Evidence of meeting #12 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 voters.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dennis Pilon  Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University, As an Individual
Jonathan Rose  Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual
Maryantonett Flumian  President, Institute on Governance

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Order, please.

Colleagues, please take your places.

We appreciate all the witnesses being here today.

We have Professor Dennis Pilon, Department of Political Science, York University. We have Professor Jonathan Rose, associate professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University. From the Institut sur la gouvernance, we have Maryantonett Flumian, president.

We're sorry we're a bit late. We had some housekeeping matters we had to take care of, but we're very anxious to hear what you have to say.

The way it works is that you will each, as you know, be presenting for 10 minutes. Then we typically have two rounds of questioning, and in each round, every member gets a chance to ask questions. We'll figure out the timing of each round, but typically it's five minutes. The first round will be five minutes, I think. We'll figure out the math.

We're going to end at 12:15. We've extended our meeting by 15 minutes because we started late.

I would just like to mention one thing. The five minutes each member has covers questions and answers, so it's something everyone should keep in mind, the members and the witnesses. If there is a long preamble to a question, it leaves less time for answers. If you are not able to answer and there is a question hanging out there when somebody has asked a question and the five minutes are up, you can still address the issue the next time you have a chance to speak. It doesn't mean you can't follow up on the question, but it has to be at another opportunity, maybe when you're answering another question.

We'll start with Professor Pilon, for 10 minutes, please.

10 a.m.

Professor Dennis Pilon Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University, As an Individual

Thanks for inviting me to come, and I want to begin by applauding the government for bringing this issue forward and by applauding the parties that are supporting it.

This is a little bit about me.

I've worked on this topic for almost three decades. I've written two books and many research papers on the topic. My research is focused on real-world experience and results with different voting systems, and the historical and contemporary processes of reforming political institutions such as voting systems. I've also researched related topics on voter registration, voter turnout, youth participation, and the representation of social diversity and Canadian democratization more broadly.

I also have some practical experience in organizing elections as a former deputy district electoral officer in British Columbia. I was second in charge of organizing a riding for the purposes of a provincial election, hiring 300 people and training them to do the election day stuff, so I have a bit of practical insight as well as academic insight into voting systems.

We've heard from many people that there is no perfect voting system, but that doesn't mean there aren't imperfect ones, like first past the post, particularly from a democratic point of view. We call our system a representative democracy, but first past the post fails to represent effectively. It misrepresents the popular support for parties. It leaves over half of the voters contributing to the election of no one. It typically results in a minority of voters dominating majorities. It limits political competition. I mean, with such lousy representation, how democratic can the system be?

The reason is that the system was not designed to be democratic. Its origins are in the pre-democratic era, and it has been kept in place for electoral self-interest. Canadians have struggled to make their system democratic despite these institutional barriers. Proportional representation systems, by contrast, were designed to represent voters effectively, even if the motives of reformers were not always democratic.

My brief, which I've submitted to the committee, argues that the way we talk about reform tends to structure the debate that follows, and we've seen three views emerge since this process started. One of them frames the question as an issue of the Constitution and the need for a referendum. Another one argues that voting systems are just a matter of taste: it depends what you like, what you prefer. The last one argues that voting systems are quintessentially a matter of democratic reform, and I argue that only the last view is really credible.

Now, I'm not going to go into all the details of the brief. I want to sketch out the broad themes, and I can certainly expand on any of these issues in the question-and-answer period.

With regard to the constitutional arguments, there is no merit to them. We have seen a range of views, from the uninformed to the ridiculous, and the rapidity with which they are appearing in the media signals a kind of desperation from the right-wing think tanks that are sponsoring them. The referendum arguments are often clothed in a veneer of democratic rhetoric, but they are also weak and contradictory. Normatively, referendums should be restricted to situations in which voters can become reasonably informed to be able to participate in the discussions. Canadian provincial referendums on voting systems have shown this not to be possible.

