Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the invitation to be with you today.
Although my academic work has focused very much on the issues you've been charged with considering, I think it's also fair to say that I've spent a good deal of the last 30 years in the real-world application of these issues. I served on the electoral boundaries commission and the Fisher commission in British Columbia. I served on the Lortie Royal Commission on Electoral Reform over two decades ago. I worked for both the CBC and the British Columbia ombudsman on electoral issues and electoral broadcasting, and consulted with the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. I was a federal electoral boundary commissioner for British Columbia after being appointed by the Speaker. I directed a British Columbia citizens' assembly on electoral reform, and subsequent to that, consulted with citizens' assemblies in Ontario, New Brunswick, the Netherlands, and the constitutional convention in the Republic of Ireland.
I've seen a lot of these issues in detail over the years in a number of different locations. On the basis of those observations, I really want to make just six simple, general observations, and then I will happily respond to any questions you might have.
My first observation, I suppose, is the obvious one that there is no perfect or even best electoral system. That's why no two countries in the democratic world use exactly the same system to elect their parliaments. Each has had to find a unique combination of electoral system parts and the wide range of parts that go into a system to suit their history, geography, social order, and their political life.
Interestingly, we saw this very powerfully a decade ago when five provinces launched electoral reform exercises in this country. At the end of those exercises, all five produced very different recommendations for different kinds of electoral systems, I think because they recognized that what maybe would suit them in New Brunswick was not what British Columbians wanted and so on. In the end, of course, despite the discussions that were launched by governments in office in all five cases, none of those five different systems was adopted. In three cases, that was because the provincial voters turned the system down, and in the fourth, because the government was defeated. So there's no perfect or best electoral system or easy choice.
Second, I think it's fair to say our experience cannot tell us how a change in the electoral system will actually play out in practice. That's because under any new rules, political parties, the candidates, and the voters will have clear incentives to behave differently than they do under the first past the post system. Rules that change the voting system will directly affect the whole system, including the way candidates are chosen and who chooses them, the organizing and financing of campaigns and how money is spent and collected in campaigns, the structure and the internal dynamic of political parties, the number and the character of the political parties in the electoral contest, the number and the character of the political parties that get elected to the House of Commons, and, of course, the decision-making mechanisms that voters go through when they choose.
Just for an example, in the last election, we saw a good deal of strategic voting. Under a different electoral system, there might be none, because there wouldn't be the same kinds of incentives for voters, there wouldn't be the same kinds of candidates nominated, and their campaigns would be run in different ways.
Third, I would observe that when a different electoral system produces a different party system and a different parliament, it's going to produce a different pattern of government. That's quite clear, but we can't honestly say how that will ultimately work after new patterns of voters and candidates and members of Parliament and political parties have evolved and changed over time.
I think it's fair to predict that under most other electoral systems, majority governments of the sort that Canadians have been generally most used to will disappear. We have so little experience with multi-party governments in this country that we don't have any clear idea how they'll work either in the short term or in the longer term or what they will look like. They seem to be working very well in Denmark, for instance, where the Prime Minister actually comes from the third-largest party in the Parliament. The parties have found a way to build working relationships. They don't seem to be working so well at this moment in Belgium or Spain where the parliaments have been struggling to form a government. As well, there is a whole range of examples in between that one could point to.
We don't know what governments will look like or how they'll work. This is something we'll have to learn and we'll have to change as new parliamentarians and new voter patterns evolve.
Fourth, I would say that we need to remember that the federal realities of our country will necessarily govern possible or even desirable reforms.
If we maintain our constitutional practice that assigns members of Parliament by province, then we must recognize that some systems that will work well in large provinces like Ontario might not work very well in the territories or some of the smaller Atlantic provinces that would have many fewer members, particularly if we wanted to go to some kind of proportional system that consumes more members than electoral districts.
It, of course, would be possible to have different systems in different provinces, or different parts of provinces. We experienced that in Canadian history over time, but that would undermine our understanding of elections as common national events and we would have to begin to think about what a national election was in that case. It would, of course, also produce a House of Commons whose members had very different responsibilities and orientations.
