Mr. Chair, I want to thank you and the committee members for providing me with the opportunity to appear before you today, especially since you are beginning work that is of vital importance for Canadians.
I must commend you for sitting during the summer. I know how demanding your work is as MPs. It's something for which I have always had the most profound respect. I know the sacrifices you make.
It's a pleasure as well to have met a number of you, but I want to mention Mr. Christopherson and Mr. Reid. We did a lot of work together at the other committee, procedure and House affairs, so that is the answer to ”When shall we three meet again?”
I heard Mr. Kenney speak yesterday of the strength of Canada, of the fundamental values of Canadians, and of the strength of our institutions. That includes a functioning Parliament with a well-funded loyal opposition; an independent judiciary, as incorporated in our Supreme Court and the other court systems; the Auditor General; the Chief Electoral Officer, to be blunt; freedom of the press; and political parties. I attribute importance to that; that's part of the right of assembly and the right of free speech.
Civil society—the right for us to organize ourselves as we wish in the courts, with legal objectives—is also a necessary adjunct to our Canadian values.
I also heard President Obama say that the world needs more Canada. Because of the quality of our democracy, we rank at the highest level, along with a very small handful of other countries.
I agree with both Mr. Kenney and President Obama.
Because of our international reputation and the quality of our electoral processes, Elections Canada, when we were invited, visited or received visitors in a myriad of delegations from around the world. I can't remember if it was 80 or 100. We met with different countries that came to us or invited us because of the quality of our democracy and the quality of our electoral processes.
Still, a number of questions are being raised in our society today about the role and the appointment of senators, the functioning of parliamentary committees, the authority of the Prime Minister, and our electoral system. The very strength of our democracy lies in our ability to question its functioning and to seek ways to improve it always. This is at the heart of the quality of our democracy.
That brings me to why we are here. We have given ourselves, we claim, a system of representative democracy because we have not yet found a way to govern ourselves by obtaining the participation of the electorate on every societal question, every societal decision. We haven't found the way yet to have direct democracy, as opposed to representative democracy.
Since Confederation, the two main parties have served us well and have been well served by our first-past-the-post system of representation. Third parties, as I call them, are not third in the sense of the Elections Act; other parties have existed or were permitted right from the start. There was never an interdiction on third parties, and we could accept the results of elections because those parties were not garnering a lot of electoral support. We could say to ourselves, “Well, this party got 52% of the votes, 60% of the seats; that's not an issue, since they got 52% of the vote.”
However, for some time now the third parties have been having much more success and have effectively become the victims of our own success in allowing different ways of expressing themselves beyond what I've called the two main parties historically.
The awareness of Canadians—and I'm talking about many civil organizations such as Fair Vote Canada and others with whom I have had the pleasure of meeting—of the “distortions” of the results compared to the expressed will of Canadians has been growing over time. The minister, academia, and the media have all given examples. I don't intend to reiterate them and waste the committee's time, because they were here yesterday. Fundamentally, the issue of 40% of the votes getting 60% of the seats has begun to raise questions among Canadians.
The other distortion lies in the fact that it can take 700,000 votes to get one seat under our system, or in another case it can take 30,000 votes, if you're in the governing party, to get one seat. One member, 30,000 votes; one member, 700,000 votes. This is the type of disproportion that is beginning to raise questions. We owe more and more people an explanation, and we owe them the opportunity to review what we could do differently or better.
Other systems of representation have been tried, each with its strengths and its weaknesses. By the way, some of the strengths are viewed as weaknesses by some, and vice versa. There's not even going to be agreement on the strength of a system, but there will be and can be general agreement about general strengths. I would recommend to the committee that each one must be weighed, and the three or four main advantages and disadvantages of the different systems that will be presented to you should be focused on. If you try to focus on the fifteenth factor, you will find yourselves spending a lot of time on what will be disproportionately useless work.
A number of criteria or factors have been put forward for the enlightenment of Canadians. As the minister said, you cannot broaden this. I would like to submit several for your consideration.
The first one is what I would call the relative simplicity of the system or the ballot that we would replace, if we replace the present system. By the way, nothing will be viewed as being as simple as the present system, because we've been at it for 149 years. I don't care what you propose. This is part of the woof and fabric. This is part of the DNA of being Canadian and being born Canadian.
The real point is that the elector must understand the choice that he or she is making. How does my vote translate into our system of representation? Canadians must understand that. At the same time, they must understand how that translates into the establishment of a government and a functioning Parliament. This is at the heart of it.
The second one is the rapport, the link, between the elector and the elected, both for the representation of the electors, collectively and individually, and for the accountability of the elected representatives. These are the two factors that, in my view, exist together and are related to that link between the elector and the elected. Canadians are well accustomed to that rapport, that link. It has to be weighed very carefully if there's going to be any change.
