Welcome to the 38th meeting of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
It's a great pleasure to be here in Charlottetown on such a beautiful day and in such a beautiful setting to discuss the issue of electoral reform with individuals who, in a sense, have been paving the way because of their involvement in implementing the idea here in Prince Edward Island. I feel like we're at an industry event where we're exchanging best practices and experiences with our counterparts.
This is a wonderful opportunity for the committee to learn so much from both of you.
The way we proceed is each witness has 10 minutes to present. Then we have one full round of questioning where each member of the committee gets to engage with the witness for about five minutes, and that includes the questions and the answers. If you feel that, because we're over time, you weren't able to fully express your idea, you may of course continue on a thought the next time you have the microphone. There shouldn't be any worries about that or any problems with respect to not getting everything in.
We'll start with the first witness, Mr. Leonard Russell, chair of the Commission on P.E.I.'s Electoral Future. You have 10 minutes, please, sir.
I need to say first that my wife thanks you for getting me out of the house.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Leonard Russell: It has been 11 years since I chaired the electoral reform commission. It took some scratching and digging to try to bring forward some memories so that I could sit next to someone who is working on something currently. Let me give you a little background.
The electoral future commission that I chaired filed a report in 2005. The P.E.I. legislature had been lukewarm or hot on the topic of electoral reform for a number of years. In April 2002, there was a report on proportional representation, which was provided to the legislature from the then chief electoral officer of the province. It was a survey document. The legislature at that time got to read about or look at a range of voting alternatives that might be available to them.
In December 2003, as a follow-up to that, the legislature named former chief justice Norman Carruthers to look a little more intensely at the options that had been presented earlier by Mr. Wigginton. He provided another survey report, but he tightened it. In it he recommended to the legislature that they pursue mixed member proportional.
In the fall of 2004, the legislature, on the strength of that report, passed a motion to create the Commission on P.E.I.'s Electoral Future. In January 2005, that commission was put in place. It was an eight-person commission. The legislature attempted to ensure that it was a cross-section of the province, and that political parties were represented.
In the fall of 2005, our group presented its report. Our task was a narrow one. The two prior to us had a broader task; ours was narrow. The legislature had already accepted mixed member proportional. We were asked to devise an educational program that would explain to the public the difference between first past the post and mixed member proportional. We were to prepare an educational package. We were to recommend the wording of a plebiscite question, and we were put on a very tight timeline.
There were posters, pamphlets, radio and TV, and some 20 small groups in addition to a dozen planned meetings that we held across the province to try to ensure that we got out to as many people as possible.
There was some push-back to what we were doing. Obviously, some people thought we were promoting mixed member proportional, and folks had an objection to that, for whatever reason, when, indeed, what we were attempting to do was show that mixed member proportional held up against first past the post, which we kind of assumed most people had a handle on, but maybe they didn't.
Our role, then, was simply to prepare folks for the plebiscite that was to come. We devised a question. The question of the day was: Should Prince Edward Island change to the mixed member proportional system as presented by the Commission on P.E.I.'s Electoral Future? There was a plebiscite on November 28, 2005. There were 32,361 ballots cast, and 63.58% of the good ballots said no.
I might just say that, after 11 years, it would be almost impossible to find a number of copies of each of the things that we used. I do have a final report in both English and French. I have a copy, if needed, of the Norman Carruthers work and the one that came from the chief electoral officer, and so on.
Maybe I'll just stop there.
Thank you very much, and welcome to Charlottetown. We arranged the nice weather just for you, and this room perhaps as well.
Our clerk provided materials which I understand you have, or will have, on your iPads. I have a print copy here. They include the Carruthers report, which I would really commend to you folks. It's like a textbook on electoral reform. It has a lot of the laws that were relevant at that time, which have not changed that much since. It has some history and some background, and different systems that are used throughout the world for consideration. It also has some demographic information relevant to Prince Edward Island, which is perhaps not as useful, but may offer some good context. Our two interim reports are in there. Leonard's report is in there as well.
I hope those will provide you with some context. My speaking notes are there. I'm not going to follow them slavishly because I only have 10 minutes, and there are probably 20 minutes' worth or more of notes there. Leonard has covered some of the material already.
I would add a bit of context to what Leonard said. There is actually a fairly in-depth legal background as to how Prince Edward Island ended up considering democratic renewal. In the early 1990s, as Mr. Russell indicated, a number of different electoral commissions were struck. They had mostly to do with the way we were represented, or the boundaries within which we were represented. At the time, we had dual-member ridings that were based on an old Catholic/Protestant system that went back hundreds of years. There was a review of that taking place.
As a result of some changes stemming from that, in the early 1990s, a gentleman named Donald MacKinnon sued the Government of Prince Edward Island, indicating that he felt he was under-represented as a resident of what I think was then called Sherwood or Parkdale, which is an urban area. He felt that he had half the representation some of the more rural constituents had as related to the number of people per MLA on a percentage basis. As it turned out, it went through a trial level decision and an appeal. He was successful.
As a result of that, thresholds were then put in place. There was some of that going on across the country at the time. You'll see in former chief justice Carruthers' report that there was some Supreme Court of Canada case law on that kind of thing developing at the time. There is some interesting context that comes out of that.
I'll skip over Mr. Russell's report and take it to the present day. After the 2005 plebiscite, it was widely thought that the appetite hadn't been satisfied in terms of consideration of electoral reform on Prince Edward Island. There were a number of what I will call sore spots with the 2005 plebiscite. Some thought that the option that was there was overly complex. Perhaps there weren't enough polling stations set up for folks to go vote at, and there was only one day to vote. There were some different things like that.
I guess the landscape from that time forward changed fairly significantly too. To give a bit of context on that, in the last seven elections on Prince Edward Island we have had five legislatures in which there has been a fairly big imbalance in terms of government versus opposition. I will not go through them one by one, but we've had two occasions out of those seven where we've had one member oppositions. That's likely a unique thing to Prince Edward Island, at least in a Canadian setting. We've also had three occasions where there have been between three and five opposition members, which creates problems. You can imagine what it would do if there were only one opposition member to serve on a committee or in the legislature, and so on.
That spurred on the conversation that maybe this isn't the ideal way to do things. In addition to that there was what was felt to be a shift of power back and forth between the two main parties of Prince Edward Island, which have effectively been in power since our beginning of time, if you will.
I think, over the course of our history, there have only been five MLAs elected who weren't either a Conservative or a Liberal. In recent memory—I would include research going back a bit—I think you could go back probably 75 years and there would be two: the current leader of the third party, who is on our committee, and an NDP member in the late 1990s.
In the last election, both the NDP and the Green Party had around 10% of popular support. All four parties vying in the election made campaign promises to deal with some kind of electoral reform. Out of that, in the spring of 2015 after we were elected, the premier presented a white paper on democratic renewal in the legislature, essentially outlining the issues and starting the discourse in relation to them. He committed to move forward with a plebiscite on democratic renewal sometime within very short order after that.
Our committee was struck before the end of that sitting. We're a four member committee now because one of our members has recently resigned, but we started out as a five member committee and did our work that way. There are two government members on the committee: me and the Honourable Paula Biggar. Previously, there was also Janice Sherry. There is also the leader of the third party, Peter Bevan-Baker, and there is Sidney MacEwen. We represent all three parties that are represented in the legislature.
Our mandate was to guide engagement stemming from the white paper on democratic renewal. From there, we got our feet under ourselves and learned a bit about the different systems that might be possible and the kinds of things we should be looking at.
We set out to do a public engagement process through the fall of 2015. We went to as many different communities across Prince Edward Island as we could and seeking input from Islanders as to the kinds of things we should be looking at. What we heard out of that was that there are certain principles we should be trying to glean from the presentations that were made to us.
We had presentations in relation to a number of different systems, the different attributes of the electoral systems we should be looking at, and different things we should consider relative to different kinds of systems.
We came back after our fall consultations and put together an interim report which effectively recommended that we narrow our consideration to four different new options, in addition to our current first-past-the-post system.
We undertook that consideration throughout the course of the winter, in meetings that looked a bit like this one actually, except that members of the public were invited to interact with committee members. Basically, a microphone was passed around to seek input on the different systems and to engage in a discourse back and forth, so it was very informal.
The idea was to narrow down the options that we had for consideration and to try to figure out what a plebiscite ballot would look like. There was a lot of consideration that went into the plebiscite ballot structure over the course of that time. To bring it to a conclusion in that regard, we chose the structure that we have because we thought it would ensure the greatest level of engagement in the process. In other words, it would encourage people to go beyond picking their favourite by essentially tipping voters off to the fact that their favourite might not be picked first and that they might want to have a say in the overall choice through a second, third, fourth, or fifth choice.
We advanced a further interim report in the spring of last year, recommending that a plebiscite take place starting on October 29 and that electronic voting be conducted. Essentially, that means you can vote pretty well any way you can conceive of, including from home at 2 a.m., in your underwear, sitting in front of your computer. Effectively, the idea is to make it as easy as possible to select your choice and to vote. The period is open for 10 days. You can vote by phone. You can vote in person. You can mail in a ballot. You can vote on your computer. You can vote however you wish, and 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to vote in our plebiscite.
There's obviously a lot more that went into it than that, but in 10 minutes, those are the high-level notes of the process that we've undertaken over the past year and a little bit.
Thanks to both of our witnesses for being here today. It is a fantastic day to be in your lovely city and province.
We'd like to also thank members of the audience for coming out to be part of this today. Hopefully, you'll be around to give us your opinions and thoughts on this important topic as we work through the afternoon.
As the chair said in his opening comments, it's really exciting for me and our committee to be here to talk, based on the many years of discussions we've had in this province about electoral reform.
Our committee has spent a fair bit of time on the question of referendum. It has come up more than once and sometimes many times in a day.
I want to go to the education piece. I was reading some of the background materials over the last couple of days. What I didn't see was anything about the education that was done leading up to the referendum, or plebiscite in this case, and what the parameters are around that.
Maybe, Mr. Russell, I could start with you, and then I'll move to Mr. Brown. My question is on the current plebiscite about who's doing the education piece and what the costs are and what parameters there are around other parties getting involved in it. We've heard comments that on complex issues like this, the main message can get lost and you end up voting on other issues. You've had experience. I'd like to know how you're dealing with that whole issue of the plebiscites and the education leading up to it.
Mr. Russell, based on your recollections of what happened back in 2005, could you take us through a bit of the public awareness and education piece?
There are no parameters. Anybody can join in. I understand you're hearing from the head of the PR action team later today. I'm not sure that's part of what she's presenting. Perhaps she could give you some more insight from that side of things.
Mr. Russell presented to us and talked about some of the issues they encountered going through. We made the decision early on that this was something that was going to be a key piece of whatever we ultimately decided to do. As much for reasons of impartiality as anything else, or an appearance of that, we decided to task Elections Prince Edward Island with that job. They, in more recent elections, have taken on that kind of role in any event. It was something that I think they were somewhat keen to do.
They've engaged a PR person and a number of different, what I'm going to call, senior political science students who have been actively involved in their communities in both languages. They have a four fold pamphlet that's going out this week. They have radio spots, which you might hear while you're here. There's a lot of social media activity going on.
Members of that team are going out presenting to numerous groups every day around the province. They've developed an education package to take into the schools, and they do presentations at the schools. With 16- and 17-year-olds voting, that was a key piece of our education platform, and it's really a key piece of our engagement platform. We figured we would get them while they are in school and young, and hopefully they will keep voting after they vote in this plebiscite.
Basically, the idea is that you need to start a conversation in the communities and to foster that conversation.
I agree with you about 50% plus one as opposed to 60%, by the way. I think in British Columbia, when they achieved 57%, it created a legitimacy issue. They were therefore forced to have a second referendum shortly afterwards, because clearly a majority had actually supported the change.