Referendum advocates would have us believe that referendums will lead to reasoned debates and decisions on this question, but evidence suggests otherwise. The research on referendums, both Canadian and comparative, shows that the way that voters deal with issue complexity is to reject the process entirely. When people have rejected different options, it's often because they have no clue as to what they're being asked. In many cases, they didn't even know a referendum was going on.

The referendum arguments are themselves internally inconsistent. We are led to believe we must have at least a majority to change our voting system, but a government that represents 39% of the population is okay to make all of the decisions in the interim. Why is there a majority for one question but not the other? It seems to me that if a majority is the ultimate test of decision-making, then it should be applied in all democratic situations.

Finally, as I will spell out in a moment, I think this issue is one of voter equality, and you don't put equality rights to a vote.

Now let us go on to the idea that voting systems are a matter of competing values and outcome preferences—a matter of taste.

There are two key problems with this argument. First of all, voters are not well informed about any of our political institutions and thus do not really have tastes about them. For instance, in two different surveys done 10 years apart, voters were asked if a majority government reflected a majority of the Canadian population, and they argued that it did. A majority of them said it does, when in fact I think everybody here knows that they almost never do.

Voters cope with political complexity through proxies, the parties that they support. When a party complains about something, then the public usually wants answers. If a party is fine with things, then the voters are usually fine. I think it's foolish to pretend otherwise. Voters have fairly informed views about the broad themes of politics that they prefer, but the details and the institutions are unavoidably an elite process.

The other problem with voting systems as a matter of taste is that it flattens out the values and makes them all equal, when in fact I think we should privilege democratic choices and disallow undemocratic ones. The problem with making a choice for majority governments as a value is that it suggests that's okay. It's okay for a minority of people to impose their views on the majority. I just don't see how you can make that a democratic argument. There are lots of arguments in favour of our system; they're just not democratic ones.

Therefore, instead of looking at voting systems as a matter of choice where all choices are equal, we need to judge our voting systems against what Canadians are trying to do with their voting system. In this case, I think the evidence suggests that they are trying to get their political views represented, so we need a system that will do that most effectively.

Voting systems as democratic reform start from a realistic sense of what voters are trying to do when they vote, and here we know from a mountain of evidence that voters vote party, as opposed to, say, voting for a local representative. Even when voters say they're voting for a local representative, we discover they're actually voting for the party, yet in trying to get those party results, our current voting system privileges geography, though geography is not the basis informing that vote. Thus proximate voters—voters who live close to each other—are privileged by our system, while dispersed voters are discriminated against.

This violates the voters' rights to have their votes count equally. This issue actually affects all parties. Voters of all parties find themselves marooned in different parts of the country, unable to make common cause with voters who agree with the kinds of things they would like to see represented. This leads to wasted votes, distorted representation of parties, and typically a legislative majority government that a majority of Canadians do not actually support.

This is wrong, because it's undemocratic, it's unrepresentative, and it violates some basic democratic notions of majority rule. Again, we do it this way not because of preferences or the Constitution, but because historically self-interested parties have kept it that way. Attempts to defend it involve contorted and convoluted arguments that frankly are unsupported by facts.

Let me conclude. I would argue that this committee's job is to move forward and just recommend that the government change our voting system to a proportional system. The only real barrier is political will. The government has a majority, and we have parties that represent a majority of Canadians whose parties supported this issue. I think there are plenty of reasons for the government to move forward, and here I would argue that the government shouldn't really worry about critics, because I think the critics' arguments are mostly politically self-interested. We've had a number of commentators suggest that there will be public outrage if there's not a referendum, but frankly, the only people who are outraged are the ones who are writing such editorials.

In moving forward, I think the government's voting system choice should be informed by facts, not speculation. This is key, because most discussion today is focused on myth, distortion, and outright speculative made-up nonsense. There is plenty of real-world experience with proportional representation to draw from for us to understand how this would affect Canadian politics, but comparisons should be with countries that are comparable to Canada—in other words, western Europe and New Zealand, not Italy and Israel, which are countries that have very distinct political histories and political situations that are very different from Canada's.

