The meeting is officially opened. Welcome to the 37th meeting of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. It's hard to believe that we've met that many times, but we've been quite busy, since I think it was June or July.
For the benefit of the witnesses, we met quite a bit during the summer in Ottawa, including quite intensively in August.
We've been on the road for two and a half weeks now. It's great to be in St. John's, Newfoundland. It seems that wherever we go, the weather is nice, so I think we're bringing some good weather. That may augur well for our report.
We have three witnesses with us today for this first panel. We have Amanda Bittner, associate professor at Memorial University. We have Christopher Dunn and Robert Ring.
I'll give you a brief overview of how we proceed. Each witness will have five minutes to present. Then we have one round of questions and answers when each member of the committee is allotted five minutes to engage with the witnesses. That five minutes includes questions and answers. If you find you weren't able to answer a question properly because of the time limits, it doesn't mean you can't finish your thought the next time you have the floor. In fact, sometimes a member, when it comes around to them, will say, “You weren't able to finish your point answering so and so. Please take some time to finish your thought.” We're pretty flexible in the interest of gathering the most insight that we can.
Without further ado, we'll start with Professor Bittner, for five minutes, please.
Thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak today.
I've been studying elections and voting for a number of years now. While my primary focus is voting behaviour, both in Canada and other contexts, I do spend a great deal of time thinking about the rules of the game that affect how parties, candidates, and voters interact, how they understand their roles, and how they make decisions. To be frank, rules matter. They affect everything, but not always in ways that we might expect.
I'm not here to advocate for a specific system, but I do have two main points that I'd like to make. I'd also be happy to answer any questions the committee has, either on these points or other issues.
I'm not a francophone, but I hope my French will be adequate enough to answer your questions in French. We shall see.
I know that this committee has been touring the country and has heard testimony from a number of different witnesses, academic and otherwise, and I imagine at this point you have heard it all. Academics don't agree on what's the best system, interest groups don't agree on what's the best system.
As a result, there appear to be many options with many outcomes, and I think this is actually pretty accurate. There are multiple options and all of those systems do have trade-offs, so even small tweaks can have an important impact and major changes can lead to unanticipated consequences.
My first main point is that before the country embarks on change, I think it's important to talk about the goals. We really cannot talk about solutions until we clearly identify the problems. What is the government hoping to achieve with electoral reform? What is this committee hoping to achieve? What motivates all this work and all of these hearings?
What do we think is actually wrong with the SMP system? Until we clearly establish the answer to that question, it's impossible for us to find a good solution. All systems have trade-offs, as I mentioned, and at the root of each is a normative idea about how politics should be.
When we talk about SMP as political science instructors, usually quite quickly, which is very confusing, we often point to five key shortcomings.
It tends to distort votes and creates false majorities, so we get a majority in the legislature where a majority did not exist in the population. It can produce wrong winners. Minority interests and smaller parties often get shut out of the legislature. It can lead to wasted votes. Close observers of Canadian politics, in particular, have pointed to a key shortcoming of our system, which is that it exacerbates and magnifies regional distortions in parties' representation, thus perhaps contributing to regional strife.
These five points are not new to you and I imagine you've heard these points at least 50 times by now.
When we talk about the benefits of SMP, we often refer to the following three features. First, it's familiar, we know it and we understand it, sort of. Second, the system includes an identifiable local representative. You are those reps, you know how important that is to Canadians. Third it tends to produce stable majority governments. Again, this is not news.
Then why am I bringing this simple introduction to political science, this listed system of pros and cons, to the committee like this?
It's not clear to me that the government has clearly laid out what it perceives to be the problem with SMP in advance of embarking on this process. Furthermore, which system we prefer depends on our priorities and values. If we as individuals value co-operation, negotiation, and having more voices heard in the legislature, we might prefer a more proportional system. However, if the local candidate is a bigger priority, or if we prefer decisive governments with lots of power to “get things done” then we might prefer a plurality system like the one we have. The important thing here is that values undergird everything and it's impossible to dissociate those two things.
I'm agnostic about system choice. As I stated, all systems have trade-offs and there's no perfect system. There are pros and cons to our system, and there are pros and cons to systems we might adopt.
The thing that I'm not agnostic about is the desirability of making a change before we identify clearly what the problem is with the status quo. This is not to say that I don't think we have problems. My issue is that I don't believe that we have sufficiently informed Canadians about what we think the problem is and what specifically we want to fix, because I think that different problems have different solutions and that those things will have to be traded off. There is no perfect system.
This brings me to my second key point. In suggesting emphatically that we need to establish the problem before we can find the solution, it occurs to me that the committee is likely to press me on what I perceive the problem to be. I might as well throw this in, just to give you something. Canada is a country that's built on diversity—diverse geography, diverse history, diverse people with diverse backgrounds, diverse sets of interests, priorities, values, and in particular, diverse sets of ideas of how society ought to look, what we ought to do, what our goals ought to be.
Our system of national politics, as it exists right now, does fail us because it does not represent Canadians as it could or as it should. While our Prime Minister declares that it's 2016, the under-representation of traditionally marginalized groups continues. Women constitute only about 25% of the Legislature, less than 15% of the Legislature is composed of visible minority MPs, and only 10 of the 338 sitting MPs are indigenous.
This is important for two reasons.
First, it gives Canadians a skewed idea of what it means to be a politician. Millions of people, people like me, look at Parliament and don't see it as a place where they belong. Our children growing up today are learning about what it means to be a citizen of Canada, but they look at Parliament and don't see themselves there. This is a major problem.
Second, the lack of diversity in the Legislature stymies progress. Diversity of experience provides a diversity of voices, a diversity of perspectives, and has the potential to lead to new and innovative solutions to contemporary policy problems. Thus, our system fails us symbolically, but it also fails us on a practical level.
This is the problem with our politics as I see it, and I strongly believe that this is worth fixing.
This is just one informed opinion. The important thing here is that before we get serious about making changes, the committee needs to identify what problem it wants to solve. This is my opinion. I think that's one problem and there might be a number of solutions to that problem. I urge you as a committee to take this suggestion seriously as you move forward in this process.
Without clearly outlining the problem, it's really difficult to find a solution. Making a change just for change's sake is not a good idea.
First of all, I'd like to stress that my research background is not in electoral systems or the subject matter of the committee, but is in fact of a more generalist method. What I bring to the committee hopefully is a more general perspective. In terms of this committee, that is the international perspective.
What I'm going to do is not so much make a recommendation but establish questions for discussion. My paper therefore is suggestive in nature. I see a basic conundrum at work with regard to electoral systems. That is that national leadership in English-speaking North Atlantic countries tends to centralize power, especially where external affairs are concerned. On the other hand, electoral reform tends to decentralize it. This point is generally ignored.
The second point is that the SMP system is remarkably durable in these three north Atlantic countries. That must be because there is a political calculus at work with the leadership that points to a utility for their purposes. The utility that I suggest they have is that power shared is power diminished. The point they bring therefore is not to be ignored.
Third, these facts have implications for electoral systems. In the paper I have presented and prepared, I'm going to tease out some of the rationale that I think is being used by these leaders. I use a concept called the North Atlantic triangle. The North Atlantic triangle is a concept used by historians in the past. It basically refers to relationships among America, Britain, and Canada. I suggest that it be applied to electoral reform simply because these three countries are the holdouts with regard to SMP. They are holdouts against electoral reform. They are holdouts, I suggest, because of the nature of the advantages it offers. Especially in external affairs, these are significant.
I suggest that there is a common culture at work with regard to these three countries. The leadership in them regards electoral reform as a contextual element.
In other words, changes in one element affect other elements of the system. This implies a certain caution with regard to its reform. Leadership regards these matters as being in alignment. Therefore, they are cautious about making reforms that affect one part of the system because it might affect the whole system.
I think it's especially important to realize that the considerations for those who have involved themselves in electoral reform are especially important in matters of international diplomacy, international conflict and peacekeeping, trade and environmental matters.
I have much more to say. Perhaps that can be teased out in discussion with the members.
That's a great question. This is one of those answers that may or may not satisfy the committee at the end of the day. For every problem, there are multiple solutions. You could go wholeheartedly into massive changes that might address some of the solutions and then might create their own problems, or you could try to tweak little things along the way. A variety of solutions are possible.
One thing I would say is that while it is the case that proportional systems tend to be associated with greater levels of diversity, that link is still dependent on a commitment from parties to put forward diverse lists of candidates. We often talk point to New Zealand or Germany, for example, where you have party lists and local ridings, and you zipper in candidates—women or men, or different ethnic groups, or things like that—which can be done, and is done a lot. It doesn't have to be done, though. If that's the issue that the committee sees as being the biggest problem and they want to address that, then we need to ensure that the rules created ensure that this is the priority.
