adjust 67 of them in order to get much closer to a situation where each MP represents roughly the same number of voters. It would not be like we have today. And I'm not selecting the Green Party for any reason, other than that's the most exaggerated circumstance.
If you do the numbers as I have, if I didn't screw up here because it was the middle of the night when I was doing this stuff, we had in the last election.... I did the math just to see what the House would be if Joe Green were configuring it. Over a million Canadians voted and are not represented in the House of Commons in any context, either as an elected MP or with a party that they voted for. If you do nothing but just allocate on a declining plurality order, that number decreases quite dramatically, to something in the order of 200,000 people.
Doing nothing but leaving the machinery alone, which as you all know is very well respected around the world.... We do not have hanging chad problems in this country. All of that machinery works well. The judicial recounts work well. We don't have to change any of the machinery. All we need is an adjustment in how the official seats are filled. My suggestion is that if we do it with a declining plurality order, we'll get very close to the objectives of PR and all those various things.
We'd end up with a minority government, but guess what? We don't elect trained seals. We elect each representative to participate in making public policy. You folks make and decide on what the public interest is.
That's all I wish to offer. I did the math, and I sent the spreadsheets, and I hope I didn't make any errors, because it was late at the time. That's all I wish to present. I would not have even appeared, except that it was a trick and it may not be obvious. But that's what I did.
Four. But the region's purpose in any system, whether it's DMP or MMP, is for allocating seats, which party is on a proportional basis. In some systems, the regions and the districts are synonymous and in some they're not. In DMP and MMP, for example, they're not. They're two different entities. You would merge, likely, the districts rather than doubling the House of Commons.
In my report, for instance, I recommended increasing it by about six seats, simply to account for the provinces and territories that don't currently have an even number of seats to merge together. Then it wouldn't require a massive increase to the House of Commons.
The basic idea, in terms of electing the MPs, is you would elect the first candidate by first past the post. This is to ensure that the first-placed candidate is guaranteed to win a seat. That also puts the floor of the representation at basically the current system. Currently, the first-placed candidate is the only one who wins, and it's only the voters who voted for that candidate who are represented. In this system, since we're always electing that candidate, we're always going to be above the representation of the current system. That second MP who's elected would be an additional number of Canadians locally represented on top of the current system.
That second MP would be elected to fulfill the requirements of proportional representation at the regional level. If the Liberals need 10 seats in western Canada, for example, the second seats would account for that. The way those candidates are elected is based on merit. For the Liberal Party, for example, if they needed 10 seats, you would look at the top 10 candidates in that region for the Liberal Party and assign those seats to those candidates.
In some cases there will be conflicts. The Liberal Party might be assigned the same seat as the New Democrats, for example. In those instances you would look at the party that performed better at the local level, and the party that performed better locally would be elected. The party that didn't would have to take the next best seat on the list.
The system is designed to simultaneously elect candidates based on merit, based on their local vote, but also based on the regional decision Canadians made in terms of what they want the House of Commons to look like.
Does that give a bit more clarity to that process?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thanks to the witnesses who are here with us this afternoon.
I will start with Mr. Green.
You have a surname that predestines you to discuss electoral reform.
Your insomnia has served a purpose since you have come up with suggestions to make to us.
First of all, I am glad that all three of you have presented systems that tend toward a better representation of citizen choices and voices, toward a form of proportionality. I must admit that, like all the members of this committee, I suppose, I had a few ideas before starting this tour. I now realize that there are more possible choices among electoral systems than I had previously realized. You have spent time studying the issue in order to propose original models to us.
Mr. Green, before asking you a question, I will make a comment.
We can observe elections and their results through a number of lenses, from a number of angles. One of those angles, I believe, was used by the former leader of the NDP, Ed Broadbent. His idea was to calculate the average number of votes necessary to elect every member from every political party.
Mr. Green, if my memory serves me, you said it took 602,000 or 603,000 votes to elect a member from the Green Party, 82,000 votes for every Bloc Québecois member and 78,000 votes for every NDP member. In other words, every time you reach 78,000 votes, a new NDP member is elected. The average number for the Conservatives was 48,000 votes per member. For the members of the majority party, under our present system, it took only 38,000 boats to elect every Liberal member. So we can say that this is a bargain because it is quick. Every 38,000-vote tranche elects a new Liberal member.
