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.