A lot of things can be done without massive system change to encourage women, minority, and aboriginal candidates to be part of the system and to be sitting in the legislature. A lot of the responsibility falls to parties. Parties could do a lot more than they're doing right now to encourage those groups to apply and to ensure that the rules are such that those groups must apply or that they must find those groups.
I know you have a private member's bill in Parliament right now that seeks to penalize parties for not putting forward parity candidates in elections. That's a great way to do it. Lots of folks say they don't believe in quotas. They don't believe in affirmative action. That's fine. But try as we might to fight against quotas, all the evidence is that they actually do work. Once you have those quotas in place, you then lay the groundwork for future generations. We talk about the role model effect and the fact that once you see people in Parliament, you believe you can be there too. It's likelier that you will consider that as a job for yourself. It's likelier that you won't need to be asked or recruited 25,000 times before saying yes. Once we have those quotas in place, the system changes slowly. The culture changes as well, and it's not that big of a deal. Suddenly things are working the way they ought to.
So we might say, “Oh, I don't want to just hire diversity candidates”, or “I don't want to get a job just because I'm a woman”, because who wants to think that? At the same time, we know that all the evidence shows that there are lots of ways you can justify who you hire, who you choose, and who you recruit. It's really easy to use those merit arguments against the groups that are not being seen there. So forcing parties to do this is a really good idea.
Professor Bittner, thank you as well. You both said that we need to identify the problem, which we've spent a fair amount of time doing, because if you don't do that first....
And thank you for mentioning bill about changing the way that parties are reimbursed from the public. If you don't seek a better and more diverse field of candidates.... You can choose to do that under his bill, but you don't get as much money back from the public. Follow the money, as they say. It's a great incentive for parties. Because there is no electoral system—well, there are some electoral systems out there that really push....
We had a big change in this last election, yet we only saw a 1% gain in the number of women in Parliament. That ranks Canada as 64th in the world in terms of the number of women who sit in our national legislature, which is not what I think most Canadians would have expected or even know about. I find when I relate that Iraq and South Sudan and Afghanistan are doing better in terms of getting women into parliament, most Canadians don't believe me. However, Google confirms it.
I have a question around these trade-offs.
You talked about empowerment of local voices versus local MPs. We have proportional systems, and Mr. Ring has one here, but there are many others, as you know, that still have a local MP. I don't know if I'd see that necessarily as having to choose.
I'm looking at voices expressed in two ways.
One is the voice of the voter going into the ballot box and having that voice reflected in Parliament. I think that leads to some of those people being reflected in Parliament—the question you raised earlier—but also that sense of “I have some power here.” Voting, as one witness told us, is mostly an irrational act. One vote very rarely ever turns the tide of an election, yet collectively we know it matters.
However, how do we know and feel that it matters if, as in the last election, 9.2 million votes out of the 18 million votes that were cast elected nobody, were just an expression of something else? That's one thing I'd like you to address.
The second thing is—and this has often happened in Canada—what happens where entire regions, major metropolitan groups, are shut out entirely from government, or opposition, or sometimes both, which is a remarkable feat. You have entire groups of Canadians, like with the last Conservative government—Atlantic Canada, or Newfoundland, for example, or the entire cities of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, for the most part—or you don't have voices in opposition.... I think those both need attention.
Our system sometimes drives us to where.... There are no opposition voices coming from Atlantic Canada right now. That matters for the country, but also for people who happen to not ascribe to the current government's ideas. This is what we're trying to solve.
Do you have any research or evidence around proportional systems or other systems, other than SMP, first past the post, that can help a country like Canada make sure there is regional representation in both opposition and government, as well as increasing the power of individual voters when they go to the ballot box, to know that their vote is going to matter?
Super briefly, no small task there.
I would say that probably the easiest way to look at this would be doing something similar to Robert's suggestion in that you have ridings where you add proportionality into the mix. You still have a clear regional representative however you choose to elect, whether it's by a system like his, some kind of mixed system, and so on.
The biggest issue, though—this is where the trade-off between that voice that you're speaking about and having a local rep becomes more tangible—is that, unless you grow the size of the legislature, which a lot of folks don't want to do, you end up with larger ridings where a person who represents me here comes from the other end of the island, let's say, or Labrador.
There are a lot of folks who argue that's not desirable. Personally, I'm not that big on regional representation. I think that we are exalting regional diversity over other forms of diversity, and I would actually rather see us prioritize other forms of quotas because that's what the system really does, it provides quotas for regions. We're saying that's the most important source of representation, which I don't think is actually a priority in the same way as I think that other forms of representation are.
Again, that goes to that issue of values, choices, and priorities. You could certainly achieve a local representative along with this larger voice that you speak of, this desire to not have wasted votes if you had a system change. That doesn't guarantee my other bigger priority, though, which is this issue of what kinds of people are getting elected. So, for me, that's the most important issue, and system change could lead to that, but not necessarily. That's where the tension is.
I'd like to thank all three of our panellists today. There is a great diversity of opinion. It's a great way to start our day here in St. John's.
Professor Bittner, I'm going to start with you. I really liked how you laid out the dilemma that we're facing, the million-dollar question: what is the problem that we're trying to fix? With my colleague Mr. Cullen, you talked about some of it, and with Ms. Sahota, you talked about some. What we're trying to get at is that there's a range of issues out there. It's not just one clear problem but the lack of representativeness, the lack of diversity. There are a number of issues.
One that I heard when I was out knocking on doors during the campaign period was that people had just simply checked out. We've heard about declining participation rates in western democracies. I know that when I was knocking on doors, there were a number of people who felt, as we've heard on this tour, that they have never elected a winner, that their vote has never counted. A woman who came to one of my town hall meetings was in her 80s and had started voting as soon as she could, but had never elected a winner. She was still going strong and she still believed in democracy, but she felt that she wanted to have her vote really count once before her time was up.
What I'm looking at and what I'd like your thoughts on is that we've heard of a number of strengths of proportional representation, and I think there is something there to deal with many of the issues we're facing. However, I have constituents who feel that the current system is working fine.
My colleague Ms. Romanado was telling us that on the way from downtown Halifax to the airport today, they got talking with the cab driver about what we're doing. His question or comment was, “Well, there's nothing wrong with the system; why are you messing with it?”
So there's this broad range of perspectives. We could jump in with a wholesale change and go to a proportional system such as Mr. Ring has given us, or any number of other ones that are out there. We could also step back and say, “You know what? We'll tinker around the edges with first past the post.” Things such as the quotas, the incentives, and mandatory voting could help with participation rates. There are a whole bunch of things.
Do you have any thoughts you can offer us on the best bang for the buck in starting to deal with some of these issues? Do we go with a full-on change of systems to PR to deal with the suite of problems we're trying to face, or should we keep the existing system and do a whole bunch of stuff around the edges that will deal with some of these issues?
Do you have any thoughts or the million-dollar answer?
I would say a few things.
First of all, I think you're right that voter engagement is a major problem. It's especially a problem among youth. If we look at the voter turnout rates there, we see it's a huge problem. It went up a little bit in the last election, and that's a good sign.
There are lots of things that we could tinker with that would make the system work better without making major changes. I would say quotas are one, and campaign finance reform is probably also good. I think—and this speaks to Mr. Cullen's observation—the most important characteristic of a parliament is the opposition; it's not so much who's in government. This speaks to the issue of power-sharing to a certain extent, the idea that if we have a strong opposition, we have better policies. You don't actually want to have concentrated power, which speaks to Professor Russell's observation, and we could make lots of analogies to our households. I am happier if my partner and I share power, as opposed to him dominating the household and imposing policies on me. That's not obviously what's happening in my household, but I'm just saying....
If I didn't have any knowledge or ideas or things like that, then I'd be doing a bad job in running my own household, because I wouldn't be participating fully, so having people engaged and having a strong opposition are the most important things. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that the turnout goes up when voters think their voice matters, whether or not it's rational from a economic voter perspective. We know it's not rational; one vote doesn't make a very big difference most of the time, or almost never.
Those are two things I would suggest, as well as more committees that have power. There are a lot of things that you could do with Parliament itself to restructure its operation to make it work better. A committee such as this one, with all parties sitting on it, is a great thing, because it means you're getting all the voices all the time.
Giving you guys power is probably also good. You don't want to be told by the Prime Minister what you have to do once you've done all this work, right? You want to actually think your work is worth something. Empowering legislators such as yourselves, and in particular opposition members, to say what they want to say, to have the resources they need to do their job, to hold government to account effectively is going to make voters think that what they're doing makes a difference. That's because even if you don't elect the winner, you're electing somebody who has a lot of power, because you're electing the opposition, and that's actually more important in some ways than electing the winner.
