Evidence of meeting #43 for Electoral Reform in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was women.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Minister was here at the start of thes consultation process, but it would be very helpful to hear from her at the end of the process. As Ms. May said, there were three parallel processes. The minister held her own consultations and met with Canadians. So I would really like to know what Quebecers and Canadians said to her.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Reid.

October 20th, 2016 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

The reason I asked Mr. Cullen the question about her coming here is that I think it's essential that she come here. I say this for the following reason. When she came here on July 6, I think it was, Ms. May asked her whether she would follow the recommendations of this committee. She said she would take it into consideration. That's all she said, so we did not know at that point what amount of weight we were going to have.

Yesterday we learned that the Prime Minister is indicating that he may give some weight or no weight to the work the committee's doing. This is of foundational importance to the committee, knowing whether or not we are working on something that is going to go nowhere. I want to be able to ask her about that, to get confirmation. Is it the case that this committee's work will all be for naught? That seems like a reasonable question to ask.

I would like to add a very important point. While this committee was travelling, it went to Montreal and St. John's. The reason I didn't join you was that I was here in this room with a different committee, the procedure and house affairs committee, to question Marc Mayrand. Our exchanges are a matter of public record, and in those exchanges I asked him about timing issues. He indicated that timelines are very tight, but he thinks he can manage to bring in new legislation based on our recommendations. He says—and you can see it in the record—that he's giving tremendous weight to the committee's recommendations.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Brampton North, ON

Mr. Chair, I just want to bring up—

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Ms. Sahota, do you have a point of order?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Brampton North, ON

Yes.

Is this a new motion we're getting right now, or should we get it in writing and then discuss it later? We have witnesses here. Should we discuss Mr. Cullen's motion and get that over with?

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

We seem to be going from asking for a summary of public consultations to a request for the minister to appear. That seems to be where we're headed. What I would suggest, because we have witnesses and can't extend the time of the meeting today, is that we take this up this evening. Would you agree with that?

9 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

That seems reasonable. I'll end my presentation with the words I gave and I'll take it up again this evening.

If you don't mind my saying so, I might introduce another motion that would deal with the issue of having the minister testify for the reasons I gave. If we don't get the timing down, everything we're doing will be for naught, and she plays a critical role in that.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Okay. Why don't we do that this evening. We won't be under pressure and we can have a better discussion.

Is there unanimous consent to do that? Would you agree?

9 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

I said at the beginning of all this that I hoped it would be quick. Apparently, it's causing some consternation, so we'll hear from our witnesses.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

We will do that. Thank you, Mr. Cullen.

That allows us to proceed with Forum Research for 10 minutes. You can split your time, five minutes each, or whatever you decide.

We'll start with Mr. Bozinoff, if you wish.

9 a.m.

Lorne Bozinoff President and CEO, Forum Research Inc.

Good morning. I'm Lorne Bozinoff, president and founder of Forum Research, the publisher of the Forum Poll.

Forum Research does more media polls in Canada than all other polling companies combined. We feel that public opinion research can be called the pulse of democracy.

With me today is William Schatten, director of research. I want to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today. Forum is a non-partisan organization and as such has no agenda or bias regarding the issues we poll, and specifically, electoral reform.

I would like to make just a couple of comments before my colleague presents some detailed findings. I would in fact suggest that the committee keeps in mind three things. I call them the three Cs. The first one is collaboration. Are Canadians aware of this committee and do they understand what the committee is studying? Sadly, we see that the majority of Canadians are neither aware of the committee nor understand the reform options.

The second is consultation. Electoral reform is about changing the rules of the game. Has there been effective consultation with all Canadians before final recommendations are implemented? Here I am talking about mandates and referenda.

Third is consent. Is there or has the committee built a consensus concerning electoral reform? I can tell you that as of last week there is no such consensus among Canadians on the specifics of electoral reform.

Mr. Schatten will now present some detailed survey findings.

9 a.m.

William Schatten Research Director, Forum Research Inc.

Thank you, everyone, for hosting us today.

My name is Mr. William Schatten. I'm from Forum Research. I'm a research director.

As you are aware, Forum has done several surveys on the topic of electoral reform. Most recently, we conducted one across Canada. It was in field from October 7 through October 9. We conduct our public opinion polling surveys through a telephone random-digit dial. It's connected to what's called an IVR, an interactive voice recognition platform. This survey I'm going to be discussing today has a total size of 1,043, which produces a margin of error of approximately 3%, meaning plus or minus 3%.

To start off, we probed Canadians on the importance of electoral reform among a series of other competing popular issues facing Canadians right now. Electoral reform had a fairly high rating. This is on a nine-point scale, where one is not at all important to Canadians and nine is extremely important. Electoral reform, on average, across Canada had a 5.5 rating.

There are some nuances in the results. Electoral reform is most important among NDP supporters, at 6.6 out of nine, and is particularly high among residents of Quebec as well, at six out of nine. It's least important among Conservative supporters, at 4.5 out of nine.

