Evidence of meeting #24 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 saskatchewan.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Michael Boda  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Saskatchewan
Charles Smith  Associate Professor, St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan, As an Individual
Darla Deguire  Director, Prairie Region, Canadian Labour Congress
Jim Harding  As an Individual
Kenneth Imhoff  As an Individual
Robert Bandurka  As an Individual
Nial Kuyek  As an Individual
John Klein  As an Individual
Ross Keith  As an Individual
Dave A.J. Orban  As an Individual
Lorna Evans  As an Individual
Erich Keser  As an Individual
Patricia Donovan  As an Individual
Calvin Johnson  As an Individual
Patricia Farnese  As an Individual
Jane Anweiler  As an Individual
William Baker  As an Individual
Russ Husum  As an Individual
Lee Ward  Associate Professor of Political Science, Campion College, University of Regina, As an Individual
Carl Cherland  As an Individual
Nancy Carswell  As an Individual
David Sabine  As an Individual
Randall Lebell  As an Individual
Shane Simpson  As an individual
Dastageer Sakhizai  As an individual
D-Jay Krozer  As an Individual
Maria Lewans  As an Individual
Norman L. Petry  As an Individual
Rachel Morgan  As an Individual
Dauna Ditson  As an Individual
Frances Simonson  As an Individual
Rodney Williams  As an Individual
William Clary  As an Individual

4:15 p.m.

Director, Prairie Region, Canadian Labour Congress

Darla Deguire

I think I do actually mention that in my comments. I mention the fact that other countries have seen slight increases in women and under-represented groups being elected. We can't say for certain, but I think there's a bigger problem and conversation we have to have at a different table. I can't wait for another committee to be established to talk about how we raise the proportionality of all sorts of folks who are not represented in the House of Commons right now, but all we can say is that the system right now is not reflective of the Canadian landscape.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you. We'll have to go on.

Mr. Ste-Marie, you have the floor.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to welcome the witnesses.

I will give you a moment to put your earpieces in so you can hear the simultaneous interpretation.

Thank you for—

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Wait a minute.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Chair, will the countdown of my time be stopped, since Mr. Cullen told me to wait before starting my intervention?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Don't worry, Mr. Ste-Marie.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

You say that, but I'm still a little skeptical.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have my word on it.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Very well.

I was pleased to watch your presentations.

Mr. Harding, thank you for speaking. What you told us was very interesting. I am the member for the Quebec riding of Joliette, and the protection of water is a very important issue for us there, too. In this case, I wish you the best of luck in things.

I will start with a brief comment for Ms. Deguire.

At the start of your presentation, you said that the current system was causing regional tensions. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Canada is a federation made up of several nations. In Quebec, for example, we have our own cultural references, we don't consume the same media, and we don't have the same discussions. So it's normal that we won't always vote the same way.

In the last election, we voted for the party that currently forms the government. In the previous election, it was my colleagues' party that won by creating a huge wave. The reason for that was that the issues it was putting forward resonated with Quebecers at the time. The same thing happened in the Prairies, in Saskatchewan, when the Canadian Alliance swept the province. It reflected the concerns of the citizens at the time.

You both spoke about the need to put in place a reform that would rely more on proportional representation. I appreciate that. Your arguments touch me, and you have convinced me completely. Unfortunately, I don't think the current government will go for this approach. When it said it wanted to change the voting system, it was the second opposition party. Now, in the current system, it has a majority government.

I say this because we saw the same thing in Quebec. Both the Parti Québécois and the Liberal Party said that they would carry out electoral reform based on proportionality. But once they were in power, and had been well served by the current system, they did not.

Should there not be proportionality-based reform, what other measures that fit with your aspirations and values could be adopted as part of this reform?

For example, would it be interesting for the current government to put in place a preferential voting system?

Ms. Deguire, you have already partially answered my question by answering Mr. Cullen.

Alternatively, should we establish a system for publicly financing political parties where, because of this financial support, each vote would count for more?

For example, should seats be set aside for first nations in each province?

Starting with Ms. Deguire, I'd like to know what you'd be interested in if reform did not take the direction of a proportional system.

4:20 p.m.

Director, Prairie Region, Canadian Labour Congress

Darla Deguire

Thank you.

To be honest, we don't have another position. We maintain that position, and that's the position we're going to continue to press forward with. I'm sorry for the short answer, but proportional representation is what we'd be looking for.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

The answer was short but clear.

Mr. Harding, what do you think?

4:20 p.m.

As an Individual

Jim Harding

I think it's fair to say that while we've developed positions on the other issues, it's not our view that tinkering with the first-past-the-post system is going to make the change that's required. We have looked at the ranking system, and I realize that if you projected the last election using the ranking system and took the polling results on second votes, you would have ended up with an even more disproportionate Parliament than under first past the post. People might not vote on a rank in the same way—I understand that—but there are some real risks and difficulties with that system in getting from where we are now to more proportionality.

I think it's fair to say that we think that's the core change, a move to PR, though we have not taken a position on the way it has developed, because Canada might be able to develop a unique combination to deal with the particular issues.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Mr. Ste-Marie. Your time is up, unfortunately.

Now we'll move on to Ms. May, who might continue along those same lines.

4:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to start with Professor Harding. I also want to thank the Canadian Labour Congress for a clear position, one I'm grateful to hear.

I want to ask Professor Harding a few questions, and I want to start with full disclosure.