It's not a magic bullet, but....
Thank you to our three witnesses for being here today.
Thank you to the members of the audience for coming out. It's my first time here in St. John's, and what a beautiful city. I wish we could stay a little longer to enjoy it a little more.
First off, Professor Bittner, I am a happy puppy today. That's all I'm going to say, because if you've been following any of my testimony, I've been looking for somebody to explain that the electoral system that we use is not necessarily the reason that women don't run for politics. I think your testimony today nailed it on the head. It's exactly what I've been trying to get out. There are many reasons that women don't get elected, and let's start with recruitment.
You mentioned what kinds of people are getting elected. I think that's a perfect example. It starts with the parties. Who are they recruiting as candidates? Once they've recruited a candidate under the current system, they have one candidate they're putting forward. If they're putting forward as candidates what we heard described in previous testimony as pale, stale males, which I found quite funny, well, guess what? That's what's going to be reflected.
You said that average Canadians looking at Parliament say, “I couldn't do that. Look, it's a whole bunch of older white lawyers who are all in Parliament.” But when they see school teachers and farmers and women and younger men and aboriginals, they say, “You know what? I could do that too.”
That goes to my point of engagement. On engagement, we're not just looking to increase voter turnout: we're looking to increase people's interest in possibly running for office. Can you elaborate a little more? I know my colleague John talked about the fact that it's not necessarily one change in an electoral system that's going to fix our problem. We have a lot of little things that we can be doing. Perhaps you could elaborate a bit, because it seems as though you're going in the right direction.
I guess I like happy puppies. That's a good start.
There's no magic bullet, and that's kind of the thing. All of these factors are factors, and yes, it is the case that often in a proportional system we tend to see more women, we tend to see more minority groups, we tend to see a greater dispersion of parties, lots of variety, and we tend to see more collaboration, more co-operation, more coalition governments. A lot of folks think those are good things, and a lot of folks then do see their voices being heard in the governing party as parties share power, in that kind of sense. However, that's not a guarantee, because at the end of the day it's still the parties that are putting forward their lists of candidates, and if the lists of candidates are traditional, then you're not going to fix that problem.
Again, I keep saying that the rules matter and the rules have to be clear. We talk about constitutional reform. We talk about the need for a referendum in the context of electoral reform, for example, and the rules aren't that clear. We have an opportunity to make some rules pretty clear and to tie the hands of parties to force them to make certain kinds of choices because at the end of the day.... I haven't heard the “pale, stale, male” description. I think that's funny, but not all candidates who are white men are pale, stale and.... Well, they are males, but that doesn't mean they are bad. It just means that this is what we've been doing for a long time and we know about the power of incumbency and therefore we know that once you've been there for a while, on continue avec ça. There's a pattern that goes on that prevents certain groups from participating and diminishes engagement, participation, interest, and so on, because we just think it doesn't really matter.
I love politics and I love politicians, but the voters tend to equate them—I say “them”, not “you”—with used car salesmen. There's a lack of trust that goes on. Has that changed?
Thank you, and I appreciate all of you being here today.
I'm going to start with Professor Dunn and Professor Bittner.
You were both signatories to a letter in January of last year with regard to the boundary redistribution process here. It stated your disappointment with the House of Assembly in that regard. I'll quote: “It is a long-standing Canadian principle that effort must be made to ensure that redistribution be a fair and non-partisan process....”
Obviously we are not talking necessarily about redistribution in this case, but we certainly are talking about a process that relates to our election system, and I would argue that as it exists currently, this process might not be able to be seen as non-partisan. It is certainly an agenda being driven by politicians, many of whom have come into it with a stated position, a pre-position, on what they want to see come out of it.
I would say we really haven't engaged the public to any large degree at this point. If you look behind you, there are maybe 15 people, and this is the one meeting for all of Newfoundland. Wherever I've been in the country, whether in my riding or elsewhere, this is obviously something that's on my mind, because I'm participating in it as a member of the committee and so I talk to people about it. Many are surprised to hear it is happening. Many say, as we've heard from the other side already a couple of times today, “What's the problem, exactly? Why are you trying to change the system?” It seems to be a process that's being driven by politicians and political parties.
I wonder if you could give us some sense as to how you think this process might be enhanced to ensure there is legitimacy if any changes are made and to make it as free as possible from being politically driven.
I'd love to hear thoughts from both of you on that. Whoever wants to can go first.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Professor Bittner, I've really appreciated your testimony today. I appreciate the fact that you've come today to talk to us, especially on your work regarding women in politics. I'm a father of young daughters and I would love nothing more than to see them grow up and consider a life in politics, although having seen my experiences, they may be dissuaded from considering that.
When we were in Halifax yesterday, one of the first people who came to us was Professor James Bickerton, and he uttered a phrase that really stuck with me. It was the phrase “institutional changes to behaviour”, and I'm really glad you mentioned my colleague 's Bill . I'm glad that it's actually making the news, because often private members' bills get lost in the mix. I appreciate that the bill would do some great things if passed, but the fact remains that under our current system, we are still depending on the good will of the Liberal government to get that bill passed, and that's a majority government based on 39% of the Canadian vote.
I was wondering if you could give me some of your thoughts on that phrase “institutional changes to behaviour”, in the context of our requiring the support of the Liberals' goodwill to get that kind of bill passed, because if we are going to make these changes, we hope they will agree with that bill, but at the same time, it's kind of like the chicken and the egg problem. Do we change the system that elected this government, or do we ask it for permission to get this change put forward?
It could also be two tandem pathways.
I didn't hear Jim's testimony, so I can't speak to that specifically. I think it's certainly the case that the rules of the game affect how we play, and I suspect that there are probably some governing caucus members who would support having more diverse members elected, including women. I mean, there are some women across the table from you right now who probably would support that.
Perhaps convincing them that it should not be a whipped vote is a possibility, but you're talking about a basic parliamentary structure, and there are other parliaments around the world that operate in a more collaborative way and don't have a majority government usually, right? We're talking about coalition governments, which will then allow parties to negotiate. At the end of the day, it leaves you guys with power to negotiate across bills, discuss, deliberate, and decide what the best policy is and really horse-trade on a lot of things—let's face it.
I think in some ways that leads to better policy, while others might say that they love the Liberal policy. Then actually this is great. We have a government; they do their thing and they get their laws passed, and then it's our turn later on, maybe, if the voters choose us. There's something to that as well, and again, this is that issue of trade-off. Do you want to negotiate every single piece of legislation, whether it comes from a private member's bill or it comes from a governing caucus, or do you want to take turns, if taking turns is what actually happens?
This is the basic question, I think.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our witnesses and to everyone here today. It is great to be back to the granite planet.
I'd like to start with you, Professor Bittner.
Thank you so much for your testimony and for providing us with an overview of the problem that we're trying to solve and disabusing us of the notion that there is an easy solution to this problem, that being to enhance diverse engagement in politics, both through the way citizens and voters engage in the system and in the way it effectively leads to greater diversity in the House of Commons and in Parliament.
I will leave reminded of what you said, that greater levels of diversity in PR are still dependent on a greater commitment from the parties to enact mechanisms to ensure that it is institutionalized.
There are two sorts of diversity that I think we're talking about, and my colleague Mr. Cullen touched on it maybe from a different angle. It's diversity as represented in the way people look, meaning men, women, people from ethnic or racialized minorities, indigenous people, people with disabilities, and/or it's diversity in the partisan or ideological leanings that people share.
Do you have any view on both the intersections and diversions of those two sorts of diversities that you can help tease out for us so that we can be a little clearer on how we're trying to address one and possibly the other?
I would say too that changing the system or increasing diversity doesn't ensure increased participation and engagement either. There are a lot of things that come together. The question is complex, which is again why I'm not super-envious of your job.
The important thing for me as an instructor, as a political scientist, as a voter, and as a citizen is that I don't think it's good enough to say that because there are progressive white men who believe in women's rights, we don't need women in the legislature. The substantive, in some ways, for me, is less important than the symbolic, although there are plenty of feminists who disagree with me on this.
l think that no matter what, how we look matters. We cannot afford to have a legislature that visibly excludes large parts of the population, and that is a huge priority.
If it's the case that there are women in Parliament who disagree with my particular views, I'm okay with that, because that's the nature of Parliament. There are a lot of people in that legislature who don't agree with my views, but I want to see the potential for people like me to get there—I'm saying “like me” broadly. I'm concerned about women, but I'm concerned about women who are not white in particular, because I think that's an especially large hurdle to cross. They may or may not have ideas that reflect how they look, and that's okay.