To some degree that was kind of a trick question. The reason I asked it was to make the point that if you have low turnout and people vote no, that is also a legitimate mandate. It is not, in my view, an excuse to say that the people were wrong, that they should have known better, that we don't need to have, or indeed we don't want to have, public consultation, because they might not participate in the numbers we want, or they might vote the way we don't want. That to me is profoundly anti-democratic.
At a practical level, dealing with the education component, it sounds as though you've gone to considerable effort, Mr. Brown, to try to have more public education this time around than last time. Of course a number of things have changed, with access to electronic media and so on.
This question is for both of you. Do you think part of the reason for a lower yes vote in the last plebiscite was a lack of public awareness, education, and understanding of how the systems work? Do you think that is being overcome, or if you don't think it is, do you think it can be overcome as a practical matter?
I don't know who should start with that, but I'll throw it out to both of you.
If I may, I'd like to answer that first.
Mr. Brown has already alluded to a number of the obstacles that perhaps seemed to be in place during the time of the 2005 plebiscite. We were....
This is the first time I'll say publicly what I said into my coffee cup a number of times in 2005.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Leonard Russell: A polling station issue occurred with that plebiscite in that the number of polling stations in the province were dramatically reduced. Folks no longer went to where they thought they were going. It did create some frustration. The other thing that surfaced partway through our educational program was that I think both of the mainline parties in the province realized, for the first time, the ramifications of mixed member proportional.
It was an unspoken issue around our commission table. There were reasons for that. We had party people sitting at the table, nominated by the two main parties. We just didn't talk about that. But again, away from the official spot, several people would talk about what they knew.
The thing that happened was that as the parties realized that it could be possible under mixed member proportional for those who might have the majority under the first-past-the-post portion to indeed not have a majority standing when the....
What's the word I'm looking for? I have a mind block.
A voice: Minority government?
Mr. Leonard Russell: Well, it could result in a minority situation. If the list people were just cut out of it altogether, then they might indeed have a majority standing.
We began to get undermined by the very folks who put us in place. I don't quite know how to back that up, but I do know it was discussed within parish situations, church situations. Parties collectively were advising the general public about the pitfalls of looking at mixed member proportional.
My own view was that the parties of the day realized that the power they could hold under first past the post might not exist under mixed member proportional, but they indeed had asked that mixed member proportional be pursued.
So that's limited, in my view, the number of people who might have voted yes or no, and the number who turned out.
I think you'll make it out of the hall just fine.
We came across from Newfoundland today, and as I was coming in, I was wondering why P.E.I. has been so good at trying to get at this question. Why is it a question here as opposed to not being a big question in Saskatchewan or not being a big question in Newfoundland, just in terms of history? Then I looked through the last, say, five provincial results, and I can see why. Under the results, there have been many occasions when a party got 58% of the vote, but got 96% of the seats. A party got 52% of the votes and then that translated into 85% of the seats. Then in the last election, as you say, the Greens and the NDP came together for about 22% of the vote, and had zero seats.
The will of the voter not being reflected into the House of Commons, is it a strong motivation for the conversation here in Prince Edward Island? I ask you that question more neutrally.
But it's based on people seeing the results that they're seeing.
Let's get into those reasons, because not having the same polling stations—voter habits are what they are—people not going down to the church or the high school they've always voted at, not having as many, having one voting day, etc., are all barriers that we know can distort a vote.
You said you began to get undermined by the very folks who put you in place. It seems that the challenge for politicians in this is the theory versus the practice, I suppose, of electoral reform. In theory, it's hard to look through the results both here provincially and nationally and see that distortion. Voters said this and that was sometimes unrecognizable in the results. In the last two elections federally, we've had 39% of the vote for each of the governing parties who won office, yet they end up with 100% of the power in the House, and 60% or more of voters are sitting there wondering how that works. It seems that it's not difficult to undermine this process. It's almost like you're talking about an elephant in the room.
Mr. Leonard Russell: Exactly.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: As soon as people started to do some math, they went, “Hey, wait a second, this might lead to minority parliaments, might lead to sharing power.” I think sharing power philosophically is not a bad thing, and in Canada's history, it has led to some great policies, such as the social safety net and the flag.
How do we overcome this federally? I'm sure 60-odd per cent of those voted into this Parliament came in with a mandate to change the electoral system. We have a black and white promise from the Prime Minister that that was the last election under first past the post, yet one senses the enthusiasm from the Prime Minister's Office has waned somewhat. We're not getting the kind of energy.... It took us eight months to even get a committee together. It doesn't show urgency. How do we overcome that?
I have to say what a pleasure it is to be back in Prince Edward Island, being a maritimer myself, but especially to have this panel here. This is extraordinarily good timing for us. I hope our presence in the province doesn't in any way interfere with the decision that Prince Edward Islanders have in front of them.
Of course, it may have been implicit in your remarks, Mr. Brown, but I hope you won't mind my expressing my enormous pride in the fact that the one current MLA who isn't a Conservative or a Liberal is the leader of the Prince Edward Island Green Party, Peter Bevan-Baker. He is someone I admire enormously.
I want to go to you, Mr. Russell, because, number one, I can't begin to imagine why your wife would want you out of the house—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Ms. Elizabeth May: —but I'm grateful for your candour. The idea that we're going to name the elephants in the room and give them sandwiches and tea has to be the very nicest way I've ever heard anyone put the notion of dealing with problems of human nature and the human nature of people in politics.
As a British Columbian now, I know that the referenda in British Columbia were substantially undermined because both of the major parties—it's sad to say, Nathan—the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Liberals did not want the referendum to pass to bring proportional representation to British Columbia. My colleagues in the New Zealand Green Party say the reason they had so many referenda in New Zealand was that subsequent and successive governments wanted to do everything they could to avoid their election commitments to bring in proportional representation.
This is going to take an act of political courage that we've not seen from people in politics at provincial levels in Canada. I have to say probably the folks in Ontario would say the same of the MMP resolution, that there wasn't strong support from governments for the Ontario Citizens' Assembly's recommendations for mixed member proportional.
I'd be grateful for any further advice, in addition to sandwiches and tea, for how 12 members of Parliament—and I have to say this, the people around this table are great people, and we wear five different political hats. Our friends from the Bloc aren't with us today, but they're great too. How do we find the political courage to do what's right for the country and for the voters and set aside the fact that at the last minute we may experience political pressure that we ought to duck and not deliver on the promise that 2015 will be the last election held under first past the post?
I was hoping Mr. Russell might have some sandwiches and tea advice.
It's really a simple rationale. It's all about engagement. I could say that and leave it, but I'll add a little context.
The e-voting piece is really in response to, as Mr. Russell indicated, the issues that we had in 2005. It's a far cheaper way to conduct a plebiscite. It's a much more engaging way to do it, which is really to say the issues are not as simple as deciding candidate X or candidate Y. You can sit home in front of your computer and take half an hour to read about them and compare one to the other and do some research and make your decision at the end of your research. We felt that was a crucial piece to the e-voting component of it.
The time frame is expansive enough that there should really be no excuse. It's over 10 days. If people are away, they might be away for a week, but they're probably not going to be away for 10 days. There are all kinds of different reasons for having an extended time frame, but you can do that if you don't have to pay to have a bum in a seat in a poll for 10 days straight.
As far as the 16- and 17-year-olds go, they will vote in the next election. They're in school right now and the hope is—and I think this is kind of paying off—that they will be engaged in a setting where, effectively, there's some structure to how they learn about politics and democracy and they're able to participate in it. Hopefully they'll go home and educate their siblings and parents and grandparents and all the rest of it about the process, and carry that forward through their life in a good, structured, educated way.
Thank you, Blake. Your cheque's in the mail.
I just want to say that Mr. Brown very thoughtfully sent a note over indicating that page 18 of the April 2016 report deals with the issue of voter participation levels. Rather than read it into the record, could I just ask members if we can accept what they said as testimony that's being submitted to us? Would that be okay?
Okay, all right.
I want to ask about something else, Mr. Brown. You dealt in the same report on pages 11 and 12 with the question of how to structure the questions in the referendum. You give a very thoughtful analysis of the five different ways you could have asked the question. Then you explain, having made the decision of a multi-option, referendum how to structure it.
Why did you choose a multiple option referendum as opposed to a single versus the status quo referendum from 2005? I keep saying referendum. I know plebiscite is the term you're using, I apologize.
Also, the way that you've structured it, it's a simple preferential ballot as opposed to a two question ballot, as has been done, for example, in New Zealand. What is the rationale for those two decisions?
I'll start by saying that I'd need a lot more than five minutes to explain the rationale behind that. It took us three or four meetings, times about three hours each, to get to that conclusion.
However, the rationale behind the structure that we ended up with was that we thought that would be the most engaging ballot structure that we could arrive at. If you look back to our mandate, it was to engage discussion out of the white paper, so that's the primary.... It pits our current option on equal footing against four different options. The four different options were related to principles that we had heard about. You start out with a handful of principles that would hopefully represent the different optimal desires that we had heard from the public throughout the course of the fall and then refined it over the winter, and they're each given equal opportunity. Regarding the ranking part of it, if your first is not number one, then you get to have a say in the second, third, fourth, and so on.
That was thought to be better, but I will say that there's no perfect answer to this. You could have a two-part ballot, which might ask: Do you want change, yes or no? Then you would rank your possible favourites for change. The problem with that kind of a ballot structure is that if you don't want change or if you're okay with the system, it's way easier to just say that you don't want change or to not vote at all and never have to consider the other four options. Then in a ballot where all five of them are there on equal footing and you know that one is only a little different from the next one.... The systems that are there are on a spectrum and that's on purpose. If you want a little bit of change, well there are options for a little bit of change. If you want quite a bit more change, there are options for quite a bit more change and you have the opportunity to rank on your order of preference one to the next.
I can see the rationale in allowing someone who doesn't want change to then at least have a choice, if the public is voting for change, to have a say in what form of change is most palatable for them.
Let me say it's great to be back in P.E.I., not golfing, horse racing, or playing soccer, but doing something much more interesting and meaningful. Jordan and Leonard, thanks so much for being here today and for everyone else who is joining us as well.
Jordan, when I was listening to you, you talked about the difference between the process of putting forth a particular option detail versus the status quo and the second option being to provide some high-level, value-laden options for people to choose from. Put the whole question of referendum aside for us, and I'm still seeing the parallels between those two options and the options that we have in delivering a report. The report is a specific recommendation to government versus some areas of common values that we can deliver to government, where there might be an opportunity to find some consensus.
What sort of advice would you have for us, if that's the process we have to undertake? Yes, a referendum will be part of the equation or part of the question, but even then are we providing high-level, value-laden recommendations to government or do you think we need to find a specific system and deliver that in a recommendation?
The reality is that—in my understanding, anyway; I don't presume to know too much—at the end of the day, people have entrusted you to come back to them with their presentations consolidated into something concrete that they can make a decision on. We heard this in presentations to us throughout. I guess the answer to the question is that you have to look at your mandate. I don't presume to know what your mandate is. If it is to come back and give advice in terms of principles, then that's probably what you ought to do, but if it is to come back with a system for consideration, then that's what you ought to do.
What is important, based on what we heard, is that whatever systems you have or have developed, or have been presented to you that you've managed to ball up into a neat package, be related back, at least the general principles that you heard or something that people can effectively get behind. We heard a number of different times that it can't be just something you made up: “Here, this is great. This ought to work.”
In a roundabout way, that's all to say if it is logical and generally something that people have presented as being workable, I think people will respect that, and that's what they would expect as well. Basically, it has to be transparent, and it has to something that people can get behind. If you have accomplished that, and you feel that you have a consensus or a mandate, that's what you need to be looking for.
