Thank you, everyone, for hosting us today.
My name is Mr. William Schatten. I'm from Forum Research. I'm a research director.
As you are aware, Forum has done several surveys on the topic of electoral reform. Most recently, we conducted one across Canada. It was in field from October 7 through October 9. We conduct our public opinion polling surveys through a telephone random-digit dial. It's connected to what's called an IVR, an interactive voice recognition platform. This survey I'm going to be discussing today has a total size of 1,043, which produces a margin of error of approximately 3%, meaning plus or minus 3%.
To start off, we probed Canadians on the importance of electoral reform among a series of other competing popular issues facing Canadians right now. Electoral reform had a fairly high rating. This is on a nine-point scale, where one is not at all important to Canadians and nine is extremely important. Electoral reform, on average, across Canada had a 5.5 rating.
There are some nuances in the results. Electoral reform is most important among NDP supporters, at 6.6 out of nine, and is particularly high among residents of Quebec as well, at six out of nine. It's least important among Conservative supporters, at 4.5 out of nine.
When Canadians were asked, “Should Canada change its electoral reform system?”, half of Canadians indicated that we should change our electoral system, at 45%, a third disagreed, and a fifth were unsure. Most support for electoral reform is found in British Columbia and Quebec and also among younger voters.
We also probed Canadians on whether they were aware that this committee had been formed. There's an even split about awareness. Just under half of Canadians were aware. There was more awareness in B.C., at 59%, and less awareness in Quebec, at 36%.
Could Canadians describe the different competing electoral systems? That is a fairly tough question, but we phrased it as, “If you were asked by a friend to describe proportional representation, first past the post, or ranked ballot systems, would you be able to confidently describe these systems?” There was higher confidence in proportional representation, at 63%. First past the post was at 54%, and the ranked ballot was at 41%. However, to put that in context, we than asked, “What electoral system does Canada currently have in place?” Only 40% indicated first past the post. A fifth didn't know, a fifth said we had PR, 12% said ranked ballot, and 4% said we had something else entirely. So there is a knowledge gap that exists among the Canadian public on this topic.
Finally, we asked, “What is your preference?” We then went on and gave a brief summary description of the three different systems and asked Canadians, “What is your first choice for an electoral system for Canada?” Most popular was first past the post, at 42%, followed by proportional representation, at 35%, then ranked ballot, at 23%.
We then asked, “What is your second choice for an electoral system?” Ranked ballot was the most popular second choice, at 40%, then PR, at 35%, and first past the post, at 25%.
Finally, we asked, “Did you vote in the last federal election in October of last year?” Then we focused specifically on non-voters. We asked non-voters, “What is the primary reason you did not vote in the election?” Here are some points that speak to this committee. Eleven per cent of non-voters indicated that the reason they didn't vote was that they felt their vote would not count. When we asked non-voters specifically, “If we had a different electoral system, would that have encouraged you to vote?”, 28% of non-voters said, yes, they would have voted if we had a different electoral system.
That's the conclusion of our results. We have polled on this issue several times. These releases are made available publicly, and we'll be continuing to poll on this issue in the foreseeable future.
I'll begin by telling you a bit about myself. I'm a professor of political science at Carleton University, where I hold a research chair in Canadian parliamentary democracy. My research is primarily in the area of political parties and electoral democracy in Canada, and comparatively with other Westminster democracies. I'm the immediate past-president of the Canadian Political Science Association, and perhaps of particular relevance to your work, I was director of research for the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, under Premier Lord, in 2004-05.
I am, of course, acutely aware that you have been studying this issue quite intensely for several months, and that you have already heard from dozens of political scientists and others interested in the issue. I suspect many of you could probably teach a master's course in electoral systems. Accordingly, I'll refrain from rehearsing the pros and cons of the various systems and the representational implications of them. Rather, I'll use my 10 minutes to focus on something that I think is very important but has received very little attention thus far, and that is the implications of various electoral systems for the internal operations and organization of our political parties.
I do have views on the other more general issues facing the committee, and I'd be happy to discuss those in the question period, if you would find that of use.
Many of the functions of our parties and the nature of internal party democracy are affected by the choice of electoral system. These include the principal functions of our parties: selecting candidates, election campaigning, government formation, and party leadership selection. Time will not allow me to say much in detail, but I will use examples from Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, which between them use STV, MMP, and AV systems, and are, I believe, among the most useful comparators, as they are parliamentary democracies with similar political cultures and democratic infrastructure to Canada.