Thank you very much for inviting me here.
I want to start by saying I wholeheartedly support proportional representation. However, I'm here because I believe that the more conventional PR models won't work for Newfoundland and Labrador. We don't have enough seats to achieve real proportionality with traditional MMP or multiple-seat ridings, and I honestly think the Maritimes might have a similar problem. That realization led me to look at weighted voting.
I know other people have done that with the committee, but as you know, in weighted voting, proportionality is achieved simply by applying a weight to each party's vote in Parliament. That can be a weight of less than one if a party has more than their fair share of seats, or it can be more than one if the party didn't get their fair share.
However, I discovered something when I began explaining weighted voting to people. People often said, “I don't like the idea of my MP having a weighting of less than one.” I think what they were really saying was, “Why should my MP have a weighting of less than one because of some disproportionality that happened thousands of kilometres away?”
That concern led me to consider a weighted voting system that would be applied at the provincial level, or even subprovincially. The end result would be the same, but by weighting the votes regionally, those thousands of kilometres actually disappear in people's minds—or at least I think they do. Because the reason for the weighting is seen within a local context, the weighting appears more like a fair and meaningful way to make every person's vote count.
I was here for the other presentations, and I thought that weighted voting could almost be applied to a lot of the PR systems at the top, just to tweak them. However, I have my own system, so I'm going to go through it. It requires the addition of a minimum of two top-up seats in each province. It doesn't have to be the same number of seats in each province.
Who would get the top-up seats? Well, if we base it on the 2015 election, the NDP and the Conservatives would each have had to receive a top-up seat in all four Atlantic provinces, because the Liberals hold all 32 seats here. In B.C., if it's two seats, both would have gone to the Green Party, because they were the most proportionally disadvantaged in the 2015 election.
Once the seats are assigned, the parties would appoint the MPs to those seats. That would be based, of course, on who performed the best among candidates who lost in ridings. Then the weighting would be applied to all the seats, both the top-ups and the ridings.
If I could use Newfoundland and Labrador as an example, we now have nine seats instead of seven. In the 2015 Parliament, the Liberals would have had seven of those nine seats, with 64% of the voters. However, 64% of voter support really only entitles them to 5.8 of the nine seats. Every time the seven Liberals vote in parliament, they would be given a weighting that would reduce their collective voting power, or their seat power, to 5.8.
Now, the NDP party got 21% of the vote, so they would actually have a weight of 1.9, and the Conservative weighting would have been 0.9. If you add up 5.8, 1.9 and 0.9, you get a weighting of 8.6. You're aiming for nine, to match the province's nine seats, so the remaining 0.4 can be explained by the independent vote and the Green Party. The Green weight would be transferred out of the province.
Even though the party weightings would be different for each province—and they certainly would be—the end result would be a proportionally represented Parliament. Of course, every time there's an election, the weightings would change. You'd have to make different accommodation for northern territories and small parties, and I have some ideas on that, but for another day.
So what are the advantages? First, weighted voting gives the highest proportional representation of any system.
Second, the top-up seats fix, in a very simple way, extreme regional distortions, such as we've had in Atlantic Canada with the Liberals taking everything.
Third, the filling of the top-up seats introduces the concept of sharing the pie rather than having the winner take all in the top-up seats, because they go to riding candidates. If the concept is popular with voters, I could envision that you would introduce more top-up seats through riding distribution as time goes on, but this is a start.
Fourth, compare the other systems in terms of minimal or no change to the existing ridings. I really want to emphasize that last point, because proportional representation lists were developed in countries with high population densities in small areas, and in its essence, proportional representation makes no allowance for geography. Geography really counts in Canada. If we embrace one of the more common PR systems, there's a real danger that we will alienate or disappoint rural Canadians, who especially don't want to be lumped together with townies or city people in a multi-seat riding, and in some areas of the country we won't even achieve meaningful proportionality.
I believe Canadians will want three things in a proportional representation system: a voting system that is genuinely proportional, a voting system that respects the identify of rural Canada, and a voting system that is simple to understand. I understand how difficult it is to find all three, because there is always something wrong with every system that gets proposed; for that reason, I know you have a very difficult path in front of you and I wish you patience and insight in the challenge you face as a committee.
Thank you for coming to St. John's.
I'd like to start by thanking everyone for inviting me and my organization, Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament, to come in and speak with you all and testify. We really appreciate it. It speaks volumes about what the government and committees think of youth engagement and youth voices. We appreciate that.
I'm a student here at Memorial University. I'm a political science and history double major. I'm also the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Parliament. This organization strives to engage youth from across this province and in Labrador specifically. We have a big emphasis on including Labradorians in our program.
We take over the House of Assembly for a few days, and for just a short time we become MHAs, known as MPPs in Ontario. We become the provincial representatives. The government puts in resolutions that we debate in depth, and we propose amendments. The opposition, a very short bench, will critique and will often try to critique constructively, although sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's not.
Everyone involved, by the way, is an independent member. We do not assign political parties to anyone, but we do assign the seats to make it feel as though you're an MHA. We're a non-partisan organization, so it's very good for us to remain unbiased.
What's really neat about this program and very pertinent to this discussion is that in one year, we actually had a resolution on MMP. We debated it and we ended up having it. It was very interesting. I just goes to show how complicated the question is that you folks have to deal with. One of the debates we got into was on whether we should have the PR system based on a closed list or an open list. Is it a regional? It is a national list? How do you do it? Even here, as youth, we understand completely the difficult task you folks are assigned.
First and foremost, our program strives to engage youth and we also do strive for gender parity within our program. Last year we actually had a 50-50 split of males and females, which was fantastic.
I'm going to leave it there. I found out about this last night and thought I'd give you an introduction. I look forward to all your questions.
Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank our two witnesses for being here.
Again, to the members of the audience, some of whom were here earlier, thank you so much for being here. I'm looking forward to the open-mike session as well, following this.
Ms. Reid, I'm looking forward to reading your brief. We actually just received it, so I will be reading it for sure. It looks interesting, but as my colleague Ms. Sahota said, it's in the practice or in the applicability of a voting system that we will see the consequences of doing this.
One of those things is, in fact, the votes in the House. If we have different weights for different members of Parliament, the ability of a member of Parliament to miss a vote, then, would probably depend on the weight of his or her vote. If you have a high-weight vote, you're likely not going to be sitting on any committees, versus somebody who has a lower-weight vote.
I'm just speculating, but in terms of applicability, we'll definitely check that out. Maybe we'll be able to flesh some things out.
I've spent my career in education, so hearing from youth and from a retired teacher in education is something that's very important to me. We don't have any control over provincial jurisdiction. As education is in fact a provincial jurisdiction, we can recommend until we're blue in the face that civics courses be reintroduced, but at the end of the day it's not our jurisdiction. We hope that will in fact happen, but we'll see. We can all champion that cause.
I'm curious about the knowledge that our youth have of the current situation. Mr. Dixon you mentioned that it is probably 1.5 out of 10. My concern is where they are getting their information from. I'm just flipping this on its head.
When we were in school and we had civics courses, it wasn't partisan, party-based, or advocacy-based. It was very neutral. We've now seen a whole generation of Canadians who are getting their information from the Internet, advocacy groups, and political parties. Quite frankly, I don't think they're getting the full information. They're not getting the good, the bad, and the ugly on everything.
What happens is you have.... I'm not just saying you. A lot of folks go on the Internet. It's on the Internet, so it must be true, right? They go on the Internet and they get this information. They don't get all sides of the story. Then they're out there championing a cause without a lot of knowledge. As a politician, I didn't know anything beforehand. I thought I knew a lot. However, only when you are actually in it do you realize this.
Whose job should it be to educate Canadians about our electoral system? We have so many folks who don't know, yet they're out there advocating for a change. That's my concern. Those who are coming to these meetings are folks who have a vested interest and/or have heard from partisan or advocacy groups. Whose role should it be to educate Canadians? We can't force the provinces to do it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'll go with you, Mr. Dixon.
This is my first time being elected and last year's election was a marathon, but I always love getting out on the doorsteps and really engaging with people. When I talk to people who have been in politics for a long time and talk to youth, to tackle that problem of youth engagement, it seems to be a vicious circle. Politicians generally want to be efficient with their resources when they're out canvassing, and because youth don't tend to vote that much, they don't get politicians engaging with them. Unengaged youth tend not to vote, so we just keep going around and around in circles.
What I've found is that when I talk to youth, more often than not, I've been pleasantly surprised at their level of political engagement. It may not translate into them showing up to vote, but when I talk to them about the issues that matter, I've been pleasantly surprised at how knowledgeable they are and really passionate about the issues they care about.