I don't think it would really be appropriate for me to dictate to you that it should be principles or that it should be a particular system. You really need to hear that from the people themselves. I could give you my own personal views, but that's all they would be.
That's the best I can offer you on that one.
Again, in our situation, we were mandated to bring back a suggested wording for a plebiscite question. Having said that, our committee felt strongly that, unlike what Jordan and his group are doing, it would not be valuable to anyone to try to present something that had several parts to it, whatever it was.
If I can get to your question directly—and if I can be forgiven for just being sent here for the afternoon by my wife—I would say that, for a group of this size that is travelling the country to find the best thinking—if I can excuse myself from that—on the topic at hand, surely it wouldn't be out of place to suggest a question on a particular approach.
If mixed member proportional is the way your committee thinks, on the strength of everything you've heard, then as a taxpayer, I would expect you to make that recommendation, and not have it somehow get caught up in the conglomerate that exists beyond you, to now try to figure out whether that is one of the options or not. Don't challenge me. Not having heard everything, I have to trust you anyway, so don't challenge me with four or five options that I don't know a whole lot about.
I'll trust the committee to do that. I hope you will trust yourselves to do that. I don't know if those who exist beyond you in the House of Commons have that level of trust or not.
You said you wouldn't give a personal opinion, but I'm giving mine.
I wish Jordan and I were meeting with you on separate days, because my comment is going to run over some toes or something.
If the government, however committed, is given too many options to choose from, I think the chances of it being addressed in the manner everybody thought it would be are slimmer than if you took one option to them for consideration. Bear with me on that.
There's already been a commitment made in this province that the issue will be looked at. If the issue is looked at by Mr. Brown's committee, and a recommendation goes forward, it will be tougher for the government not to do something very constructive in the direction being recommended than it would be if it had four or five incremental types of recommendations.
I am fearful of any government, your own included, that would see a small though seemingly significant change made to the electoral system that in the end would not allow proportional representation in the House, given the concern that now seems to be all around us, either provincially or nationally. If in the end it didn't allow that to happen, then if I were on your committee, I would ask what all this has been about.
Surely the people who put your committee in place, as with Mr. Brown's committee, understand that you do your legwork, you bring in your recommendation, and then it's time for something to happen. I think it will, if the choices aren't too great, when it gets to that level.
I remember once being offended by that comment. I was 15 at the time.
One of the things that kills well-intended statements, beliefs, and intents is that it's fuzzy when it comes down to the point of the big group making the decision. That would be the same whether it was a committee of a Lions Club or a chamber of commerce or whatever it was. If it's still too fuzzy when it gets down to the level of the big organization to make the decision, then the chances of breaking from tradition and making that decisive step into the unknown, so to speak, are greatly reduced, I think.
I know you don't have this information, but I spent 35 years serving the public. It wasn't at this level, but I had to answer to irate parents of schoolchildren. I worked a bit at the level of government on a secondment basis. I know the difference between being in the public and trying to do something and working with government and trying to get something done. I've learned on both sides that if you're going to do the work, make it concise and clear. Put it on the plate, move it across, and say, “Okay, we have a consensus. We've agreed on this. We certainly appreciate the fact that we were tasked with doing it.”
Mr. Russell, I wanted to follow up by delving a little more deeply into the comments you made in response to Mr. MacGregor's question.
You indicated that you think a single question on the ballot is preferable or a single option versus the status quo, as opposed to multiple options. It sounds to me, although you didn't quite say this, that you are expressing a fear that I have also had, which is that if you have multiple options, by necessity, they are not as fully fleshed out as a single option would be.
This leaves the executive branch ultimately responsible for working out the details and claiming they have a mandate from, in our case, the committee that gave it to them or alternatively from the voters in a referendum. However, they're not actually bound in all the particulars and potentially could adjust a little bit here and a little bit there in ways that may not be visible. This would result in a system that is not as fully proportional as would otherwise be the case. Once it's not proportional, by definition, that means that one party is getting more seats than its votes would warrant.
Maybe I missed it, but was that a concern you had?
I'm honoured to be here today on behalf of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women. The advisory council is an arm's-length provincial government agency made up of members from across Prince Edward Island appointed to the council by the provincial government.
The provincial government strives to ensure that the appointments reflect diversity. Current members include women of a variety of ages, abilities, and backgrounds. We have members who are newcomers to Canada and to Prince Edward Island; and women who are part of the LGBTQ community, the francophone community, and indigenous communities.
The advisory council has a legislated mandate to advise the provincial government and to provide education to the general public on issues that affect the status of Prince Edward Island women. The under-representation of women at all levels of government is an issue that profoundly affects the status of women.
For more than 10 years, the advisory council has had a position in favour of proportional representation as an electoral system. We are persuaded by evidence from around the world that jurisdictions that use proportional representation systems tend to elect more women to their Parliaments for a variety of reasons. We advocated for proportional representation during Prince Edward Island's 2005 plebiscite. Today, in 2016, we are working very hard as part of the P.E.I. coalition for proportional representation to encourage Islanders to vote for proportional representation in the plebiscite that begins at the end of this month.
Because our mandate is provincial, when we talk about electoral reform, it's primarily in the context of electoral reform for Prince Edward Island. Our analysis is focused on the five electoral options that will be listed on the Prince Edward Island electoral reform plebiscite ballot, but I hope you will find these have some relevance for the federal discussion.
Along with the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government, from whom you'll hear in their own right this evening, we recently did some gender and diversity analysis—what is sometimes called GBA+ at the federal level—of the five electoral options for Prince Edward Island to determine which options support women's equality and greater diversity. We've provided copies of our full report entitled “A Preference for Equality” as a reference document.
The five ballot options on the P.E.I. plebiscite ballot include three winner-take-all options. These are the first-past-the-post system, first past the post plus leaders, and preferential voting as part of a winner-take-all system. There are two proportional representation electoral systems. These are dual-member proportional, which is a new mixed proportional system you'll hear more about later today, and mixed member proportional, which I think you've heard plenty about.
The model of mixed member proportional that's being proposed for P.E.I. is based on two-thirds of the seats being elected at the district level and one-third of seats elected from province-wide lists in an open-list model, where voters, not parties, directly choose the top candidates from that list. I made that distinction because it does have relevance to our analysis.
Our analysis of gender and diversity factors demonstrates, we believe, that proportional representation options have some distinct advantages in promoting some factors that are really important to us, with an increase in the number of women elected being the first and most important factor. The number of women elected under the first-past-the-post system has been stagnant or decreasing in P.E.I., and electoral systems worldwide that use PR elect an average of 8% more women.
We looked at the likelihood of more women, more diverse women, and more diverse candidates being elected from smaller parties, because smaller parties, the third and fourth parties in Prince Edward Island, have tended to nominate more women, more diverse women, and more diverse candidates overall, except as leaders.
The note about leaders is important because one of the options on the ballot—first past the post plus leaders—would almost certainly result in seats in the legislature for some third and fourth parties, but only for leaders. We've only had four female party leaders in P.E.I. history, among all the parties.
Promoting an increase in collaborative processes is another value according to which we assessed the options. Some women have described combative legislatures as a barrier to running for office, and some systems increase the likelihood of collaboration because they often result in a coalition being needed to advance the political agenda.
We next looked at promoting a decrease in negative campaigning because an electoral system that reduces the rewards of a personal or partisan attack in campaigning could be supportive of women. We know that negative campaigning is frequently influenced by biases about gender, race, class, ability, and other diversity factors. It should be noted that our analysis suggests that preferential voting would also have a positive affect on negative campaigning because it would reduce the rewards. Anyone seeking someone's second, third, or fourth ranking, if not their first ranking, doesn't want to run down opponents.
Those were the advantages we saw in proportional representation. Our further analysis suggested some specific advantages for mixed member systems as a result of the changes that would happen in the nomination processes. I can answer questions about those later.
As part of our analysis we also put together a quiz for Islanders to help them match their democratic values with the systems that are on offer in Prince Edward Island. Over 450 people have taken that quiz and the results so far are that 87% of respondents have stated a preference for democratic values that align best with one of the two proportional representation options that are on the P.E.I. plebiscite.
Thank you, members of Parliament and members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, for inviting me here today to talk about how electoral reform can assist people with disabilities in being better represented in our elected bodies.
I'd also like to take a moment now to acknowledge the Mi'kmaq first nations peoples whose traditional land we are gathering on today.
Statistics tell us that 3.7 million people are living with disabilities in Canada. This represents over 10% of the Canadian population, yet this is not reflected in our elected bodies nationally or provincially. Our current federal government for the first time in history appointed a . This is a first good step, but we believe if we had a proportional electoral system, we would see elected bodies truly reflect the diversity of our communities.
If we had a PR system, it would allow for the number of seats captured in the legislature to truly reflect the percentage of popular votes cast at the ballot box and move us away from the winner-loser mentality that we currently have in our first-past-the-post system. A PR system encourages parties to be more conciliatory, more open to co-operation and collaboration, thus eliminating and reducing the adversarial nature of our current first-past-the-post system. This has the potential to create an environment for people from diverse groups to feel more valued, which will increase our participation in the electoral process.
A PR system would greatly reduce wasted votes, resulting in increased voter engagement and a reduction in voter apathy. A PR system would ensure that minority parties had access to representation, resulting in a multitude of voices being heard to shape legislature and policy. A PR system would encourage parties to campaign beyond the districts in which they are strong or where the results are expected to be close. PR systems are designed to maximize the overall vote regardless of where the votes might come from, resulting in a system where all votes truly matter. A PR system is less likely to lead to situations where a single party holds all the seats in a given province or district, again honouring our diversity.
A PR system would lead to greater continuity and stability in our policy development. First-past-the-post systems make long-term social and economic planning more difficult. PR coalition governments help engender stability and a coherence in decision-making that would allow our national development to benefit the majority of citizens. This is a key point for people with disabilities. When we have opposing parties with ideologies that are very different from one another, which continue from one election to another so they can get elected, we see extreme changes in social policy with regard to dealing with vulnerable people. We've seen that in our last government, as funding was stripped away from many sectors that serve our most vulnerable in this country. Now we're seeing that being reversed with our current government. This is a huge cost to the taxpayer, to the well-being of the individuals whom government is supposed to be serving.
All these reasons listed above would create more diversity in our House of Commons and our other elected bodies. It would result in more people living with disabilities running for office, as they would no longer be at the whim of a two-party system that uses the disability rights movement as a political football.
Fairness and plurality are fundamental Canadian values, and a PR system would honour those values and create a true democracy.
First of all, thank you for the invitation to Cooper Institute to come and present this afternoon. It's wonderful to be able to make this presentation on behalf of Cooper Institute.
I'd like to thank you especially for taking the lid off Leonard Russell. We haven't heard Leonard Russell talk like that since 2005, and he didn't talk like that in 2005. That was a joy, I must say. I was around in 2005, as you can probably guess.
I'll just say a little about Cooper Institute and how we figure into this. Cooper Institute is a community-based social justice collective. We work in communities across Prince Edward Island on social, economic, and ecological issues that are vital to island residents. The objective of all our work—we have deliberately chosen our objective—is the promotion of democracy. It's for the voice of people to come from the people. What we want is a full promotion of democracy in its full meaning.
We are proud members of the P.E.I. coalition for proportional representation, so you might hear a bit of a bias.
We welcomed the opening up of the electoral reform prospects again for P.E.I. It was really important that it be opened up again, because it was not addressed properly and fully in 2005 because of a lot of restrictions, which Leonard brought out. It's also really good to have this question brought up on the federal level.
We long to see the end of the first-past-the-post system—that it's gone, period—and we really hope for proportional representation.