If we're concerned with the principle of “all votes counting equally”, and there's been a lot of discussion about that, then it may well be that the place to start is surely with the fact that we don't have representation by population in this country and never have. Votes have always counted more in Prince Edward Island than in British Columbia, several times more. Changing the voting rules to a different system isn't going to change that reality. That won't give us equal votes as long as we don't change that system. I know it's deeply imbedded in the Constitution, and that's probably beyond where anyone on this committee reasonably wants to move, but that's the kind of reality we need to keep in mind when we think about equal votes, this federal dimension to the system.
Fifth, let me say that the thousands of Canadians who took part in the recent provincial reform debates in the citizens' assemblies in Ontario and in British Columbia, in the Commission on Legislative Democracy in New Brunswick, on the parliamentary commission hearings all across Quebec, have been very clear about what they want in an electoral system. They've identified pretty clearly what they think are the three values that they most highly value.
One was fair representation, and by that most voters meant something like proportional representation was the value that was to be put near the top of the list.
Secondly, they valued strong, identifiable, local representation by which they meant an individual, local MP they felt connected to and that they could identify with, and would identify with them and their community.
Thirdly, many Canadians, in fact a plurality in British Columbia, said they wanted more choice on the ballot. They wanted a more sophisticated ballot. The one they have now allows them to put an X beside one name and they thought that, frankly, they made more complex choices every day in Safeway than when they went into the ballot box. Most other electoral systems provide for different patterns of choice, so choice was something they would like to see.
That was the perspective of voters, but those are three very different aspects of any system: the counting rules, the representational basis, and the ballot form. Those three dimensions of a system, which are part of any different electoral system, can be and are combined in very many different ways in different systems. Often, to give up some of one is required if you want to get some of the other. For instance, it's why they recognize that there's always a trade-off between proportional representation and local representation. If you want a single electoral representative from your district, it's very hard to have proportional representation because you have to go to multi-member districts, and so on.
In fact, all electoral systems involve difficult and contentious trade-offs between those three dimensions that then spill over into all the other dimensions of the electoral system I've referred to. That's in fact why the five provinces came up with five different systems when they went through this exercise, because they combined those basic pieces in quite different ways.
Let me conclude with a more personal note, drawn perhaps a little bit less from the comparative experience. As a scholar of political parties, and I've spent my career studying political parties in this country and abroad, I'm particularly struck by the extraordinary role that they've played in Canadian history. This is a country put together by political parties and constantly re-engineered and reimagined by political parties as nation builders. They are one of the few institutions that Canadians have in common. National general elections are one of the very few things that Canadians do together. On election day we all do that together. It's national political parties that tie us together at election time. When I cast my vote for a national political party's candidate, I'm acting in concert with my fellow citizens in Montreal and Saskatoon and hundreds of other communities across the country. I believe we risk losing a good deal of what gives elections their national meaning, gives common cause to our public life together, if we undermine national political parties.
In the past, both of the great historic national parties in this country have broken apart and fallen into pieces, only to be stitched back together in response to the powerful incentives of our current electoral system, the most recent example being the rebuilding of the Conservative Party after it broke into three pieces in the 1993 general election. My view is that with a highly proportional electoral system, there's a major risk that we would lose our national political parties. I think the electoral incentives would powerfully favour regional and sectoral parties at the expense of national ones. Our national parties might easily break into pieces of different kinds and different shapes depending on the party. Under proportional representation, like Humpty Dumpty, national parties would not easily be put back together again.
If the country was badly governed, it there was evidence of a genuine national democratic malaise, if there was a representational crisis, it might be worth taking the risk and moving to a radically different kind of electoral politics, a different kind of way of linking Canadians together on that one day in which we act together in concert in advancing our common community life, but I don't think those things are the case. In defence of political parties and our common national political life, my own personal vote would be against proportional representation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon everyone.
I am extremely grateful to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform for inviting me to speak to today's session. The work being done by this committee, as everyone here no doubt knows, is of vital importance for the future functioning of our democratic polity and I am honoured to be part of the process.