The third factor that I wanted to bring forward is the tendency or the need to reinforce or to favour coast-to-coast-to-coast representation within political parties. I'm talking about national parties that would be of broad orientation and would have representation across the country. In other words, there would be representation in caucus from across the land, and blocks of the country would not be missing or significantly under-represented. I think that is essential for caucus. I'm not sure that we've always obtained that. We may not even have it today. Of course, the same applies to cabinet, but I'd put more emphasis on the caucus because I know what happens at caucus, and this is vital to our system of representative government.
A corollary to that would be to try to avoid intraparty competition between candidates at election time. If you have candidates from the same party vying for the same seat and they're in competition with one another, I think that affects party unity, and that aspect should be weighed very carefully.
The fourth factor is the ability to obtain parity between women and men. I heard all your conversations, by the way, both yesterday and today. I was glued to my television set. What can I say?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley: I couldn't stay away; you were so fascinating. It is important.
The fifth one is that the Canadian reality must be reflected in the system of representation. By that I mean we simply have to take into account that there are 36 million of us in the second-largest country in the world in geographical expanse. We're sparsely populated in many of those areas—as a matter of fact, across most of the country—and yet we're significantly urbanized for the population we have. Ingenuity and compromise will be required. In other words, we may have to borrow from one system for one part and another system for another part. Nothing prevents us from considering this.
Canadians must be able to see themselves in their representatives and in the system by which they choose them. This is what I mean by “must reflect the Canadian reality”. This is what we're aiming for. That's why I'm talking about parity between men and women. The corollary to the constitutional right to vote is effective representation. It's all right to have the right to vote—section 3 of the charter—but it has to mean something. It has to be effective representation, and the Supreme Court has used that expression in citing our right to “effective representation”.
I have a few words about compulsory voting. Compulsory voting is, first of all, a misnomer, or at least it should be made a misnomer. No system should be contemplated whereby electors must choose only among candidates. That is unthinkable. There needs to be the right to have a choice in the marking of the ballot. “I do not wish to vote” should be one of the choices, okay? In this way you would no longer have compulsory voting, but compulsory attendance at the polls. You have free choice. If you don't like any of them, you don't even have to say you don't like any of them. If you're not aware of the issues, you don't have to be aware of the issues, and you can just say, “I do not wish to vote”, or words to that effect.
Some people will consider it—and I can hear the arguments, because this is a value-laden consideration—as opposing a fundamental human right not to participate. One can only wonder what debate would be taking place in Australia if compulsory attendance at the polls was being debated over there and they wanted to go to the system we have. I can only assume the debate would centre on the civil obligation to fulfill one's civic duty. I can hear them discussing it: “Why do we want to leave our system? Right now our system's citizens have an obligation to let us know what they think, and this is all part of....” It is not.
The point I'm trying to make is in Canada and in Australia it is not the fundamental value of our system. We have to answer the question of what best fits the temper of Canadians and what minimal level of electoral participation gives legitimacy to our elected representatives and to our government.
Legitimacy is tied to participation; it is not tied to legality. Legality is, of course, subsumed. It is assumed. If you don't have legality, you don't have legitimacy. However, even if you have legality and you have the best processes, at what stage do we say, “Pftt, we flipped. There's doubt about this government's legitimacy in terms of participation.”
What else can we do about participation?
Online voting is coming fast. That light at the end of the tunnel is a train. The manner and speed of its implementation are critical. The analogy with online purchasing and banking—and I heard the arguments this morning—is flawed. The argument is flawed, and Marc Mayrand answered that question. Banks and other institutions hedge the risk and they remove the risk, at least most of the time, from the individual. A margin of error is acceptable, against which they successfully hedge, but what margin of error is acceptable to us with the electoral system?
Online voting should be considered initially—and I repeat what Marc said this morning—for electors with mobility difficulties. I will add one: Canadians who are not in their riding. Maybe one day we'll have voting in the riding, as opposed to being tied to a poll—that should be coming, and let's see what Marc has to say about it—but from one end of the country to the other, if you're not in your riding, you should still be able to vote, and this would be one way of doing it.
For Canadians abroad, there's still a legal case before the courts as to whether or not this applies universally to Canadians or to those who have been gone for fewer than five years.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: the moment we start to introduce it, what are the ID requirements going to be? When I want to register, what do I have to give? Is it my driver's licence, my fingerprints—Mexico has fingerprints, all 10—a photograph of my left iris? Then, how do we check that identification when people are voting? What do we have at the centre?
What's required at the beginning, then, is one issue about security of voting. The other one is is the security attached to the transmittal of the vote and then the transmittal of the results. Here I'm going to suggest that we will have to consider doubling systems, and having separate systems whereby we control that.