For candidate nomination, if MMP is chosen, I suspect it would likely come with closed party lists. The question then is, who in the party has the authority to construct a list? Using New Zealand as an example, we find that the three main parties—Labour, National, and the Greens—all hold delegated conferences at which party members elect the candidates to be on the list. The electoral law in New Zealand was changed with the adoption of MMP to require that parties use “democratic procedures” in constructing their lists, and that these procedures include participation of party members.
The parties differ, however, in the all-important process of determining who gets ranked where on the list, which is fundamental to determining who ultimately gets elected. The Greens hold a plebiscite of the entire party membership to determine this using a mail ballot. Labour does it through something called a moderating committee, whose membership has been highly contentious in recent years, as all parts of the party, as you can imagine, want to be included on that committee. Currently, its membership is quite large. Many, including the party president, relate that they think it's too unwieldy. It includes MPs, regional representatives, Maori representatives, and representatives from the party's many sectors, including youth, Rainbow Labour, trade unions, women, and Pacific islanders. Both Labour and the Greens have rules aimed at ensuring that the representation of many of these same groups is provided for in high positions on the list, whereas the National Party does not.
Our parties would have to grapple with these issues and construct an appropriate process should we adopt closed-list MMP. You, as MPs, would have to decide how prescriptive you wanted Parliament to be in this regard, if at all, and whether or not it requires something like democratic procedures. This would be a dramatic shift from the current status quo.
In STV there are multi-member districts. If we take the example of Ireland, there are three to five deputies per district. In the major parties, the locals hold nominating conventions similar to those in your parties, but they operate under rather expansive instructions from the centre, concerning how many they can nominate and where in the electorate geographically the candidates chosen will come from. Increasingly, parties are issuing a gender directive from the centre, as well. This has proven, in some cases, to be highly contentious, creating strong tensions between local party members and associations and central party officials, as locals often wish to nominate more candidates than the centre permits. The logic of the system is that you don't nominate as many candidates as there will be MPs, or TDs, as they call them, from the electorate. The locals wish to do this in a rather unfettered fashion.
Our parties would have to determine who would have the authority to make these decisions—it might be national, regional, or provincial—and how expansive any directives to the local associations would be.
With respect to government formation, under MMP or STV, it is highly likely we would end up with multi-party governance, and perhaps in AV as well. This, of course, requires negotiation among the parties—typically, though not always, post-election—to reach a coalition agreement. The question of relevance here is who in the party would have the authority to commit to such an accord. There's considerable variance in this regard.
Some of the Irish parties, Fianna Fáil and the Greens, for example, require a special party congress after an election to approve any coalition agreement. Others, such as the New Zealand National Party, require approval from the party's national executive as well as the parliamentary leadership.
If we were to end up in a highly fragmented system, which could well be the case under either of these electoral systems, government formation could prove very difficult, but at a minimum, parties would have to decide who has the authority to make these deals. Leadership selection is not something we typically think of in relation to the electoral system, but it comes into play as a result of multiparty governance. In all three of the countries I've taken examples from, we've witnessed cases where one of the parties in a coalition government exercises influence over leadership selection in another party.
In Australia, for example, when Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt was presumed dead, the candidate who was the favourite to replace him, William McMahon, who was serving as treasurer in the Liberal government and had widespread support within his party, was vehemently opposed by the junior coalition partner, the Country Party. The Country Party threatened to withdraw its support for the Liberal Party if Mr. McMahon was chosen as leader. He ultimately had to withdraw from the contest so that the Liberals could maintain their governing position.
Similarly, in recent Fianna Fáil governments, two party leaders, both serving as Taoiseach, or prime minister, at the time, Mr. Haughey and Mr. Reynolds, were dumped after support parties in government—in one case, the Progressive Democrats; in another, Labour—threatened to withdraw their support. Both leaders still had support in their own parliamentary caucus, but in order to remain in government they were removed.
In New Zealand we have seen it work the other way. National Party Prime Minister John Key has threatened to remove a smaller support party, ACT New Zealand, from his coalition if they went ahead with plans to remove and replace their leader.
What we find is something that is largely unprecedented, I suspect, in the Canadian case: parties in coalition with one another influencing leadership selection in the other party. This could prove particularly difficult in the Canadian case, since the authority for both leadership selection and removal is vested in our extra-parliamentary parties. In all of these cases, the parliamentary party was able to make the change quickly because it had that authority. I suspect, if we were to go down this road, it could challenge the current practice of giving the extra-parliamentary party the authority to select and remove leaders.
