Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to members of the committee for inviting me here today.
I was trying to decide how to start, particularly in a 10-minute beginning. I was going to start by saying that I think it's very unlikely that electoral reform will happen in Canada. And then I thought that was too pessimistic a note to begin on, given all your hard work on this topic, and also because I'm a reformer. I would like to see it happen, but I'm very pessimistic about the prospects.
I thought instead that I'll be slightly more cheerful and simply emphasize that it is really difficult to accomplish, in almost any jurisdiction. It isn't a Canadian problem. It's the problem that you run into when you're trying to change an institution like an electoral system that people have grown up with and are accustomed to.
Whenever I make this argument to students or to others in the course of the various debates in Canada, someone always brings up New Zealand. They say that New Zealand did it, why can't we? I'm always happy when they bring up New Zealand because usually they know a bit about New Zealand, but not very much.
In New Zealand, it's important for us to know what they did and how they did it. It is a case study on electoral reform because they actually accomplished it. It took them nine years. It began with a government that came to power. The new prime minister boldly announced the end of “first past the post”. Then nine years later, after three elections, a royal commission, a parliamentary committee, and two referendums on the topic, they accomplished it. If you guys are in for the long haul, then it's possible that you might be able to follow the New Zealand track, as long as you can identify its various twists and turns along the way. But New Zealand doesn't show us how easy it is to reform a first past the post system that's been well established; it shows us how hard it is.
I'll come back to New Zealand later maybe in the Q and A because there are a couple of lessons we can take from New Zealand besides the sheer pessimism. Those lessons are about the process. Someone is sure to ask me about a referendum, for example. We can look at how the referendums fit into the New Zealand process and what they accomplished or didn't accomplish.
We can also look at Japan, but I don't have the time today to talk a lot about Japan. Japan is the other major democracy that did accomplish electoral reform. It took them 20 years, not just only nine years. The debate in Japan began in 1973, and 20 years later in 1993 they got it done. The process was very different from New Zealand. It took place solely within the parliament and solely via bargaining among the various political parties. A watershed election broke the grip of the LDP on Japanese politics in the early 1990s. The LDP government was succeeded by a seven-party coalition. That seven-party coalition essentially became the vehicle for accomplishing electoral reform, but only after they were able to secure the agreement of all seven parties. It was a long, difficult, complicated drive to consensus. They also got it done using a different process.
I could also talk about some of the provincial cases in Canada. Those are cases of failure, by and large, where they started out on an optimistic note and then ended up not being able to accomplish the reforms. Just mentioning these cases leads me to one of the major points that I want to make in my presentation and discussion today, which is to emphasize process over substance, especially at the stage that this committee is at in its deliberations.
There's a tendency in electoral reform debates—and I've seen this many times—for people to start with the system that they like or think they like. They say, ”Oh, STV, that's pretty good” or “Maybe we should have PR” or “What about MMP? It works nicely in Germany.” They're attracted to a model because they know something about that model and its virtues, and then they try to develop a process that would get you there, and the preference drives the process. So people will say, “Well, this one might sell” or “We might be able to get there by doing X and Y.”
I think it should be the other way around. I think if you start with process and don't get trapped into discussing too much the virtues and vices of various models, particularly models in other countries, you have a better chance of success.
I think this committee, to its credit, has already to some degree started that way, first because of the representation on the committee and second because of the enunciation of the principles on which your discussion is based. I suspect, however, that lurking in the background is a preference among many people for a particular system and a tendency to gravitate toward that discussion or at least to gravitate there too quickly. You're going to end up there eventually, of course, but that's not where we need to be. If we could get consensus on a process, then we could use that process to build consensus on reform. It's much harder to do it the other way around. I think that's one of the things the Japanese case tells us.
That brings me to the point on which I want to conclude, which is simply a restatement of what my colleague Peter Russell said to the committee yesterday, and that is that the basic principle of an electoral system should be to reflect the voices of the voters as expressed in the election. That's the core principle. It's also the core principle of democracy, and I thought he stated that principle very well.
We're often looking for electoral systems to do a lot more than that: we're trying to second-guess what the voters want or think they want or what their votes mean. But if the election gives you a reading on what the voters have chosen or what their thinking is at the time of the election and a system can then efficiently translate those voices into representation in the Parliament, an election then is not just a one-day affair that chooses a government; it is a continuing process by which the voices of those voters continue to be reflected in the representative process.
That's the principle I would stress the most, and it's partly why I will try to make a case, which I do in my brief—and I'm not going to talk about the brief in this opening presentation, but I will be happy to talk about it later—for list PR: I believe that list PR is the system that most efficiently performs that core task of an electoral system; also because it is the most widely used electoral system in the world and therefore we ought to take a look at it. Why start with hybrid models or models that are not used in very many places?
Every time I get involved in one of these debates, I hear a lot about STV, for example. It seems to be a fascination of certain of my academic colleagues in particular, especially the ones from British Columbia. There's nothing wrong with STV. STV is a very interesting model, but it's a largely theoretical model, and it's only used in Ireland and Malta. I probably couldn't pick out two cases that are much more different from Canada than those two. Consequently, the problem with STV that I often have is that we don't have enough empirical evidence on it and the way it might work in a geographically large, multicultural society like Canada.
We have plenty of evidence on PR systems of other kinds, because they're used in all kinds of different countries, large and small, east and west. As the most widely used and also most adaptable electoral system, adapting list PR is not just choosing someone else's electoral system; it is choosing a model that can then be adapted to the Canadian environment and made to work in the Canadian environment to accomplish many of the objectives that this committee has felt are the objectives an electoral system in Canada in 2016 should strive to accomplish.
I'm sure my friend and colleague Henry Milner already made the case for PR this morning, because he's been making it for years, and I cite him many times in footnotes to things that I've written. I won't restate what he has said, but I would certainly reinforce what I suspect he probably said. I think we have paid too little attention to the principles of list PR in the Canadian debates and too much attention to hybrid models that are theoretically interesting but not as proven in practice as many of the PR systems of Europe and elsewhere.
I'll stop there. Thank you, Mr. Chair.