When Canadians were asked, “Should Canada change its electoral reform system?”, half of Canadians indicated that we should change our electoral system, at 45%, a third disagreed, and a fifth were unsure. Most support for electoral reform is found in British Columbia and Quebec and also among younger voters.

We also probed Canadians on whether they were aware that this committee had been formed. There's an even split about awareness. Just under half of Canadians were aware. There was more awareness in B.C., at 59%, and less awareness in Quebec, at 36%.

Could Canadians describe the different competing electoral systems? That is a fairly tough question, but we phrased it as, “If you were asked by a friend to describe proportional representation, first past the post, or ranked ballot systems, would you be able to confidently describe these systems?” There was higher confidence in proportional representation, at 63%. First past the post was at 54%, and the ranked ballot was at 41%. However, to put that in context, we than asked, “What electoral system does Canada currently have in place?” Only 40% indicated first past the post. A fifth didn't know, a fifth said we had PR, 12% said ranked ballot, and 4% said we had something else entirely. So there is a knowledge gap that exists among the Canadian public on this topic.

Finally, we asked, “What is your preference?” We then went on and gave a brief summary description of the three different systems and asked Canadians, “What is your first choice for an electoral system for Canada?” Most popular was first past the post, at 42%, followed by proportional representation, at 35%, then ranked ballot, at 23%.

We then asked, “What is your second choice for an electoral system?” Ranked ballot was the most popular second choice, at 40%, then PR, at 35%, and first past the post, at 25%.

Finally, we asked, “Did you vote in the last federal election in October of last year?” Then we focused specifically on non-voters. We asked non-voters, “What is the primary reason you did not vote in the election?” Here are some points that speak to this committee. Eleven per cent of non-voters indicated that the reason they didn't vote was that they felt their vote would not count. When we asked non-voters specifically, “If we had a different electoral system, would that have encouraged you to vote?”, 28% of non-voters said, yes, they would have voted if we had a different electoral system.

That's the conclusion of our results. We have polled on this issue several times. These releases are made available publicly, and we'll be continuing to poll on this issue in the foreseeable future.

Thank you.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much, Mr. Schatten.

We'll go now to Professor Cross, for 10 minutes, if you wish.

9:05 a.m.

Professor William Cross Professor, Carleton University, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll begin by telling you a bit about myself. I'm a professor of political science at Carleton University, where I hold a research chair in Canadian parliamentary democracy. My research is primarily in the area of political parties and electoral democracy in Canada, and comparatively with other Westminster democracies. I'm the immediate past-president of the Canadian Political Science Association, and perhaps of particular relevance to your work, I was director of research for the New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, under Premier Lord, in 2004-05.

I am, of course, acutely aware that you have been studying this issue quite intensely for several months, and that you have already heard from dozens of political scientists and others interested in the issue. I suspect many of you could probably teach a master's course in electoral systems. Accordingly, I'll refrain from rehearsing the pros and cons of the various systems and the representational implications of them. Rather, I'll use my 10 minutes to focus on something that I think is very important but has received very little attention thus far, and that is the implications of various electoral systems for the internal operations and organization of our political parties.

I do have views on the other more general issues facing the committee, and I'd be happy to discuss those in the question period, if you would find that of use.

Many of the functions of our parties and the nature of internal party democracy are affected by the choice of electoral system. These include the principal functions of our parties: selecting candidates, election campaigning, government formation, and party leadership selection. Time will not allow me to say much in detail, but I will use examples from Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, which between them use STV, MMP, and AV systems, and are, I believe, among the most useful comparators, as they are parliamentary democracies with similar political cultures and democratic infrastructure to Canada.

For candidate nomination, if MMP is chosen, I suspect it would likely come with closed party lists. The question then is, who in the party has the authority to construct a list? Using New Zealand as an example, we find that the three main parties—Labour, National, and the Greens—all hold delegated conferences at which party members elect the candidates to be on the list. The electoral law in New Zealand was changed with the adoption of MMP to require that parties use “democratic procedures” in constructing their lists, and that these procedures include participation of party members.

The parties differ, however, in the all-important process of determining who gets ranked where on the list, which is fundamental to determining who ultimately gets elected. The Greens hold a plebiscite of the entire party membership to determine this using a mail ballot. Labour does it through something called a moderating committee, whose membership has been highly contentious in recent years, as all parts of the party, as you can imagine, want to be included on that committee. Currently, its membership is quite large. Many, including the party president, relate that they think it's too unwieldy. It includes MPs, regional representatives, Maori representatives, and representatives from the party's many sectors, including youth, Rainbow Labour, trade unions, women, and Pacific islanders. Both Labour and the Greens have rules aimed at ensuring that the representation of many of these same groups is provided for in high positions on the list, whereas the National Party does not.

Our parties would have to grapple with these issues and construct an appropriate process should we adopt closed-list MMP. You, as MPs, would have to decide how prescriptive you wanted Parliament to be in this regard, if at all, and whether or not it requires something like democratic procedures. This would be a dramatic shift from the current status quo.