When you look at the system, the way it is right now, it's obviously not working. We do need to do more. Could you give me your thoughts? When youth today look at political parties, what do you think they see?
I just have the one question for now. I know we're getting nearer to the time that we should be doing the public portion, and I know that's the part we're all looking forward to the most.
I'll turn to you, Ms. Reid, although it seems that you're still grappling a little with potentially changing your thoughts on it. You mentioned in your brief, and I'll quote from there because I thought it was a good quote, “I believe that something as important as electoral reform ultimately has to be taken to the people and I support holding a referendum on whether to retain our First-Past-the-Post...system or introduce Proportional Representation.”
I bring it up not, as most of my colleagues would assume, to talk about referendums. That's what I talk about quite often because I think it's an important issue. I actually agree very specifically with that point you made there. However, it's more to talk about what we're not hearing about, and that is the idea of a ranked ballot. When we've had these open-mike sessions, there are many supporters of mixed-member proportional, and others who are supporters of some other type of PR system. First past the post seems to be the other system that comes up as something that people want to retain.
I know when I surveyed my constituents, it was overwhelming how many hoped to retain the first-past-the-post system. The one thing we're not hearing from very many people is the idea of a ranked ballot. In your brief, you mentioned that it's something that shouldn't be included as one of the options, and you've given your reasons today for why that is.
I guess the point I'm making is that we have this choice to make as to whether we would retain the system we have or go to some other type of proportional representation. Those seem to be the options.
In order to make a change to a proportional system, there's likely a lot of change required. We've heard from the electoral officer that he would need a significant amount of lead time. We're getting close to where we're running out of the time to be able to do that. It might leave only something like an alternative vote or a ranked ballot as an option.
The sense I get from you—and I want to verify this—and the sense I think we get from many people, is that rather than rush this you would want see a long lead time for a referendum, the educational component. I think Mr. Dixon would seem to agree with that.
Is it more important that we get this right, or that we rush to meet the timeline that's very quickly approaching?
I'm Helen Forsey. I live in rural Newfoundland for three months a year, and in rural eastern Ontario for the other nine months. Democracy definitely needs some form of made-in-Canada proportional representation. I realize it's not simple. I realize that even more after listening today, but it is necessary to go that route in some form.
I liked witness Marilyn Reid's criteria, when she said it needs to be as simple as possible to understand—at least I think she said that—and that it has to take into account rural people and sparsely populated regions and areas. That's an adaptation of some of the systems that are out there that wouldn't work well for Atlantic Canada and for other rural parts of Canada. Whether Ms. Reid's or Mr. Ring's proposals, that's the sort of thing I hope the committee will take into account and consider very seriously and come up with something that has all the benefits of all those systems and none of the disadvantages.
Certainly, I'm opposed to the ranked ballot or alternative vote for the various reasons that have been put forward. The results are not proportional. In my opinion it's worse than first past the post, partly because it's so deceptive.
Say no to electronic voting. It's too risky. It's vulnerable to hacking, to errors like the Phoenix payroll system, for example, to malfunctions, to power outages—as a rural person—manipulation and coercion. For example, within a family, if somebody wants somebody else with less power to vote a certain way, a youngster or a spouse, and is looking over their shoulder while they vote...no, I think it's too vulnerable.
Say no to a referendum. This is a complex issue. Referendums don't generally work well for complex issues. I think the work you're doing is what needs to be done: the thinking through, the listening, the consulting. Thanks.
Hi. I'm 61 years old and I've had a chance to vote in 26 elections, both federal and provincial. Provincially my vote has counted 25% of the time and federally it has counted 0% of the time, so that's led me to become an advocate and a supporter of Fair Vote Canada.
I know that Fair Vote Canada has already submitted a report to you, so I'm not going to repeat that, but I'd just like to tell you that I'm a hopeless idealist. I still believe in government for the people by the people. Right now we have government for business by big corporations, but I believe in democracy. While I don't believe that voting is necessarily the most important part of democracy and certainly not the only part of democracy, it does have a very important job: to elect our government.
As a lover of democracy, I have always been interested in politics, like Mr. Dixon, from quite a young age. I've always taken part in political things for as much as my time, money, and energy allow. I have spoken about this to both my MPs, Scott Simms, when I lived in that area, and now Ken McDonald, who is currently my MP. I certainly advocated for proportional representation with my neighbours and my own political party and I have attended meetings to support it.
The most important thing to me is that we have diverse voices. We need a strong opposition to have good democratic government, and that includes a strong, vigorous, and free press, which we no longer have. That is one of the reasons we have a lot of voter disengagement, because right now I feel—especially in the last election—it was like prom queen and king voting all over again. We weren't really voting about issues. We were just voting for the most popular candidate.
Thank you all for coming to St. John's, and thank you all for the work you're doing. We have apparently wanted this work done for a long time. For about 100 years we've been talking about electoral reform in Canada, I think. But governments, of course, don't like opposition, any more than corporations like competition. Governments like power; corporations like profit. They both try to minimize opposition and competition but we want to maximize both.
Democracy is subverted at every level. The first-past-the-post system is incomplete. In a way I think that's what's discouraged a lot of voters in the past two decades. Democracy is subverted through rotten boroughs and gerrymandering. Hitler was elected, so you can do anything with democracy.
In Canada, the first-past-the-post system, that open system, favoured the Chrétien government for a decade, while the right was divided with two parties, the Reform and the Conservatives. Then it favoured Mr. Harper when the left was divided between the NDP and the Liberals for that time. Even though during those decades, maybe 60% to 70% of the population was leaning to the left, they had a government that did not represent them. So you had people who did vote, young people who voted, maybe once, maybe twice, and they did not see any results from their votes or any representation from their votes.
I think that seeing that big gap was quite discouraging for that generation. The fact that they pulled out doesn't mean they're not political. They're differently political, and they voted for rejection and non-involvement. That is a vote of disengagement and that has its weight, too, on the political system. I don't think we want to see the consequences of that any further than we already have.
Yes, I'm totally for voter reform. We have to be careful, also. The Newfoundland referendum of 1949 was a fraud, let's say. I don't consider myself legally a Canadian, and there's a great point to be made for that. It was probably the most fraudulent referendum in our history. It resulted in our being consumed by Canada. Our fate in Canada was much the same as our fate with Great Britain. As a large jurisdiction with a small amount of population, we vote for people, not for jurisdictions.
The collapse of the cod fishery was a consequence of our small vote because the cod fishery, of course, was managed by the large jurisdiction, by Canada, but it's a resource that is vital to a small jurisdiction, which is actually a large jurisdiction. We have 500,000 people trying to run a place with 6,000 to 10,000 miles of coastline, if you consider Labrador as well. You have 10,000 miles of coastline to administer. That's a particular job of those 500,000 people.
When it comes to protecting the fishery they can't do it, of course. They're out-voted by Quebec or out-voted by Ontario who wants to give away fishing quotas for car plants, or wheat sales, or whatever it is. That is in fact what happened in the 1970s. We didn't have the votes to stop Quebec or Ontario or Alberta voting away those quantities of fish, and in the end a resource that belonged to this province, of course, was decimated because we didn't have the votes to hang onto it.
You get the situation where a large jurisdiction with a small amount of people is run by an absentee landlord, landlocked Ottawa. Of course, DFO is running it, but that's another whole story.
There has to be some sensitivity shown to small populations running a large territory. They're not just running a city. They have a lot of concerns that other jurisdictions may not have when they have the votes and the power over it.
Hello to all the members of the committee. Thank you for all the work you're doing and welcome to Newfoundland, where it is like this every day, by the way.
My name is Kelsey Reichel, and I'm from Carbonear. I'm going to say a few words about why I think Canada needs to adopt a proportional representation system. Before I do, though, I'd like to speak to the idea of holding a referendum on electoral reform. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons.
First, I've heard that it would cost around $300 million, which would be an unnecessary expense for something that should not be put to a referendum anyway. It's my understanding that referendums are meant only for matters related to the Constitution, which to the best of my knowledge does not apply to electoral reform.
Second and the more important reason that I am opposed to a referendum is that I believe it is merely a way to protect the status quo. Let's take a moment to appreciate a reality of the situation. Electoral reform isn't exactly top of mind for most Canadians. I think it is likely that if some kind of referendum, whatever that may look like, were put to Canadians, then most people would either have no interest in participating or not be properly enough educated on the complexities of electoral reform to make a well-informed choice. It is best left up to our elected officials to assess what works best for Canada and put that into action.
