Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the committee for their kind invitation to contribute to their important work. I can see that you are working hard this summer.
I will start by saying a few words about the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
Founded in 1972, the Institute is a national independent, bilingual, nonprofit organization. Although it publishes studies recommending changes to public policy, it does not issue opinions on such issues.
In that respect, the comments I will be making today are mine alone and do not constitute a position taken by the IRPP.
Before I address some of this committee's mandate, I want to express a concern about a broad question that is not addressed in the mandate, namely, what is the overall objective that a new federal voting system would serve? What is the problem that is meant to be rectified? Put another way, how would Canada's democratic life be changed, one assumes for the better, by replacing the present voting system with another? To me this question hasn't been answered and I think it's front and centre in the work you have in front of you.
If you look a little further for an answer, you find in the Liberal Party platform from last year three sentences on electoral reform, one of which is the commitment that the next election will be the last one under the present electoral system. There's a heading before that sentence and it says “We will make every vote count”. This doesn't take us very far.
The Minister of Democratic Institutions has referred to the present voting system as “antiquated”. By this I assume she means it is no longer suitable for the purpose, rather like a piece of furniture that no longer goes with new decor in a room. But what is the purpose that the word “antiquated” is being linked to? Although political institutions need to be adapted to changing circumstances and we have done this in Canada in many ways, including through our federal arrangements, I believe they should be assessed on criteria other than age. After all, continuity and stability are important virtues in democratic arrangements.
Now turning to your terms of reference, you are asked to study viable alternate voting systems to replace the present system and “to assess the extent to which the options identified could advance” the principles for electoral reform that are enumerated in the terms of reference. When I read them over, it seemed to me—and I concluded this quite quickly—a logical impossibility for your committee to identify one alternative system that would serve all the principles equally well.
But maybe you're not working to that end. After all, your terms of reference referred to options with an “s”, not a single option. This leads me to my first main point today, that there's a need to prioritize the principles that alternative electoral systems are meant to serve. If you present one alternative, you should know what that alternative is meaning to do. If you present more than one, the same argument follows for the other systems.
I'm not going to prioritize those principles for you, I don't have time to do that. I'm going to engage in a more modest exercise today that begins by choosing—and rewording slightly—two of them that, in my view, should be given high priority. The first one is strengthening the representation and inclusion of Canada's diversity. The second is encouraging voter choice and participation.
The first one concerns in part representation of various groups within Canadian society. I'm not talking about party representation here, because I know that my colleague will be covering that and you've heard from, or will be hearing from, various people like Henry Milner and Dennis Pilon. But the representation of groups is not a mere counting exercise. We look and we see how many visible minorities have been elected in comparison to the population: that's valid. Why do we do that? We do it because as the composition of a decision-making body changes, so do the decisions. If we value responsiveness in decision-making, we should be concerned when certain groups are not well represented in our legislatures.
Let's start with women and see how well they fare in this House and other legislatures elected under different systems. You have two tables that have been handed out and if you look at the first one, I'll make a few points.
The first table is about gender representation. We see that in the four countries with majoritarian systems—Canada, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Australia—there is no example in which women represent even one-third of the members of the lower house, so they're not doing very well there.
In proportional and mixed systems, only a few of which I've included here, women are often better represented, sometimes significantly so, as in Sweden where 44% of the national Parliament are female. However, this is not always the case.
I've put in Hungary. Hungary is a democracy. It's having some problems at the moment, but nevertheless it's part of the European Union, and it was once a vigorous democracy before it was part of the Communist bloc, and so on. In Hungary only 10% of the members are women, and there's a proportional system in Hungary as well.
Taking the single transferable vote, there is only one major country that uses that for its lower house, Ireland, and women count for 22% there, a bit lower than the rate in Canada and a bit higher than in the U.S.
Now, turning to the second table that I handed out, but still on the principle of representation and inclusion, here I've provided data on racial and indigenous minorities in the four oldest Westminster-type democracies and the U.S. We can't look at PR systems in the same kind of detail, mostly because either we don't have data, as in the case of France, or there are no indigenous peoples, or they're almost not significant, or they're not measured, so I have taken countries mostly like ours.
In Canada, visible minorities are now quite well represented, with 14% of MPS compared with 19% of the population. That's from the 2011 National Household Survey.
This is considerably better than the case in the U.K. where non-whites are 13% of the population but have only 6% of House seats. In Australia the contrast is even sharper, although the measure is a little different. Some 28% of the population was born outside of the country. Now, a large share of these people are non-white, because of the source countries for Australian immigration. Following the 2013 election—we don't yet have data for the last one—only 11% of MPs were born outside Australia, so there is an almost 1:3 ratio there.
Looking at indigenous peoples, we have three examples. In New Zealand we have the Maori, who are now 14% of the population but have 18% of the seats in the House of Representatives. This is partly because there are designated seats in New Zealand for the Maori. There are at the moment seven of those seats.
In Australia there is only one indigenous member, and that member was elected in 2013. In fact, this was the first aboriginal ever elected as a member of the Australian House of Representatives.
In Canada, with which I'm sure you're familiar, we're doing relatively well, though still not comparably with the population, which is 4.3% indigenous, and 3% of the House are now indigenous members. There has been progress, as there has with visible minorities. There was significant progress between the 2011 election and the very latest one.
What does what I've just run through tell us?
First of all, and this is the first of the two additional main points I want to leave with you, voting systems are not determinist. They are not a set of gears that turn one way, and they are not always going to give you the same result when you put in the same kinds of input as you would in a factory. Just to take one example, we see that PR is often associated with better representation of women, but this is not automatic. I'll have a word about that when I conclude.
Secondly—and this one I really want to emphasize—political parties' rules and commitments, particularly at the candidate nomination stage, have an important influence on the representation of diversity, including representation of women. In Sweden, parties have for a long time placed a premium on nominating women. Some of them have voluntary quotas, and they place them relatively high on their lists, and therefore they are represented almost in parity in the Swedish Parliament.
This is a better result than happens in some other countries, because in those other countries often women are not placed as high on the list, and the result is not as favourable, all other things being equal.
Turning to the racial and indigenous minorities, we don't have as large a sample to draw on, but there's a point about our own system that needs to be remembered there, which is that we have moved in Canada, under a system which is antiquated, according to one person, and maybe some other people, to a stage where racial and indigenous minorities, visible minorities, are represented almost in relation to their share of the population. Our system doesn't do that badly. We don't do as well on women. One of the main reasons that this happened is that the parties, particularly the Liberal Party, and the NDP also, put up greater numbers of candidates from visible minorities and from indigenous backgrounds.
I'm going to conclude with just a short comment on the other principle that I mentioned, encouraging voter choice and participation. This is a huge area, but I'll just make a few points.
The alternative vote, as in Australia—I assume you know what these are all about, so I won't explain them—allows voters to rank candidates, but there's only one candidate per party. In some ways you have a little more choice because you're doing a ranking as opposed to just putting one “x”, so it gets a few points on choice.