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

2:40 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

I think that's a very good question, thinking about the process. I think that we can contrast New Zealand and the U.K. We know about Brexit, but we also know about the vote that they had on the alternative vote system. Those referendums, I think, were a problem in lots of different ways as a process, never mind the outcome. In particular, in terms of electoral reform, when people were asked if they wanted AV or not as a simple yes/no, then this wasn't the option that most parties, politicians, or the public wanted. In fact, the Liberal Democrats wanted a different system, and so did some of the Scot Nats, and so on. The choice itself was a problem, and of course it got turned down as a result, and people wanted to go to the safer thing.

In New Zealand, by contrast, as you say, having that two-step process really lets the public as a whole ask, “Do we want to keep the status quo or not?”, and then there's a question about each of the different choices. It's really a question of public education, because people aren't aware of what it means to have preferential voting, how STV works in Ireland, or how alternative votes work in other countries. It does take a long time to inform the public with really good mutually balanced educational programs about what the options might be on the table.

I think the New Zealand model is one that Canada, if you go down the referendum route, should certainly think very hard about. It gives people a choice in two stages. One is the familiar system or something else, and if you want something else, then it gives an opportunity to the parties and interest groups, electoral reform societies, general citizens, and other forms of lobbying groups to think through what the best option might be.

If one looks at New Zealand versus the U.K., New Zealand's far ahead in terms of the process.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you.

Do I have any time left?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

About 40 seconds.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

The two referendum cycles on the different questions, the flag and the electoral system, were structured differently. Do you have any thoughts as to which is the better of the two ways of structuring what effectively is a two-question and a preferential process?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Be fairly briefly, please. I know it's a difficult question.

2:45 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

I just thought the system they used for the electoral reform was better than the system they used for the flag, which, of course, got voted down again, cost a lot, and didn't actually get through. The first system worked, with a longer period between the first and the second of the different referendums, allowing more chance for deliberation.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Mr. Boulerice, you have the floor.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today. Your presentations have been very informative and interesting.

I have two questions for Ms. Norris.

Your colleague from California, Mr. Lijphart, spoke about the benefits of a form of mixed-member proportional representation as regards party political culture. He pointed out that parties are more conciliatory and more inclined to engage in dialogue and to work together.

I would like to ask you about how this can change the culture among voters. We often hear, as you know, that people sometimes vote strategically in our first past the post system. Often, they do not vote for their first choice or for the candidate who reflects their own interests and conviction; rather, they vote for a political party. Without mentioning allegiances, I know people in Toronto, for example, who wanted to vote for candidate A, but ended up voting for candidate B because they wanted to block candidate C. These candidates could be of any political stripe.

Would proportional representation put an end to this kind of voter behaviour in elections?

2:45 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

Strategic voting can be seen as a problem, but it can also be seen as a virtue for other reasons. Think about, for example, the second ballot system, which is used in France. That's a majoritarian system, and it's designed to create large parties.

In the first ballot, in France, in the presidential elections or the Chamber of Deputies elections, you vote with your heart. You vote for the party that you really love or is closest to your policies and interests. In the second, you're forced to only vote for the top two, so you have to vote strategically if you had supported a minor party before. De Gaulle introduced that to try to make sure there was a broad consensus in the support for the presidency.

Strategic voting per se is not necessarily something normatively problematic, and it's used very widely in many countries. Clearly, the different systems have different consequences for strategic voting. You can also vote strategically, of course, under a proportional representation system, again depending on where your party is in the rankings. You need to look, for example, at your district and you need to think about how many candidates there are in your district. Strategically that's a matter for calculation by the parties as well as for the voters. If, for example, you're weak in a district, you might only have one candidate in a party list; if you feel you're very strong, you'll put all the candidates forward.

You can't get rid of strategic voting necessarily by having either PR or mixed member systems or first past the post, and therefore it's not necessarily something that is going to be eradicated by reform.

I'm not surprised, by the way, to know that Professor Lijphart supports PR. That's always been his argument, and I very much respect his views.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you very much.

I would like to return to the situation in New Zealand, to talk not necessarily about the process that led to the changes, but about an inherent consequence of the changes that we have seen there. I know you are also interested in the participation of women in parliamentary and electoral systems.

In 1990, women accounted for just 16% of elected members in New Zealand. In 1996, just six years later, their participation rate had nearly doubled, with just over 29% of elected members being women.