In STV there are multi-member districts. If we take the example of Ireland, there are three to five deputies per district. In the major parties, the locals hold nominating conventions similar to those in your parties, but they operate under rather expansive instructions from the centre, concerning how many they can nominate and where in the electorate geographically the candidates chosen will come from. Increasingly, parties are issuing a gender directive from the centre, as well. This has proven, in some cases, to be highly contentious, creating strong tensions between local party members and associations and central party officials, as locals often wish to nominate more candidates than the centre permits. The logic of the system is that you don't nominate as many candidates as there will be MPs, or TDs, as they call them, from the electorate. The locals wish to do this in a rather unfettered fashion.

Our parties would have to determine who would have the authority to make these decisions—it might be national, regional, or provincial—and how expansive any directives to the local associations would be.

With respect to government formation, under MMP or STV, it is highly likely we would end up with multi-party governance, and perhaps in AV as well. This, of course, requires negotiation among the parties—typically, though not always, post-election—to reach a coalition agreement. The question of relevance here is who in the party would have the authority to commit to such an accord. There's considerable variance in this regard.

Some of the Irish parties, Fianna Fáil and the Greens, for example, require a special party congress after an election to approve any coalition agreement. Others, such as the New Zealand National Party, require approval from the party's national executive as well as the parliamentary leadership.

If we were to end up in a highly fragmented system, which could well be the case under either of these electoral systems, government formation could prove very difficult, but at a minimum, parties would have to decide who has the authority to make these deals. Leadership selection is not something we typically think of in relation to the electoral system, but it comes into play as a result of multiparty governance. In all three of the countries I've taken examples from, we've witnessed cases where one of the parties in a coalition government exercises influence over leadership selection in another party.

In Australia, for example, when Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt was presumed dead, the candidate who was the favourite to replace him, William McMahon, who was serving as treasurer in the Liberal government and had widespread support within his party, was vehemently opposed by the junior coalition partner, the Country Party. The Country Party threatened to withdraw its support for the Liberal Party if Mr. McMahon was chosen as leader. He ultimately had to withdraw from the contest so that the Liberals could maintain their governing position.

Similarly, in recent Fianna Fáil governments, two party leaders, both serving as Taoiseach, or prime minister, at the time, Mr. Haughey and Mr. Reynolds, were dumped after support parties in government—in one case, the Progressive Democrats; in another, Labour—threatened to withdraw their support. Both leaders still had support in their own parliamentary caucus, but in order to remain in government they were removed.

In New Zealand we have seen it work the other way. National Party Prime Minister John Key has threatened to remove a smaller support party, ACT New Zealand, from his coalition if they went ahead with plans to remove and replace their leader.

What we find is something that is largely unprecedented, I suspect, in the Canadian case: parties in coalition with one another influencing leadership selection in the other party. This could prove particularly difficult in the Canadian case, since the authority for both leadership selection and removal is vested in our extra-parliamentary parties. In all of these cases, the parliamentary party was able to make the change quickly because it had that authority. I suspect, if we were to go down this road, it could challenge the current practice of giving the extra-parliamentary party the authority to select and remove leaders.

The fourth and final area of party democracy I'll mention is election campaigning. In both STV and in open-list MMP, general elections include intra-party competition, which our parties would have to learn to manage.

In MMP of the New Zealand variety, we've seen a shift of emphasis away from ridings to regional and/or national campaigns. The number of seats a party wins is almost fully determined by its share of the party vote, not how it performs in the electorates or ridings. Nonetheless, local party organizations, and particularly incumbent electorate MPs, want to run vibrant local campaigns, often at the expense of maximizing the more important party vote.

New Zealand Labour in particular has struggled with this. In recent party reforms, Labour created something called regional hubs, for election purposes, in an attempt to shift resources toward the party vote campaign, but this was not done without considerable tension between locals and the centre, since the allocation of campaign resources is essentially a zero-sum game.

There are also implications in AV. In Australia, parties issue how-to-vote cards indicating how they want their voters to rank lower preferences. Deals have to be made among the parties in this regard. Sometimes this is straightforward but not always, and it can result in tensions between local party organization candidates and the centre.

For example, in 2016 an incumbent Labour MP in the Melbourne area, Michael Danby, issued his own local how-to-vote cards asking his voters to direct their second preferences to the Liberals over the Greens. In the same electorate, the central party, the central campaign, issued cards favouring the Greens over the Liberals as the second choice of Labour voters, so voters received conflicting information. There are often tensions in this regard among locals, state party organizations, and the national campaign.

To conclude, the point of all this is to say that there are many collateral effects of electoral system change that need to be considered and are often overlooked. Also, at a minimum, time needs to be set aside for our parties to grapple with these issues in advance of any election run under a different electoral system. Otherwise, I believe we risk a considerable shift of authority away from our EDAs towards the party centre.

Thank you.