In 2003, I had the great pleasure and privilege of working for the Law Commission of Canada, drafting its report, “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”, which was submitted to the minister of justice in 2004.
This followed an extensive and multi-faceted public consultation strategy undertaken by the LCC, in which citizens and experts were asked what values they wanted to see enshrined in our electoral system. Two values appeared to be the most important to voters and experts alike when they were asked to think about their ideal electoral system. First, it should promote demographic representation; in other words, the legislative body that emerges after a vote ought to reflect or mirror the population that elected it. Second, the translation of votes into seats ought to be fair or equitable in its treatment of the political parties; there should be a rough correspondence or proportionality between a party's share of the vote and its representation in Parliament.
Of course there were other values, as Professor Carty mentioned. The importance of local representation came out strongly in our consultations as well.
Just to underscore the importance that most voters place on this idea of the fairness of electoral outcomes, let me give you some illustrations from the 2007 provincial election in Ontario and the accompanying referendum when 63% of those voting rejected a mixed member proportional or MMP system for the province.
At that time a few colleagues and I conducted a survey of the electorate. When asked if it was acceptable or unacceptable for a party to win a majority of seats without winning a majority of votes, 44% said “unacceptable”, versus 29% who said “acceptable”.
When asked whether a party that comes in first in an election with about 40% of the votes should get more than half the seats in the legislature so that it can govern easily on its own, only 23% agreed. Fully 50% thought that the party with 40% of the votes should get about 40% of the seats. This idea of proportionality seemed ingrained even among voters who rejected the MMP proposal. We conducted our survey after the referendum.
Our existing electoral system—whether you call it single member plurality, SMP, or the more colloquial “first past the post”, or whatever you want to call it—does not do a very good job of meeting either of the requirements I have mentioned. Of course this is not to deny that the present system has its strengths: in particular, its simplicity to the average voter, its ease of administration, its promotion of territorial representation, the link between the voter and his or her MP in a defined constituency, and its fostering of accountability—voters can usually easily identify the decision-makers, parties to reward or punish after their term in office through the time-honoured practice of throwing the rascals out.
But in terms of producing a Parliament that is a mirror of the nation, the present electoral system does a very poor job indeed. It poses significantly high barriers to the election of women, minority, and indigenous candidates. This was actually one of the original complaints about first past the post made by one of the earliest advocates of PR in the 1850s, John Stuart Mill.
First past the post, as we know, simply does not produce proportional results. It does not treat all parties fairly. Most importantly, from my perspective, the present system throws up enormous barriers to the inclusion of new voices in Parliament—like those of the Green Party, for instance—something that detracts significantly from the effectiveness of this body as a forum for the generation of new ideas and policies to cope with the challenges posed by this rapidly changing world.
Taking into account the data from the public consultations, the LCC report's main recommendation was to establish a mixed member proportional, or MMP, electoral system in Canada, similar to those currently in use in Germany, Scotland, Wales, and other jurisdictions.
Such a system, in the thinking of the commissioners, would offer the best of both worlds since it would feature the election of individual members of Parliament in geographically defined ridings, a hallmark of the British-style system that we've used here in Canada since before Confederation, along with European-style representation of diverse currents of opinion in the electorate through proportional representation from party lists.
I don't have sufficient time to get into the nuts and bolts of the model that was proposed by the LCC, but suffice it to say at this point that the essential feature of the system would be to divide the House of Commons into two different tiers of seats. Two-thirds would be constituency seats, elected through first past the post, and one-third would be regional list seats. In our current 338-seat Parliament that would translate into 225 constituency seats, 110 compensatory list seats, and with three single-member ridings for the territories as is presently the case.
Voters would have two votes, one for a candidate in a riding and one for a party, and they could split these votes, opting to support, for example, a Liberal candidate in their constituency while voting for the Greens on the party portion of their ballot. We have found in a country like New Zealand, which has adopted the mixed member proportional, that between 30% and 40% of voters will actually split their ticket.
A party's share of the seats would be determined by the party vote and the number of constituency seats it wins is then subtracted from this total. Remaining seats are filled from regional party lists, which would be determined in any of a number of different ways.
