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ERRE Committee Report

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STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY IN CANADA: PRINCIPlES, PROCESS AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT FOR ELECTORAL REFORM

CHAPTER 1 : INTRODUCTION

A.  Electoral Reform and Canada’s Unique Democratic Ecosystem

Over the past six months, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (the Committee) has consulted broadly with Canadians from coast to coast to coast on electoral reform. This report is the outcome of the Committee’s consultations and deliberations.

Three overarching themes emerged which have guided the Committee through its deliberations. The first is to consider our democracy as being an ecosystem, made up of various governance institutions (such as Parliament and the public service), the public, and civil society organizations that all interact and influence each other.[1] As such, it is important for us to consider how changing how we vote will impact other elements of the democratic ecosystem. For example, how should we ensure that there is sufficient civic education to strengthen public engagement through a period of change? What will be the impact of electoral system change on Parliament and assumed rules and conventions? Cabinet and confidence? The public service? The functioning of political parties? The country’s political culture?

A second theme that was repeated by witnesses throughout the country is that Canada is unique and any electoral change must take into account Canada’s geographic and demographic distinctiveness. For example, towards the beginning of the Committee study, Kenneth Carty observed:

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.[2]

A similar observation was made towards the end of the Committee’s hearings in Iqaluit, when James T. Arreak, Chief Executive Officer of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., spoke of the need for changes to the electoral system to reflect the diverse realities across the country and the role of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples:

In conclusion, Canada is a remarkably diverse country with many important and pronounced regional, linguistic, social, and cultural differences. One of the bedrock diversities of our country is the presence and the role of Canada's three [A]boriginal peoples.
Whatever is crafted to improve the representativeness of our political system, it must work effectively and fairly for both [A]boriginal and non-[A]boriginal Canadians, for the Arctic and the south, and for the territories as well as the provinces.[3]

The Committee notes Quebec’s unique contribution to Canada’s diversity and its status as a nation, within Canada, that is home to the majority of the country’s French-speaking population. As a result, the Committee agrees that no change to the electoral system must be made that would have the effect of diminishing Quebecer’s voice in the Canadian political discourse. Similarly, the Committee agrees that electoral reform must respect the needs, interests and aspirations of Canada’s two official language minority communities.

Finally, the Committee was told numerous times that there is no perfect electoral system as different systems emphasize different values. Designing an electoral system involves deciding what values to emphasize, as observed by Thomas Axworthy:

[T] here is no perfect electoral system. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, and it is really a question of values, of differing perspectives, that will inform your own debate. There's no technical solution to the issue of electoral reform. It is basically a political process of deciding your purposes and values and what you value most.[4]

Recognizing that there is no perfect electoral system, the Committee used the values and principles set out in its mandate (detailed below), as informed by the perspectives of expert witnesses, open mic presenters, briefs submitted to the Committee, responses to the Committee’s online consultation, and MP town hall reports, to develop its recommendations for electoral reform. The Committee takes particular note of a comment made by another witness, that:

[T]he big challenge that's facing you is to try to figure out a system where the pluses outweigh the minuses, or they do the things that you want them to do.[5]

Some expert witnesses stated that the structure of parliamentary democracy must be seen as an ecosystem. Accordingly, changing the electoral system would also necessitate changes to other aspects of the election laws and parliamentary procedure.

The Committee noted that a number of witnesses advocated for a restoration of public financing as part of electoral reform. As Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral Officer (1990–2007), emphasized, the annual allowance for political parties is within the scope of electoral reform:

State funding has been more equitable in the past, back when a subsidy of $2 per vote cast for a party was given to that party, every year, on a quarterly basis. I think that was a significant improvement. I personally recommend going back to that formula, but without necessarily keeping it at $2.
At first, the figures we had at Elections Canada easily justified a subsidy of $1.50. That amount may be $2 today, but I would gladly accept $1.50. That is a more equitable way to proceed, even though it's not perfect. It is not possible to establish a perfect mechanism to maintain fairness within the electoral system. Invariably, some people benefit and others are disadvantaged. It's a matter of minimizing that inequality and making the situation acceptable from the perspective of a reasonable Canadian.[6]

B.  The Committee’s Mandate

In the Speech from the Throne given on 4 December 2015, at the start of the 42nd Parliament, Governor General David Johnston stated that:

To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.[7] 

On 7 June 2016 the House of Commons adopted a motion establishing the Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE). In the spirit of collaboration, the Committee’s mandate provided for a unique membership, which included five government members, three members from the Official Opposition, two members from the New Democratic Party, one member from the Bloc Québécois, and the Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands (Green Party leader Elizabeth May).[8] As such, no one political party had a majority on the Committee.  