As I said, this is not something most people talk about around the dinner table. Perhaps most don't even realize there's anything wrong with the way we elect our representatives. It is a complex, confusing, and intimidating subject for anyone who gets involved with it. I'm certainly no expert on anything to do with this, but it's clear to me that there is a problem, if nothing else but for the fact that it was such an important part of the Liberal platform in the last election in running on the promise that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. Hats off to the government for getting the ball rolling, as they have.
Approximately 85% of OECD countries currently use some form of proportional representation, with Canada joining the United States and the United Kingdom as the only three still using first past the post. What PR says, in a nutshell, is that if a party gets 20% of the vote, then it gets 20% of the seats in Parliament. With a PR system, there is a fair balance of representation where parties that get a significant share of the vote will have the appropriate number of seats to properly represent the people who voted for them.
It's easy to get bogged down in the details of the different types of proportional representation, and I'm not going to try to do so here today, but they all have much in common. Under a PR system, ridings would be redone in a way that would have several different MPs per riding, usually from various parties. This allows constituents to have an option of who they bring their issues to and that increases the likelihood that they will have a representative whose values line up with their own.
Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming.
I'm going to try to be very quick because I have a lot of things I'd like to say. The first is that if there's a referendum, the referendum should say, “Should each vote be counted equally?” Currently, they do not.
I would ask you a question, and I'd ask you to answer it in your own minds, because obviously I can't have a conversation with each of you. Would you say that we live in a representative democracy? I do not think that we do. In a representative democracy, each person's vote would be represented equally. The issue of proportional representation is an issue of values. Do you value equality?
In the MMP system, that solves the main problem, but it results in another problem. In a national level, or whatever regional level you adopt, the outcome is proportional, but it does not represent my opinion of who best represents me. It represents which party I would support. In my opinion, the party system is the leading cause of voter disengagement. Proportional representation is not an optional part of representative democracy; it's the difference between representative and misrepresentative democracy.
On the issue of which electoral system to choose, if I cannot express my support for my most favoured candidate without it being wasted, then I cannot accurately be represented in Parliament. I can be misrepresented by someone's ideas, which I believe are maybe less awful than someone else's, but I'm not going to be accurately represented.
STV is the only system which is candidate-centred. That means it's the only system where the candidate is the focus, not the party. If you believe in regional representation, you're not really going to adopt a completely proportional system. If you believe in regional representation, the only system that preserves that and is proportional is going to be STV, single transferable vote. My vote will be such that I can express who I most prefer, but if there are not enough votes to elect that person, my next choice can be elected. Therefore, it can still be proportional. I can still represent who I actually believe is my best representative, but my vote still counts.
You have not talked enough about STV, in my opinion. Obviously, the main focus is proportional representation. That is obviously the biggest problem here. If you're going to be talking about what system you're going to use in proportional representation, the focus has to be on mixed-member systems versus STV, what the problem is with a party-focused system versus a candidate—
Thanks very much for fitting me in. I have five small kids and it would be hard for me to get back later on.
I'm a specialist physician and a supporter of proportional representation since at least 1972 or 1973. I've been involved in the Liberal Party since that time in this country and other countries, including the U.K.
An election where the results do not represent the will of the voters lacks legitimacy. It must be a concern to this committee and to all Canadians when you can have a large majority government elected by less than 40% of the people. It's just hard to get away from it. The first-past-the-post system has another hugely divisive effect, which is dividing different parts of Canada. It's possible, for instance, to have no Liberals elected in the province of Alberta despite large numbers of people voting, and no Conservatives elected in Atlantic Canada. This should be greatly troubling to all of us because it creates exaggerated divisions within our country. We have to hope that politics is about working together, with one another, inside and outside of Parliament, to get things done for the good of the country. It's a huge, distorting effect of the first-past-the-post system.
I personally favour a single transferable vote, but there are some problems with it. We want MPs to be elected to represent people, not parties, and we have to find a way to accommodate, in a good proportional system, that connection between members of Parliament and the individuals who elect them. It's nice if they have a choice to go to an MP who they support, but it's also very important that they have that connection. If we have very large electoral districts—say, one electoral district is the whole of Newfoundland and Labrador—one of the distorting effects of that is that if I'm trying to campaign and I'm in St. John's and I'm not hugely wealthy, it's going to be very difficult for me to campaign or have a realistic shot at getting votes up in northern Labrador and Corner Brook. We have to look at the actual systems. Is there some reason we have to have the exact same system in every part of the country? Can we not have some variation, some diversity between different provinces, and even within provinces, to take account of the real geographic issues that affect us?
There are advantages to a PR system. It helps also to make sure you have adequate representation of women, by gender, and by disability. We don't necessarily have to just adopt an off-the-shelf approach. We can try to be a bit creative.
I think referendums can be very divisive, as we saw in Brexit and in Quebec. I think a constituent assembly and involving Canadians and having a real dialogue is the way forward to finding a custom approach and maybe customizing by province and parts of provinces.
I really have a couple of questions, and I do disagree with the previous speaker because I very much agree with a national referendum or a plebiscite.
In the last federal election, the Liberal Party received 39.47% of the popular vote. Now I would ask this committee, and the Liberal Party, whether they think that is a sufficient mandate to go forward and make such a historic decision for Canada, which has lasting, long-term, legal, economic, and political consequences, without holding a national plebiscite or referendum. That's my question.
On the other aspect, I'm talking more in generics. I would think the Liberal Party, and this committee, believes that Canadians are wise stewards of this country and can make quality decisions in the best interests of this nation. Then it stands to reason that, if the majority of Canadians can do that, we should be holding a national referendum or plebiscite on this electoral reform.
It's not just about first past the post versus something else. When I did the survey last night, it was almost like I was picking menu items, picking a value meal at McDonald's. We need to have something tangible that we can look at and compare, a living, breathing example of success in another nation or nations. In reading from your PDF document posted on the website, it looks as though you have a couple of countries in mind.
Why don't you further elaborate on those countries, tell Canadians what you're proposing, and give us those countries versus first past the post? To me, that's what you have to do out of respect for Canadians; otherwise, I do believe it smacks of elitism.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to appear. I've been to many parliamentary and Senate committees over the years. In a previous life, I was once going to one in Ottawa and I had to get a taxi from my hotel. The meeting was in a meeting room in the West Block. I hopped in the cab and said, “Could you take me to West Block, please?” The driver said, “I'm new in the city. Could you direct me how to get to West Block?” So I said, “Well, sir, I believe first you have to get the nomination for the party of your choice, and then you have to get yourself elected. After that, it pretty well takes care of itself.”
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Earle McCurdy: I am someone with a fair bit of experience in casting a vote, which at the end of the day didn't appear to count for anything except the feeling of participating in something when I picked up the pencil. I was certainly pleased to have a commitment that we've had our last first-past-the-post election in Canada.
I'd start with, for me, what the objectives of the new system are. I personally believe we need a change. We've had that system since the day of the horse and buggy. It certainly wasn't designed with the current Canada in mind.
There are a few things I would mention as objectives of a new system. I am more concerned about the fundamental characteristics than about the exact mechanics. I think the important ones are that it fairly translates votes into seats and does that on a national basis, which would therefore remove the disproportionate weight that the current system gives to concentrated blocks of votes on a regional basis. It should be something that retains the principle of local representation as a characteristic of the House, at least in part. It should be designed, which I believe is possible, to help achieve objectives regarding gender, minority, and aboriginal representation, or whatever, and it should be a system where people have the feeling that when they vote, it's going to count, regardless of which district they are in.
If I look at the current system, I see that it has certainly produced major regional distortions. Perhaps the most extreme example I can think of, in my time, of the outcome in seats really being out of whack with how Canadians voted would be the 1993 election. The Progressive Conservative Party—not on the strength of any vote that I cast for them, I might say—had more votes than the Bloc, but the Conservatives had two seats, and the Bloc had 54. There is something about it that just doesn't make sense. A lot more Canadians voted in that election for the party with two seats than voted for the party with 54 seats.
There are other examples. As you probably know, I am the leader of the provincial NDP, and in case you don't, that's who I am. In Quebec, in the 2011 election, our party had an excellent result in terms of votes, but our vote percentage was practically doubled by our seat percentage. The Conservatives in Alberta, over a number of elections, certainly had a strong vote, but they didn't get everybody's vote, and yet they got all the seats in some elections. There are any number of examples where it has really been out of whack.
The worst thing you can probably have is a modest level of support that's spread fairly consistently throughout the country. You can end up with 20% of the vote and not get a seat, depending on how your vote is scattered.
Also, first past the post has produced false majorities in the last two elections, and in a number of others as well, in that governments were elected with a majority of seats in Parliament without enjoying the support of the majority of Canadians in the election.