How can this be explained? Is it a change in culture? The voting method was changed, but there might be other factors as well.

2:50 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

It's a change of voting system. We can see the same in Germany and in other countries that have mixed member systems. It's far more difficult for women and other minorities to get elected under first past the post in single-member districts than it is under the party list.

In single-member districts, the people who are recruiting candidates only pick one candidate for their riding or for their constituency, so they might well go for a safe choice, which is often seen as a candidate who might have experience in a particular way or fits the mould of the politician. Under a party list, you have basically a range of different candidates. You want a balance. You might want to balance by class or by language or by gender or by ethnicity, but essentially when you're selecting a party list, you don't want to discriminate against any group, because you might have a loss of popularity, a loss of votes.

The way that the systems work means that essentially—and we've known this since the 1980s—proportional representation has the strongest representation for women overall. Under the mixed member system, women get in through the party list. Under the first past the post, it becomes more difficult at the selection or recruitment stage for women to get selected, and therefore to get elected.

August 23rd, 2016 / 2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Merci.

2:50 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

You can also use quotas, obviously.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much.

You have the floor, Mr. Ste-Marie.

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here today. It is very interesting listening to you.

My question is for Mr. Harrington, but I would also like to hear from Mr. Axworthy and Ms. Norris, if you don't mind.

Canada is a federation made up of a number of nations, including a majority and various minorities. The system, including the electoral system, was designed to guarantee rights to the minority nations.

If the electoral system were reformed, what criteria should be met to guarantee the rights of minority nations, of which I am one representative?

2:50 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

Are you asking me which system I think would work best?

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

No, regardless of the system. If you like, we can take mixed-member proportional representation, for example.

In absolute terms, what must the reform include in order to guarantee minority nations' rights, which was the very spirit of our federation?

2:50 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

I would have to beg off the question, since I'm a lawyer, not a political scientist. I think one of the great problems is that we assume that lawyers know everything.

2:50 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

2:50 p.m.

Prof. Matthew P. Harrington

It's very important to bear in mind the role of lawyers. I can write the statute, I can write the provision, but as to whether this or that system is a better system is really a political science question. I would defer to Professor Norris. Unfortunately, we have a tendency....

When we read all the op-eds, we see all the law professors now are opining on which is the best political system, and I say we know nothing about that kind of thing. I hate to be flippant about it, but I think it's really a question of intensive study of politics and empirical and anecdotal research that lawyers in general, and particularly law professors, really don't do. I almost began by saying that I came here agnostic about the question. I'm not here to suggest one or another system. I'm sorry about that.

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

I had the idea that lawyers knew everything. At least, that's what they had always told me.

Mr. Axworthy and Ms. Norris, perhaps you can answer the question.

2:50 p.m.

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

Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy

I guess I would say on the question of minorities that the crucial aspect about democracy and efficacy is really your knowledge as an individual. For particular minorities—and I'm thinking, for example, of recent immigrants to Canada—the education and the knowledge about our system is more problematic because of the fact that they have emigrated. I think a country should be looking at those who have more barriers to participation, in this case around knowledge.

Just as an illustration, a case in point is with regard to learning about our system. We bring in a quarter of a million people a year, and they have to know about our background of federalism in Canada, the Canadian story. Take the Historica Minutes, for example, the 75 or 80 one-minute television snappers about the history of the country. Why don't we translate those into a variety of different languages—Chinese, Spanish, and others? Every immigrant who arrives would get the history of Canada in their language and in an easily digestible form, rather than in a long book and a series of reports. We have legal equality in the country, but we have disparities in knowledge and we have disparities in engagement, and that's what we have to work on.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have about 20 seconds left, Mr. Ste-Marie.

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Okay.

Ms. Norris, would you like to answer my question?

2:55 p.m.

Prof. Pippa Norris

Diversity is really critical, particularly because societies now are increasingly globalized, and émigré populations need to have citizenship rights and voices in representative bodies like Parliament.

A couple of things can be done. Clearly, if you go towards a mixed member or a proportional system, the districts can be based on provinces. In that sense you don't change the familiar boundaries; you just have multi-member districts within them. If you stick with first past the post, still things can be done. Again, think of New Zealand. You can have reserved seats or quotas for particular minorities, such as indigenous groups, who are concentrated in particular areas and who need representation. About 20 or so countries around the world have reserved seats for those types of groups, so we can do some things.