If I understand your system correctly, Mr. Green, people would still vote in the local districts as we do now, but seat distribution would be based on the best results of the candidates from each party. I find your system frightening.
if I understand correctly, in a district where someone comes first, and has therefore won the election, but by a very slim margin because of the division of the votes cast for the party, that person might not become an MP even after winning in his or her district. I think people would find it hard to accept that.
Thank you for allowing me to speak today.
I speak as a concerned Canadian who has travelled and toured all 10 provinces, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. I have voted in every civic, provincial, and federal election since I was eligible to vote 53 years ago. I voted because I knew my vote counted. Every Canadian citizen at the age of majority has the right to vote. They choose whether they want to vote or not. No one is excluded.
Any change will steal the power of my vote. An uncle was called to fight in the First World War for you, me, and all Canadians, to protect our right to vote. Our cousin fought in the front line of the Second World War, for you, me, and all Canadians, for our freedom to vote as we do today. With God's blessings and protection, he returned safely and was able to actively vote in many municipal, provincial, and federal elections.
A neighbour living next to me today survived D-Day. He fought for the freedom to vote as it is today. An uncle paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Battle of Ortona. He rests in the war cemetery where 1,375 Canadians like my uncle paid the ultimate sacrifice. They were killed fighting for the vote we have today. We must support, respect, and keep the way we vote today because of the ultimate sacrifice of my cousin, uncle, neighbour, and thousands of others who fought for this freedom. I have not read, heard, seen, smelled, or felt any reason to change the vote we have today.
As my cousin, uncles, and neighbours fought for the freedom of vote we have today, I am here fighting for our children, grandchildren, my fellow Canadians, to keep the vote we have today. It is not broken. There is nothing to fix. Should I have missed something, let my fellow Canadians decide with a referendum.
I would first like to say I'm very like Mr. Green, in that I am a retired engineer. I do have one grandchild, but I get a good night's sleep.
My notes are quite brief. I want to summarize them quickly, and before I give them, I will paraphrase Winston Churchill: The first past the post system is the best system, except for all the rest. I've written down proportional representation pros and cons, and first past the post pros and cons.
The pros for proportional representation are that it elects more female parliamentarians. That's been proven many times by OECD countries that have proportional representation. It elects more ethnically diverse governments. That's again justified by other jurisdictions. It maximizes the preferential choice of the voting public, and hence creates policies more in line with the wishes of the greatest number. If we had a proportional system in the United States, we wouldn't have had the Iran war with George Bush.
It reduces the possibility of a government being elected as a majority with less than 50% of the vote, unlike 2011 and 2015. It increases the possibility of a coalition, and hence promotes checks and balances on the major party, as with the vast majority of OECD countries. It reduces the possibility of hyper-partisanship—this is somewhat speculative—such as heckling in the House, nepotism, backroom dealing, and lack of transparency. I think it would improve that situation.
Finally, it would improve environmental performance, like Germany, Denmark, Holland, Norway, and most other European countries, which are far more advanced with their environmental policies.
The cons for proportional representation are that it's not perfect, but like many people have said already, all the other ones are not perfect as well.
I'd like to thank the committee for all of your hard work and coming all the way to Alberta. I came all the way from Calgary to deliver my opinion on how to improve our democracy.
I'm 18 years old, soon turning 19, and like many of Canada's youth I am disgusted and disillusioned with the toxic, partisan, and unrepresentative politics that first past the post has contributed to, and I fully support proportional representation.
I myself witnessed the many ills of first past the post when I volunteered for the NDP in 2015. Many people said they would vote for us if not for strategic voting concerns. That is a travesty for democracy. Canadians should vote for something, not against it.
This isn't about sore losers, as some would insinuate. In fact, even though I like the Alberta NDP government, I'll admit it's yet another false majority. Parliament ought to represent the will and the diversity of Canada. It's time we stopped talking about our elections like we do hockey, in terms of winners and losers, and rather built a truly representative democracy.
Yes, we have used first past the post for ages, and there is no perfect system, but we can do much better than the severely flawed first past the post. Do not let the naysayers dissuade you with examples that are incomparable to Canada. I implore the committee to seize this historic opportunity and not to squander it because of deadlock over some relatively minute detail.
The various proportional systems proposed each have their own merits. Pursue a compromise in your deliberations, and do not get bound by your favourite system.
Finally, I'd like to speak firmly against the alternative vote. As many academics have said before you, it would change little of our voting system. Look at Australia, it's still almost a two-party system. It is not real change like the Liberals campaigned on.