One of the arguments I've seen put forward for first past the post is stability; you don't have to keep having minority governments, and have another election, another election, and so on. But if you look at what's actually transpired, our average duration of elections since World War II is roughly the same as a whole bunch of countries that have other than first past the post, that have some version of proportional representation, for the most part. They actually had, if anything, in some cases, a longer average term in all the elections since World War II.
The other thing, of course, is, who says a minority government is an unstable outcome? I believe we've had 13 in the country over the years. Our medicare program, our pension plan, and our flag all came about in minority governments, so I don't think someone should necessarily say it's a terrible thing to have.
I realize this is a federal committee, but I thought it might be just a little instructive to refer to results in the last two provincial elections as to how that worked out under the first past the post system. Interestingly, in 2011, a Progressive Conservative government was elected, and last year a Liberal government was elected; and in both cases they had in the range of 56% to 57% of the vote. In both cases they ended up with about 77% of the seats. In both cases, in other words, under any system we would have had a majority government. But what we've had have been lopsided majority governments, which I don't think make the legislature function as well as it could or should.
I'll circulate, at some point, a graphic that shows the 2011 election on top and the 2015 on the bottom, and it shows the actual seat distribution on the left, and what the seat distribution would be on the right, if the seats were distributed in proportion to the votes. As you can see, it would be more balanced, though still a majority legislature in both cases. A particular quirk of the 2011 election is that our party got 24.6% of the vote, I think it was, and the Liberals got 19.1%. They ended up being the official opposition because they got six seats to our five, just because they won three or four cliffhangers, and we lost three or four cliffhangers, or a couple; and although we significantly out-polled them, we ended up as the third party.
I just wanted to make the point that what has happened federally has also happened provincially, as we had a similar, distorted outcome relative to how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians voted, and the seat distribution didn't do a very good job of matching that.
For example, we currently have 31 out of 40 seats on the government side, seven in the official opposition, and two for us in the third party. Had it just been seats by popular vote, it would have been 23 on the government side, 12 in the official opposition, and five in the third party, which, I think, would have the potential to be a much more dynamic and effective legislature, while still having a majority government.
I commented on some of the objectives of what would work. I think one suggestion I've seen in some comment areas is a minimum-vote threshold to get a seat, and I think that would want to be a fairly modest minimum. But I think there still should be one to lessen the risk of extremist or single-issue parties getting representation where that would not be possible in the current system.
If people were to feel that every vote counts, I think there would be the potential to increase turnouts. Our level of turnout now in the country is not anything to brag about. In our province, in the last couple of federal elections, it was the lowest of all provinces, which is something I'm not proud of. I don't think that's a good outcome.
I don't think the system really suggests to people that their vote is going to make much difference and therefore a lot of people respond to that by staying home.
On the issue of women's representation, proportional representation or some form of it doesn't of itself deliver equal women's representation. I do think it provides an opportunity to address women's participation. If you want to add another goal, say aboriginal participation or participation of minorities, or whatever, if part of the makeup of the House was from lists submitted by the parties there could be some criteria put around those lists that would help achieve equity goals.
I think the important thing in terms of what system we would favour would be one that reflects the popular vote, and the specifics of which particular one is a secondary consideration to me. I would think a multi-partisan committee should be able to work out something that fits the Canadian situation. I don't believe in preferential ballot. It retains—and if anything, has the potential to exacerbate—a lot of the weaknesses of first past the post and does not at all show that the outcome in seats will generally reflect how Canadians voted.
On a final note I don't think there's any referendum required here. I think the position of the parties was clear going into the election. I think there's a mandate. The technicality is really a question of what system do we have and what are the principles of the system. Fundamentally, that's to say let's have the distribution of seats in the House of Commons reflect the will of the people as expressed through their vote. I think that's what really counts.
Thank you, Mr. McCurdy, for being here.
I'm glad that you brought a provincial perspective to this. It's appropriate and it starts to help us think about leadership. There have been a number of attempts provincially to bring in some sort of voter reform. There are some that point to national as the place where we have the leadership shown, and what provinces suddenly pick up.
I want to get to the question of that nut that's hard to crack, the low voter turnout, why people turn away.
My colleagues have heard me refer to it many times, so I'll do it again. After the Manitoba election, Elections Manitoba did a study, looked at non-voters, people who did not participate. They had a 57% turnout as well, I think, so don't feel too bad. Within that group, at least half of those voters had the feeling that the outcome was predetermined, that they lived in a certain type of riding. They had become rational about what is an irrational act, which is voting. They had rationally figured that they voted another way than their riding typically did. There's no rational act to go out and vote if it has no effect on the world. This is sometimes called “the wasted vote”. Tracking it back, some people have argued at this table that that's not a wasted vote, that's still an expression of.... You said you shared this similar experience of having voted many times and not seen your vote reflected in any kind of way. We're just looking for motivations for people to participate in our democracy because we know what happens when people don't. We get degraded policy and more cynicism.
Can we make that connection for voters in Newfoundland, where they're going to feel like their vote is going to matter a bit more?
This is the 13th day of a different city every day, but I wanted to cast my mind back. I first knew Mr. McCurdy from his heroic work with the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union in trying to protect the north Atlantic cod from destruction.
This was first put in my mind earlier today when Greg Malone was testifying. I have been doing a few scribbles and trying to figure out if there is really a link between the MPs we had in the House at the critical period that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was operating in a way that was guaranteed to lead to the extermination of our commercial cod stocks and the voices in Parliament at the time.
I've just looked at the 34th Parliament, which was in session during the critical years from 1988 to 1993, and we had a very powerful Progressive Conservative who was in charge of that file: John Crosbie. We had another Progressive Conservative and the rest were Liberals. There were no New Democratic Party voices at that time in Parliament.
I'm looking at when you lose the diversity of voices, and there weren't voices inside Parliament as I recall at the time. I was at the Sierra Club of Canada, and I was working with inshore fishermen and others trying to get DFO to reduce the quota so that the cod stocks wouldn't be eradicated.
I don't remember any Newfoundland MPs who were particularly active trying to help us. You have a better memory for this. You were right here at the time. Is it a stretch to think we would have had potentially a different result if there had been more diversity of voices in Parliament in that period, or is that a non-effective concern?
I'd like to thank you, Mr. McCurdy, for being here this evening.
To members of the audience, thank you for spending your time with us. I know electoral reform is fun, so thank you for being here. It's a delight to be in St. John's. I am hoping that maybe later this evening we'll be able to get screeched in, as they call it, for the record.
We've heard a lot about the pros and cons of the various electoral systems. As you know, we have been given guiding principles in our mandate, that whatever we propose or come forth with has to be legitimate, effective, simple, and so on.
We also have a very tight deadline. We have until December 1 to put this into place. If we want to change the voting system we currently have for the 2019 election, time is of the essence. You yourself said that there is a lack of information out there, in terms of education for Canadians. Whatever we do, we are going to have to do a massive public awareness campaign.
Given all those constraints, what form of PR do you think would be best for us to look at, if we were to go that route?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I wanted to stay on the regional aspect of this discussion, because part of our discussion is that we all realize that reforming our electoral system is not going to solve everything about our democracy. I think one big thing it can solve is the regional lopsidedness that we get in our elections.
You quoted the 1993 federal election where the Progressive Conservatives got more of the vote share than the BQ, but got 52 less seats than them.
In British Columbia, we had very lopsided results back in 2001, where the NDP was reduced to two seats out of a 79-seat legislature, despite the fact that one in five British Columbians voted for them. They didn't even have enough seats to get official party status, and they had no resources to even be an official opposition.
When you look at the current makeup of our federal Parliament, I want to hear some of your thoughts on having those different regional voices within the parties. Atlantic Canada has 32 Liberal MPs, with less than 60% of the vote going toward that result. I'm sure there are Atlantic Canadians who wish they had some New Democrats and Conservative MPs, just so those caucuses had the most up-to-date issues.
Similarly, if you go to Saskatchewan, we have one lone Liberal MP, despite almost a quarter of the population having voted Liberal. I am sure there are some Liberals who are feeling left out. Minister has been there for a long time.
I would like to hear your thoughts on that, because I think it's really important for parties to have that broad representation in their caucuses.
I think those are bad outcomes. When you have a party that gets 25% of the vote and gets one out of whatever number—and I forget what number Saskatchewan has now, but a considerable number of seats with 17 or something—the representation in no way reflects how people cast their ballots, or for the two out of 79, or for any number of examples.