It is surprising and a bit disheartening, however, that both levels of government, if supporting any change—and I'll put the “if” there—seem to be leaning in favour of a preferential ballot, ranked ballot, alternative vote, or whatever you want to call it. In the case of P.E.I., there are signs that, in the midst of all this discussion, the powers within the Liberal and Conservative parties may even be promoting retaining first past the post, which has served them well over the years. The resulting lopsided majorities and absolute power have not served Islanders well. They have served the parties well.
Preferential ballot is not an electoral system. Research shows that this method serves up similar lopsided majorities and absolute power to first past the post. Preferential ballot is merely a mechanism. It should not be on our list. It is not a choice. That's the first point.
Preferential ballot is merely a mechanism, and it can be used within various systems. It's how the votes are counted and the manner in which people actually express their vote, in terms of one, two, or three. It is a helpful mechanism for vote counting in both the winner-take-all systems and the proportional systems. It's a mechanism, not a system. There is no place in the world where ranked ballot or preferential ballot is used as an electoral system. It will be a very accommodating mechanism for us in calculating the results of the P.E.I. plebiscite, so again, it's a mechanism that will be used, but it shouldn't be on our plebiscite ballot.
Some commentators have pointed out that AV even appears to be a partisan solution for one party. The projections are that the Liberals would have won 224 seats in the last election if we had used preferential ballot. When we look at that, we really have to say it's a criticism, and it certainly is not a leaning that we would expect to come from the federal government.
I just have some comments on the plebiscite. A plebiscite, first of all, is a flawed instrument for democratic decision-making on electoral reform. That's our position. First of all, the results of a plebiscite are not binding on the government. People may be shocked. Voters would be really shocked to discover that, once again, their vote means so little.
The choices on the plebiscite ballot involve the creation of new knowledge on the part of voters. New knowledge doesn't come from the top down. It doesn't come from consultations. It doesn't come from lectures, and it doesn't come from displays. It comes from the full engagement of people in their communities and from their own interests. This takes time, it takes resources, and it takes non-interference from the defenders of power.
The other thing about plebiscites is that democracy is not enhanced by resorting to an election-style campaign to convince people to opt for one choice over another, without regard for voters really understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each option for a community's well-being.
We have another situation across the country, but we especially experience it here in P.E.I., which is that the Canadian election culture is, unfortunately, rooted in the mentality of a two-party system, even though we have a history of many parties at the federal level, although not so much at the provincial level. We have a two-party mentality. We hear in P.E.I. a lot, and I'm sure you hear it across the country, that a third or fourth party took the votes away. They took somebody's vote away because they voted for the NDP or the Green Party. That's the language we hear.
The experience of voting Liberal or Conservative, which is P.C. in P.E.I., in a winner-loser sports model, gives us a grim picture of two parties vying with each other for absolute power. We have not just a two-party system mentality but two parties. Any real transition to a democratic and representative democracy will require some serious growing up on the part of political parties. The test of maturity is that they acknowledge that democracy is not about them. Democracy is not about political parties. In a truly democratic electoral system, every person's vote counts. We know all of that.
Something that touches us really deeply, as one of the Atlantic provinces, is the fact that in the federal election, the Liberals won every seat in Atlantic Canada, despite the fact that 40% of the region's voters actually voted for other parties. We have right in front of us here, close to home, an example of the total wipeout of other parties.
Finally, from our perspective, only proportional representation can give us any semblance of opening up true democracy as the voice of people. Once again, we say that this is not only the parties. We must adopt a form of government that truly represents the makeup of a community in terms of gender, ethnicity, country of origin, ability, and race.
Thank you very much.
It's wonderful to have the diversity of opinions you presented today. It's a bit different from our first panel. It's always fantastic when we have an all-female panel. The perspectives you bring are really appreciated.
Again, there are newcomers in the audience. I look forward to hearing from members of the public this afternoon. Thanks for joining us.
I'm going to begin with a bit of a discussion about proportional representation. Each of you has spoken very succinctly about the benefits of change and about doing something other than first past the post. As we've travelled the country, we've heard many positive things about proportional representation systems.
We have seen electoral reform before, and in some cases, it has failed and we have ended up remaining with first past the post. I'm hopeful that our committee is going to be able to come up with a consensus report that will give our government something to work with. If any or all of your organizations have looked at the possibility of improvements within the existing system, I'd like your thoughts on what some of those things could be.
As an example, if we're concerned about women's low participate rate, what kinds of incentives can be given? What kinds of disincentives can be created for parties? It is the same for persons with disabilities and others who may be disenfranchised from participating. I'd simply like to throw that out, if any of your organizations have looked within the first-past-the-post system. Are there other improvements that could be made?
Second, when you balance out those kinds of improvements versus moving completely to a proportional representation system, are you still committed to PR or some form of PR as the preferred solution?
The first part is whether there are other things we could do within the existing system, and the second is, given the option, which is the best way to go.
First, significant changes could be made to help increase the number of women in politics in the current system, and I would submit, in any electoral system that we change to. I don't think it's inherent in this system or in any system to provide incentives and supports of the kinds that are needed to genuinely increase the number of women. Those incentives need to include things like mandated targets for diversity, requirements to comply with targets or explain missed targets, comply and explain mechanisms, financial incentives, or penalties for meeting targets. Best practices are legislated quotas, but there's no appetite for that in Prince Edward Island or here. We would be in favour of more positive incentives than negative incentives.
Then there are direct supports for candidates that would increase the number of women and diverse groups. That could include child care expenses being covered, which they currently aren't under what Elections P.E.I. is able to cover as a support during elections, direct financial support, some things like that. All systems, including first past the post, require those kinds of things. They are not inherent in the electoral system, but in the structures we put around it.
Ms. Carroll, following up on your concluding remarks, in my party, the Conservative Party, in 2008, I proposed an amendment to our constitution to change the way in which we elect our leader so that it would take place by means of a mail-in ballot. That was partly to deal with accessibility issues for people who are disabled or for people who are far away from polling stations and don't have a driver's licence, and so on. Obviously, the same problems that exist in a party exist within a federal or provincial electoral system. I think you are right to be concerned.
Also, there is no regulation that requires nominations to be in accessible buildings, although there are rules about formal polling stations under the Canada Elections Act, so that's good advice for those of us, Ms. Sahota and I, for example, who sit on another committee that deals with reviewing the Elections Act. Thank you for that thought.
I think our focus was on the nomination process, because we've seen the nomination process as the biggest barrier to women getting elected. Getting the nomination is harder than being elected. When women are elected, their fortunes rise and fall in measure with the parties that they represent, so it shows that people aren't discriminating against women at the polls.
However, there are some of the proportional systems, particularly those that have some process of creating a list, that take us beyond selecting candidates district by district without a quota that is imposed. It's very hard to kind of influence one district to the next to get a half and half split at the end, because each of those contests is independent, each of those decisions is based on independent factors. When you're creating a list, there's an opportunity for positive pressure to include more women, to include more diversity. The pressure is at the door. The whole party is going to have to account for it if you have only a few women on your list. The whole party is going to account for it if you don't have enough rural representatives on that list, or if you have too many from one language group. All of these create some positive pressure to create diversity.
We have lists now, under the first-past-the-post system. We don't write names on ballots. We create a list, one by one, district by district, and party by party, without having any structures that allow for a broader consideration without imposing quotas.
I wasn't going to go there, but—
It's a real pleasure to have the three of you here. I'm going to preface my comments because every time I ask a question, Twitter goes crazy and they assume the worst, but I have to ask the question.
In Parliament, only 26% of members are women. I absolutely want to see more women run for office at all levels of government. I don't want barriers for those with disabilities or minority groups. I'm just prefacing all of that.
That said, as we mentioned, Ms. Ledwell, the biggest barrier for women is the nomination process. When we get that nomination, when we're one of the candidates, we win—I'm living proof of that—but it's getting that nomination. Getting that nomination has nothing to do with the electoral system, the way we vote; it has to do with parties. Right? You mentioned that. You talked about incentivizing parties to run more women candidates.
We talked a bit about legislated quota requirements, financial incentives, and direct supports to candidates. You mentioned something about day care expenses. Actually, day care expenses are an allowable expense through Elections Canada, as are expenses for those who have a disability. I just want to clarify that.
I'm just going to move over here where the mike's a little more accessible, speaking of accessibility.
I want to thank all of you for being here, and I want to in particular thank you, Ms. Ledwell and Ms. Carroll, for your work to make sure that you're doing everything you can to ensure better opportunities for women and disabled people to be part of the political system as candidates and, I would assume, as voters as well.
I wanted to just get your thoughts on a few of the other items that were in the Liberal Party platform. There are various options that were going to be looked at as part of this consultation process. You've, obviously, all expressed your viewpoints on proportional representation and your belief that it's the route you'd like to see. But they also listed the idea of a preferential ballot, and also talked about looking at online voting and mandatory voting.
I want to hear thoughts from the three of you on those topics and whether you think those should be looked at, and what your thoughts would be on those three things.
Ms. Carroll, I just want to revisit the exchange you had with Ms. Romanado.
It made me remember a story going back to my parents when I decided to join the NDP and get started on a long road. My parents come from the Liberal end of the spectrum. I remember their initial reaction was, “Oh, well, that's all well and good, but you might want to think about that in later years because it's not really going to be a path of success.” I remember saying to my parents, “It's not about winning or losing, it's about finding a party that aligns with my values.”
I think every constituent can go into an MP's office and get help. I know this because I used to be a constituency assistant. That's kind of separate from the policy work we do in Ottawa. For example, a New Democrat living in rural Alberta will get help from a Conservative MP, but that person's values will not be reflected in Parliament by that MP's work. It's similar to a Conservative here in Atlantic Canada.
When you said you had a very strong disagreement on that point, is that really what you were alluding to? Would you like to expand on that?
What you talked about in terms of your history is very much an experience that I've had in my own family. I think all Islanders are pretty much.... You can say their last name, and we think we know how you vote because of your family of origin.
I come from a very political family, so if I chose to run for a party that wasn't Conservative or Liberal, I probably would have gotten the same feedback from my parents as you did. I'm glad that you followed your values and became successful in your path.
What I was really trying to say is, and I apologize if I came across too strongly, I really believe that if I were to sit in front of an MP who wasn't of the party that I was known to vote for—or people thought I voted for because, like I say, people assume that in P.E.I.—I still think that MP would try to help me to the best of their ability.
I don't know that I, as an individual, would reach out to that person because of the values they hold. Maybe that barrier is on me and not on the elected official. We hear the stories over and over again that they went to see the MP and, because of their political party of origin, if I can use that language, they felt their voice wasn't being heard.
That was part of what I meant when I talked about parties. A well-functioning system that is proportional is going to make more demands on parties than anything else you've ever had. Parties will have to change their model of how they represent people, who they represent, and how they present themselves to the public.
When I watch and participate in electoral campaigns, I don't see much difference among the four parties as they're running, as far as their electoral tactics or campaign tactics go. They may be more subtle, but it's a game. It's a sports model or a business model. You have to have your brand and present your brand, and that type of thing.
I think that's where parties cause a lot of problems in the political system. The parties themselves cause some problems, because you almost have to buy into the system and get out and fight and try to talk about your opponent. It's quite a sick system. People say, “It ain't broke, so...”, but it is, really, right from the nomination system through the campaign to your positions as members of Parliament. You have a party frame around you that, in fact, has defined how you run your election campaigns.
I must say that the running of the election is not that different among all the parties. That's where a lot of growing up has to happen. Can we find parties that will learn, really learn, to collaborate? The example Jane gave from P.E.I. is a very touching example. Candidates from two different parties were working together in the campaign.
