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

September 19th, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.

Professor Lee Ward Associate Professor of Political Science, Campion College, University of Regina, As an Individual

Thank you. I thank the committee for inviting me to speak tonight.

At the very dawning of political science, Aristotle observed that the primary challenge for democracy is to produce a government that reflects and aims towards the common good; that is, it serves the whole community or polis, and not just a particular faction, not even the majority.

Does the way we elect our representatives serve the common good of the whole community? In Canada, I believe the answer is no. A majority government in Canada may have as little as 39% of the votes cast in an election in which only two-thirds of eligible voters even vote; thus you wind up with governments that have acquired the active support of a subset of 25% of the total electorate claiming practically all of the power.

The problem is our outdated, distorted, and inequitable first-past-the-post system or single-member plurality electoral system. That awareness of the problem has reached new levels in Canada is demonstrated by the fact that at least three national parties ran on an election platform in the last federal election, a year ago, that included electoral reform. The proportional composition of this committee reminds us that any meaningful reform must have, if not complete consensus, at least bipartisan or multipartisan support.

The problem is clear, and so too is the solution. Canada needs to adopt an improved electoral system based on the principle of proportional representation. My preferred option is a mixed member proportional, or MMP, system that combines a certain proportion of first-past-the-post seats with an established number of top-up seats. Examples of MMP are found in Scotland, New Zealand, and Germany, as well as in the proposals advanced by the Ontario Citizens' Assembly in 2007 and the Law Commission of Canada in 2004. As this diverse array of examples shows, MMP is a flexible system that is easily adapted to the unique features of Canada's complex federal system.

The basic outline of my preferred model is as follows: we reduce the first-past-the-post ridings to between 60% and 70% of the current number. The remaining 40% to 30% of the seats will be filled by candidates elected from a regional list. Large provinces will be broken down into distinct regions for electoral purposes.

For example, Ottawa and the surrounding area would form part of an eastern Ontario region for electoral purposes. For smaller provinces, dividing into distinct regions may also be an option. For example, Saskatchewan could be a northern half and a southern half. In smaller Atlantic provinces, especially PEI, perhaps the regional top-up list would be for the entire province. These are details that could be settled in legislation or by the federal electoral boundary commissions of each province.

Either way, I think two things are clear: first, determination of regions should reflect the principle of community of interest; second, the regions should respect the contours of Canada's complex federal apportionment formula. As such, it's unlikely that the regions will be perfectly equal in size and number of MPs.

Voters would have a two-part ballot. On the first part, the voter will select the candidate running in his or her riding. On the second part of the ballot, the voter will select the party. It's the results of the second part of the ballot that will allow correction for the disproportionality produced by first past the post.

How will MPs be selected from the regional list? There are several possibilities. A closed list is determined by a process internal to political parties, whereas an open list allows the voters to select from a list of candidates provided by the parties in a manner similar to a U.S.-style primary contest.

Scotland uses a closed list. The Law Commission of Canada proposed an open list. However, my preference is a runners-up model, in which the slate of elected members the party gains for the regional list is drawn from the best runners-up of that party's candidates in that region.

I like the runners-up model for a couple of reasons.

First, these are candidates who have some electoral support in the community; they are not appointed by party leaders. In some cases these best runners-up may have acquired many thousands of votes.

Second, the runners-up model would help parties attract good candidates to run in ridings that are not considered winnable under the current system. It would give candidates and parties incentive to really invest time, energy, and resources in what would have otherwise been considered marginal ridings. The best runners-up can also provide the mechanism to replace the regional list MP who resigns.

I follow the Germans, who have a 5% threshold for regional list representation, but I agree with the Ontario Citizens' Coalition that we accept so-called “overhang seats” rather than compensate other parties, as is done in the German system.

In the discussion period, I would be happy to answer any questions about the details of mixed member proportional, the distribution of seats, open lists, thresholds, overhang seats, or how constituencies and regional MPs could balance constituency work and work together.

In the brief time I have left, I'll focus primarily on the philosophical, psychological, and normative dimensions of Canada's electoral reform debate.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the democratic movement was animated mainly by the battle to expand the franchise of previously marginalized groups, especially the poor; racial, linguistic, and religious minorities; women; and young adults.

In the 21st century there's a new challenge confronting democracy, which is a struggle less heroic than the suffrage movements of the past but in some respects no less important. Our task is to transform an electoral system we inherited from past centuries when these ideals of equality were only dimly perceived and to redesign the great electoral machine of democracy in order to give substantive, concrete meanings to the democratic principle of treating every vote equally. In the past we strove to expand the orbit of democratic rights; now we live in an age of enhanced social technologies that make possible the practical realization of these rights in an electoral system that empowers our citizens.