While I do believe that everyone in this committee is making a genuine effort, I must still warn the Liberals that unilaterally imposing the alternative vote with its majority government would be completely illegitimate—no offence.
To those on the committee who oppose AV, I urge you to staunchly oppose it in your final deliberations.
Thank you for your time.
I'm 24 years old. I'm here because I love Canada. I'm a proud Canadian citizen, but I'm also a deeply frustrated Canadian. The current first past the post system has many deeply rooted problems. One of them is that over the long run it's incredibly inefficient and counterproductive in the sense that one brand of policies will be implemented over the course of a government or a time, and then undone and a new set put in place by the next one. The result is that Canada as a nation lacks the ability to implement a long-term vision for our future, and I believe this is a critical error.
I urge this committee to recommend a proportional representation system to ensure that every vote gets a voice and that every vote counts. My view is that a system such as DMP or MMP would suit Canada extremely well, and we should feel free to alter the exact type and format of the system to uniquely tailor it to Canada.
A much more serious problem than the electoral system that perhaps hasn't been considered by this committee is that regardless of the electoral system we choose, the way government is formed and operates once the MPs are voted in remains the same, largely influenced by our Westminster system. We can change the way we vote MPs in, but this does not address some of the root problems with how our government functions. We must change the way government operates.
For example, out of control party discipline, routine omnibus bills, increased mandating of whipped voting and caucuses, and a wide variety of dysfunctional practices simply must change. All these and more mean that MPs unfortunately are simply partisan mouthpieces of the party to the public rather than representatives of the public to the Parliament.
Imagine a Parliament where people are sitting not in rows pitted against each other and facing each other, but rather in a circular formation where we value consensus building, where we value deliberation, where we value co-operation, and where we respect each other's views and work toward implementing a long-term vision for Canada under a proportional system.
Please vote for a proportional system and do not put it through a referendum. I believe this is the most democratic way forward.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for hearing me.
Good afternoon. My name is Martin Stout. I am British by birth and upbringing, which you've all guessed by now anyway, but I'm Canadian by choice. I've been a resident of Beaumont for 25 years, and I've been a Canadian citizen for 21. I've voted in elections in both countries as often as I could.
Britain and Canada both elect democratic governments by what's known as the Westminster parliamentary system. In such a system, we, the voting public, do not elect a president, a commander-in-chief, a prime minister, or even a government, as some other countries do. We elect members of Parliament, 338 of them, from ridings across the country, and it's those elected MPs who decide who shall be in the government and who shall be the prime minister.
The power and authority to do this, where does it come from? Where does the government get the power to make legislation that binds us all and to levy taxes we must all pay? That authority derives exclusively from the mandate that we grant them by voting for them. It's only by voting that we can give our consent to be governed in this way, regardless of the actual outcome of the vote. This consent, expressed through voting, is what gives Parliament its power and authority to govern us. It follows logically and inevitably that neither government nor a prime minister has the right, the power, or the authority to change the counting method, or the value of each of our votes, without our expressed consent. The best way to do that is by offering options to change the vote, including an option of no change, through a referendum or a plebiscite in all 338 ridings for every voter to participate in.
In every case I've been able to find, in a Westminster style of government—and that's Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Great Britain, provincial governments here in Canada, Ontario, B.C., Prince Edward Island, all of them—when they've sought to change the voting system, they have gone through a referendum or a plebiscite. I believe very strongly that to change the voting system without such a referendum, without seeking the consent of the voters, would be illegitimate.
I didn't bring a lot of notes here and I wasn't here for the whole discussion. I'm not going to get into much of the technicalities because I think there are people who are smarter and more knowledgeable who may have already done this, but I want to make a comment about our present system and how it runs.
When I was 14, I went on a school trip to see how Parliament worked in Britain, and after about 20 minutes, I turned to the teacher and said, “You wouldn't allow us to behave like that in class, would you?” She said, “Absolutely not.” I don't know how many people here have sat through the whole of question period. I've managed about 20 minutes before I start pulling my hair out, as you can see, and I can tell you with this present system we have now, when we've basically got two parties, watching question time is like watching two hockey teams try to score points on each other.