The law commission proposed so-called flexible lists, which would provide voters with the option of either endorsing a party's slate or indicating a preference for a particular candidate on the list. Since the law commission report was published it's become abundantly clear in the referendum result in Ontario, for example, that a majority of voters will not tolerate any hint of party elite manipulation of these list candidates. That was one of the biggest factors contributing to the defeat of the referendum, in my experience.
The other was the proposal to increase the size of the legislature simply to restore the size that it had prior to Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservative government that was elected in 1995. That proposal raised the ire of a lot of voters.
If I were to rewrite or amend the 2004 report, I would try to ensure that these lists we're selecting from are in the most open fashion possible, either in the form of completely open lists where the voter can tick beside whatever list candidate they would want to support or even—why not?—in the form of regional party primaries, which would be one of the most democratic ways possible of selecting these candidates.
If this model were adopted, the MMP proposal from the law commission, one of the most significant consequences would obviously be to make majority governments an unlikely outcome of elections. Coalitions of necessity would become the norm. Many view this prospect with fear and loathing, but I firmly believe that this change would represent a tremendous opportunity for Canadians.
One of the biggest flaws in the Westminster model is that it allows the governing party with its artificially or mechanically swollen legislative majority to dominate the political agenda almost completely for a period of four or five years thereby contributing to the marginalization of Parliament. As Professor Henry Milner has recently argued—I'm happy to see he's on the list of witnesses scheduled to appear this week—our electoral system contributes to what he calls PMO autocracy and the only effective way of remedying this problem is to share power at the highest level by replacing majority governments with stable minority or coalition governments.
I share the view of the Dutch political scientist, Arend Lijphart, that consensus democracies, those whose electoral systems are based on some form of proportional representation, on the whole have more satisfied electorates than is the case with the majoritarian democracies—like our own—that operate under first past the post based on the Westminster style of government.
The consensus democracies in Lijphart's study, which is called Patterns of Democracy, do indeed provide a kinder, gentler form of democracy than their Westminster counterparts. They outperform the latter in terms of representing women's interests, promoting political participation, and providing the majority of their citizens with an adequate social safety net.
At the same time Lijphart shows that the most typical criticisms of PR systems, that they produce governments incapable of making the tough economic decisions and therefore lead to diminished economic performance, are highly exaggerated. PR systems are in use in a wide range of countries—think of Sweden, Norway, Germany—whose economic performance has been as good as or better than ours or the United States' in the last couple of decades.
Even though the law commission report was shelved by the government of the day, its analysis and recommendations have continued to inform recent debates over electoral reform in this country. I know that Fair Vote Canada frequently makes reference to the law commission report, and I find that gratifying.
This is an issue that simply refuses to die no matter how many referendums or plebiscites were held in the past decade. In my opinion, the only way to address the significant defects in our Westminster model of government is through fundamental electoral reform, by adopting a system that ensures both demographic representation and proportionality in the translation of votes into seats in Parliament.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for inviting me to participate in your deliberations. You're welcome to my 10 pages of notes.
Your mandate is to study alternate voting systems, mandatory voting, and online voting. I'll state my positions briefly.
There is, of course, as Professor Carty pointed out, no single best electoral system. If I lean toward any one alternate system, it's the hybrid system used in Manitoba and Alberta between the 1920s and the 1950s, whereby you had a single, transferable vote in one large multi-member riding for the cities—Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg—and you had the transferable ballot in the other areas.
I would not put the issue of an alternate voting system to a referendum. It's unnecessary, it's a waste of money, and it will almost certainly fail. You may as well recommend not changing the system and save Canadians the cost.
If you have a free vote in Parliament on an alternate system, if it is a free vote, I also believe it will fail, because it's not in the interests of most members, or quite frankly, the governing party.
Mr. Kingsley gave you some examples of the distortions caused by the first past the post system. Here's a more glaring example. In 1993, 2.2 million Canadians voted for the Conservative party and 5.6 million voted for the Liberal party. For all those Conservative votes, they elected two members. That's 1.1 million votes to elect an MP. For every 31,000 votes, the Liberals elected a member, and they got 177 seats.
