Evidence of meeting #16 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 issues.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pippa Norris  Professor of Government Relations and Laureate Fellow, University of Sydney, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard, Director of the Electoral Integrity Project, As an Individual
Thomas S. Axworthy  Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Matthew P. Harrington  Professor, Faculty of Law, Université de Montréal, As an Individual

3:10 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

My hate mail on that is spectacular.

3:10 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

3:10 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

My fallback is a referendum. I think there has to be some mode by which there is a formal consultation with the people. I was reacting, at the time, to the assertion that there would be neither; there would be neither election nor referendum, in which case, as I have said, that is the Senate's function as well, as I have a High Church view of the Senate. The Senate's role would be to impede the process in order that the people would be consulted, as was done with NAFTA.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

To be very clear, what you're saying is that in order to have properly and legitimately asked the people for their consent, it would either be an election on the issue or a referendum. That's the way that we could make sure that people have been adequately and properly asked for their consent.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Briefly, give a yes or no if you can.

3:10 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

Yes.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much.

Ms. Romanado is next.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Thank you so much.

I'd like to thank all three of you for being here on a sunny August afternoon.

Dr. Axworthy and Professor Norris, you both mentioned that there is no perfect electoral system, and we have heard that from other witnesses. You've also mentioned that no system will address every value that we hold dear.

This committee was given a mandate with specific guidelines to help us in that quest to find the perfect solution that we hope we will be able to find on a consensus basis. One of the overarching concerns that we've been hearing from Canadians is their relationship with their local representative, and I know it's the same for MPs who have been elected; they like to know that they have that relationship with their constituents. We heard that in a multi-member proportional situation, there would be some confusion as to who handles what—“Who's my representative?”—and we might lose that link between the Canadian and their representative.

I'd like to get your thoughts on that, given the fact that it is a value that is held so dear by Canadians. What do you would think about the impact of implementing something like an MMP model?

3:10 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

Pippa, do you want to go first?

3:10 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

Would you like me to go first?

Think about the Bundestag. Here we have two MPs who are elected through different methods. One is in the single-member district and one is the person who is elected in the party list. There isn't a lot of ambiguity in the sense that there is still that link between the individual member and the local constituency, the local voters, the local party, and all those other things that are important in any parliamentary representation.

You can have a mixed member system, which has to some extent the best of those two different worlds, but it does mean that members of Parliament would be slightly different in their roles and responsibilities and in how much they do for constituency service, which is an incredibly valuable service that takes up a lot of time and is appreciated in any parliamentary system, versus those who are focused more on committee work or issues or other types of concerns for Parliament. You just divide the roles a bit more than you might do under the current system.

3:10 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

My answer would be quite similar. I also put a high value on it among the various principles in the mandate of this committee. The local identification to me is terrifically important for a couple of reasons. First, when we look at the frustration of citizens with our system, much of it revolves around the frustrations of how to deal with government itself because of the complexities, the confusions, and the wait times. Members of Parliament serve as ombudsmen, as the final step you can try in resolving these terrible sets of issues in the daily life of Canadians that they face. It's about the only recourse for so many citizens when they're up against waiting times and long periods of difficulty.

In a globalized world, when things get ever larger, to have that personal identification is absolutely crucial. How would we divide that, as Professor Norris just talked about, particularly if we continued to have the mixed member where we had, in my view, still a heavy orientation toward the single-member district? There would then be some as a top-up on the list. The natural division is that part of the top-up of those who are on the larger vote would be concentrating on more national issues, parliamentary issues, and so on, leaving the members to do the local surgery, which is the bread-and-butter work of members of Parliament and something only they can do.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Professor Norris, given the values that Canadians hold dear, what would your thoughts be in terms of transitioning to a ranked ballot before transitioning to an MMP?

3:15 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

On that last point on representation, you also have think about minor parties. The old idea of parliamentary representation is that you go through your MP, and irrespective of party, you are representing the constituency you're a member of. It does mean that small parties are excluded. If you have a mixed member system, smaller parties are more likely to be there, so you don't necessarily need to go through your MP. You can go through a different channel to get representation.

In terms of rank preferences, essentially that's another choice. It's a more majoritarian system if one goes toward a preferential vote, and that has certain consequences for party representation, but I don't think you should think of it as a sequential step. It's basically a choice that you need to make, and you don't want to say, “Let's have that, and then further down the road...”, because you don't want instability. Every electoral system takes time to work out what the consequences are, particularly for voters in knowing how to act within that choice in terms of the ballot and in terms of districts. You don't want to have two choices.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thanks very much.