I would like to speak in support of proportional representation. I am here on behalf of my two little granddaughters and in fact all the children and youth of Canada who I hope will inherit from us a better voting system than we currently have.
I have voted in every federal and provincial election since I was old enough to vote, and almost every time I either felt my vote was wasted or I felt compelled to vote strategically. As a voter, I have felt frustrated and cheated.
Clearly, proportional representation would eliminate both of these issues. Citizens would not feel forced to vote for any party or candidate who was not their first choice, and every vote would count. The distribution of seats in the House would represent the will of the voters—all the voters—across the country. Very likely, more people would exercise their right and responsibility to vote, knowing that their vote would make a difference.
Under a system of proportional representation, the co-operation necessary among parties to pass legislation would result in laws that would be more representative of the true majority of Canadians. Such legislation would also be less likely to be reversed by the next government. There would be more women, more visible minorities, more indigenous people, if voters could influence the outcome of more than one seat. Parties would nominate a more representative range of candidates to attract the votes of the diverse population of Canada.
Canada is far behind other democracies in electoral reform. It is time for us to choose a voting system that is fair and that gives voters an opportunity to elect a Parliament that is truly representative of their views.
Canadians are fortunate to live in a country that is safe and egalitarian. We can make it even better—more just, more inclusive, more progressive—by adopting a system of proportional representation.
I'd like to welcome your committee here. We were afraid that decisions might be decreed from the middle of the country, so we're very happy that you're visiting P.E.I.
My comments are few and simple. I ask that you invite the people of Canada to vote on this very important issue.
In P.E.I., as you've heard, we have a plebiscite. We were hoping for a referendum. There is a number of issues with the plebiscite. The complexity of the questions is daunting. We all know that in order to get good results, a research question, which this is in fact, has to be clear, and the questions are not clear. In addition, it is a preferential ballot, which I think will provide the opportunity for many spoiled ballots.
In closing, thank you for coming to the birthplace of Confederation, and I ask that all Canadians be allowed to exercise their democratic vote.
My name is Judy Shaw. I was not born in Prince Edward Island, but I retired here to my family's farm in St. Catherines, Prince Edward Island. Prior to that, I worked for a large agri-business in Canada and in Switzerland, for 34 years. That's where my comments come from.
I also want to thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here, and also for the fact that you are present in Prince Edward Island, the most beautiful province in Canada.
My comments are limited to one aspect; that is, the great importance of how we vote and what changes can be made. For this reason, I believe it should be taken to the people by either a referendum or a plebiscite.
I was here all afternoon, and one of the things that didn't come out this afternoon was the fact that the people around your committee, as well as Mr. Russell and Mr. Brown, had the opportunity to come into a committee and learn a great deal from the discussions you had around the table. Please don't take that away from the people. Only through a referendum or a plebiscite could that happen.
With all due respect, I would consider it incredibly arrogant for a committee, which had the opportunity to have this discussion, to take it away from the people.
That's all I have to say, and thank you very much.
I just want to say thank you to the committee. I realized this afternoon that this committee is actually formed with the PR system, which is awesome. That's what Canada wants: a PR system put in place.
I actually sit on the P.E.I. Federation of Labour and was asked to come and speak on behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress. I also sit on the coalition for PR and have learned so much in the last year about our election system. I am going to read just a few notes, since it's only two minutes.
CLC's slogan is “Proportional Representation. It's not complicated. It's just fair.” Canadians have an opportunity to choose a new way of deciding how their votes count and how elections shape future governments. It's an opportunity to choose new election rules that make voting matter so that more people feel it's important to participate. New rules let people see their vote still counts, even if the candidate or party they vote for doesn't win.
The simplest way to achieve this is for Canada to choose new rules like those used by most other countries. Some of the biggest modern democracies in the world have rules based on PR. As we know, times have changed. Not only do we all get to vote today; most of us vote for the political party we want to win far more often than we vote for any individual person, although that's still important.
When there were just two political parties, things still worked out, but today Canada's politics are more diverse, and first past the post isn't able to reflect that reality. Because local votes aren't reflected in the results, people feel their votes are wasted and stop participating. Studies of elections in countries that still use first past the post also show that fewer women and candidates from minority backgrounds are elected.
When we are talking about diversity, with Canada being multicultural, we really need to have more minorities and a more diverse section of MPs in our House.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished committee members, I will confine my remarks to the public education campaign to precede a plebiscite.
When you recommend to the Parliament of Canada how to do this, please do not follow P.E.I.'s example. We have been kept in the dark. I called the chief electoral office in P.E.I. about a week ago, and I was told that there would be a mailing to every household in October. Voting starts October 29. There is really no time for public discussion or discussion among our friends. I think a lot of people, like me, are perfectly ignorant of the nuances of mixed member proportional representation and dual-member proportional representation. The only one of these five that I understand is first past the post, which is the only one I've ever seen. I understand it, and I fear that this is the one that P.E.I. is going to pick on its plebiscite, because we are ignorant of the other methods. Whether this is planned by the establishment or accidental I don't know, but we are certainly very much in the dark at the present time about these methods.
Our media has let us down badly. There has never been a good discussion that I know of in any of the media about what these different methods mean. I am very disappointed about that, and I am very disappointed about our government not letting us have an opportunity to learn about the other methods. This is really not a fair plebiscite, so far as I am concerned, I really think it should be postponed for about six months, but that's not going to happen.
Anyway, that's all I have to say.
I would commend, first of all, the Liberals and even . I was a very good Liberal for a long time, but my member of Parliament is , the member for Cardigan, so you can understand why I'm no longer a really good Liberal.
But did in fact tell us that this would be the last unfair election; 2015 as the last unfair election, that was a promise. We were also told that every vote would count. We cannot just tinker with the system a tiny bit and have the result of every vote counting. My favourite is DMP.
Last October, we changed a strong, stable Conservative 39.6% majority for a Liberal landslide of 39.5%. We have a 39.5% majority in Canada, a 40.8% majority in P.E.I., 42.5% in New Brunswick, 45.7% in Nova Scotia, 38.6% in Ontario, 40.6% in Alberta, 41.5% in Quebec, and 44.1% in B.C. Does this sound like a system that's working for everybody? I don't think so. It's not working for me.
I've been out knocking on doors and, to a person, what young people say is, “I don't vote and I don't vote because the system doesn't work; I don't believe in this system.” I'm trying to get them to come out to vote to change the system. There's some movement there, I'm hoping. We can only hope.
I went to every single hearing on Prince Edward Island from our local committee, which doesn't have the courage to actually make a decision but who is putting it out like this in the ballot. A young person listened to everything that was said and stood up at the very end and said, “I didn't choose the system that we're using now. Why don't you change it to something better? Let's try that out for a couple of elections, and then if you want to change it, have a plebiscite and we'll know what we're voting on.”
If you think you can do a better job, it's your job to do it. That's why we voted for you. More than 60% of us voted for a party that favours electoral reform and proportional representation. It's your job to get on with it. I sure hope you do.
Good day. I just want to say welcome to P.E.I. It's very 1864, delegates from Upper and Lower Canada coming down to Charlottetown. It's awesome. It's perfect. It's very apt that you guys are here, so welcome, everybody.
I just wanted to echo some of the other people who are here supporting proportional representation.
John Nater, you had a concern earlier regarding the districts and the fact that some of the members would be list members and some of them would be representing a district. One of the options not on the literature that the panel is studying but that we are looking at in P.E.I. is the dual-member system. It's pretty interesting because the solution I think to the concern you were discussing is actually to combine the districts. In P.E.I., for example, we'd be guaranteed four. Therefore, if we ended up with two districts of two each, that would be four. We wouldn't have to double the number of MPs across the country. We could keep the number of MPs relatively the same.
By combining the districts you have a couple of advantages. You're alleviating the concern of list members who aren't accountable to a particular region, so you take care of the concern about lists. You get more collaboration between parties—I think that Marie Burge was mentioning that earlier—so you get more collaboration, people working together. It also still offers regional representation.
To one of the other concerns, regarding stability over time, essentially in our current system we have these massive shifts. You have a blue majority and then you have a red majority and you have these huge shifts. Proponents for the first-past-the-post system like to say that it's more stable and that minority governments don't work. But as Darcie mentioned about the total number of votes representing the people, it would actually be stable over time. If you had a minority government system representing, say, 10% Greens, 20% NDP, and so on, representing what the people believe, the next election wouldn't shift very much, and the election after that wouldn't shift very much. Over time, you would have a stable representation in those minority governments, which can work and works in many countries.
I'm Leo Cheverie. I'm a member of a number of groups, but I am a member of CUPE P.E.I. and represent CUPE P.E.I. in the PR coalition. CUPE national, Canada's largest union, has also endorsed proportional representation as an electoral model that they are supporting.
I want to talk very quickly about a bit of history because I think it's really important. I know when P.E.I.'s legislature formed, it was white, propertied, Protestant males who composed the legislature. By 1864, when we actually had all the fathers get together—I've never been a father, but I've played one—for Confederation, there still wasn't a very inclusive system in terms of women and other groups. We could go through the whole history here. Even on P.E.I., we had to go to a Charter of Rights challenge to actually have single-member ridings that reflected the population more accurately in our legislature.
I also want to tell you one little story. I know this came out later on, but I know that 's father Pierre Elliott Trudeau approached the NDP caucus when Broadbent was leader to suggest we should have PR, and asked for their support. It didn't happen at that point in time.
They did it because they wanted a Canada that was more representative, so that in actual fact, with people elected MPs across the country, you would have Liberals in Alberta, you would have Conservatives or other under-represented parties in Quebec. Part of that was a vision, recognizing that we need a system that better represents all the people across the country. That's why he proposed it.
I think we have to remember that as well. I also think that in terms of MMP and a plebiscite referendum, Brenda spoke very well about what happened in the only two countries that voted, Switzerland and New Zealand.
I also met Darren Hughes, who's a part of the Electoral Reform Society in London, U.K., and he is a former parliamentarian from New Zealand. He said the circumstances there were unique in terms of how that came about because they actually elected governments that had fewer votes than the other parties. He would not recommend a referendum or a plebiscite. He said that's not the way to go in terms of moving forward, and he talked about New Zealand's example being unique in terms of why that came about at that point in time. So, I don't think that is the way to go.
Also, in terms of healthy collaboration and the democracy that we have—both Josh and Marie spoke about it—we actually have to change the nature of politics, to make it more inclusive, to include more voices, but also how it's done in terms of people coming together and trying to solve problems together, whether it be climate change or whatever. Extreme polarization does not help in a healthy democracy and actually turns voters off.
Look at younger voters who are looking at what's happening. We're trying to encourage people to be more involved, and I know there are many examples around the world. For example, there's lots of movement towards participatory budget-making, where people get involved in helping to determine the budget as opposed to—
Thank you very much to the committee for inviting me to be a witness tonight.
I had three topics that I wished to discuss, but in five minutes I can really only do justice to one. At the end, I'll mention what the other two were, and if you'd like to ask me questions about that, feel free.
I want to speak today about dual-member mixed proportional representation, or DMP, designed by Mr. Sean Graham, who I understand gave you a great rundown of that system in Alberta last week.
First, I'll speak about what I like about DMP and why I decided to advocate for this model as one of the options in the provincial plebiscite coming up, which, obviously, was successful because it is now on the ballot in P.E.I.
Second, I'll speak about my experience of how DMP has been received by the island's public in our work today.
These are the top four things that I like about dual-member proportional and why I think it would be an excellent choice, not only for P.E.I. but also for Canada.
First, it is a strictly proportional system; however, it relies entirely on local district candidates. Open-list MMP and STV agree very well with my personal values, but I do know that any form of a regional list, which is a reality in both MMP and STV, and a two-tier Parliament are two real sticking points for a lot of people. I especially find that true for people who strongly value accountability to local geographic communities. DMP is a proportional system that satisfies that criteria.