The Committee’s mandate required it “to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting, and to assess the extent to which the options identified could advance” the following five principles for electoral reform:

  • 1) Effectiveness and legitimacy: that the proposed measure would increase public confidence among Canadians that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated and that the proposed measure reduces distortion and strengthens the link between voter intention and the election of representatives;
  • 2) Engagement: that the proposed measure would encourage voting and participation in the democratic process, foster greater civility and collaboration in politics, enhance social cohesion and offer opportunities for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the political process;
  • 3) Accessibility and inclusiveness: that the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity in the voting process, while respecting the other principles, and that it would support access by all eligible voters regardless of physical or social condition;
  • 4) Integrity: that the proposed measure can be implemented while safeguarding public trust in the election process, by ensuring reliable and verifiable results obtained through an effective and objective process that is secure and preserves vote secrecy for individual Canadians;
  • 5) Local representation: that the proposed measure would ensure accountability and recognize the value that Canadians attach to community, to Members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level, and to having access to Members of Parliament to facilitate resolution of their concerns and participation in the democratic process.[9]

As well, according to the motion, the Committee was to “consult broadly with relevant experts and organizations,” examine relevant research and international examples, and “conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians.” The Committee’s consultation and engagement process included the goal of:

Strengthening the inclusion of all Canadians in our diverse society, including women, Indigenous [p]eoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, new Canadians, and residents of rural and remote communities.[10]

Finally, the Committee was invited to direct “each Member of Parliament to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents” with the Clerk of the Committee.

The Committee was required to present its final report to the House of Commons no later than 1 December 2016.

C.  The Committee’s Study in Numbers

In order to engage with the broadest number of Canadians, the Committee established a unique work plan. In addition to holding formal hearings with expert witnesses and receiving written submissions from the public, the Committee launched an online consultation on electoral reform, held open-mic sessions across Canada, and connected with Canadians through social media using the hashtags #ERRE #Q. The Committee also invited all members of Parliament (MPs) to hold town halls on electoral reform in their ridings.[11] Throughout the study, thousands of passionate Canadians from coast to coast to coast shared their concerns and hopes regarding Canada’s democratic future with the Committee.  

1.   Formal Hearings

The Committee sought a broad and diverse range of perspectives to ensure that discussions about electoral reform, online voting, mandatory voting and the process for reform were informed by the insights of Canadian citizens from every region, and included academics, stakeholder groups as well as national and international experts.

Specifically, the Committee heard testimony about the history of electoral reform and the use of different electoral systems in certain Canadian provinces. As well, a number of experts offered analysis of the constitutionality and legal framework of electoral reform, including mandatory voting and online voting. Additionally, academic experts and civic organizations emphasized the importance and the challenges of engaging Canadians in democratic reform, and in increasing voter participation in the electoral process. Experts also commented on how to proceed with electoral system reform, including the parliamentary process, citizens’ assemblies or other public forums, and/or a referendum. Finally, the Committee had the opportunity to learn from officials and experts from Australia, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United Kingdom.

Over the course of its study, the Committee held 57 meetings with 196 witnesses and 567 open pic participants across Canada. In addition to its meetings held in Ottawa, the Committee consulted directly with citizens and experts in every province and territory. Over a three-week cross-Canada tour, the Committee held hearings in the following locations:

  • Regina, Saskatchewan
  • St-Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Québec, Quebec
  • Joliette, Quebec
  • Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Victoria, British Columbia
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Leduc, Alberta
  • Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
  • Montréal, Quebec
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
  • Fredericton, New Brunswick
  • Iqaluit, Nunavut

Additionally, the Committee held an informal meeting with local Indigenous leaders on the territory of the Tsartlip First Nation in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia.

