Evidence of meeting #11 for Electoral Reform in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was political.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Leslie Seidle  Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy
Larry LeDuc  Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Hugo Cyr  Dean, Faculty of Political Science and Law, Université du Québec à Montréal, As an Individual

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Thank you for joining us.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Blaikie.

July 27th, 2016 / 4:15 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I want to go back to the issue of process. I'll maybe start by thanking Mr. Deltell. By raising some examples of where parties have received a higher percentage of the popular vote and nevertheless may have felt they needed to cede power to another party, he made an excellent case for proportional representation. So I'll thank him for that.

I want to get back to the issue of process and give Professor Cyr the opportunity to weigh in on my earlier question, which Mr. Seidle had an opportunity to answer in his response to another question. There's a commitment by the government to make the 2015 election the last one under the first past the post system. To the extent that we want to help the government keep that commitment, what can this committee do within that timeline to move this process forward and come up with an alternative that would be seen as legitimate in the eyes of Canadians, and something that we could act on? If we don't do something here, it seems to me, barring our heading out into some kind of citizens' assembly process, which poses a challenge, given the particular timeline promised by the government, the alternative seems to be to have cabinet come out with its own suggestion. What do you think needs to happen here to avoid that possibility, which I think has some problems of....

4:15 p.m.

Prof. Hugo Cyr

I'll be brief to allow my colleague to speak afterward.

As was previously mentioned, this is not the first time that the issue of electoral reform has come up for debate in Canada. The Law Commission of Canada already released a report on the issue, and Elections Canada prepared several proposals.

With regard to the type of consultation that should take place, I will not go into details, but I would say that at a minimum you should be able to lay out some models or consensual principles, if there is no consensus on one model. There should be very concrete consultations with the public, addressing very tangible issues. If there is an extensive consultation, you have to ensure that it isn't abstract or solely focused on the need to increase proportionality. The model must be concrete, so that people can debate the issues facing them.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Do you think that the committee members should at least have an idea of the kind of system they prefer before they start traveling across the country, and that consultations should focus specifically on this model? If not, how do you see this process?

4:20 p.m.

Prof. Hugo Cyr

Much like my colleague, Mr. LeDuc, I think that a consensus would be ideal. However, as the old saying goes, “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. Therefore, I suggest that you opt for something realistic. If you have two or three models, use them to start the consultation and then see what people think about those.

4:20 p.m.

Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Dr. Leslie Seidle

My colleague makes an interesting suggestion, which is that whether or not one or more models is agreed to here, it is very important that the committee agree on principles.

The principle that you have in front of you in your mandate are numbered from one to five, but there are way more than five principles listed there, and some of them are not really realistic. A system that is supposed to “enhance social cohesion”, I mean, really, isn't that a bit of a stretch for electoral reform? I don't know who wrote these terms of reference. I assume there was more than one person involved. That's fair as far as it goes, but it's not limpid.

You can draw three main principles out of them that you could rally Canadians around for a debate on one or more proposals. That's why I made my point about prioritizing principles. What are the good things that could come out of changing the electoral system?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have about 30 seconds.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I'll just throw it back to Professor LeDuc. If we are going to move towards change for the next election, do you think the ultimate proposal for that system ought to come out of this committee, or can it come out of cabinet and have Parliament vote on that? It's going to come down to a vote in Parliament. Is it cabinet's proposal or this committee's proposal that needs to...?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Briefly please.

4:20 p.m.

Prof. Larry LeDuc

It's hard for me to imagine that a cabinet proposal would acquire the kind of legitimacy within that timeframe that you were talking about.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Ms. Boucher, over to you.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Good afternoon.

This is very interesting. I'm very happy to be here today. Democracy is a very important issue to me. In 2006 I had the opportunity to be an election observer in Haiti. When we look at our democracy we can really see how lucky we are.

You talked about consensus. For me, this is not just a matter of consensus. What really matters is what the people tell me. As an MP, I represent a riding and I talk to my constituents. The people of Charlevoix, Beauport or Île d'Orléans do not all think alike. In a democracy there must be choices. We must be able to hear yes or no. First and foremost, we have to be able to explain to people what we want to do. That's what I think.

You said earlier that, to start with, people do not really understand what is involved. In Canada, we fight for not voting, while in countries like Haiti people fight to vote because they want a democracy. Our democracy is not perfect, but we have one, and we can talk to each other. When we leave the House, we can walk together and talk without bashing each other.

I want to understand. You spoke about consensus. How can we make ordinary Canadians, those we meet at Tim Hortons and everywhere, properly understand this issue? It's not just a matter of educating them, but also of knowing what they, themselves, want. I think that requires more than just a small committee of politicians or academics. You have done a great job, but if we want to change democracy, we must listen to the people.

What are your thoughts on that?

4:25 p.m.

Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Dr. Leslie Seidle

I totally agree. The committee is trying to find out what Canadians think with town hall meetings. However, the members or organizations must still take the initiative to use these tools. I read them and I looked at all of that. It's quite well done, but people still have to take the lead.

