Thank you very much, Chair.
I really appreciate the opportunity to talk again with the Canadian Parliament about this really important topic.
There are really three issues that I think are worth highlighting.
Number one, what are the key options on the table? Those are partly about electoral systems but also a lot of details. Should there be a referendum, for example, to introduce any sort of reform? Should there be different types of mandatory voting, and so on? Number two, why reform the current system? Of course, the classic issue is that if it ain't broken.... So what's the problem we're trying to address in which a different change might actually work? Number three, what might be the consequences if we adopt one system or another? What would it do?
If we just take the first issue, in terms of the electoral system, as your committee has debated in the past, essentially there are the core four main options on the table. One is to obviously maintain the status quo of first-past-the-post majoritarian plurality systems, which have certain virtues, which are very familiar, and which are used in a number of countries, obviously including the United Kingdom as a result of the failure to reform, as well as the United States. I know that the preferential vote issue has been under question, the ranked choice, such as in the Australian House of Representatives.
The most popular option, which has been going on with many reforms in many countries, is the New Zealand option of the mixed member proportional, where it's like the German system, with one vote for the PR system and one vote for the single member. It's a mix of both majoritarian and proportional representation. Often what's critical are a lot of the details, such as how many seats are allocated to one or the other, or whether they're actually counterbalancing or are separate votes.
Last is pure PR, proportional representation, which is not really on the table, although clearly that's used in many, many countries around the world, producing a pure proportionality of votes to seats.
The question then is this: how are these really being thought through? What's worth emphasizing is that the devil is often in the detail in all of these designs, and therefore you really do need to look not just at the broad electoral law and systems but at basic procedures and things that I know are being debated, such as whether, if we're going to introduce any sort of reform, there needs to be a public mandate for it. Going through a referendum process is one issue that the committee is considering.
Should there be, for example, compulsory voting to address questions such as low or declining turnout? Other issues can also be there for electoral procedures, and I know with the fair votes act in Canada, there have been questions about those as well, to make sure there's both inclusive balloting, whereby everybody who has a voting right can exercise that and is not discriminated against, but at the same time there's secure balloting, so that there's no question of impersonation or double-voting. These are the kinds of options that I know you've been considering.
Why reform the current electoral system? This is the basic issue. Clearly the Prime Minister committed Canada to think about this and for Parliament to put this on the agenda with the commitment that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under first past the post. Again, I don't think the process has necessarily thought through what the problems might be. Certainly that was the case in some of the early debates.
I looked, for example, at the democratic institutions minister and at the points of eight different issues that were mentioned. Some of them, you can clearly see, are critical issues, and some of them might be less so, but if we take the things that are being mentioned—for example, legitimacy, efficacy, diversity, simplicity, user-friendliness—you can't get all of these values in any one particular option. They are all trade-off values. Think about issues like first past the post being actually very simple for the voters to make their choice. They basically have to mark one candidate, one party, on the ballot, and then the parliamentary system takes care of the rest. If you have a double choice, such as the mixed member system, that gives people more options, but they also have to become familiar with, for example, a wide range of candidates or different issues on the ballot. They have to think about their strategic choices as well. For example, if they support a minor party, does it make sense to vote for that party in both parts of the ballot? Maybe under first past the post, strategically they vote for a major party under the single-member district, but under proportional representation they might vote for a minor party. Essentially you have different choices, and no one system will meet all the points that the democratic institutions minister has set out.
If you want to emphasize the issues of fairness, for example, to minor parties, then a more proportional system is clearly going to get you there. That is much more likely to bring in more minor parties with a lower vote threshold in order to win seats. On the other hand, if you want to go for local accountability, then you'll go for first past the post, because the single-member district is where voters can vote for the candidate, not just for the party list.
There are complex issues, then, with the values, and issues about what the consequences might be and what the problems are at the heart of elections held in Canada.
Lastly, to come to the issue that I'm sure is really the most challenging to establish, what can we say about the consequences? It's very difficult to go from one system to another. You can certainly look at other countries, as I know you have—you've looked at Ireland, you've looked at Australia, and you've looked at Britain—and you can examine the ways in which their electoral systems work, but again, it's often a bundle of choices. The way that the Australian system works, for example, with its mandatory voting and with its different systems for the Senate and for the House, won't necessarily translate into how those same things would work in Canada.
What we can do is make some projections on how each of these different options, the basic electoral systems, might work, first in terms of seats and then in terms of things like gender equality or diversity, and then in things such as proportionality.
Just in terms of seats, what are the basic projections? Well, we can take the last election results under the current system in 2015 and we can make a simple projection. If it was under a system of any of the other alternatives we mentioned, what might be the consequences? Or quite simply, if we look under preferential voting, which is, for example, the system that we use in Australia for the House of Representatives, this would reduce at present the number of seats that are allocated to the Liberals. They would go down substantially just on the same share of the vote from, for example, 54% to 30% of the seats. The other parties would also change quite a lot. We can see again that other parties would potentially benefit from this, but some parties would stay much the same.
If we go right through to a mixed member system, the consequences for seats would depend on how you have a balance. You might have half and half or you might say only a proportion of the parliamentary seats would go through the proportional system, while the rest would go through first past the post. Under that system you'll probably see a greater share of seats for the minor parties, which would be able to get in through the proportional vote even if they can't currently get in through the single-member districts, but that also depends on their geographic dispersion. If you're clustered, as in Quebec, then obviously you can still get in through the first-past-the-post system of single-member districts, but if your vote is dispersed across different ridings and different regions, then the minor parties are likely to do better under any proportional or mixed member system. Obviously that's a key thing to consider.
We have to say that the level of proportionality is another question, and that's about the share of votes to seats. That's often what people think about when they think about a fair system. Again, it's likely that a more proportional system is going to get a greater degree of proportionality, but is this basically a problem in the Canadian system? When I've run the analysis and looked at some statistics at the level of proportionality in the Canadian elections right back from 1945 to date, I don't find that's actually gone up a lot or gone down a lot in recent years. Again, is this a matter of concern? This is up to your judgment.
Finally, what about public opinion? Do they have any preferences for any of these types of electoral systems? Well, public opinion on these sorts of issues is often soft, meaning that it's a technical issue. The public in many countries haven't often thought about these systems, and often it's only if they come to a real referendum that they actually think about those choices. Nevertheless, when we look at some of the public opinion polls in Canada that have been put forward on this issue, the preferences still seem to be to favour the current status quo, not to change. That's not surprising when people are asked in various studies.
Of the other systems, there seems to be a slight preference for the mixed member proportional versus either pure PR or ranked preference voting, but basically public opinion is not well formed on this issue. If you went to a referendum, the ideal thing would probably be to go to a referendum as in New Zealand, where you have, first, the question of whether the public feels there should be reform, and if yes, what type of system should be chosen.
My bottom money is that you'll probably go towards the mixed member system if any of the other choices were being preferred, because that system has the virtues of both single-member districts, which are familiar, and proportional representation, which gives a better chance to minor parties and to women and other forms of diversity. However, it's still probably likely that, as in the U.K. when there was referendum on this issue, overwhelmingly the public is not necessarily in favour of radical reform unless the problems are really put more clearly to the Canadian public.
Thank you very much.