They're not discussing policy, they're not discussing how to run the country, they're trying to score points on each other, and this situation is because of the first past the post system. We need to have a hung parliament. Hey, they'd have to discuss things. This would be a complete breakthrough, and there's no sign of it happening now with the present system. Believe me, as a Brit, an ex-Brit...I don't know if I can renounce my citizenship with the conduct of the British Parliament, but I think I should. With the present system, it's all confrontation and everything gets lost. It's very frustrating. No wonder hardly anybody turns out to vote. No wonder the young people say, “Oh my God, look at that.” I'm not a young person and I say the same thing.
We have to fix the system. It's outrageous. It doesn't work. And if you continue to use a system that doesn't work, because of tradition, then you just aren't getting it. We need to change the system. There are many different systems in use around the world, but very few countries use the first past the post system, and it is not democratic.
Hello, my name is David. I'm going to to talk to you about STV, voter's choice electoral reform. I am honoured to be here to speak to you on the traditional lands of Treaty 7.
I view electoral reform through the eyes of a voter not associated with any political party. My goals are to choose an electoral system that is reasonably proportional, to ensure all voter groups are represented by an MP in every district and to empower voters. The action I think we need to take is to implement STV in five-member and seven-member districts, and to implement quotas to increase diversity.
My recommendation, as I said, is single member transferable, in five- to seven-member districts, prioritizing seven-member districts. I would increase district sizes and maintain 338 MPs. Canada would have 56 electoral districts, with an average of six MPs per district.
Electing an MP is about voters choosing a representative. The elected body of MPs should represent each particular school of thought and the diversity of people in each district. The courts have indicated that the charter gives us the right to effective representation. STV is an opportunity for both effective representation and equal legislative powers. Both the government and the opposition would have an MP in most electoral districts. Most voters would see an MP corresponding to their choice of political party within their district. Voter choice among candidates within each party empowers voters.
On district sizes, the question that comes up is whether five-member and seven-member districts are too large in area for voters. I emphasize voters. Let’s compare Canada to Australia. Both countries have large areas with low population. The size of Ontario and Quebec are about the same as western Australia, which is one electoral district. Ontario and Quebec, under this scheme, would have 31 districts. The average Senate district size in Australia is 50% larger than Alberta.
In terms of diversity, STV can encourage diversity. Australia elected 38% women to the Senate using STV, compared with 28% women in the House of Representatives using alternative vote. Two aboriginal senators were elected, which is equal to the percentage of aboriginal people in the population. I would include quotas for women and indigenous peoples to accelerate gender and diversity balance.
I have consulted some online research, and the research by Carey and Hix indicates that small multi-member districts are best, and they quote four to eight members. Five-member districts reduce disproportionality by 75%. Government performance in small member districts is better than or equal to single-member districts or large member districts.
Let’s give everyone an aligned district MP. Research has indicated that only 4% of voters prefer a local MP if they are not aligned. About 40% of voters prefer an MP if they are aligned.
Here are my conclusions. Why not have effective representation for all voters? Why not give equal legislative power to all voters? Why not have an aligned MP in every district? Why not have a government and opposition MP in most districts? Why not have a choice of candidates within each political party? Why not increase diversity? Why not empower voters? Why not STV?
I'm going to take a very direct approach very much the same as David Blain has. I'm going to pitch for one system and talk about some of the problems associated with it.
Proportional representation is without any question the key to finding a fair electoral system to replace our currently unfair and illogical one. I'm going to give you a few notes on open-list mixed member proportional representation. For conciseness, I'll call it MMP. I know that obviously does not include all MMP systems.
I support MMP because it's a simple balloting system. It does not increase the number of MPs. It connects MPs geographically with voters, and I'll explain how later. It ensures that every MP faces the electorate, that's why it's an open system, and it yields no extra power to political parties. Now, all of those things, of course, could be changed, but it has that possibility. I recommend a MMP system designed as it could be so that every voter would have the option of placing a single mark on the ballot exactly as we do now to produce a complete ballot.
The next best system, the one we just heard about, would have asked voters to identify their rank preferences from a list of perhaps 20 or more candidates. One of the problems with that system is that there's a lot of arm-twisting involved in getting people to use the lists, the orders of selection that particular parties want, and I think we should avoid that.
I can't predict the exact form of MMP that it would take, except that elections would be independent in each province to avoid constitutional constraints. Under MMP, larger provinces would be further divided into what I call proportionality zones, with voting populations of, say, 10 times the current average riding in the country now. Each zone would contain ridings in my model—it would be six, but it doesn't matter—maybe a third larger than the current average. Each of those ridings within each proportionality zone would elect a single MP, the same way as we do now. The remaining MP positions that were freed up by enlarging the ridings would be elected based on the popularity of parties within the zone. These I call “MPs at large”, avoiding the term “top-up MPs”, which makes them sound like something that's floating around in the air and not doing anything.