If we do that, if we take seriously an evidence-based approach, then just about every complaint about proportional representation can be shown to be without support. Whether we're talking about complexity, instability, too much stability, lack of local influence, etc., all these things can be shown to be without foundation.

Also, we could spend some time talking about the many good things that change would bring in moving to a proportional system. We could highlight how a change to any proportional system would immediately increase political competition. It would lead to changes in voter turnout. It would lead to improvements in the representation of our diversity, and it would end the policy lurch that we see presently with our alternation in government.

I'm happy to expand on all these things in the question-and-answer period.

Thank you.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much, Professor Pilon.

We'll go now to Professor Rose for 10 minutes, please.

10:10 a.m.

Professor Jonathan Rose Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much for inviting me to this committee. Like many Canadians, I've been following your crash course on electoral systems with great interest. As a political scientist who finds the topic as fascinating as it is complex, I've been really impressed with the facility with which the committee has understood the nuances of electoral systems as well as methods of representation. As you're quickly realizing, it's complex, and a bit like doing a Rubik's cube, in that if you change one thing, the other things change as well. However, unlike a Rubik's cube, there is no right answer. This is important, because if I were to summarize electoral systems in one word, I would say “contingency”.

Your steep learning curve in some ways makes sense, because you've heard from many of the experts on the subject. Therein lies an important conundrum. While I have no doubt you will master the details of electoral systems, I wonder about the Canadian public. How will they learn, and what is it they need to learn? I want to discuss the public learning component of electoral reform from my experience as academic director of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. I want to stress the importance of that in the overall strategy of engagement.

The other thing I want to do is briefly talk about the large electoral signposts and hope you keep that in mind so you're not distracted by the red herrings along the way.

Public learning is really the flip side of democratic engagement. This reform exercise has created an ideal opportunity for a national conversation. We all want citizens to be engaged, but true engagement cannot occur without a solid foundation of knowledge. We know that among citizens the variation is very high, and as Professor Pilon just mentioned, the average is very low. Discussions should be about rational reason-giving, not emotional position-taking, and the former requires knowledge. Rational reason-giving was the basis of both the Ontario and the B.C. citizens' assemblies. That's how they worked. They understood that you could not choose an appropriate system without first understanding what principles were important to them.

Canadians are not being asked to design a new electoral system, so I would humbly say there's no reason for them to argue for one or another. In my mind, that's the work of this committee. Where Canadians have an important role to play is to tell this committee and members of Parliament what values and principles are important to them and how these are evident in various systems.

Your committee has been given five guiding principles, which I think are instructive but not as clear as they might be. I might suggest refinement about what they mean, or at least to make sure you're using the language in the same way as others.

For example, some of the principles your committee is working under are about outcomes, things like “integrity” and “legitimacy”. These are not created by a system but are a product of them. Others are goals that a system should embody, such as “effectiveness” and “inclusiveness”, whereas others relate to the mechanics of the system, to how it works, such as “local representation”. Your principle of “accessibility” suggests the principle of simplicity with its language that “the proposed measure would avoid undue complexity”. Simplicity, I might add, was one of the principles chosen by the Ontario citizens' assembly. If I can paraphrase Albert Einstein, a good electoral system should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.

There are other principles not listed that have been used by other studies. Voter choice, chosen by both the Ontario and B.C. citizens' assembly, was an important one for citizens, but curiously does not appear as frequently in the academic literature as the others. This suggests that citizens think about electoral systems differently from experts. That's worth remembering as you hear from experts about their opinions on what's important.

Other studies have also refined what “effectiveness” really means. Does it mean effective parties, as British Columbia and Ontario defined it? Does it mean effective Parliament, as the Ontario assembly refined it? Or does it mean effective government, as defined by both the Law Reform Commission and the New Brunswick commission?

I would suggest that it will be really important for you to clarify these terms so that both MPs and citizens are clear on what it is they value and whether they're talking about the same thing.