When you have a region, or a province for that matter, shut out in the House of Commons, then that's not a healthy outcome. This is especially so when a lot of people voted for somebody else, and because of the way the first past the post system works you end up with a sweep. With the concerns of people in the Atlantic region now, not one single MP can rise in the House of Commons in question period and talk on behalf of the people of Atlantic Canada. There needs to be an opposition member who's not tied to the whip and who can get up in the House and say whatever the issue might be that's causing a burr under people's saddles in his neck of the woods. There needs to be someone to get up and express that issue, have it on the news, and have people hear that at least being brought to the floor of the House of Commons, with or without a successful outcome. Then they'll at least have their issues raised.
I think that if there were to be some form of a mixed system of some of the members being elected in geographic ridings, as is currently the case, and some would be add-ons to balance out the number of seats, then that can be done on a regional basis.
Whether it be provincial or bigger regions, I suppose, would be a matter for debate. For example, it wouldn't fix the problem if the opposition parties had a handful of seats to pick from a list and they picked them all from some provinces, but not from Atlantic Canada. Then it wouldn't address that problem at all. It would be illogical. I don't think an opposition party would do that, but it would be logical to tie them to a regional distribution in some form to try and not only have the House of Commons reflect on an overall basis the vote, but also on a regional basis.
If 25% of the people of Saskatchewan voted for the Liberals, and the outcome was that roughly 25% of the seats were Liberal, then that would be more reflective of the will of the people.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. McCurdy, for joining us this evening.
I've listened and listened to other witnesses come before the panel and suggest that moving to a PR system will increase voter turnout. Something I think we want to be striving for is greater voter engagement at the time of election and leading into greater democratic engagement between election periods.
If we look at the statistics across western democracies, whether in proportional systems or in single-member plurality systems, regardless of the type of system, then there seems to be a trend throughout western democracies of decreasing voter engagement and decreasing voter turnout.
Some of that could be due in Canada potentially to fewer people seeing themselves reflected in the Parliament that is elected. I think that is a goal that we have to strive for, enhancing diversity in politics. I had this conversation with Professor Bittner earlier today about whether that means enhancing diversity in the people we see and what they look like in Parliament, with men, women, indigenous persons, persons living with disabilities, and people from racialized minorities, or does it mean people who reflect different partisan views or different ideologies? We had a good conversation about the intersection and the diversion that those diversities represent.
I'm wondering if you have any insight into how we can focus our efforts more on encouraging parties to put forth more diverse candidacies. Professor Bittner said regardless of what system we move to, and even if you move to PR, you still need to find ways to have parties beholden or committing to putting forth more women candidates, more indigenous candidates, and more candidates from ethnic minorities.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that really I hope our Parliament, aided by yourselves, will take this decision. Just today, for example, in the New York Times, there was a fabulous article about the problems with going to a referendum. We've seen examples, and the most painful one we're all aware of now is what's just happened in Colombia.
The referendum may be on what type of voting system we should have, but people may participate in the referendum to solve or make other points, such as political points.
As a committee, I commend you for your work. Over 64% of our parliamentarians elected this time were elected from parties that said they wanted to move to some type of PR system. That's the first thing I'd like to say.
The second thing I'd like to say is that we have a system that was developed and evolved, and it has not continued to evolve. We're evolutionary creatures, and we're living in an evolutionary context in the cosmos. Our system has not evolved. We're still mired in a system that is militaristic, patriarchal, and based on lengths of swords between opposing, duelling parties. This has to come to an end. We are now not in a two-party system, and we're not two duelling elite lords. We are in a multicultural, multi-faceted system. It does not serve us well that we are still clinging to an old system.
I have not been involved in politics directly, but I've been involved in social issues my entire life, as was my father. I have to say that we are not reinventing the wheel here. Other countries and most advanced democracies have some type of a sophisticated system. I'm really speaking in favour of some type of mixed system.
I don't want you to think that I'm not capable. I have done a lot of reading and a lot of study, which is why I decided to say a few words. Women should speak up whenever they have a chance. I think that it's incumbent upon us. As a previous speaker said, it wasn't maybe a doorstep point, but it was a point well taken by many Canadians who feel disenfranchised.
As a person with a significant disability who has had many a problem trying to vote, I think, for God's sake, let's move to a digital electronic voting system soon so we you can just do it simply.
I think it's critical that, yes, it won't solve every problem we have, but it will certainly send a signal to our citizenry that there's interest in having diverse voices, diverse opinions, and diverse faces in our system.
I gather that you have a number of fine principles. The problem with the principles, and indeed it's a problem of deciding the system in general, is that you have competing principles at stake. If you have to ditch one, then I would say ditch simplicity. We're only likely to get a chance to fix the electoral system once in this generation. Don't go for a system that is easily explicable to people who in any case aren't currently engaged. Go for a system that will do the best job, and go for a made-in-Canada solution that solves as many of the problems as you can at the same time. For example, try to work in better regional representation. I would back the single transferable vote, but that clearly doesn't work for big areas with low populations, so work on that. Come up with a workable compromising solution that other countries haven't tried before because they haven't needed to. Similarly, work on having better representation for first nations people, women, and other minorities. Build that into the system by, if necessary, coercing parties into making lists that better represent people in the system you choose.
My point is these ideas have not necessarily been tried elsewhere, and they may not be easy initially to sell to people and to explain to people in a form of a referendum, for example. That's why we have representative government. You guys have been doing a lot of thinking. You've been talking to a lot of experts. The public has entrusted the government, broadly speaking, with a mandate to change the electoral system for months. For my money, that's good enough for me. I have a Ph.D., and I care about this stuff. I sat down and looked through the material, and I found it quite difficult to come up with my own idea of what I think these things should be. Asking the Canadian public in a limited scope of time to look at what I hope would be a reasonably complicated proposal is just too much.
If it turns out you come up with something that is really difficult and that the public doesn't like, then the public is perfectly entitled to turn around and vote to go back and choose something else. That's where I put my priority.
Hello again, everyone. I'm back.
To start off, the biggest problem with MMP that I see is that if you have top-up seats and someone who gets elected decides they no longer support that party, there is a bit of a conflict of interest. They get elected based on party support, but if they no longer support that party, then what do you do with them? Are they still elected? If they are, then they're not really representing the people who voted for them.
I still believe in proportional representation. I believe STV is the best system. I believe there are two main problems with STV. One is the complexity, but, as we said, that's not a reasonable reason not to use it. With STV, I think the remaining biggest problem is representation in rural areas.
There are two solutions to that. The best solution is to increase the number of MPs in the House so that it's more proportional. Obviously, a lot of people don't like that because it's going to cost more taxpayer money to have more representatives.
The other solution is to keep it at one member in certain places, like the territories and Labrador, and to use the alternative vote system in those smaller places. As much as I don't like that because it's not proportional, it's in a fewer number of places and it can represent people's first choice. If they can't do that, then in my opinion it's not very democratic, certainly not very much a representative democracy.
As well, I want to say that it's a bit frustrating sitting here and hearing such good questions from you and not being able to answer them.
I think we're going to wrap up early. If anyone wants to ask me some of the hard questions they haven't figured out answers to, feel free to, but I realize you probably want a break after such a busy schedule.
Thank you for listening, and good luck.
Welcome to Newfoundland, and thanks for bringing the good weather.
Let me first tell you a little about my background. I got addicted to politics when I saw Joe Smallwood speak from the back of a pickup truck when I was about 10 years old.
During my university days in law school, I was an avid NDPer and had the good fortune of working with Tommy Douglas. Had I been old enough in those days, I probably would have run for the NDP.
In 1974, I ran federally for the Liberals, and, in the nineties, my oldest son ran for the Green Party, all in St. John's East. In the last election, my son ran for the Liberals in the same riding.
I have supported the candidates of all the major parties, including the Green Party, financially and with work. I have always tried, absent a national issue, to vote for the best candidate. I think that is a very important thing to do—and I'll get back to that very briefly.
I think it's also important to try to recognize somehow the fact that there are large numbers of people who vote for candidates who don't get elected—and I'll touch on that very briefly inside my two minutes.
I value very strongly the idea that the person you vote for represents the riding, the district, the people who are in that district. That's why people get the chance to vote for the person they want. The preferential ballot helps that happen because it's the vote of at least 50% plus one of the people in the riding. If that system, which I prefer, had been in place, Jack Harris would probably be sitting in Ottawa and not my son. One of them had 45% of the vote and the other had 47% of the vote. However, it is important to note that the other people's votes should have been counted.
There was a system in place before the Harper regime that recognized in some way the votes of individuals, because parties were funded on a percentage of the vote they actually received. At least that helps us get to that representation. We have too short a time to get into it now, but I think there are strong and compelling reasons that a preferential ballot, as opposed to percentage system, is the right way to go. There may be some way to meld the two, but eventually we'll have a Green Party in Ottawa.