Voters could choose to support a different candidate or party in electing the MPs at large if they wished. All the candidates in the “members at large” election would include all party candidates in the zone, and perhaps some independents. If you want me to talk about that later, I will. The political attachments of the entire group of MPs and “MPs at large” would reflect the pattern of support expressed by the voters in the zone. The “MPs at large” would be jointly responsible with the ordinary MPs for what's now called riding work. That's throughout the zone. Remember there would be exactly the same number of MPs to deal with the number of electors as there are now. So the work would have to be done, and it would have to be done by all of them.
That basically is how I would see the election going, but my original brief was a response to a suggestion by Fair Vote Canada, of which I'm a very proud member, a suggestion that I don't feel comfortable with.
First, the system divides the rural and urban districts from each other. It uses two quite different electoral systems, STV in urban regions and MMP in rural regions, which is hardly a simplifying idea, especially since, as I see it, voting in an MMP election is a lot easier than voting in an STV election. To be fair, MMP is conceptually more complex than STV, but the voter can use it quite easily.
My second objection to it that is the division might be hard to dislodge. If urbanization continues in the country, division of the electoral process in two might significantly impede adjusting to the demographic change.
I suggest that both urban and rural regions use MMP, and the electoral zones should normally include both urban and rural ridings. Given the requirement for electoral zones with equal-sized voting populations, this would commonly be a practical necessity.
To go on to a few other problems, in a country this large, there must be occasional special circumstances. For example, some current ridings are large and under-populated, and increasing their size could be impractical. The system must be flexible enough to absorb this reality. I suggest that these ridings be integrated unchanged—or with little change—into MMP zones and counted as standard ridings. The improperly high MP-to-voter ratio would be at least partly balanced by the lesser impact of the smaller ridings on the “MPs at large” elections. It would be ideal, however, to only have one such under-populated riding in each zone.
As for other problems, clearly, the three territories have to be treated somewhat differently, and Prince Edward Island is also a dilemma, but it's constitutionally protected against changing its overrepresentation. However, it could use MMP with its four-member team of MPs, which is constitutionally guaranteed. I suggest two ridings and two MPs at large.
Finally, we must consider aboriginal peoples. I'm quite horrified that there seems to have been very little discussion of this question.
It is the responsibility of the federal government, and of the Parliament, I suppose, to interface with aboriginal peoples to ensure that they are represented in a manner that's acceptable to them. That, I think, is the crux of the matter. They have to be represented in the way that they feel is right, but also, of course, in a manner that's fair to the general population.
Thank you to both of our panellists, the members of the audience, and those who will speak at the open mike to follow.
I'll maybe allow Mr. Blain to continue with regard to Mr. Aldag's line of questioning. I'm quite interested in this as well.
In light of testimony we heard earlier this week when we travelled to Whitehorse...and indeed from some of the observations of our committee member Nathan Cullen, who was with us earlier in the week, who represents a large riding in British Columbia. As members of Parliament, we've had a lot of discussion from the members here. Under the current system, when the election is over we are—all of us, I hope—committed to representing all of our constituents, regardless of who they voted for. We take a lot of steps to try to do that through meeting with constituents. In a city, where you can have an office that's accessible to most people, that's one thing, but for these large ridings, a member of Parliament has to do a lot travel in between all the rest of their parliamentary duties in Ottawa.
I'm glad Mr. Nash mentioned urbanization. The process of urbanization makes ridings bigger and bigger and bigger over time, because the size of a riding doesn't typically change. When there's redistribution for population growth, it adds cities to where more people live, and thus makes the other areas larger and larger. Any type of system of proportionality I think inherently exacerbates that issue in the north.
Specifically in the Yukon, there seemed to be no interest, from any of the panellists or audience members, in lumping together territories. Even those who preferred proportional representation perhaps for the rest of Canada did not want to see it in their own area.
I'll let perhaps each of you address that.
I think what we're seeing tonight, especially today and in the past 10 days, is democracy at its best. You have in front of you 13 MPs from five different parties, sharing not exactly the same opinion but sharing the same goal: serving our people. That's what democracy is all about. That's what our system is all about. This is why I thank the chair again. He let me express myself, just for a few seconds during the last session. Everyone here, what you are seeing tonight is exactly what we're doing in the House of Commons, except for question period. I do recognize that. I can also tell you I love question period, but that's not the point.