The fourth and final area of party democracy I'll mention is election campaigning. In both STV and in open-list MMP, general elections include intra-party competition, which our parties would have to learn to manage.
In MMP of the New Zealand variety, we've seen a shift of emphasis away from ridings to regional and/or national campaigns. The number of seats a party wins is almost fully determined by its share of the party vote, not how it performs in the electorates or ridings. Nonetheless, local party organizations, and particularly incumbent electorate MPs, want to run vibrant local campaigns, often at the expense of maximizing the more important party vote.
New Zealand Labour in particular has struggled with this. In recent party reforms, Labour created something called regional hubs, for election purposes, in an attempt to shift resources toward the party vote campaign, but this was not done without considerable tension between locals and the centre, since the allocation of campaign resources is essentially a zero-sum game.
There are also implications in AV. In Australia, parties issue how-to-vote cards indicating how they want their voters to rank lower preferences. Deals have to be made among the parties in this regard. Sometimes this is straightforward but not always, and it can result in tensions between local party organization candidates and the centre.
For example, in 2016 an incumbent Labour MP in the Melbourne area, Michael Danby, issued his own local how-to-vote cards asking his voters to direct their second preferences to the Liberals over the Greens. In the same electorate, the central party, the central campaign, issued cards favouring the Greens over the Liberals as the second choice of Labour voters, so voters received conflicting information. There are often tensions in this regard among locals, state party organizations, and the national campaign.
To conclude, the point of all this is to say that there are many collateral effects of electoral system change that need to be considered and are often overlooked. Also, at a minimum, time needs to be set aside for our parties to grapple with these issues in advance of any election run under a different electoral system. Otherwise, I believe we risk a considerable shift of authority away from our EDAs towards the party centre.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members.
Thank you for inviting us to appear this morning.
My name is Maddie Webb. I'm here representing the Canadian Federation of University Women, where I am the advocacy coordinator. With me today is Sheila Lacroix, a member of our Leaside–East York club, who spearheaded our policy on proportional representation.
The Canadian Federation of University Women is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 clubs and almost 9,000 members across Canada. Since our founding in 1919, we have been working to improve the status of women and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace. We hold special consultative status with the United Nations and belong to the education committee of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. We are the largest affiliate of Graduate Women International, which represents women worldwide. The CFUW is also a member of the Every Voter Counts Alliance.
Our members strongly believe in the importance of voting at every level. Our clubs across Canada initiate, engage in, and promote activities to educate Canadians about the democratic process. Several of our clubs have spearheaded incredibly successful get-out-the-vote campaigns, which have increased education and voter turnout in their respective constituencies.
We commend the members of the committee for dedicating so much time and energy to investigating the best way forward for Canada's electoral system. In light of 's comments yesterday, we'd like to reiterate the urgency of changing our electoral system to make it more representative. After years of independent studies, research, and debate, it's clear that Canadians want to see a change from our first-past-the-post system. The question now is, which system will represent Canadians and result in representative elections?
We urge the government to adopt a model of proportional representation. Proportional representation, or PR, is the most accurate way to ensure that votes cast are translated into representation. Plurality systems such as first past the post and alternative vote do not accurately reflect votes cast by Canadians.
Across the country, first past the post results in false majorities and wasted votes. Plurality systems favour regional parties and large parties with geographically concentrated support, while smaller parties with more diffuse support are under-represented. This is evident in Canadian federal election results. Since World War I, only four governments have been true majorities winning more than 50% of the popular vote.
These problems are not solved by alternative vote, or by ranked ballot, another majority plurality system. Simply put, proportional representation will provide a fair reflection of how Canadians cast their votes. Decades of research, the findings of more than a dozen committees, commissions, and assemblies, and a long history of success in the world's top democracies strongly suggest that PR is the best option for Canada.
As a women's organization, we are invested in the empowerment of women, both to vote and to run for office. In a plurality system, women and minorities are less likely to be on the ballot. It's not because they're not electable; it's because in the nomination process parties have historically favoured white male candidates as the best choice for the winner-take-all competition. White men are often considered to be a more acceptable candidate, and thus there's a disincentive to choose women to run.
Despite the fact that women are in fact a majority in almost every country in the world, they see abysmal representation in their governments. In PR systems, indigenous people, minority groups, and women have a greater chance of being included through party lists of multi-member districts. In fact, party lists can be “zippered”, alternating men and women. Lists give parties incentives to include candidates who appeal to a cross-section of the electorate. Parties can also develop quotas for women candidates.