I believe mixed member proportional satisfies all of the guiding principles outlined in the public statements of the committee's directorate. It would ensure effectiveness and legitimacy by reducing the distortions of first past the post and better translate voter intentions into seats in Parliament. Mixed member proportional will also ensure a greater sense of democratic engagement, as voters will feel that every vote counts, because for all intents and purposes practically every vote will go toward electing a member of Parliament.

Mixed member proportional also promotes accessibility and inclusiveness, because under-represented and marginalized groups will be more likely to be elected to Parliament. If they are not elected from the single-member riding, then there's the additional opportunity of being elected as the candidate in the regional top-up format.

Moreover, mixed member proportional avoids undue complexity in the voting system, as it would require nothing more than adding a second party-only ballot to the traditional candidate ballot.

As for integrity, mixed member proportional would practically guarantee a power-sharing government of some kind, unlike first past the post or ranked ballot in a single-member constituency, in which efforts to compromise only a small number of votes can reward a party with total victory in a riding.

Finally, mixed member proportional enhances local representation over any electoral model that relies solely on single-member constituencies, because with mixed member proportional the typical Canadian would have more than one member representing his or her community.

I applaud the committee directorate's statement of principles guiding our examination of the various options available for reform. My one criticism is that the stated principles of effectiveness and engagement are perhaps a little too timid.

I urge the committee to consider the principle of empowerment in your deliberations. Empowerment goes beyond engagement and effectiveness. It is a radical and profoundly democratic principle. It means literally every single voter having the power to elect a representative of choice and every citizen experiencing the subjective feeling of being part of the sovereign general will of society.

This lies at the heart of my problem with the idea of a ranked ballot being used in a single-member constituency to produce a fabricated majority, which is sometimes called the “instant runoff” method. In this model, if your first choice does not have sufficient support, then the voter is told, “Don't worry; the system will take your second or even third preference and reassign it to another candidate.”

This certainly requires a greater degree of engagement for the voter, who now has to ponder the intensity of personal preferences ranging from “Great, I love this party or candidate“ to “Well, this crowd at least doesn't make me violently ill.” This may be engagement of a sort, but how is this empowering? I don't feel empowered when I go to a store to buy something only to be told I can't have what I want, but they can sell me something else I don't like as much. I feel disappointed or annoyed in that situation.

The only system that empowers the voters is one that ensures, to the greatest extent possible, every individual's vote—their first choice, their real choice—will help elect their representative in Parliament.

Parties lose elections and candidates lose elections, but the voter should win every election. The electoral system that most contributes to this sense of empowerment is PR, whether it produces proportionality through regional top-up seats or some other way.

In conclusion, now is the time to take seriously the new creed of innovation that is sweeping through all of our political, economic, and social organizations. On every university campus in Canada, we see signs heralding innovation and transformation. Can it really be the case that we are thoroughly unsentimental about every aspect of our communal life, except the way we elect our members of Parliament?

The principles of justice may be eternal, but the mechanical structures and the social technology of democracy need to be revamped and improved periodically. Canadians are ready for a more consensual and inclusive form of political representation.

Future generations will say we did a good thing in introducing proportional representation. They may just wonder what took us so long.

Thank you very much.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Professor Ward.

Go ahead, Mr. Husum, for ten minutes, please.

6:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

I want to thank you for having me here, and I want to thank all of you for all the time I have watched you on TV. I know the hours you're putting in, and now you're going across the country. It's a lot of time. As a citizen, I appreciate all the work.

I'm going to talk about a couple of things, and a third one if I get some time. You are going to hear a differing opinion here.

First I want to talk about accounting systems for the alternative vote electoral system. I will refer to the alternative vote system as “ranked ballot” from here on. When I say “ranked ballot”, that's what I'm talking about.

Then I'd like to talk about the citizens' assembly process that lead to the referenda in B.C. in 2005-2009, because that's actually where I live.

Third, if there's some time, I'll just touch on the claim that the ranked ballot creates even larger false majorities than first past the post. I may not get to that.

I only have my talking notes right now. You will be getting copies of my presentation. With the short notice, I didn't have time for translation and distribution, so I apologize for that.

As you alluded to, Mr. Chair, I wanted to talk to you about the Borda count system for the ranked ballots. I don't believe that's come up in any of the discussions so far. Maybe some of you are familiar with it.

When we count the ranked ballot in the usual way, we usually drop the person with the least first preferences, and then reassign the second preferences. This process is continued until somebody has 50% of the vote.

There are some concerns with the regular ranked ballot counting, and the Borda count method takes care of them. I'll go over three of them right now.

Sometimes, when you drop the first candidate—the lowest candidate with the least first-choice preferences—you can drop the candidate who is actually most preferred. That's referred to on the Elections Canada website in one of their documents.