In the Ontario citizens' assembly process, $6 million was devoted to educating voters. A strong, robust educational campaign is more than advertising, of course. This government has taken the useful first step of producing a consultation guide. I would take exception to one of your previous witnesses, who characterized your process as an “elite pleasure industry”.

I actually think this matters. If so, surely more is needed, both to persuade the public and provide basic education about how these principles resonate and to inform citizens once this committee reports in December. Frankly, this will be even more significant if and when a referendum occurs.

Let me shift gears quickly and talk about electoral systems. You've heard a lot about them. I think one way to think about them is the big debate in which they occur. Scholars like to talk about whether they are causes—they create greater participation, they create more parties, they create different kinds of parties—or whether they are effects—they're a product of a political culture or a product of regionalism or perhaps an institutional context.

In reality, they are both. Electoral systems both illuminate and reflect.

In the literature, we classify electoral systems using these two large categories that might help in your deliberations: output and mechanics. For output, we're thinking about proportional versus non-proportional systems, the big categories. To determine what serves our needs best, we need to go back to our principles. Do we want a system that increases the chance of a strong majority government? Do we want increased diversity in Parliament? Do we want an increased number of political parties? Those are all questions that force us to go back to those principles.

The second approach is to think about mechanics. How does the electoral system work, and what is its relationship to the output? When scholars discuss mechanics, they're usually talking about three things.

The first is how voters would mark their preferences. Do they rank them or do they make a choice? Ranking offers greater choice, but it might surprise you that sometimes ranking doesn't affect the outcome of the choice. A categorical choice is simple but may not reflect preferences accurately.

The second issue you're facing in mechanics is how many representatives you want per district. One allows for simple accountability, but it can't be proportional. As you increase the number in each district, you increase, perhaps, proportionality, but you perhaps may sacrifice the connection between the representatives and constituents. Moreover, you may sacrifice local representation. These are trade-offs that need to be carefully weighed.

The third element of the mechanics is the formula, and you've talked about this in the last few days. The formula is basically how you decide who won. The plurality formula is simple, as you know. A majority formula ensures that there's legitimacy. A proportional system ensures that vote share equals seat share, but may sacrifice local representation. A mixed system offers what some might say is the best of both worlds, but it does create two classes of MPs.

I want to reinforce the model of the Ontario and B.C. citizens' assemblies. They were based on deliberation, not consultation. It's not enough to ask people for their opinions when doing so may only reinforce their existing beliefs. There needs to be an honest and robust public learning campaign that establishes connections between these principles and others and how they correspond to the kind of representation you want.

The conversation here and in the public has put, I would argue, the electoral cart before the horse. It has emphasized the product of those values, the electoral system, and not their trade-offs.

Let me leave you with a final thought. While Professor Pilon and others have argued that there is no one perfect system, I want to quote Richard Katz, who argued that there is a perfect system. He argued that the best electoral system, depends on “who you are, where you are, and where you want to go.”

At this stage, rather than focusing on systems, I hope you give these three some significant thought.

Thank you.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Professor Rose.

We'll now go to Ms. Maryantonett Flumian.

10:20 a.m.

Maryantonett Flumian President, Institute on Governance

Thank you very much.

Good morning, distinguished Chair, Vice-Chairs, and members of the committee. I'd like to begin by saying a few words about the Institute on Governance and our work in advancing better governance in Canada and abroad.

The IOG, as we call ourselves, is an independent, not-for-profit, public interest institution that advances a better understanding of the practices of good governance in Canada at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. We also work with indigenous governments and not-for-profit organizations, and over the last 26 years we've worked in 35 countries around the world.

For us, governance is concerned with the governance ecosystem: with the frameworks, the strategy, with how decisions important to a society, a community, and an organization are taken, and, fundamentally, how accountability is rendered. Our work is guided by five principles that mirror the ones that are guiding the work of this group.

We deal with legitimacy and voice, direction, performance, accountability, and fairness, and as I said, these are mirrored in the work that you are doing.

This committee has been asked to identify and conduct a study of viable alternative voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting. To assist you in addressing these areas, my remarks will address three broad domains: why voting matters, how votes are counted, and how citizens vote.