Second, DMP demonstrates diversity within small geographic areas. You've heard a number of times today that it's just not right that the Conservative Party has been entirely shut out of the Atlantic provinces despite having 40% of the vote here federally. Likewise, looking at the first-past-the-post map of Canada, the U.S., my home country of Australia in the lower house, and the U.K., you would get the impression that everybody in this region votes red, and everybody in that region votes blue, and there's no showing of the diversity of both communities.
In my few short years that I've lived in this country—I have been here for three years, in Montreal for two and P.E.I. for one and a half—I've learned that Canadians strongly value diversity, and the electoral system here should reflect that, not only across the whole country but also within the communities that we elect our representatives in.
In dual-member proportional, diversity is visible in a very small geographic area, not only in the large regions. In DMP, each local riding would be represented by two candidates who are likely going to be from two different parties. What this means is that many more voters are locally satisfied than in the current system.
The other two points that I like about dual-member proportional, very briefly—there's a long list, but these are my top four—are that DMP allows for the theoretical possibility of a legislature that is composed entirely of independent candidates. I don't know of any other proportional system that allows for that possibility. I think we're probably 50 or 100 years off that, but I think it's an interesting theoretical feature of the system. Finally, it has an extremely simple ballot for a proportional system; you mark a single X.
My second point is how DMP is being received by the public in P.E.I.
Through my work as the founder of the PR action team and also now as an employee of the P.E.I. PR Coalition, I have personally spoken with hundreds of people one-on-one across the island, on the street and at their doors, about the upcoming provincial vote. I'm very happy to report that most people who prefer proportional representation are not fussy about which model they want. Where it gets interesting is speaking with people who don't object to the principle of proportionality but who are uncomfortable with some of the specifics of one of the proportional models.
As an example, I will share some words, which are available on the public record, from Sidney MacEwen and Brad Trivers, who are both Progressive Conservative MLAs here on the island. Both of them have expressed publicly that they are in favour of either dual-member proportional or first past the post in the upcoming plebiscite, but not mixed member proportional. Why is this?
In a recent CBC article, Mr. MacEwen was quoted as saying:
First and foremost, the MLA gets elected on a district level...The MLA or the MP must be responsible to its constituents...Before I got into politics, I might have thought maybe a mixed-member proportional system might be OK. Now when I look at it, it creates two tiers of MLAs where you're not directly accountable to a constituency, so in the next election you don't have to go back to the doors and answer for the decisions you made in the house.
You can agree with that or not, and I personally would argue with some of those points. I'm quite a fan of MMP personally, but I know there are some people, like Mr. MacEwen, who just can't square their specific values with that particular model, because their values are so strongly rooted in local communities.
I'd like to suggest that DMP offers a way for people who share those values regarding local community accountability to feel comfortable supporting a proportional representation model.
I'll leave it at those initial points. I truly think that DMP could be a model that could gather majority support or perhaps even consensus support from this committee. I'm happy to answer questions on the technical details or the values behind DMP, as well as on two other topics. One is the question of a referendum on Canada and why I—acting as one of the campaign directors for the P.E.I. plebiscite campaign— think it would be a terrible idea. I'm also happy to answer questions about features of the electoral system of Australia, the country of my citizenship, regarding things such as majoritarian preferential voting, mandatory voting, or STV in the Australian Senate.
The PEI Coalition for Women in Government thanks the special committee for the opportunity to appear here this evening as a witness. It's particularly meaningful to appear on this topic during Women's History Month.
For some context, the PEI Coalition for Women in Government is a multi-partisan coalition of individuals and organizations that works to advance opportunities for women to be elected to all levels of government here in P.E.I. It's important to note that the coalition has a long history of participating in electoral reform, specifically proportional representation at the provincial level here. The focus of our submission is specifically on the opportunity for greater accessibility and inclusiveness of women in under-represented groups within electoral systems.
We know that women make up more than half of the Canadian and island population but are under-represented at both levels of government. Despite more women than ever before being elected to the House of Commons in 2015, the percentage of women MPs is 26%. Without any changes to the current system, it will take approximately 90 years to reach gender parity at the federal level. The numbers are even more concerning provincially, where women make up just 14.8% of members of the legislative assembly here in Prince Edward Island. Women can only make a substantial difference to the political discourse when they are present in more than token numbers, according to the United Nations, which has identified the critical mass of women in government as 33%, or one third.
History and examples show that the number of women in government will not rise naturally on its own. A concerted and sustained effort is needed to increase the number of women elected and includes a combination of approaches that also address structural and systemic barriers, which includes the electoral system.
The biggest barrier we have found to electing women lies with getting women's names on the ballot in the first place. Political parties provincially and federally are simply not nominating women at high enough numbers to make substantial change. There's also significant variation between parties in number of women candidates. Historically, smaller parties have nominated more women; however, this has not translated into electing more women within the current system.
While our work has always focused on collaborating with individual women and political parties, it has always remained clear that the whole electoral system requires a significant overhaul to ensure a truly representative democracy in which elected representatives reflect the diversity of the population.
When we look at democracies with the most balanced proportion of women, we find that most of these have some form of proportional representation. Almost all of the top countries outlined by the Inter-Parliamentary Union use some form of proportional representation.
Proportional electoral systems contribute to the election of more women because there's more diversity among parties elected. Under some proportional systems, parties are responsible for developing a candidate list, either closed or open. In these cases, parties are more likely to look at the list holistically in terms of gender, diversity, and perhaps geography, a balance between those identities, and a contagion effect is more likely within proportional systems. Contagion is a process by which parties adopt policies or practices initiated by other political parties. Proportional electoral systems are more likely to include smaller parties with more diverse candidate lists, which inspire other parties, then, to ensure their lists are also representative of the population. This would be true of P.E.I. and Canada, where smaller parties have historically nominated more women candidates than larger, more dominant parties.
According to research by political scientist Arend Lijphart, proportional representation has a positive impact on the number of women elected to government. For instance, he found that countries using proportional systems elected 8% more women to Parliament than majoritarian systems. In comparison to the recent federal election, where we saw a small 1% increase in the number of women elected to the House of Commons, an 8% jump in the number of women elected would bring Canada much closer to gender parity.
When we look at democracies with the most balanced proportion of women, we find that most of these have some form of proportional representation. Canada has a unique opportunity to develop a new proportional electoral system designed with a gender and diversity lens to best meet the needs of our increasingly diverse population.
In closing, we would like to thank you for this opportunity to provide input into your process and we look forward to the outcome.
I am interested in the question of civic engagement, and mandatory voting connects with that very well. It also connects very well with the discussions you're having over electoral reform because I would argue that at least one of the purposes of electoral reform is to try to improve civic engagement among Canadians, the theory being that the current system is not conducive to many Canadians believing that their vote counts or that they have a voice.
What is mandatory voting and why is it being considered? The theory, as best I can understand, is that voting is more than a right, it's also a duty, and that people sometimes need a bit of a nudge in order to be convinced to perform that duty. The general claim is that in systems like ours there is a disproportion, or a skew if you like, in the population who are voting in any one election. Older people vote more than younger people do. Better-educated people vote more than people with less education. Wealthier people vote more than people who are not so wealthy. As a consequence then we have a political system that tends to favour those groups at the disadvantage of the groups that are not voting.
The theory continues that if you make voting a duty that is mandatory, that is enough of a nudge or incentive for the groups that are not voting now to get out and vote, and that this would provide a better socio-economic voting distribution among the public.
I'll let Anna speak about this if she likes, but systems that do use mandatory voting like Australia do not have an onerous penalty. It's around $20 if you don't vote, and there are ways in which you can explain why you were not there. It's not like it's a major problem.
Some of the comparisons that are made are between mandatory voting and things like seat belt legislation. There was a great public campaign for us to all wear seat belts. I remember that growing up, but we didn't wear them until they made it mandatory, and now we do. If you ask people what is the fine for not wearing a seat belt, I'd be willing to bet most people don't even know. They just accept it as something that we're supposed to do. That seems all very well.
However, having said all that, I'm not in favour of mandatory voting and I'm hoping that the committee will not recommend such a system. My concern is that we're missing the point. Yes, voting is a civic duty and is itself a form of civic engagement, but it's also a measure, a reflection of the engagement of the community. In other words, people are not voting for other reasons than simply because they haven't been nudged, and if we have mandatory voting we risk overlooking those or masking those. So I'm going to suggest some reasons why I think people are not voting, and why voting turnout is going down.
It's kind of ironic to be talking about this in Prince Edward Island, by the way, because we regularly have the highest voting turnouts at provincial elections in the country. In the mid-80% is normal. But I would suggest to you that people don't vote because they have come over time to see elections as not making a whole lot of difference. In other words, they see the results as being little different from what they were before or they don't see that the choices are valid to them, or they don't think that their vote counts. A substantial number of people have been turned off by the electoral system.
The conclusion I have then is that if this committee is going to be looking at electoral reform, what I'm hoping they will do is keep clearly in mind the question of civic engagement because I think that should be the main goal in whatever improvements you are able to recommend or any improvement that you want to make.
Thank you very much.
I suppose the best answer to this is to think about who I am and who you have heard present to you from the P.E.I. Coalition for PR today.
I'm personally a climate change and renewable energy expert. I've spent 10 years working on this issue. For the last year, I've diverted all of my effort and energy from working on that issue to working on this issue. Likewise, people from the Coalition for Women in Government, the Status of Women organization, Council of People with Disabilities, Federation of Labour, CUPE, all of these organizations, and the Cooper Institute, trying to advance social justice, environmental sustainability, really trying to advance these issues.
All of us in the coalition feel, in common, that the current first-past-the-post electoral system is a barrier to progress on all of those issues, so we are willing to put aside our time that we should be spending pushing each of those issues forward, trying to fix this broken system. If a referendum is called, federally, what will happen nationally is the same thing that has happened here, where I've now spent literally a year of my time—I have a nine-month-old son—but aside from that, all of my time has gone into this campaign.
I don't know if we're going to succeed or not. There are so many factors at play. We are working so hard. We have volunteers going door to door who have made things like this, taking photos of people, explaining the difference between what we voted for and what we got, at people's doors. We're a very under-resourced group, but it is taking so much time from progressing these other issues.
If you want to call for a referendum in Canada, I want you all to know that you would be setting back social justice progress by a huge amount. You have the capacity to simply make a decision in this committee and that would free up the resources of all.... It's not only the financial costs to the taxpayers, it is the time cost of the advocates who would need to be running the campaigns, to educate people across the country.
I feel very strongly about that.
This is a sneaky trick question.
I think one of the things that can be hard for people to understand at first is that in most districts, whoever is the most popular party and whoever is the second most popular party will both have their representatives elected in that district, which is great, because it means that many voters are fulfilled. If the winning candidate got 40% of the vote and the second-place candidate got 30% of the vote, then you have 70% of the voters in that district who have the representatives that they voted for, which is a very nice feature.
In dual-member proportional, sometimes it happens—and this is in a minority of districts—that it is the first-place and the third-place candidates, or the first-place and even the fourth-place candidates, who can be elected. You can imagine that that might confuse and upset people in that district, but I think it's understandable because of the provincial balance. If people vote for the second-place candidate in a district, and if that second-place candidate didn't win, then it would be because the party of that second-place candidate was awarded their seats in places where their party did better than in that particular riding, and so the third-place and fourth-place candidates would be the strongest showing for that party across the province.
One of the nice things about dual-member proportional is that the district where that happens changes every election. You wouldn't get one geographic district that is consistently disadvantaged over time. It might be that one riding gets their first-place and third-place candidates this election, but the next election it'll be their first-place and second-place candidates.