Jim, I've been trying to remember how long we've known each other. I think you were a full professor at the University of Regina when I first met you. We didn't get a chance to get your bio, because you slid in here when we had a cancellation, so thank you. I think we may have been working together on uranium mining as long ago as the late 1970s. Does that sound right to you? We both look so young that it can't be true.

Is that about right? Was it in the early 1980s or late 1970s?

4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Jim Harding

It was in the late 1970s. I'm in my late 70s.

4:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

What a coincidence.

What I wanted to pursue, because we haven't had a lot of presentations from environmentalists before our committee, was one of the things that surprised me about Professor Lijphart's research in a book called Patterns of Democracy.

Just to give you a quick precis, he studied 36 democracies and looked to see if there were any patterns between those that he clustered as majoritarian oppositional voting—the first past the post and alternative vote—versus consensus-based voting, as he describes proportional representation, and I wasn't surprised that there were patterns of higher voter turnout, more women in Parliament, and a more civil discourse, with people trying to find middle ground.

However, I was surprised by two things: one was that there was a better macroeconomic performance, and the other was that there was stronger environmental protection. That was an empirical finding. I hope I'm not putting you on the spot, because I don't know if you've thought about this, but given your experience—and I think from your evidence off the cuff, you certainly have thought about it—can you think of any reasons that countries that use proportional representation would tend to have a statistically proven increased level of environmental protection over those countries that use first past the post?

September 19th, 2016 / 4:25 p.m.

As an Individual

Jim Harding

Well, yes. You can think through the voter as a whole person voting from their full set of concerns versus our having to compromise what we do with the vote when we decide whether we're even going to vote, or how we vote. I think a quarter of us still voted strategically in the last election; I did, and right off the bat, we've compromised our whole-person awareness, and our whole-person awareness is a way of looking at the charter.

I'm a retired professor. I was a professor of psychology as well as environmental studies at Waterloo, and professor of justice studies at the University of Regina, just so you know. At Regina, our justice program looked at political justice, environmental justice, criminal justice, legal justice, and social justice because we felt that in liberal arts education, justice is a key concept in human civilization. So is beauty, including environmental beauty, which we seem to be losing a sense of—at least, in our community, we are.

We wanted to build the liberal arts comparative education around justice in all spheres, and it seems to me that you have that mandate now, in Canada, on behalf of us. That is your mandate, because justice is at the centre of your principles of electoral reform. Why wouldn't we have more chance of bringing our concerns about our children and our grandchildren and climate change and water degradation—which is really serious in this province—into the political culture if we could talk to each other cross-party, honestly, and not compromise our chance of getting re-elected?

Think about that. Local representation under the first past the post actually forces us to compromise, to appease special interests that are part of our voting bloc, which is totally different from listening to the whole electorate and their concerns, including the ones who voted for other parties.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

As an Individual

Jim Harding

There is your answer. It's just a simple, logical result of—

Sorry; I think you cut me off.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I brought the mike back on afterward because it was so interesting.

Ms. Sahota is next.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Going back to my point about Australia, I do note that they use an AV system. I'm just trying to get to the point where we can have better representation, and the Senate there, which uses an STV system, is a bit better, but it's still not quite there on minorities either, so I'm trying to figure out how we can do better.

Anyway, Ms. Deguire, you commented in your introduction about what voters want, and that is one of the things we're trying to figure out in this committee. What do voters want? What are the values they are interested in? At the end of the day, what kind of representation are they looking for? Is it local? Is it national? It's all of those things.

You represent 3.3 million Canadian workers. I know that you're a huge organization in this country and I know you seem to have done some surveys. How were those surveys conducted? Did all 3.3 million of your members take part in that survey on electoral reform, and have they come to the conclusion that MMP is what they're looking for?

4:30 p.m.

Director, Prairie Region, Canadian Labour Congress

Darla Deguire

Yes, well, first of all, we wish—we totally wish—that we had engaged 3.3 million workers, that's for sure, but the fact is no, of course not. It's not the most exciting topic for many. It wasn't the most exciting topic for me either, until I started getting educated on it and started understanding the different systems myself.

That said, as an organization we do a lot of different polling on various political issues all the time, but we started having this conversation more broadly with our membership around election time. The reason we did it was that we had, as you may recall, at least a couple of parties that campaigned on and made promises to Canadians around electoral reform. That really is what brings us here today: to hold our government accountable to the commitment they've made.

Yes, we try as hard as we can to engage our members in all of our issues. Are they all engaged on electoral reform? Probably not, but I think Nathan spoke about how we've launched a campaign just in the last few weeks. You can visit our website, Canadianlabour.ca, where you'll find all sorts of information that we've put together on electoral reform and on why our members should care.

I hope we'll have 3.3 million views in the coming weeks, but till then we'll just carry on as we do with all of our important political issues and try to engage folks as best we can. That's the long and the short of it.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

You mentioned that 17% of voters were uncomfortable with voting in the last election, uncomfortable with going to the ballot box or something like that. How did you come up with that number? I'm interested in knowing how that poll was conducted.

4:35 p.m.

Director, Prairie Region, Canadian Labour Congress

Darla Deguire

I was referring to an Abacus Data report, I believe. That was done this spring. We're happy to share it. We obviously would never cite something that wasn't public and common knowledge. If you're interested in that poll, we could get it for you.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Now that you have started this campaign, I am intrigued to know more. I am sure you don't have much feedback yet, as it is a very new campaign you've started, but what feedback have you been getting from the members you have engaged in the past? How many of your members have been engaged on this topic in the past?