I'll discuss the governance considerations I believe this committee should assess as they move forward and I will talk about the first and the third domains—that is, why voting matters and how citizens vote in conjunction.

For the second part, I'd like to clarify that my comments will not be on the merits of a particular electoral system, as I will leave that to the experts in the field whom you have already invited to speak and who are speaking this morning.

To begin with the last point,

I would like to start with the issue of encouraging voter participation, specifically through such measures as mandatory voting and online voting. I propose this order because I think voter engagement is as big an issue for democratic legitimacy as the selection of a specific electoral process.

While in principle I am not opposed to mandatory voting, I think that such use of public authority should be considered only as a last resort to address low voter participation.

On political principle, relatively few people support mandatory voting. The electoral franchise implies an absolute civic duty to vote, which we must uphold to the full extent of the law.

In fact only twenty or so countries have mandatory voting, and of those only half strictly enforce this requirement by imposing penalties.

The public purpose pursued by many who advocate for mandatory voting is principally to raise voting participation and thereby improve the legitimacy of elected representatives, and a broadened legitimacy of elected representatives ensures a broadened legitimacy of government, which is a most laudable public objective.

There are also a number of other measures that could be implemented prior to mandatory voting in order to improve voter turnout over time. Taking the prescriptive that the administration of voting is simply another element of government service delivery to the citizen would, in my view, go a long way in bringing this design within a modern philosophy of citizen-centred government service.

Simply put, if voting is more user-friendly and highly accessible, more people may be likely to vote. Everything possible should be done to facilitate voting, from registration to the actual act of voting. With modern information technologies, many impediments to voting or things that make voting more difficult could be lifted or greatly reduced. For example, we have a permanent electronic national voters list; if only it were available at all polling stations across the country in real time. This is a no-brainer in this day and age.

We might have a vote-anywhere policy that would facilitate the exercise of the franchise, notably by students who leave their permanent place of residence to attend college or university just around election time, if we stick to the current cycle. People could vote wherever they were on polling day, rather than having to return to their place of registration or having to change their registration to their new residence in order to be able to vote on polling day.

The lifting of such administrative burdens might give a particular boost to voting in marginalized groups in Canada, who may benefit from an increase in accessibility to voting, and among youth, since it's critical to retain the large increase in first-time young voters in the last federal election so that they continue over their lives to perform their civic duty. I say this while well understanding that in rural and remote areas of this country, we do not yet have the standard of connectivity to be found in the rest of the country, but perfection should not be the enemy of the good. We can start to work at modern-day solutions in full recognition of this reality and hope that we can implement something in rural and remote Canada as well.

Another example is limiting vouching to one per person. This has brought an undue restriction on the administrative flexibility of the voting process that may have had an impact, in particular for elderly voters in seniors' residences, where it was customary for staff to vouch for several residents who lacked identification, as well as in indigenous communities. Stopping this practice may have been a remedy to a non-problem.

However, I would suggest more importantly that the ability to vote online would make a difference as well. We manage polling pretty much as we did 100 years ago. Except for the permanent voters list that is composed and updated electronically with data input from Canada Revenue Agency, our voting process is entirely paper-based and very similar to what is was in the early 20th century. Polling stations do not have electronic access to existing voters lists and have only a printed list of voters for their poll, on which they cross off names as people come in and vote. Voters are given a ballot.... You know the process; I don't need to go into it.

It's extremely slow, and with the new additions that have been added to the administrative process, it is slow and clumsy for our day and age. To paraphrase another Canadian, after all, this is 2016.

Many service providers at all levels of government and in the private sector—even banks, for heaven's sake—don't let their customers or their citizens wait in line, because they know that often this causes them to lose their patronage. They've taken the turn to modernity. The electoral process has not. People line up and wait to exercise their franchise at polling stations.