In learning about DMP and really looking at the models and studying it, I think that it is by far the strongest system that I've seen. I was spending a number of years working on climate policy in different countries, and I thought to myself, “What would my ideal electoral system look like?” I had a back of the envelope idea. When I was considering my submission to the provincial process, I was thinking that I'd sketch out this idea, but then I read through the other submissions and I found Sean's report. I thought this guy had written exactly what I would have written had I had a two-year period to research, report, develop the system, and test the model mathematically.
I think it's a very robust system. The weaknesses of DMP are very slight compared to the weaknesses of other proportional systems. Every proportional system, every system, has its pluses and minuses, and I think that DMP has the fewest weaknesses.
Perfect. What I'm trying to do is pinpoint the motivating factors and/or barriers and how we can address each of those barriers. I think it's going to be a combination. The magical solution will be a combination of things that will increase women's participation.
I'm curious to see how many young women run for office. That is a double complexity.
We had, in the last election, and I've spoken to Elizabeth about this, a candidate for the Green Party in the riding next to mine. She turned 18 on the day of the vote. They had to actually verify whether she would be eligible to run, but she ran for federal office. The youngest woman ever, the youngest person ever, to run for federal office was Casandra Poitrasin in Longueuil—St-Hubert, my neighbouring riding. Kudos to her for having the chutzpah to do this.
I think it's a double challenge: getting youth engaged not just in terms of voting but in terms of wanting to run for office.
We've heard some other testimony—I love using this, because people give me dirty looks—about male, stale, pale candidates and MPs. I had to throw it in there, John.
Anyway, we've heard this. How can we get a little more diversity in the House? Is there any advice you would have on how we engage? We might use the same method, the same tactics, we use to engage women to run for office to get younger folks and visible minorities, those with disabilities, and aboriginals to decide to run for office. Do you have some points on that? Then I want to talk about mandatory voting.
I'll jump into this one.
The lower house in Australia uses preferential voting. I think the important thing to remember about preferential voting, from my perspective, is that, sure, it feels better to the voter when you cast your vote, because you don't have to vote strategically. But that is the only problem that preferential voting solves compared with first past the post with just a single X. You don't have to vote strategically. You can list the parties in your order of preference, and it's an accurate representation of a voter's wishes.
In the Australian experience, it does consistently lead to people who can go their whole lives with their first-preference vote never counting. It creates voter inequality between different voters. Some voters have their first-preference vote count and some voters only have their second- or third- or fourth-preference vote actually count.
I think the inequality it creates between voters is unfair. It's still a winner-take-all system. There are winners and losers. It turns some voters into winners, “Oh, great, my candidate got elected.” Some voters, however, just have to suck it up, “Hey, the person I wanted didn't get elected.” With proportional representation, everybody's first-preference vote counts equally.
I think preferential voting should be off the card. The five values of this committee point very strongly toward proportional representation. Let's make this discussion about which model of proportional representation you're looking at.
Thank you, everybody, for being here.
Professor Desserud, thanks very much for highlighting the issue of citizen and voter engagement.
I'm struggling to identify what exactly it will take to better engage people at the ballot box. The decline in voter turnout is a matter that is afflicting western democracies across the world. In Germany the MMP system has seen a steady decline over the years; Ireland with STV, a steady decline; Japan, MMP, a steady decline; PR in Netherlands, a steady decline; New Zealand, after a slight bump in their first MMP election, a slight decline; the same in France with the two-round election majority system, the plurality system, or however you want to perceive that; and also in the U.S. and Canada. We're all seeing voter turnout on a trend of decline.
We have evidence to suggest that a move to a PR system could help bump voter turnout by upwards of 3%. That same testimony from André Blais suggests that strategic voting, though reduced in a different system, is effectively shifted to another consideration. Citizens are likely to express greater fairness in the election; however, their overall satisfaction in democracy isn't necessarily enhanced, and governments, although they may represent a more diverse viewpoint in Parliament, do not necessarily reflect the average policy preference of voters.
What are we to do?
Thank you to our witnesses. I apologize for not being here earlier. I was dealing with some stuff back home.
Mr. Desserud, I think calling question period a “whole shooting match” is more appropriate than maybe you intended it to be.
Also, I have some caution when you talk about doing a sort of incremental step, a smaller change. We've been studying this for almost 100 years and we haven't done anything about it in Parliament. Parliament has been engaged with this topic on and off for almost a century.
It seems to me that there's the urgency of now. If you have an opportunity in which you have a government that has made a black and white promise to change the first-past-the-post system, we should seize the opportunity and come up with the best we can right now. I don't know when the next reform opportunity will come, and I think that then says to me that we should aim for consensus and aim for the best.
You also mentioned the collegiality of the committee. Some committees operate that way, and some don't. I don't know if you know, but this committee is based on a proportional representation of the vote in the last election, which by everything we do requires some amount of conversation among all the parties. No one can push one agenda. I've sat on committees in majority and in minority governments. The difference is incredible, from a member of Parliament's experience but also from the public's experience, where we've brought witnesses and tried to go on tour and been denied and all those sorts of things. I guess our first working model on proportionality is what is sitting in front of you today. I think it may also be just the personalities that we've collected, but I don't think it's just that. I think there's more.
I haven't spent a lot of time in previous committees talking about mandatory voting, and I will admit that my initial inclination toward it has been negative, just in terms of tone, sending to the voters that voting is a thing that if you don't do we'll punish you. We only do that for a few things: taxes, speed limits, and other fun things. We want voting to be an enfranchisement and the right to not vote to also be a choice.
Let me ask this, perhaps of you, Ms. Keenan, and Mr. Desserud after that.
Follow this logic out: that the long-form census, when it was not mandatory, was not representative in Canada. It didn't take a representative sample. It was a self-selected sample. Our voting is a self-selected sample as well. Therefore, one could argue it is not wholly representative.
It is overrepresented in our voting system right now toward older male, pale voters, right? We know that they disproportionately vote more than other groups in society, and there is no doubt then that we elect parliaments that don't look like Canada as a whole. So I'm making a pitch for exploring mandatory, maybe with an incentive rather than a punishment. Could you comment on that, Mr. Desserud? And I apologize if these questions have been asked already.
I'd like to say that the more the committee work progresses, the more I'm becoming a firm believer in mandatory voting. I'm developing a greater and greater appreciation for the arguments on the subject. I think we'd solve a good portion of our problems with civic engagement and social inequality. The politicians don't take into account a certain social class, since fewer people in that class vote. I don't want to go back to the subject, but I did want to mention it. Several people have spoken about it.
My first question is for Ms. Wilson, and it concerns how we could get more women to vote.
Most people who speak to us about the proportional system think it would result in more women being elected to Parliament. However, experts tell us that it wouldn't have any impact and that incentive measures should be implemented instead.
People have suggested using open or closed lists. We could implement measures that would require the political parties to include women on the lists. This could ensure a certain amount of female representation in Parliament, in case other women candidates in the constituencies aren't elected.
If we have the power to include women candidates on the lists, why couldn't we simply implement measures that would require the parties to have 50% women candidates, without even changing the electoral system? I have trouble seeing a link between the electoral system and the percentage of women elected. If these measures could be implemented in the proportional system, why couldn't they be implemented in the current system?
I want your opinion on the subject.
My next question is for Ms. Keenan.
I was very surprised to hear you say that a referendum would set back progress. I don't know whether those were your exact words.
Professor Rémy Trudel, in Montreal, Quebec, spoke of a referendum as a powerful way to teach, inform and educate the population. We experienced this in Quebec during the referenda on separation. We often hear that only a small segment of the population is interested in the matter. You said yourself that, for one year, you and certain organizations directed all your energy toward trying to educate people.
We might not obtain the result we want from a referendum because there's always a risk. However, I think it's an incredible opportunity to inform and educate people. Together, the political parties and organizations would have the financial means to really increase awareness. It would be better than changing the electoral system simply for the sake of changing the electoral system.
Don't you agree?
I wish I had brought with me a sample ballot for DMP. I don't have it with me, but I believe Sean Graham provided you with one last week in Alberta.
Parties can run either just one single candidate or they can run a primary and a secondary candidate, but in addition, independent candidates can also be listed on the ballot, exactly the same as they are now. You have four different parties and then an independent or two. An independent can be elected in dual-member proportional in the same way as under first past the post, if they win the seat, but also if an independent candidate places second in the seat, that candidate will be elected to the second seat in that district.
In that way, it actually might lower barriers to independent candidates being elected. If you had two independent candidates and they were the first and second representatives, the first and second most popular representatives or candidates in that seat, then you would have two independent candidates in that seat.
The way that I understand mixed member proportional, potentially—I don't want to say; I could be wrong on this—independent candidates can run for the district seat and it's more complicated to have them run on the open lists. It can be done. In STV, we know the ballot is very complex. Independent candidates can be included, but it's very rare that they're elected.
When I was campaigning for this past election, I heard a lot at the doors about members being available to their constituents. That's not something I really thought that much about before running as the candidate, and then I quickly realized that it is what people are really attached to. They want to see their member out in the community. They don't want to have you disappear to Ottawa and then just come back next election to knock on their door again for their vote. They want to see where you are.
As you were saying in that quote, I would have been somebody who thought, yes, you don't need to be attached to a riding; you need to just represent a political view of a party and it's all about policy-making. Of course, we enjoy that and that's why we get into it, but then we realize there's this whole other layer and a realm of connection with people and helping people with the day-to-day federal issues that they might encounter. In some communities, the populations can be more vulnerable to maybe not understanding the system and might rely on their members of Parliament a lot more than in other communities.
I'm very much a constituency member. I work a lot in my constituency. Before becoming a member, I didn't realize there was that much work. I never went up to my member's office, ever, before to talk to them about a problem. Then I realized, wow, every day there are tons and tons of people who have problems. Hopefully we can get to a point where the bureaucracy is fixed in a way where those problems don't occur, but the way it is right now, they do and they're reliant on their member of Parliament to be connected, to be close, to be accessible.
I do like that the MPs still maintain that connection, although in some of the bigger constituencies you might not know where the members could end up setting up shop. I think that could be a little bit of a problem. Anyway, I don't even know where I was going with that, but I just thought that quote was very interesting. I think it's a value that a lot of Canadians do hold highly, and they don't realize it at first.
In terms of women and representation here in P.E.I., Ms. Wilson, you said you couldn't talk about why they don't run federally, but you do have some statistics on maybe provincially why they don't run. I come from Ontario, and in Ontario we have better numbers than the federal average. We have 35.5% representation of women. What's going on in P.E.I. that might be different from what's happening in Ontario, yet they're still both under the same system?
Thank you to our panel. It was very engaging. I think you could tell by the reaction of the members that all of today was very engaging for us.
Thank you, Ms. Keenan, for revisiting DMP. It allowed us to really make sure that we understand its characteristics.
Thank you, Ms. Wilson, for your work on the challenge of bringing more women into elected office.
Thank you, Professor Desserud, for giving us a bit of a reality check on how our system really works and how complicated the causes of the declining voting rate are. I must say that you brought up some very good points about how difficult it is for governments to get results in a globalized economy and system.
Thank you very much.
We're going to go to the open-mike session. We have about 10 participants who wish to come up to the mikes.
For those who may not have been here earlier today, I'll just go over how we do this. Essentially, we have two microphones. I'll call up two people to begin with, one at mike number one, the other at mike number two. While the first person is speaking at mike number one, that will provide time for the person at mike number two to prepare. Then when mike number two is free, I'll invite someone to take that position while they wait to speak, and so on. We will do a little rotation.
Our Island, and I would like to suggest our country, have been built on strong principles, principles like fairness, neighbourliness, inclusivity, and integrity. I would like a voting system that reflects those values.