Other models have been used, such as citizens' assemblies and special panels. Their aim is to seek out people's views, discuss them and provide opportunities for debate. You tried to adapt this formula with other tools, including the Internet, but that has its limits. I will say no more about it.

You may still suggest, in your recommendations, what should be done after your report is tabled. I agree with my colleague that taking this directly to cabinet without further public discussion or debate is probably not acceptable or a good thing to do, strategically. If the government wants its proposal to be adopted but the process of real public debate is cut short, it is not very likely the proposal will be accepted.

4:25 p.m.

Prof. Hugo Cyr

I would like to clarify something about the consensus.

I did not mean to say that everything would necessarily be finished once consensus was reached here. The idea is simply to have a consensus on a specific subject of discussion, rather than discussing in the abstract, and so much the better if it was more proportional. It would be good to agree on something tangible that could then be discussed. That is a necessary step for moving forward.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Mr. Cyr.

We will close this very interesting discussion with Mr. DeCourcey.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

In the first round of questions I asked what value our committee should give to local representation in its deliberations, but Mr. Seidle was not able to answer my question. I would like to give him the opportunity to do so. This has to do with the political culture in Canada.

In your opinion what value do Canadians put on local representation?

4:25 p.m.

Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Dr. Leslie Seidle

Group representation?

I didn't quite understand.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

I'm talking about local representation.

What value should we put on it?

4:25 p.m.

Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Dr. Leslie Seidle

I think the answer to that question is maybe that it's not entirely about what Canadians think about that. I think Canadians do value having a contact with local representatives and so on. As someone who always tries to use realism—and I'm a former public servant, so I haven't always sat in an office in Montreal—you also have to think about the degree to which a proposal might get through this House. That's one of the reasons that so many of the provinces and New Zealand have proposed the mixed system, because it retains a certain proportion—usually at least a majority—of the local districts, and it adds on the proportionally allocated seats.

That can be done in two ways. Let's say you've got 100 seats to be allocated proportionally. They can be allocated to bring the parties up to where they should, in a sense, be by their vote, or they can be just added on a proportional basis. So if the count for each party was 30-30-40 as far as the popular vote went, then it would be 30-30-40 for those additional seats. That's not used in as many countries because it doesn't give you as proportional a result, but it does help to correct some of the gaps in representation that we've seen over our history.

Personally I think that the mixed member model has a lot going for it because it can be structured to allow quite a bit of voter choice. The results for gender representation in the different countries are quite good under mixed systems. They are slightly better under full party lists, but it also preserves those local seats.

I think you and people who study these things have to consider, is it going to fly in the end? Is it going to achieve the principles that we believe in, and is it going to fly?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

One of the principles you mentioned that should be a priority for us is the idea of inclusion and diversity within the system. In this regard, I note the statistics that demonstrate that while we still have a way to go, we're not doing that badly in terms of the percentage of visible minorities and indigenous Canadians who represent us in Parliament.

Do you have any statistics or research indications that demonstrate how persons of visible minority, or indigenous Canadians, turn out to vote and are involved in the democratic process, aside from those who offer and are eventually elected as representatives? What weight should we place on ensuring enhanced engagement for those Canadians?

4:30 p.m.

Research Director, Canada's Changing Federal Community, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Dr. Leslie Seidle

When I cited those statistics, it was partly for the purpose of demonstrating that there's no exact result from any system. You can't say, this will lead to that, because we have this antiquated system—sorry, I shouldn't keep repeating that, as I'll believe it after awhile—or long-standing system that has adapted to our changing demography.

Why do we have more indigenous MPs in Parliament now? We have them for three reasons. One, it's because the parties nominated more candidates this time. They nominated them in places where they could win, and above all it's because indigenous Canadians got out to vote in much greater numbers than they did before. The biggest increase in turnout in the last election was that of young electors—I think it was those under the age of 25—in Nunavut. Nunavut is 90% Inuit.

That gives you two good results, youth and indigenous voters, but there's no magic. People decided to move. There were signals from leaders. The Grand Chief of the AFN voted for the first time in a federal election. That's a pretty important signal. All of that was happening. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't be talking about change, but I also think that we should be fair about what can be achieved under the present system and give credit to the political leadership behind the kinds of change we have seen.

The debate in 2016 is not just about parties and the mathematics of party representation; it's about that social, and racial, and ethnocultural diversity that is within Parliament. That's an important lens to use in whatever you look at as alternatives.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much. I think this was a very instructive discussion. I thank my colleagues, who were able to bring out and discuss the witnesses' ideas. I would also like to thank the witnesses.

We are in the last week of July, but you still took the time to come here, which was not necessarily to be expected.

Thank you very much.

I would remind members that we're meeting tomorrow morning at 8:30. We have a one-hour in camera meeting on committee business and then we have a hearing, and then we're done for the week.

The meeting is adjourned.