I do not favour mandatory voting.
You've also discussed Internet voting. I don't favour that either, but if it is going to be used, I think it should only be for the housebound and the disabled.
Let me also say something about Elections Canada, because I had a chance to read the testimony of the Chief Electoral Officer. I don't think Elections Canada ought to have any education function beyond letting people know where to vote, the ID requirements, and how to register if not on the voters list—in other words, the conditions in the current Fair Elections Act.
Now, many have studied alternate voting systems, including a number of provincial governments, citizens' assemblies, academics, the law reform commission, and others. I'm curious what your committee is going to learn that is new. In fact, striking this committee suggests that the government is hesitant to fulfill its election promise.
There has been reference to the Ontario citizens' assembly. My thought is that we should look at it more closely, because I think the experience is instructive. There were 986 submissions about changing the system; 692 offered pro comments and only 7 or 8% tendered con comments. By a vote of 94 to 8, the assembly proposed MMP but in the referendum, the cons prevailed overwhelmingly. As Professor Tanguay pointed out, barely more than a third of the public voted for it.
I respectfully note that Mr. Reid discounts the cost of referendums. He said to the media, “If we’re worried about the cost of democracy, then we should suspend having any future elections, shouldn’t we?” This, I submit, is a false equation. If Parliament changes the electoral system without a referendum, the international community will barely take note. If elections are suspended, the reaction will be much different.
I'm aware of a recent poll that says 65% of respondents favour having a referendum. I suggest you discount such polls. I have yet to see a poll on any issue in which respondents said a referendum was not their preference, when they're asked.
I think referendums are a dreadful way to determine policy or to be taken as the cardinal measure of democracy. If Canadians feel strongly enough about how a government has changed the electoral system and they oppose the change, they'll defeat the government in an election, no matter what system is used. The term “democracy” is too readily bandied about in debates about the electoral system.
Democracy has a kaleidoscopic quality that transcends election rules, much more vital than the electoral system, much more vital than turnout rates or a country's underlying political cultural underpinnings. The health and vigour of its civil society, the independence and probity of the judiciary, media freedoms, transparency and accountability in public administration, informed debate in crafting public policy, unfettered competition in political ideas—on these scores, Canada's electoral system is actually a sidebar.
Proportional representation promises to end distortions caused by the current system. Proportionality, incidentally, is something courts consider in the context of section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The ranked ballot, which I do not oppose, may also cause distortion. A party could receive 40% of all the first-choice votes and not win a single seat. B.C.'s experience demonstrates that the public's appetite for electoral reform varies with perceptions of the unfairness of the most recent election. In B.C., 58% of voters supported a change in the 2005 referendum, but 61% opposed it in the 2009 referendum. This suggested a fickle public.
The elections held before the referendum, however, explain the inconsistency. In 2001, the Liberals won 77 out of 79 seats on 58% of the vote. The NDP only won two seats out of 79, and it got well over 20% of the vote—22%. This seemed palpably unfair to many. In 2005, however, the Liberals won 46 seats on 46% of the vote, and the NDP won 33 seats on 42% of the vote. For many, this fairer outcome sated their appetite for change in the 2009 referendum.
I do not believe there is much popular desire for change nationally. The public perceives that although the Liberals won less than 40% of the vote in the last election, the result was consistent with 2011, when the Conservatives won the same percentage, and in both cases the parties formed majority governments.
MPs are elected to act on their party's platform and to exercise their judgment, not to make policy by transmitting the momentary and impulsive opinions of their constituents.
Some believe the constitutional convention requires a referendum. I think you're going to hear this tomorrow. I disagree. Tomorrow you'll also hear from the eminent constitutional scholar, Peter Russell. I look forward to his opinion. He may surprise me, but I think he shares the view that there's no such convention.
Some argue—and I saw this argument in The Globe and Mail by the former prime minister's legal adviser—that a reference case is necessary because the courts might rule a change unconstitutional because it lacks provincial concurrence. They cite the Senate reference case.