A survey commissioned by us at the Institute on Governance—not yet published, but I will make it available to the committee after my appearance—shows that Canadians widely endorse online voting. I believe that technology that could and must ensure both the confidentiality and the integrity of an online voting process must be aggressively explored now, while we still have a few years to go.

Citizens live their lives online through their mobile devices, and few remember life without Google. Google is just a decade old, yet antiquated paper-based electoral processes already feel like an aberration in this world. People live their lives online, do their banking online, and pay their taxes online, but they can't vote online. A younger generation does not understand this, and frankly neither do I. I say let Canada be at the vanguard of piloting, experimenting, and implementing online voting as quickly as possible.

By the way, under the the Fair Elections Act, this would require the authorization of Parliament, and I quote section 18.1 of the Canada Elections Act:

The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting processes, and may devise and test an alternative voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters or, in the case of an alternative electronic voting process, without the prior approval of the Senate and the House of Commons.

This is a very, very high bar, which I have no doubt discourages the serious examination and investigation of these modern administrative matters that affect the democratic franchise.

Most importantly, because an increase in voter turnout can equate to government's legitimacy, methods to improve accessibility are but one of the viable alternatives. I'm talking specifically about civic education. Parliament has a duty to ensure that its citizens understand the importance of their participation in strengthening the principles of sound public governance. With a civic education strategy that starts by targeting grade schools and high schools, we can ensure that there are more first-time voters, regardless of the voting system we choose, and that many more will become voters for a lifetime, continuing to support the ongoing foundation of democratic governance. I believe that Elections Canada should be institutionally positioned to play a leadership role in this strategy.

In other countries, such as Australia, electoral commissions or agencies have the responsibility to not only administer elections but to objectively inform citizens of their civic duty by providing accessible tools and resources. Thus, I believe that this committee should consider recommending expansion of the mandate for Elections Canada to include providing foundational and objective education and awareness programs to young Canadians, marginalized Canadians, and new Canadians.

Now I come to the voting system, first past the post.

Some feel that this element of our electoral process would be the single most important reason for the long-term trend of voter apathy identified by scholars and experts. A major feature in our democratic system is the election of majority governments, with examples of minority governments being a more common feature in more recent times.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Excuse me, Ms. Flumian; how much time would you have left in your—?

10:30 a.m.

President, Institute on Governance

Maryantonett Flumian

Could I take another two or three minutes?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Not really. Maybe another 30 or 45 seconds. I can stretch it to a minute.

There will be time for questions.

10:30 a.m.

President, Institute on Governance

Maryantonett Flumian

I can do that, by all means.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you so much for your co-operation.

We will have five minutes per member in the first round for both questions and answers, and four minutes in the second round. We'll end at 12:15.

We'll start with Mr. Aldag.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

I would like to hear what you were about to get into. I thought you were about to talk some about first past the post.

10:30 a.m.

President, Institute on Governance

Maryantonett Flumian

I was going to talk about it, but I'm not going to come to a conclusion. I'll only tell you that in the same poll I was talking about earlier, there was interest in exploring other options. When you see the results, you can have a look at what you think of their interest. It's a broader study on governance.

My final comments were going to be all about constitutional conventions, which are also affected by our voting system. Our voting system is only one dimension of the way we manage our constitutional arrangements. It was about the implications of changes to the voting system, or the implications that you should have in mind as you propose changes to the voting system.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Maybe I'll leave that aspect for somebody else and move into something different.

Professor Rose, you were talking about trade-offs, and I've made a note that trade-offs need to be looked at. I'm finding that we've had excellent testimony so far, and all three of you have contributed strongly again this morning. We're getting a lot of the benefits. We've heard that proportional representation can do certain things, such as resulting in minority or coalition governments, but we're not talking about the trade-offs.

I believe that sometimes majority governments can do great things. We've heard from Mr. Cullen that some of these minority governments have also done great things. Majority Liberal governments have done great things and majority Conservative governments have done great things, but mostly Liberal governments have done great things.

10:30 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

I'd like to know if you have any thoughts on some of the trade-offs we're seeing with minority and majority governments. I'd like to explore that a bit.