Let's talk about democracy. You share the principle of democracy, as we all share it, but let's talk about a referendum. Isn't it the best way to know exactly where people stand?
I do recognize the fact that, yes, this is a complex issue and we shall take all the time necessary. I'm sure you have remarked by my accent that I'm from Quebec, and we had the experience of a very touchy, difficult decision to make: get out or stay in Canada. Technically, constitutionally speaking, the PQ government could have called its independence just by a majority vote in the National Assembly. Thanks to René Lévesque, he said that this will shall be expressed by the people, by a referendum.
What we're talking about today, maybe we cannot share the same point of view, but as far as I'm concerned, the electoral system is the most precious institution in any democracy, because all the rest belongs to the way we elect our representatives. The Prime Minister, the cabinet, budget, external affairs, defence policy, everything belongs to the way we elect our people, so this is, as far as I'm concerned, a most important institution. Will this change that without asking people the question? I want to hear your thoughts on that.
I wanted to respond to the argument that having a referendum on an issue that involves rights is somehow a terrible anti-rights position to take. As a historian, I would submit that this argument is ahistorical and inaccurate.
I'm also a former resident of Australia, a country very similar to Canada in many ways, a country that is, however, characterized by the fact that it can't amend its constitution without a referendum. It has had a number of referenda on rights issues, and we have a chance to see how enlightened the politicians are versus the people, when one of these things occurs.
In the early 1950s, the Menzies government in Australia sought to take away the right of people to join the Communist Party, to ban communism. The courts, quite reasonably, ruled that unconstitutional. The Menzies government then tried to seek, via a referendum, a mandate to take away the rights of communists, and the people rejected it. The people were more enlightened and were stronger defenders of rights than was the government.
Similarly, in the 1960s the Australians had to amend their constitution in order to give voting rights to aboriginals. The majority in favour of extending voting rights to aboriginals was 90.77%, the highest majority they've had on any of the referenda in the nation's history. Australians fervently adopted the expansion of democracy when given a chance to do so in a referendum.
We've heard a trope. Neither of the two witnesses here have said it, but people in the audience have done so. They did so last night, and they did so the night before in Victoria. If we'd had the ability to have a referendum on women's votes in Canada, women would not have been granted the vote in 1917. A referendum would have effectively prevented women from being granted the right to vote in 1917.
I thought I might just read to you from the Wikipedia article about the Wartime Elections Act—Elizabeth, you might enjoy this—the act that granted the vote to women. Here's what it says:
The Wartime Elections Act was a bill passed on September 20, 1917 by the Conservative government of Robert Borden during the Conscription Crisis of 1917....
The act gave the vote to the wives, widows, mothers, and sisters of soldiers serving overseas—
But not other women.
—They were the first women ever to be able to vote in Canadian federal elections, and were also a group that was strongly in favour of conscription. The act also disenfranchised “enemy-alien” citizens naturalized after March 31, 1902, unless they had relatives serving in the armed forces.
The purpose of this law was to rig the election. Would that have passed a referendum? No, it would not. The people are better protectors of democratic rights via referendum than are the politicians, who are self-serving to a fault when given a chance to change their electoral system.
Mr. Blain, you asserted...or actually, maybe you, Professor Nash, that if governments try to manipulate the electoral system, the voters can punish them. That is much harder to do after the rules of the game have been changed. I thought I was going to beat you in hockey, but it turns out you decided we're playing soccer now.
In Canada, in Manitoba, in the early 1920s the government of the day changed the electoral system to STP in urban areas and alternative vote in rural areas as a way of freezing out the labourites, who were rising at the time. The same thing was done in Alberta. Those governments were not punished for that. They benefited from that. Then when that system started to work against the governments in the 1950s in both provinces, they switched to first past the post. They weren't punished for that either, and it benefited them.
In 1918 in Australia, in order to prevent the Labor Party from rising, the National and Liberal parties, realizing that they could benefit from each other's second preferences, adopted the alternative or preferential voting system. Were they punished? No. They kept Labor out of power, a system that I say still benefits them to this day vis-à-vis Labor. Now, in B.C., in 1951, the government miscalculated. So one time out of five, the government is actually punished for abusing democracy, for rigging the rules to benefit itself.