2.   E-Consultation on Electoral Reform

As part of the Committee’s mandate it was directed to conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians, including written submissions and online engagement tools. As such, the Committee created the E-Consultation on Electoral Reform to solicit Canadians’ views both on voting, electoral systems, online voting, mandatory voting and the process for electoral reform. The consultation posed 36 substantive multiple-choice questions and three opportunities to provide short text responses. The objective of the e-consultation was to provide as many Canadians as possible with the opportunity to engage with the committee in a meaningful and efficient manner.

Overall, Canadians from every province and territory provided thoughtful and important commentary. The e-consultation was online from 19 August to 7 October 2016, during which time 22,247 Canadians completed the consultation. It is important to note that the respondents of the e-consultation are not a representative sample of the Canadian population.

The province/territory of residence, gender, age, primary official language and other identifiers of the 22,247 respondents are provided below:

Province/Territory:

Province/Territory of residents

Number of responses

Percent

Alberta

3199

14.4%

British Columbia

5933

26.7%

Manitoba

744

3.3%

Nova Scotia

567

2.5%

New Brunswick

325

1.5%

Newfoundland and Labrador

115

0.5%

Ontario

8615

38.7%

Prince Edward Island

83

0.4%

Quebec

1676

7.5%

Saskatchewan

668

3.0%

Northwest Territories

37

0.2%

Nunavut

5

0.0%

Yukon

120

0.5%

Currently living abroad

161

0.7%

Gender:

Answer

Total

Percent

Female

7281

32.7%

Male

14580

65.5%

Transgender

88

0.4%

Other/Not specified

299

1.3%

Age:

Age

Total responses

Percent

17 and under

188

0.8%

18-24

1379

6.2%

25-34

4229

19.0%

35-44

3156

14.2%

45-54

2830

12.7%

55-64

4242

19.1%

65-74

4652

20.9%

74 and over

1572

7.1%

Primary official language:

Language

Total responses

Percent

English

19876

88.9%

French

1072

4.8%

Bilingual

1390

6.2%

Self-identified as:

Answer

Total

Percent

Indigenous

706

3.2%

Individual with a disability

1441

6.5%

New Canadian

784

3.5%

A resident of a rural or remote community

3787

17.0%

The responses regarding voting, electoral systems, online voting, mandatory voting and the process for electoral reform are incorporated throughout the report. The full report on the e-consultation can be found in Appendix F.

3. Open Mic Sessions

Open-mic sessions were another tool employed by the Committee to broadly consult Canadians from all walks of life. In total, 567 individuals appeared before the Committee in 18 different locations, providing invaluable insights on electoral reform, online voting and mandatory voting. In addition to those who testified at the open mics, hundreds of individuals attended the Committee’s hearings across the country to listen. The following table provides the total number of participants at each open-mic session during the Committee’s study. The views and ideas of Canadians are incorporated throughout the report, and can be found in the official record of each meeting.

City

Number of Participants

Regina, Saskatchewan

27

St. Pierre-Jolys, Manitoba

10

Winnipeg, Manitoba

35

Toronto, Ontario

77

Quebec, Quebec

10

Joliette, Quebec

14

Whitehorse, Yukon

24

Victoria, British Columbia

70

Vancouver, British Columbia

70

Leduc, Alberta

27

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

8

Montreal, Quebec

45

Halifax, Nova Scotia

29

St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador

14

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

18

Fredericton, New Brunswick

28

Iqaluit, Nunavut

4

Ottawa, Ontario

57

TOTAL

567

4.   Written Submissions and Correspondence

The Committee also invited Canadians to submit briefs to the Committee during the study. In total, the Committee received and considered 574 written submissions and over one thousand pieces of correspondence from organizations, academics and individuals citizens. The findings from these submissions are incorporated throughout the report.