Also, the regular accounting method can sometimes inadvertently pick a majority winner when in reality they are not the most preferred candidate.

Finally, one of the criticisms of the ranked ballot is that second and third preferences that are reassigned should not be worth as much as the first preference. I see that as a valid criticism. That also is one of the concerns, and it's taken care of by the Borda count.

The Borda count method is simple to use, and for the reasons that follow, it gives a more accurate result than simply dropping people off if they are the lowest first-preference candidate.

First off, no candidate is dropped. Second, every preference level of every ballot is used to calculate the total. Third, every preference on a ballot is given a value according to its preference position.

For example, if you had six candidates, the first vote would be worth six points to a candidate. Then the second vote would be worth five points, then four, then three. If there were eight candidates, the first would be worth eight points and then seven points, and so on.

Let's say you have five candidates running. A first preference vote is worth five points to each candidate. Let's say Mary Smith gets 10,000 first-place votes. She gets five times 10,000. If she gets 5,000 second-place votes, she gets four times 5,000. Those are totalled up for each candidate, so in the end you get a more accurate total then simply dropping people off.

Second, I wanted to move to the citizens' assembly and the referendum in B.C. When I talk about the single transferable vote, I'll usually say STV, just to keep it shorter. If I talk about proportional representation, I'll say PR.

We're talking about referenda and citizens' assembly, and I think there are some important lessons to be drawn from what happened in B.C. The whole process looked very democratic on the surface, but I don't think it served the citizens as well as it should have, and I don't think the citizens' assembly served the citizens as well as it should have.

First off, we had one choice only, which was the single transferable vote, or STV. It's a cumbersome system. It has a very complex counting system. I think they were trying to keep it simple, and they were promoting it as “simple as one, two, three”, but it's not simple. It's actually quite complex, as I said. I think the ordinary citizen—in fact, I'm sure the ordinary citizen—would have trouble doing the math when you're counting for STV.

To defend the complex nature of STV, they used the statement that you don't have to understand the inner workings of a car or a computer to use one, implying that you could use STV but not understand it, and that would be fine. However, I think one of the things that's very important for the committee to keep in mind is that the system, including the counting system, has to be easily understood by all voters, or by the majority of voters. I know you've heard that before, but I think the citizens' assembly and the whole process out in B.C. is an example of that.

Yet there was that 58% in 2005. I think it won almost because it slipped in under the radar, almost under the cover of the ranked ballot portion of the single transferable vote, because when you talked to people—and I talked to probably hundreds of people between the vote in 2005 and the revote in 2009—it became pretty clear that people voted for change. That was the word I heard all the time—change—but when you asked them more questions about it, they didn't really understand much beyond the simple one, two, and three. They understood that it was a ranked ballot, but they didn't understand a whole lot more beyond that. There was some perception of larger ridings, but they didn't understand the consequences. I think that's important to note.

You remember the two professors you had here from Ireland. I think Mr. Kenney asked if having referenda in Ireland was a positive experience. Professor Gallagher said that it was, that they've had a lot of referendums. He made another couple of statements and then said that he would refer it to his colleague. Right away, Professor Marsh said no, that it hadn't been a positive experience, with a few exceptions, and that he would have to disagree. He said that voters basically did not understand or weren't aware of what they voted for, and they weren't aware of what the results of that vote would be.

In the example here in B.C. that I was talking about, they knew they would have a larger riding, for example, but in my riding in Vancouver, it would have been six times larger. We would have had six small ridings combined into one, which would have resulted in maybe six times the number of candidates. They hadn't thought about maybe having 20, 25, or 30 candidates.

I want to say that the PR lobby is very strong in Canada, and it's the PR system that prevailed in the citizens' assemblies in Ontario and B.C. as well as in the commission in P.E.I. before the referenda in all three of those provinces. The voters wound up with nothing each time. That's my main concern. I felt that we would have been better served in B.C. if we'd had at least a couple of options—a simpler ranked ballot, maybe, and then the proportional representation of choice, but they went with the single transferable vote.

PR always does well in opinion polls. It's been well promoted. It's intuitively easy to understand. On the surface, it seems fair. However, it's a fairly major change to our current system.

Each attempt to reform has always pushed for the implementation of a full PR change. I'm not totally against PR, but I'm just saying that for now, how about ensuring that the voters don't walk away empty-handed? That's my main point. I suggest going for a smaller and easier-to-implement improvement that is within the voters' comfort zone at this point, and to maybe revisit things in a couple of election cycles. I'm hoping that we do get some reform, but I think it's important to keep it simple, easy to understand, easy to use, easy to count, and easy to implement, and, of course, it has to be fair as well.

I don't know how my time is, Mr. Chair.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You're pretty much on the money there.

6:55 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

6:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

All right. Well, my stove at home is programmed to 10 minutes. It can set itself now.

