Thank you, and thank you for allowing me to come to speak with you today. I really love the button you have that silences the microphone. I'm sure many of my students would like to have a similar button. Thank you again.
I appreciate the leadership of this committee in allowing me to come to speak with you today. I address the question of voting system reform a little differently from some of the presenters who have come before me. I've been following quite closely all of the presenters before your committee. I love the online tool; that's great.
I'm more a political historian than I am a scholar of voting system reform, but I have a vested interest in this issue in the sense that I've been quite active in organizations such as Fair Vote Canada.
In my own research I examine the way groups in Canadian society—often marginalized groups—struggle to influence change or alter governments and government policies. Specifically, the questions I'm interested in are how governments can be held to greater account and, as a common question in contemporary political governance, how governments and legal institutions can be held to a higher level of transparency.
There are two arguments or areas I'd like to cover today. One is the historical question that has been presented to this committee as defence of the status quo, and the other is how I think the current voting system hides or distorts existing social cleavages. I'm going to use the example of Saskatchewan. Since you're in Saskatchewan, I thought that might be relevant for you.
On the historical question, on a normal level I begin with the observation that the current electoral system fails because it does not place voters at the centre of its institutional functioning. In fact, SMP or first past the post as a model very much originates in a pre-democratic era that was constructed by male propertied elites.
Critically examining the origins of the system is important, because opponents of voting system reform make the case, the odd observation—and I've seen some of my learned colleagues on this committee make it—that Canada's 150-year existence owes at least some of its stability and effectiveness as a democracy to the voting system. I'm curious about these arguments and curious about how they come about, as they seem to ignore the many historical injustices that have been done in the name of the Canadian state by elites, who did so largely with little accountability to the masses of Canadian society. Here you can point to the slow opening of suffrage to workers, women, people of colour, and indigenous Canadians.
My point here is not say that SMP leads directly to these historical injustices but to say that if defenders of the status quo want to equate SMP with Canada's 150-year history, they may have to own both the good and the bad of that history. I have yet to hear a clear historical account presented to this committee that effectively links how they see Canada today—as a bilingual, multi-cultural, open, and somewhat transparent government and society—with the voting system. The reason I think you haven't heard that is that such an account does not exist; in fact, it could not exist, because the argument has no basis in historical fact.
If you were to understand how Canada moved from a colonial, constitutional monarchy run by white male propertied elites to what it is today, you would need to look past the voting system and actually see the voting system as an obstacle. We've achieved great things in this country despite our voting system, not because of it. Different groups have fought to be heard despite the barriers placed in the way by our voting system, a system that has suppressed competition and poorly represented our political and demographic diversity.
The historical record shows that our voting system has been kept in place not for any of the loftier quasi-functional reasons offered by some defenders of the status quo but for reasons of power: it has served the two main governing parties well. That, I want to point out, is not an indictment of the modern version of those two parties in 2016, but a reminder that the real history of SMP is one that almost always blocked new ideas and the fair and representative account of the great social, political, and economic questions of our time.
Recognizing that, I would encourage members of the committee to understand the voting system as the product of political struggle. It's not divorced from political struggle; it is part of that struggle. SMP is firmly rooted in the 19th-century understanding of political power, one that is against diversity, pluralism, and, frankly, democracy. I think we can do better.
I believe this committee has a unique opportunity to craft a voting system for our 21st-century understanding of political power, and that such a system should put the voting public at the centre of its reason for being or raison d'être—and that's my one French account, because my French has fallen by the wayside since I lived in Quebec. I agree with Liberal MP Mark Holland, who said that every vote should count and that Canadians' views should be represented more accurately.
We are at a historical turning point, I believe, and I applaud the leadership of this committee for the work that it is doing. It's so rare that a sitting government agrees to examine this key aspect of our democracy. In going forward, I think it is crucial that this committee privilege a reform that will accurately reflect what Canadians say with their votes and will better represent the diversity of this country. Research shows—and this is clear—that when people are not at the table, when they're not present for the discussion, their issues and concerns are not really taken seriously. This is no longer acceptable in 2016.
Here I want to look a little bit at Saskatchewan. I think the current voting system actually distorts existing social cleavages and can lead to a false impression about what a place is actually saying when they vote. We examined how people voted in Saskatchewan over the past few elections, and it became pretty clear that our current voting system consistently does a poor job of reflecting what people have said with their votes.
In 2015 the Conservatives won 48.5% of the popular vote in Saskatchewan and they won 10 seats. Clearly, many people are sympathetic to what the Conservatives stand for in this province, but that 48.5% translated into 71% of the seats. The Liberals won 24.6% during the vote but only one seat—we call that Mr. Goodale's seat—in Saskatchewan. The NDP won 25.1% and three seats, or 21% of the seats. That's actually the best result in over a decade.
We examined elections from 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2011. The results are very lopsided, often giving all or nearly all of the seats to just one party, even though half or more than half of Saskatchewan's voters supported somebody else.
I have a chart in my notes, which I think was given to you. If you look at the numbers, you see a pretty devastating critique of our current voting system. The Liberals won 27.5% of the vote in 2004 and one seat, or 7% of the seats. In 2011 the New Democrats won 32.3% of the popular vote in the province and did not win a single seat.
The Conservatives obviously are a favourite of many voters in this province. In 2011 they won 56.3% of the vote, more than a majority, but 93% of the seats. What does that tell us when commentators look at Saskatchewan? They say, well, it's a very Conservative place, and clearly they want Conservative policies—but do they? These lopsided results misrepresent what's going on in the province and present a false picture to the rest of the country about who we are and what we believe. This can't be good for national unity or inter-regional co-operation. How can our political parties do their job of bridging the differences in this country if they're not represented accurately when they have this support?
The story doesn't end there. As of the 2011 census—I'm eagerly awaiting the next census to update some of these numbers—Saskatchewan has the second-largest indigenous population, as a percentage of the population, of all the provinces. If we assume that the population has not increased since 2011—it has, but let's assume it hasn't—15.6% of Saskatchewan's people are indigenous, but in the past two elections only two indigenous MPs have been elected from this province. In both of those cases, it's in the same riding in the north.
Justin Trudeau has said that we need to reset our relationship with indigenous peoples. Getting more indigenous peoples to the table to speak to their own concerns directly would seem to be a pretty important first step. This is particularly important, I believe, for indigenous people who live in urban areas. Half of the indigenous people in Saskatchewan live in urban centres, we're told by Statistics Canada. That would suggest that indigenous voices from urban centres are not represented in the voting system.
Following the TRC recommendations last year, it seems clear to me that there is a unique opportunity for this committee to expand accessibility and inclusiveness to the federal Parliament. During the questions, we could talk about how other jurisdictions have done that. Specifically, I was reading up on how the Maori were represented in New Zealand after the adoption of proportional representation.
I believe a reform to a more proportional system has the potential to transfer voice and power to indigenous communities, both on reserve and in urban centres, so that these voices can be heard. Saskatchewan is a diverse place, and I think it is time we had a voting system that reflects our diversity.