I may be completely wrong. There may be a new technology that will be invented, but at this stage I'm thinking one way of introducing it would be in that way. Eventually we will see it. People of a certain age have less of a tendency to live at the end of their gizmos, but there are several generations who are living at the end of their devices now. They're going to be old people one of these days, and they're going to say, “How come I can't vote on this device? This is my only way to relate.”
Those were comments I wanted to make. Again, I appreciate the opportunity.
Thank you, Mr. Kingsley, for being here. You're right in saying we go back a long way. I don't want other members of the committee to read too much into this, but I actually have known you longer than I've known my wife.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Scott Reid: I've always respected the depth that you brought to the role when you were chief electoral officer and also the way you contributed to the national debate on various aspects of democracy since that time.
I wanted to start by asking you about a quote you made in an interview on June 5. It was regarding the Referendum Act. I'll start by quoting the Referendum Act and then I'll come back to your quote.
The Referendum Act says in subsection 3(1), “Where the Governor in Council considers that it is in the public interest to obtain by means of a referendum the opinion of electors on any question relating to the Constitution of Canada, the Governor in Council may, by proclamation, direct that the opinion of electors be obtained by putting the question to the electors of Canada” in a referendum. That's the end of that quote.
On June 5, on CTV's program The West Block, you made comments that I think have been misinterpreted in some of the media. What you said, and I'm quoting again here, is “legislation would have to be significantly changed” in order for there to be a referendum on electoral reform, “And the number one consideration: you can only hold a federal referendum in Canada on a constitutional matter. And changing the electoral system is not a constitutional matter.”
Then, finally, just as a representative example, I see coverage like this—I'm quoting again from a story—which said that many people were left “to wonder if the opposition Conservatives failed to actually read the rule book before calling loudly for a national vote on electoral reform.”
This was based upon their reading of your comments, but I think that writer and some others misinterpreted what you were saying. You can correct me here, but I think what you were saying was simply that in order to have a referendum on a non-constitutional matter like electoral reform, you would have to amend the Referendum Act and allow other non-constitutional questions to be placed. Am I right in my interpretation?
That brings me to answer the question that was put to me. I would now like all the media to listen carefully. I was not making a proposal, but rather a suggestion, since I have not had the time to develop it.
That being said, here is my suggestion. Since Canada is so vast, we would keep the first-past-the-post system for remote, rural or large ridings. About 40, 50 or 60 members would be elected using that system.
As for urban areas, we could cluster four or five current ridings and ensure that four or five members are elected by the voters based on the vote results. I will not defend the following to death, but according to my way of thinking, a voter would vote for a party or a candidate. The candidates would be selected by the new cluster association of the four or five ridings. So the people would be choosing.
As for gender parity, let's say that there are five seats to fill. I would ask that three men and three women be elected, and that the party choose, at a local level, one man, one woman, one man, one woman, one man, one woman, and so on, so that it would always be one, two, one, two, one, two.
In short, the voter would choose. They would vote, as they currently do, for a candidate or a party. It would be the same thing. There would be only one vote. From there, it would be determined, for instance, that 60% of people voted for a given party, and that there are three seats. So we would be talking about 20%.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I want to go back to the comments Ms. Romanado made in response to my comments, to the effect that we represent all our constituents.
Yes, that's sort of a given. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if someone who is a known New Democrat phones Mr. Reid—I'll use him because he's the longest-serving member of Parliament on this committee—they'll get fantastic service. That person will be treated no differently from his neighbour. I have no doubt about that. If a known Conservative calls my office, I'd be mortified to find out that they felt they got less than fantastic service.
What I'm talking about is something far more important, and that is the actual division of power. You can't get re-elected if you don't represent everyone. What we're talking about is this: here is power in Canada, and how does it get divvied up?
I was on my feet in I believe the 38th, 39th, and 40th Parliaments, prior to the arrival of Madam May—she knows where I'm going here—to stand up and say that hundreds if not thousands of people voted in my riding and across the country for the Greens. At that time the number was about 500,000 people, yet not one member in the House was from the Green Party.
That matters. While Mr. Reid may do a fantastic job representing that constituent on their vet problem or on their Canada Revenue problem or on their EI problem, he will not be there for them when it comes to standing up and saying, “I want proportional representation.” Conversely, in my riding, that same Conservative voter will get that same service from me on those issues, but when I stand up, I will not be defending first past the post.
We just voted on assisted dying. That was an incredibly divisive issue. You can't vote both ways. At the end of the day, whoever got the seat got to cast that vote, either in favour or opposed. It couldn't be both.
That's why I said that 43% of the population in my riding.... They get, I like to think, good service. I'm in my fifth term, so there are enough of them who think that, or I wouldn't be here, but in terms of reflecting the policies of the parties supported by the constituents who voted against me, that voice is not there. I will support doubling CPP from here to the end of eternity, until we get it. Mr. Reid would not. He feels differently about it.