Thank you.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much. That was very interesting.

We'll start with Ms. Sahota, please, for five minutes.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Husum, you talked about a different counting system, the Borda system. I guess that's what it's called. I haven't heard of it this whole time—

6:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

I'm glad somebody hadn't.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Would this change the results? We've been hearing that AV or ranked ballots would just create larger false majorities. Does assigning points and adding them up in this system create a result that is different from doing it with the drop-off method?

6:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

Yes, it can, and that's one of the things you will get. I have some charts and tables.

I believe it's because when you drop something off, you don't know how it's relating to the second and third votes. You're looking at the first preference, so you drop the lowest one, but quite often the lowest one can be really strong for everybody else, so that will pull them up.

The ranked ballot is a type of consensus. That's at the voter level. Proportional representation is more the consensus up in the House, in Parliament, where everybody's assigned based on first preference, but this is a consensus. You're looking deeper into it.

Yes, if you start dropping somebody off, you don't know how “B” interacts with the second choices of the other people, whereas the Borda count doesn't drop anybody. It assigns a value. If they're first, they get a higher value than second place and third place. It's a more accurate way.

It's a well-known system. It's not something I invented. There are different ways you can do it, too. You can sometimes give even more to the first position if you want to. You could do five plus one, for example, and make it worth six, and then the second one worth four, and three, and two. It's just a different way of counting. It's simple.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

It is simple, but what we keep hearing a lot is “Does my vote count?” At the end of the day, do you feel that implementing this kind of change would give people the satisfaction that their vote counts? I would preface that with all the people who have come here saying that everyone's vote is going to count under this system or another. That's not accurate either, because—

7 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

It doesn't, no. I know.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

—you could have a huge riding where you still vote for a small party that may never get a representative under any system, whether it be MMP or STV. There might still be a small portion, but I guess we're trying to do the greatest amount of good that—

7 p.m.

As an Individual

Russ Husum

Well, they're actually sizeable. In an STV system, if you have three candidates, there would be, I think, one out of four votes wasted. It's always one more than the number of candidates. The way you calculate the threshold is that you're always going to be almost one candidate out. If you have three people in a riding, about 75% will count and 25% won't. If there are four people in a riding, you'll get about 80% that count and 20% that won't, so when we say that every vote will count, every vote doesn't count all the time. None of these, I don't think, ever make it.

Proportional is probably better than ranked ballot in terms of.... I'm not trying to pretend that it'll make more votes count with the ranked ballot, but I don't want to again lose the chance to improve things, and the ranked ballot is probably the easiest thing to implement, because you don't change any ridings or things like that. It's just that this way of counting is a little more accurate for the ranked ballot, but it's not something that I came up with at all. It's a way of counting.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

In my last minute, I'd like to ask Professor Ward a question.

You said that you would elaborate a bit more about how, under MMP, representatives would share constituency work versus parliamentarians' duties. How would you see that happening?

7 p.m.

Prof. Lee Ward

I think one example is in Scotland. Sometimes MPs, or MSPs, of the same party will split up a region. If you're from the Glasgow region list, you can divide the north part of the city and the south part of the city, or you can have particular issues. If the environment is your particular concern, constituents can call and speak to me. If it's something else, like your trash licence, you can call—

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Who would make this call? How would you divide this up? The candidates would, after being elected—

7 p.m.

Prof. Lee Ward

I'm thinking in terms of sitting MPs. They would decide. They could specialize, or it can be done regionally. In Scotland, sometimes they do it at different times of the week. On Monday and Tuesday I have surgery, let's say, and then you're Thursday and Friday. If you have the same party, essentially it's the same voter.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

You could essentially make sub-ridings, say, which are similar to the ones we have at the end of the day, and then there's still the rest of it.

7 p.m.

Prof. Lee Ward

You could.

7 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

But people who live within that riding would still feel that their representative was not somebody they voted for.

7 p.m.

Prof. Lee Ward

Well, yes, and yet you also wouldn't be locked into a particular representative who you feel doesn't represent you at all. In a city the size of Glasgow, a million people, you could have an MP from your region that you would identify with, or you could have multiple MPs, or you could have.... Nobody says that in their specific part of the city that they have to call so-and-so because that's the person who's charged with representing them. You have more options in that sense, and you literally would have more than one MP.

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Reid is next.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you. I had intended initially to direct my questions toward Professor Ward, but I'm going to pose my first question to Mr. Husum.

You indicated the number of wasted votes under the proportional system. Within an STV district, for example, it is going to be essentially the percentage or fraction that is the number of candidates minus one. Is that correct? If you have three candidates—three vacancies, effectively—it would be one-quarter of the votes, which is 25%, that would be wasted. Did I understand that correctly?