There's no parallel, in my opinion. Senators represent provinces and provincial interests. MPs do not; they represent parties and the people in specific constituencies. In the Senate case, the reason we had a reference is that many provincial governments questioned the constitutionality of the federal government's proposals and launched references themselves. No province has hinted at questioning the constitutionality of changing the federal electoral system. If they do, I think they'll be batted down by the courts.
I have many more comments and observations, but I thank you for your time.
Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thank you very much for your input.
Mr. Wiseman, I quite appreciated your candour, even though I don't necessarily agree with what you said.
This is for all three witnesses. You talked about the political culture. I had the opportunity to travel across Quebec as part of the study carried out by the province's electoral reform commission. In every single region of the province, we frequently heard from people that, beyond the mechanics of the electoral and voting system, they were fed up with the conduct of politics, particularly when it came to party lines.
Political parties are ideological war machines. A compensatory mixed voting system would inevitably lead to coalition governments.
Would that necessarily make the public less cynical about governments? On the one hand, if the political culture does not follow, responsibility for the mandate is more or less clear come election time. I'm referring to the responsibility for the process. On the other hand, who makes the list? Even if it's voters casting the ballots and primaries are held, the list is still the choice of the top 15 members that the party has more or less given priority to.
Doesn't such a system strengthen the party line, when the government is made up of a coalition decided by the party apparatchiks after the fact, following an election?
I have to be critical, even though I am in favour of change.
Isn't the situation I described likely to make people even more cynical, if political parties don't adapt? What reason is there to think that parties would be able to adapt?
What value would election platforms have in 25 years if we ended up with coalition government after coalition government?
Welcome, gentlemen, to your Parliament. It's always quite impressive to have such great minds at the table. Your contribution to Canadian democracy is greatly appreciated, as is your input into our study on this fine July day. While it may not be nice outside, here, in Ottawa, it certainly is pleasant in this room.
You've made numerous points, gentlemen. Although I may completely disagree with some of your views, I can definitely agree on one point.
Mr. Carty said at the beginning of his speech today that there is no perfect way. We have to understand that what we're talking about is nothing but trying to get the best for Canadians because there is no perfect system. If we had one, well, we'd use it.
There's a commercial in Quebec that goes, “If it existed, we'd have it.” If the perfect system was out there somewhere, we'd have it. We are well aware
that there is no perfect system on that.
Something really surprised me, and I'd like to discuss it further with you, Mr. Wiseman.
You talked about the free vote and you said you do not disagree with a free vote, but you said that if there is a free vote, no change will happen. I would like you to explain more about that. I want to hear about that. How can you come to this conclusion today?
I don't think I have a preferred system. I worked awfully hard for a decade not to have one, when I was working with the British Columbia citizens.
Frankly, I can see the advantages of an MMP system or an STV system, which you'll hear about, I guess, tomorrow morning, or a finished list system, which someone described as one in which every candidate in the country is listed on the sheet, and you just pick the one and it's translated....
There are hundreds of possibilities and they all involve trade-offs. If you give a little bit more proportionality, you lose a little bit with less local representation, or if you give a little bit more voter choice, then you lose a little bit with less of the parties' capacity to discipline their members. They all involve trade-offs. I don't have my own preferred system.
The great success of the Canadian party system, in my judgment, has been in some sense preventing the enormous variation in the cleavages, in the divisions of Canada, from spilling into our Parliament in a way that would make us a dysfunctional country.
The New Democrats exist as a kind of coherent national party. I don't think we want to produce a system in which the Leap Manifesto New Democrats and the Notley New Democrats have been sentenced to run independently because they would see that they could get more votes in different parts of the country from different elements of their constituency. One of the strengths of the way our system has worked is that it has in fact forced the parties in some sense to work hard at preventing that expression of so much division, in a country that's constantly changing.
The Canadian political system has been a remarkable experience. Our electorate grew in the 20th century far more than any other electorate in the world, much more than that of the United States. We went from being a country of small rural people to the most multicultural urban place in the world. However you measure the transformation of Canada, our democratic social order has probably been transformed more than that of any other democracy, and somehow our big national parties have found ways to accommodate that. It was different in the First World War, in the Second World War, and in the sixties, and in the eighties. I think it gets high marks, frankly.