If you simply glance at the three remaining major western democracies using first past the post—Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.—none has broken the mark of even 30% of seats for female representation. However, a quick look at the western democracies using some form of PR shows that their percentages of women go well beyond the 30% mark and upwards of 40%. PR systems tend to elect up to 8% more women than other systems.
In the 2015 election, 62.6% of Canadian voters voted for parties that campaigned for electoral reform. This fact, plus the findings of this committee and past public and expert input, should provide the legitimacy required to move forward at this time. There's enough expertise in Canada to develop a made-in-Canada system. Canadians, with appropriate education, will adapt to the voting system of PR, as did the citizens of most countries in the western world. We have a historic opportunity here to turn years of debate, research, and waiting into a fair and representative electoral system.
I hope I've highlighted the great pitfalls of our winner-take-all, first-past-the-post system, which neither serves nor represents Canadians. Plurality majority systems, such as alternative vote or ranked ballot, fail to overcome the shortcomings of first past the post.
Proportional representation is the obvious choice for an open democracy, to achieve accurate representation and fair political outcomes.
I think what you're highlighting is that there are competing principles. You need to prioritize what it is you want to accomplish through an electoral system. No system is best, no system is perfect, and no system can accomplish all of these different legitimate objectives of democracy that you point to.
As to the unexpected implications, there are two things I'm not sure the committee has really thought about but I think would be worth putting on the table. First, there is the whole question of executive federalism in Canada and how that works. If we were to move to a system of proportional representation of some sort at the federal level that resulted in coalition governments, and if the rest of the premiers were still elected under first past the post and thus most had majority governments, when they meet, does the Prime Minister or a first minister of health or whatever, does she have the power to negotiate on behalf of her government, or does she have to come back and make sure that she maintains the support of the coalition partners and other parties? I think of what happened with the Meech Lake Accord, which was the first time that legislatures were brought into the constitutional process. After the first ministers came to agreement, it had to be approved by the legislatures, and that's where it fell apart. In respect of federal-provincial negations, this is something that has to be thought through.
Second, if I knew nothing about Canada and you told me about this great country and the demographics and the like and I had lived from coast to coast, I would say, “It doesn't make sense. It's not going to last. Good luck, folks. The centrifugal forces are too great.” Yet, we're about to celebrate the 150th birthday of a country that works and is the envy of people around the world. I think this is in part because we have a tradition of large, brokerage, accommodative parties. If a party wants to get to government, it knows it has to reach out to a lot of Canadians and find the broad centre. This was the incentive for the Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance to merge into a single party.
Under different systems, that incentive wouldn't have been there. They could have continued to be separate parties. Maybe that would have been a good thing or a bad thing. That's sort of a normative judgment, but it has profound implications on the way our democracy works. I think it's so important that we consider what would happen under different systems in the context of Canada, a highly diverse federal system.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the House of Commons.
I would also like to take this opportunity to greet the student group with us today. Welcome. You are seeing democracy in action, and that's what is more interesting.
I also offer my greetings to the people who are with us and who, am I to understand, are no longer in school.
Mr. Chair, I want to take a moment to wish a happy anniversary to everyone, although I'm one day late. A year ago, some of us were re-elected, while others were elected federally for the first time, as is my case.
Our committee has illustrated the very principle of democracy these past few months. We have held over forty meetings. We have travelled from coast to coast. We have met with thousands of Canadians. Every MP, in his or her way, has also held consultations. In fact, many have held meetings with constituents.
As for the Conservatives, many of our members have sent a backgrounder to the public, together with a reply coupon, and 81,000 people gave their opinion. The choice is clear: 91% of people who wrote to us demanded a referendum.
Having said that, each party adopted its own approach, be it the NDP, the Green Party, the Bloc Québécois or the Liberal Party.
In short, for several months, parliamentarians have been wondering about the future of the electoral system. As you know, from our side, we would like a referendum, if by chance there is electoral change. We are open to the discussion, and we feel that, ultimately, it is up to the public to decide.
My question is for you, Mr. Bozinoff and Mr. Schatten, from Forum Research Inc.
You work hard to know where people stand on those issues, and you have been working on that for many years.
Our party and every party has talked a lot about all the facts. We have had plenty of meetings from coast to coast, and thousands of people were involved in our process. Have you seen a change in the minds of people in the last months or years about the electoral system?