5.   MP Town Hall Reports

In accordance with its mandate, the Committee invited all MPs to “conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies” on electoral reform and to “provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents”[12] by 14 October 2016. As of that date, the Committee received 172 reports from individual MPs, who held various types of consultations with their constituents, as well a report from the Conservative Caucus and one from the NDP Caucus, for a total of 174 reports in all. Among the reports from individual MPs, the Committee received 135 from Liberal MPs, 1 on behalf of the vacant riding of Ottawa-Vanier, 24 from Conservative MPs, 6 reports from NDP MPs, 5 reports from Bloc Québécois MPs, and 1 from the Green Party MP. A list of the reports submitted to the Committee, hyperlinked to the reports themselves, is provided in Appendix D.

Most of the reports provide summaries of the discussions and opinions on electoral reform, online voting, mandatory voting and related topics raised in their town hall meetings. Some MPs held a single town hall session, while others held a series of town halls in various regions of their ridings. As well, some MPs held joint town halls with colleagues from neighbouring ridings. The reports submitted by MPs detail a number of methods that they used to engage and inform citizens during their meetings, including expert presentations, debates, group discussions, Q & As and open mics. Turnout for the town halls varied significantly across the country, ranging from 7 to 253 participants. In total, the reports indicate that over 12,000 Canadians were involved in town hall discussions.

Of note, a number of MPs submitted reports stating that they chose not to hold town hall meetings due to the vast size of their ridings and/or because they believed that town hall meetings would not provide equal opportunity for all constituents to participate. Instead, a number of MPs sent householders and surveys on electoral reform to their constituents. The Conservative Party of Canada’s caucus, for example, used a mail-out questionnaire to consult with constituents. The submission provided to the Committee indicated that:

More than 81,000 Canadians from 59 electoral districts took the time to respond to surveys sent to them by their Conservative MP. Canadians who responded voted overwhelmingly in support of holding a national referendum on a proposed change to how MPs are elected. As of Thursday October 13, 2016, just over 90% of respondents, 73,740 of 81,389 Canadians told us they wanted a referendum.[13]

As well, the MP and caucus reports indicated that the following other methods were used to engage citizens: social media polls, telephone town halls, door knocking and informal discussions in constituency offices. For example, the NDP Caucus report noted that “through town hall meetings, online engagement and mailed surveys, NDP MPs heard from more than 37,000 Canadians about their thoughts on electoral reform.”[14] This included:

  • More than 40 town hall events with over 3000 participants;
  • Telephone town halls and online surveys reaching 12,500 people;
  • Over 2600 responses to mail back cards;
  • More than 15,000 signatures on our petition calling for proportional representation.[15]

The NDP Caucus report concluded with the following observation:

Canadians were clear about what they wanted: fairer, more proportional results that actually reflect how they vote; to keep their locally elected representatives; and for all parties to work together to ensure that we move towards a system that makes sense for our modern and diverse country.[16]

As well, the Green Party held public events in 38 locations across Canada, as well as 3 MP Town Halls in ‎Saanich-Gulf Islands.


[1]               House of Commons, Special Committee on Electoral Reform (ERRE), Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 28 July 2016, 1130 (Maryantonett Flumian, President, Institute on Governance).

[2]               ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 26 July 2016, 1400 (R. Kenneth Carty, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, as an Individual):

[3]               ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 17 October 2016, 1335 (James T. Arreak, Chief Executive Officer, Executive Services, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.).

[4]               ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 23 August 2016, 1410 (Thomas S. Axworthy, Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, as an Individual).

[5]               ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 20 September 2016, 1440 (Richard Kidd, as an Individual).

[6]               ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 7 July 2016, 1435 (Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer, 1990–2007, as an Individual).

[7]               Government of Canada, Speech from the Throne – “Making Real Change Happen,” 4 December 2015.

[8]               ERRE, About, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session.

[9]               Ibid.

[10]             Ibid.

[11]             As well, the Minister of Democratic Institutions and the Parliamentary Secretary for Democratic Institutions conducted a separate cross-country tour on electoral reform during the summer of 2016.

[12]             ERRE, About, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session.

[13]             Conservative Party Caucus, Submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform¸14 October 2016.

[14]             New Democratic Party, NDP Submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, October 2016.

[15]             Ibid.

[16]             Ibid.