Our system of governance was just rated by the people in Davos as ranking second-highest in the world. We're at the top of the United Nations' political development indexes. I think by most comparative indexes we've done pretty well. The electoral system hasn't been responsible for all of that, but it has been one of the pieces. If you start undoing the pieces, you start undoing that system. That's a sort of “small c” conservative view, I guess.
First, I have something to say to my fellow members Mr. Blaikie and Ms. May, who brought up the 1993 election and the fact that the Bloc Québécois became the official opposition. They shouldn't think of it as some sort of regional aberration. May I remind you I am a sovereignist, as everyone knows. Don't fall off your chair, now.
In paragraph 164 of the Figueroa decision, the Supreme Court justices said, and I quote:
Perhaps the most significant manifestation of the importance of political representation of regional interests in Canada is our federalist system.
They go on to cite the Fathers of Confederation:
…“any proposition which involved the absorption of the individuality of Lower Canada…would not be received with favor by her people” and in the Maritime provinces, although they shared a language and a system of law with Upper Canada, “there was as great a disinclination…to lose their individuality, as separate political organizations”…
It could always be said that, aside from the quantitative aspect, what happened in 1993 was simply the qualitative manifestation of the Canadian political dynamic, after two failed attempts to restore something at the national level. The nation made itself heard and chose the official opposition. There is no aberration in that. In 2011, the same thing happened: one region, Quebec, manifested its desire with the orange wave.
You said no system was perfect. What I'm concerned about is not the principles underlying it but, rather, the way it is being handled. Quebec's reform exercise began in 2003 and ended in 2007. When we spent a year travelling across the province, we already had a draft legislative proposal. So we had a model, and we were consulting the people on something specific. Here, we have nothing. We are going to consult the people in the 338 ridings, but to ask them what? Are we going to ask them which voting system they want?
You told us that no one is interested in the issue and that political education is necessary. That's fine, but it's complex. At the same time, how can we consider changing the rules of our society's democracy without letting the people have their say, in terms of the pros and cons, since there is no perfect voting system? I'd like you to answer that question.
If it's not debated by experts or politicians, how can simply conducting a months-long education campaign possibly justify changing the rules without even holding a referendum? The people voting in the next election won't even know how the voting system works.
I don't think first past the post works, but I think Canadians prefer it because they know it. People would go with the devil they know rather than the devil they don't know, because they're not interested in electoral systems. Whenever I've lectured, not just to seniors' groups but in my own class, students say, I don't understand exactly how it will work. Well, I don't exactly understand how the income tax system works either, but I fill it out.
I like the system they had in Manitoba, maybe because I'm familiar with it. There, you had Winnipeg as one multi-member constituency of 10 people. The interests of people, let's say in Spadina—Fort York, are not that different from the interests of people next door in Davenport or where I live, University—Rosedale. Similarly, the interests of people who live in Papineau don't differ that much from what they are next door in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, but those collective interests are very different from those of people who live in Abitibi—Témiscamingue or in Kenora.
I suggest that the ranked ballot could make sense outside of large cities. In large cities, have one large constituency, or in a place such as Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, have maybe three or four. That system seemed to work well in Manitoba. The one evaluation I saw, by Tom Peterson, said that he thought it worked out proportionally and didn't favour any particular party. But I have to say that at that time there were many acclamations in rural areas; there was a coalition government in power.
The other thing, which we can't replicate now, is that since 1974 you've put the names of parties on the ballot. That is the real elephant in the room, because now, when people go to vote, they may not know who you are, but if your name is next to “Liberal” and they know that Justin Trudeau is a Liberal, that's what they want. For many people, the first time they find out who they're voting for is when they actually go to the ballot box.
What I like is that in the past there was an onus on the elector to become educated, because two people could run, and one would say, “I'm the Conservative candidate,” and the other one would say, “No, no, I was at a meeting and I'm the Conservative candidate.” The people get to decide who the Conservative candidate is, if they want to vote Conservative. Right now, the party leader has the ultimate voice.