Go ahead, Mr. Dubé.

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Professor Axworthy, I would like to quote an article you wrote during the minority government in 2004, so I will speak in English.

Talking about minority Parliaments, and it was the first one since the 1970s at that point, you wrote:

Policy actually gets made on the floor of the Commons.

That is important, of course. You also say:

The whole focus of Ottawa shifts from quiet discussions between deputy ministers to the public, and noisy negotiations between politicians in the cockpit of Parliament.

If I just rewind a bit, you also mentioned that:

Nothing will erase the democratic deficit faster than the election of a minority Parliament. The House of Commons becomes king. Power slips away from the executive toward the legislature.

I raise these points because when we talk about mixed member proportional, we often talk about the best of both worlds. We can look at examples like Germany, where contrary to popular belief there can be a lot of stability in a proportional system. Coupling that with what you wrote then, can we reach the conclusion that a proportional system would lead to those same kinds of negotiations that we see in a minority Parliament, yet it's more of a stable system where—not to discredit your article, because you mentioned it further, and I don't want to omit anything—parties play a big role and there's that constant sense of election? We'd be removing that, but keeping the good stuff where MPs are taking their roles much more seriously than perhaps they do when it's four years of a majority government?

3:15 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

We can make any system work. Under a majority government system, much of the work goes on within caucus. I've been recommending here and elsewhere, as I also did at that time, a very expanded system around the committee system.

One result of having more parties or larger numbers of smaller parties is that kind of work then takes place on the floor of the House of Commons. We have internal coalition-building now. It takes place within larger national parties often, in the brokerage function of parties. I'm not dismissing that; it's been a crucial aspect of the history of the country in terms of accommodation. That kind of process could still occur. It would be in a different kind of way. It would have to be motivated by the same values of tolerance and give and take, which we sometimes lose in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Parliament, but it could certainly occur.

Again, I don't want to paint some terrible world of coalitions. They can also operate. I mentioned the constitutional committee. People often forget that Mr. Trudeau also invited Mr. Broadbent to join his cabinet at that time because we wanted to expand the legitimacy of the constitutional project. That was the kind of spirit there was at that time. That's the kind of spirit we would need to make minority Parliaments work.

Is it doable? Yes, it is.

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Thank you.

Ms. Norris, we are still talking about a proportional system, but also about reforms of Parliament.

With respect to the proportional system, we often hear about the powers of the smaller parties. Yet we must not forget the MPs of the party that won the election and who are working to form government. We are talking about the MPs of the party that won the most seats in this system. The MPs of this party also gain more powers. We are not referring only to the small parties trying to form a coalition, but also the members of the largest party that belong to that coalition.

Is that correct? Can you elaborate on that?

3:20 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

The first point is absolutely right. Smaller parties would likely become better represented, such as the Greens in Canada, because they'd get a more proportional share of seats, depending on how that works through.

How does it affect the members? This is a complicated question. For example, if you went towards a proportional system, you have to think about how would members get selected for that district. Often it can be that somebody has been placed into that position by the party leadership, so the members are actually more accountable to the leadership sometimes under a proportional system. For example, in Italy you'll get hand-picked into that ranked position.

We need to think about technical issues. If you're going to have a district which is PR, is it open or is it closed, meaning are the ranked positions selected by the parties and fixed, or can voters change them and individual members try to expand their voters' will?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much.

You have the floor, Mr. Deltell.

August 23rd, 2016 / 3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Parliament of Canada.

Mr. Axworthy, you said earlier that we need to reach a consensus in committee in order to take action. If this consensus is reached, does the government necessarily have to consider it? In short, in your opinion, is the government bound by the work of this committee?

3:20 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

Consensus in committee is not unanimity necessarily, but it is a broad set of understandings. My view is that if the government did not have consensus—again, I repeat, not unanimity—a broad sense of consensus from most of the members of this committee, I would not proceed until I had that kind of consensus. When one introduces a new system, however good it is, the nature of its introduction will be crucial to its success. A system that was perceived to be forced or rammed down the throats of people would be one that would be behind the eight ball before it even began.

If this committee did not have a consensus, I would keep working at the issue and wait. I repeat, our system doesn't operate badly now, so we could afford to wait till we got it right.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

If this committee has consensus, do you think the government shall respect this consensus and go on with the consensus?

3:20 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Do you know that the electoral minister said no, that she's not linked with that?

3:20 p.m.

Public Policy Chair, Massey College, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

Well, I'm not the minister. I'm not her adviser—