On fairness, Islanders and Canadians like fair play. We don't like injustice. Is it fair when 40% of Islanders elect a majority government that holds 67% of the seats and therefore 100% of the power? I would like an electoral system that reflects our desire for fairness.
As for neighbourliness, one feature of island life is our desire to help each other, and that's reflected in an infinite variety of ways, in fundraisers and socials, going all the way back to the day when you would help your neighbour get the crop in. This naturally collaborative instinct is not reflected in politics today. Politics is combative, hostile, and unfriendly. It's quite the opposite of who we are as Islanders and Canadians. I'd prefer an electoral system that promotes co-operation and working together towards shared solutions.
On inclusivity, Islanders are inclusive. We don't like to leave people out. We embrace diversity. But our current electoral system consistently creates a legislature that does not reflect the rich variety of island life. We are diverse ethnically, socially, and in age, and yet our Parliament is dominated, as somebody said, by pale, stale males. My community is 51% female, and yet our legislature is 15% female. I would like an electoral system that would result in a more diverse Parliament that better reflects who we are.
Concerning integrity, Islanders are principled people, but our politics, unfortunately, has not always been that way. Patronage, cronyism, and corruption have long, storied histories on Prince Edward Island, and part of the reason for that is that, for over a century and a half, two parties have shared power almost equally, holding 100% of the power 50% of the time, which has been fine for them, but it's created all sorts of problems. I'd prefer an electoral system that would minimize the opportunities for the abuse of power, not facilitate it.
In short, I would prefer a proportional system.
I support proportional representation. It only makes sense to me that the percentage of votes that a party receives should be reflected in the percentage of seats in Parliament or in the legislature. I appreciate that the committee has come to P.E.I., but I suggest that you not use our current electoral reform process as a model.
I realize that a number of people, as Anna Keenan mentioned, have put a lot of effort into the current process, but ranking five possible options on a ballot in a plebiscite is unlikely to result in any change for the better.
I suggest that you not recommend a referendum or a plebiscite. Recent examples of referenda are Brexit, and the failure of the peace process in Colombia. Referendums are not necessarily good indicators of what would result in positive social change, political change.
Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals promised that the last election would be the last first-past-the-post election, so there's no need for a referendum or a plebiscite.
The only reasonable alternative, in my view, to first past the post is proportional representation.
I hope the committee will not recommend a referendum or a plebiscite, but will choose a form of proportional representation from the available models and put that forward for action. Personally, I favour the dual-member proportional, and I did even before Anna made all those convincing arguments this evening.
Thank you so much for coming here to Charlottetown.
I am a musician, an activist, and an incurable political junkie. I am looking around this room at the faces of people who have the opportunity to make history. You've been given such an incredible task. What you are about to do is the most important thing in Canadian democracy since women got the vote.
I feel the excitement in this room, and I know you can do it. Even if we fail with our flawed plebiscite here in Prince Edward Island, we are all working so hard. You are the people who can get this job done.
I've been voting for 40 years. Sadly, I have never voted for the winning party, but I am not a particularly unlucky person, because in most of those cases I was in a group of 60% of the country that was not represented by the government in power. You have as little as 38% of the popular vote giving a party 100% of the power, and that happens in Prince Edward Island over and over again.
A couple of years ago, we had a very unpopular highway project, and in an informal plebiscite, 93% of Islanders said, “We do not want those hemlocks coming down. The road is fine the way it is. We don't want to spend that $26 million.” What happened? The government with 38% of the popular vote rammed that through.
This makes the work of activists absolutely gruelling. In my lifetime, I have spent so much of my time when I could be writing songs coming to meetings and begging people, who were actually being paid, to do the job, to do the right thing. But 60% of us go home empty-handed because the power continuously lies with so few.
I am happy to say that I ran for the Green Party in the federal election last year, and 75% of the Green Party candidates in Prince Edward Island were women. We had a very strong showing. I had a great experience, but I knew there was no chance of winning. I am very concerned about the state of our democracy, but this woman will not run again under first past the post.
Please, make history. We have great confidence in this committee.
Thank you, and welcome to Prince Edward Island. We are very pleased that the committee came to Prince Edward Island.
First, I want to touch on the subject of a preferential ballot. I have a strong opposition to that. The root of this is choosing a preference where there is agreement on the subject, and the exercise is to distill the options. It is efficient when choosing a variation of a proposition. I'd like you to think about choosing a new car. You decide on the make or the model—or you decide whether it's going to be a four-door car, a minivan, or a sports car—and then you decide which one you are going to buy. You don't have to choose the differences. You have already decided on one thing, and then you distill that down.
Parties must present voters with options, and vigorous, respectful debate is not an enemy of democracy. A preferential ballot will lead to fewer policy options, as all parties will try to be at least the second choice.
If we are going to change the way Canadians vote, we should allow Canadians the opportunity to vote on the options. To say Canadians voted for this in the last election, I believe, is a stretch. Canadians voted for a $10-billion deficit, and I think the budget presented one slightly higher than that. Every election we make choices. I expect most non-partisan voters have to accept some compromise when they choose a party and its platform. I have friends who had much trouble voting for the current government based on a certain issue, but they thought the previous government had to change, so they did that.
I don't believe this issue was central to the mandate that the government received, but I do agree with Mr. Cullen that the desire of the government to look at the subject does present the opportunity for a full and wholesome discussion. If the discussion concludes that our current system is the best option, then this discussion is still worthwhile.
Thank you to the committee for coming to P.E.I. It brings Parliament to our province and we're very appreciative of that.
I guess I'm another—what is it—male, pale, and stale, so I apologize for that. I was the Conservative candidate in the last election in Charlottetown—the unsuccessful Conservative candidate, I should say, so I'm open to all options available. I have been unable to find any option that would have got me elected so if you can come up with one, kudos to you. That's all I can say.
Like other candidates across Canada and in Prince Edward Island, I knocked on thousands of doors during the federal election. I can only speak of the Charlottetown riding, which is where I ran as a candidate, and I can say that the electoral system was not front and centre. It may have been brought up with candidates for other parties—I'm not sure—but with me it was not.
I got asked about lots of issues at the doors I knocked on, but this was not one of them. There were issues like jobs, the EI system, Canada Post, and the refugee crisis. There were many issues that were brought up, but this was not a significant issue, at least not to me.
I'm not sure what the answer is, whether it's a referendum, a plebiscite, or a ballot question at the election in the fall of 2019. I'm not sure, but I do think, Mr. Chair, that there is some process beyond just this.
I appreciate the excellent work this committee is doing, but I do think there is some process beyond this and beyond just going back to Parliament, because if it was not an issue at the door for me, it may not be an issue in other ridings either. Above all, it's very important to get buy-in from the public on this issue. This is a very important issue for Canadians. I offer a word of caution to the committee. Just make sure that the public buys in to whatever the recommendations to Parliament are, and then it's up to Parliament.
There is a process out there. I can't put my finger on whether it is a referendum, a plebiscite, or a ballot question on the next election, but I think there is some process beyond this committee and beyond Parliament to ensure that there is buy-in from the public.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for being here. I realize it's a tremendous contribution you're making of time and effort, travelling the country, one-night-stands, going from place to place like rock stars, and presumably not trashing too many hotel rooms. I know it's been a lot of hard work, and like many other Canadians, I am interested in this issue and very appreciative of that.
I want to start off with something with a little audience participation, if I could. Could all those who can comfortably stand up, please stand up for a moment.
This is an election 100 years ago and I'm going to arbitrarily assign 4% of this group, which is about 30 people, as electors. You, sir, will represent indigenous voters, because this is who was voting 100 years ago, so, sit down, sir, please. You, sir, will represent south Asians 100 years ago. You sit down, please. You, sir, will represent east Asians. You sit down, please. All the women sit down, please.
This is who was voting 100 years ago, lest we forget. Thanks. Everyone can sit down.
I agree with our previous musician friend that this is history in the making, and I can't underline that more. This is a historic opportunity. Now that I'm older, I play a little game with my friends called, “I'm so old that...” whether it's in my work as a family physician or as an observer of social change. Just think back to a previous generation, whatever it is, and think about the illegality of homosexual orientation, and the illegality of interracial marriage in the sixties, in the United States. The list goes on and on. We changed profoundly. We look back at previous generations and say, “How the hell could they do that?“
Well, this is what we have now. What this is is the GTA, anatomically correct, so to speak. Each of these little animals represents 51,000 voters, colour-coded according to the party they voted for. In one group over here are those who voted Liberals, about 1.25 million voters in the 50 ridings of the GTA, and over here are the same number of voters, within 1%, who voted in the group either CPC, NDP, or Green. Check out the outcome by MPs. There are 47 Liberal MPs and three CPC MPs.
I'm on the executive committee for the riding that I live in, which is Simcoe North, in Ontario. I was away on a canoe trip when you were in Toronto, and that's why I'm here. I'm visiting my friends in P.E.I.
I go around to schools and talk about electoral reform. I would challenge any member of this committee, if you wish to take up the challenge, to go into a high school civics class, as I have been doing for the past two years, and try to explain how first past the post makes sense. I guarantee that to anyone who's not been indoctrinated in voting first past the post, it's inexplicable. You cannot make sense of it. Unless you think I'm manipulating by presenting an aberrant situation here, about 52% of these voters got what they voted for, which is about what happened in the last election. As you may know, only 49% of people got what they voted for.
This is the take-home message, I hope, at the end of the day. Who can live with this? Who can honestly live with this? This is an accurate reflection of what happens every election under first past the post.
My challenge is that you have to look at historical perspective and see that you are making history. Get rid of first past the post. That cannot work. Where you go from there is up to you and how to make it work. First past the post's day may have come, but it's gone now.
By that same token—and it's the last point I'll make—if the argument for a referendum is that we want Canadians to have a chance to show us their preference, then you have to have a system where Canadians have a chance to show their preference, not a 50% chance, but close to a 100% chance.
By all means, have a referendum that doesn't have first past the post on it. Have people try a new system for two or three election cycles and vote again, because first past the post is going down if it goes head to head against any kind of proportional representation system.
Thank you for that time.
I just want to thank all of you for coming to this small place that we call home. This means a lot.
I learned about this about a week ago. It made me the most enthusiastic about anything to do with government in my entire life. The fact that you are here really means a lot.
I'll give you an idea of where that enthusiasm has come from. I have been through five elections now, believe it or not. I'm only 32, but I've been through five elections, which I think is one piece of evidence of how our current system is broken.
I can tell you right now that I'm trying not to be dramatic by saying that I don't really feel like I live in a democracy right now. Democracy, as far as I've been told my entire life, is when a majority come to a consensus. That hasn't existed in my whole life. That's just flat out wrong to begin with. That right away is really dismal. I think all the committee has to do is look at the trend in terms of voter turnout as the population has gotten older and more young people are starting to want to become engaged. There's absolutely nothing preventing people from becoming engaged except our voting system. I haven't voted once where I thought it counted. I turn up every single time because I care about this country and I go home hoping that some day somebody will make a change to this system. This is the first time that there's been any talk about it.
Essentially, I think it's necessary, unless you think it's right that Canada has 58% of its population show up at the polls, and that gives the government a mandate to basically make every single decision for four years. Even as an MP I would not be very enthusiastic showing up knowing that only 58% showed up, and also that 39%, essentially, make all the decisions.
I'm here hopefully to advocate on behalf others who have voted recently, basically other young people who've only experienced a minority majority government.
I'm also here to advocate for a system called direct party and representative voting. I know that it's not currently in place in any federal government in the world. What I'm hoping is that this committee will look at some of the failures and some of the strengths of the systems and perhaps be open-minded enough to—