I'd like to start with you, Professor Rose.

10:35 a.m.

Prof. Jonathan Rose

When we talk about trade-offs in Parliament, we're talking about what kind of parliament we want. Electoral systems produce a Parliament, and a Parliament looks a certain way based on the electoral system.

Imagine the electoral system as an engine. Depending on how you tune that engine or what kind of engine you have, you're going to get different results. It's really about the principles that guide you. Effectiveness is a great concept, but when we talk about effectiveness, we can talk about effectiveness being a large majority government. One would not disagree that a large majority government is very effective in getting legislation passed, but it sacrifices the effectiveness of Parliament, which is after all a talking place, and the ability of members on all sides to engage in discussion and to deliberate.

When we talk about effective parties, we can talk about large brokerage parties that command wide swaths of ideology as they do in Canada, or we can talk about effective parties as being small, regional, or specifics-based parties. The trade-offs are really around the kind of Parliament you want and the kind of government you want.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

In Canada, we have a clear division of power. The provinces have their responsibilities and the federal government has theirs. If we moved into a system of more minority or coalition governments, would we be sacrificing anything in being able to deal with national issues? If we were move away from the kinds of majority systems we've had, would we be sacrificing strong national leadership and weakening federal jurisdiction?

10:35 a.m.

Prof. Jonathan Rose

I think it's really about how we think of our party system. Our party system is a brokerage party system, which is a big tent. Arguably, we are one of the few countries that has had such a broad group of people under one political party. If you think of it that way, political parties are coalitions now. We have coalitions, except that they're created within a party before the election. Brokering of interests between parties would occur after the election. It's the same thing.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you. Okay, we're good.

Mr. Reid is next.

July 28th, 2016 / 10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I think he's good, too.

10:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I want to thank all the panellists for being here.

I wanted to start by asking Jonathan Rose a couple of questions, and this may take up all the time I have in the first round.

You are, of course, one of Canada's two or three leading experts on citizens' assemblies, and you've spoken very favourably of them based on your experience. I'm just quoting you here: “A citizens' assembly—where real learning, deliberation and consultation takes place—is actually a higher threshold for legitimacy than a referendum”.

As someone who takes referendums very seriously, I'm impressed by that.

I wanted to ask this question. A year ago, you said, “I think it shouldn't be a blue-ribbon panel deciding this,” meaning electoral reform, “or politicians. Whatever decision is reached, it should be put to a national referendum for approval.”

Is it still the case that you would regard the gold standard for changing the electoral system and ensuring that it's legitimate as a citizens' assembly followed by a referendum on the decision arrived at through the assembly?

10:35 a.m.

Prof. Jonathan Rose

Thanks for the question.

I think the quote you're referring to is actually part of a quote in which I said that some would argue that a referendum would be a good thing. I think there are great reasons to have a referendum, the primary one being legitimacy, but I still maintain that the gold standard, as you say, is a citizens' assembly, in part because, unlike a referendum, a citizens' assembly has an opportunity for the public to learn. There is an opportunity for the public to deliberate, and there is an opportunity for the public to engage in the issue in ways that don't occur in a referendum.

I also would point out, after looking at and thinking about the referendum in the U.K. recently, that it has given me pause, I must confess. That referendum was hijacked by dominant personalities. It was hijacked by mudslinging and by improper characterization of the issues. More importantly, participation was around 72%. If 52% of people voted to leave the EU, 52% of 72% is about 38%. I don't understand how that's a mandate. On the legitimacy front, it seems to fail.

I acknowledge that the idea of having the public have input in a meaningful way is hugely significant. The question is how to achieve that.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

That's an interesting way of looking at things. In the case of the referendum in Ontario, I know that they had a 60% approval rate. Let's assume it was 52% and we had the same participation rate we actually had, which was lower than 72%, I believe. Would that have meant that the majority vote in favour of the MMP system that you and the citizens' assembly had worked on would have been illegitimate? Your own words indicate that you believe that it would have been an illegitimate mandate.