I see that as a very poor record. I submit to you that the people are the best guardians of rights. History demonstrates it. Politicians are the worst people; we are interested parties.
I hope we come to a consensus on this committee. The consensus could be in favour of multi-member proportional or STV or one of a number of other possibilities, including the very interesting one we heard earlier today from Mr. Graham, but it has to be on a referendum to confirm that the people of Canada think it's a good idea, that they get to vote on it beforehand. It is not reasonable to say to people, “We are going to take a system and pass it for your benefit. You get no say on whether it's good until it's already done.”
What happens if you vote against it after the fact, after we've had an election, and we finally get our referendum and it turns out people didn't like it? I hear the arguments, in Ontario it was voted down, in P.E.I. it was voted down, people are not well-enough informed. Well, I submit that if you can't convince the people to change something, you have no right to say, “Therefore, I get to impose it on them. It's their fault that I could not convince them of that.” That is so undemocratic. And to do it in the service of changing an electoral system that is supposed to be more enlightened, that is quite unacceptable, I submit to you.
I know I've used up all my time in a rant instead of with questions, but I really wanted to get that off my chest for the benefit of everybody.
I am here today to voice my support for a referendum. I want to present two reasons for this. First, the town halls I've attended in Edmonton so far haven't resulted in a consensus being formed amongst those attending. Second, in the 2015 election no political party actually campaigned for any particular form of proportional representation beyond just saying that we'd have no more first past the post elections.
With regard to the town halls in Edmonton, I've attended all three so far, as have many people in the audience today. What I've noticed in each of these is that while a lot of viewpoints are expressed for different forms of proportional representation, and people can tend to agree that proportional representation will have some general benefits, we can never really determine which is the best form of it. There are so many different forms, including STV and multi-member proportional representation, but there's no consensus on which one is the best.
You know, we come up with these anecdotes on the potential benefits—i.e., we might engage more young people to vote—but there's no real basis for these statements, especially given the fact that none of these people presenting them can ever agree on which form of proportional representation will results in benefits, what those benefits will be, or the best system for this. Ultimately I found at these town halls that no consensus was ever formed. It's really hard for me to justify these processes as a consultation when we don't even know what Canadians want as a result.
My second reason for supporting a referendum is the fact that no party actually campaigned for any particular form of proportional representation in the last election. We had political parties stating that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post, but no actual proposal or alternative was put forward for Canadians to support. As a result, Canadians didn't actually vote for electoral reform. They just voted for parties, and maybe they had other ballot box issues driving them to the polls to support them for these issues. We didn't have the Liberal Party saying they supported alternative vote, and we didn't have the Conservatives saying they supported first past the post, so it's a little bit rich, in my opinion, to hear the statements, especially from the minister, that Canadians voted for electoral reform. I don't see this as the case when no particular form of electoral reform was actually proposed going forward in this election.
Given that no consensus was actually formed at town halls and given the fact that no political party actually campaigned for any particular type of electoral system in the last election, it is my understanding that the only way to actually gain an understanding of what Canadians want is by a referendum.
I apologize for being the last again, I didn't realize I had to re-register for this session.
I want to thank you all for being here.
I'm really concerned about the planet. The destruction of the environment is by far the most important problem facing humankind at the moment, and, unfortunately, not just humankind. We have to change the system so we can get on with it.
As you may understand, I'm a bit of a radical, and I represent a large group of Canadians who have a superficial understanding of what's going on, and I'm really mad because we're not getting on with it. And unless we change the system, we'll continue to blah, blah, blah about it. We don't even mention the environment enough. This is the most important thing facing the world today, and if we had a different electoral system, then small parties—and of course I'm thinking about the Green Party, but it applies to any party—would have a say, and they must have a proper say, because the main parties are just the status quo, and the status quo is consume as much as you can, make as much money as you can, and to hell with everything else. And we have to change the whole system so that the smaller parties, and the groups that are concerned about what is happening to the planet can have a voice.
I admire what our gentleman from Australia said; one of the problems with referendums is that people are scared that the vote will go the wrong way. That's democracy. The majority of Canadians want much more action on the environment and climate change and do not want to have to support the gang of NATO that is led by the bully south of here going around invading other countries because we don't like the way they do things.
Let's change the system and get true democracy happening. I'd like to get rid of parties. Why do we have parties? We're in a team game. I want the individual to have a say. If the results don't go the way you want, then too bad.
Thank you very much.