Evidence of meeting #45 for Electoral Reform in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was referendum.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jerry Dias  National President, Unifor
  • R. Bruce Fitch  Interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick
  • Arthur Lupia  Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, As an Individual
  • Wanda Morris  Chief Operating Officer, Vice-President of Advocacy, Canadian Association of Retired Persons
  • Wade Poziomka  Director of Policy, General Counsel of Advocacy, Canadian Association of Retired Persons
  • Gordon Dave Corbould  Commanding Officer, Joint Personnel Support Unit, Canadian Forces
  • Vihar Joshi  Deputy Judge Advocate General, Administrative Law, Canadian Forces

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Reid, do you want to split with Mr. Richards?

7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Please, if possible.

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Go ahead.

October 25th, 2016 / 7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to return to Professor Lupia for a moment, if I could. One of the features of referendum campaigns in the United States, and I would suggest also of election campaigns, is that there is much more substantial spending on the part of the various participants than is the case here in Canada.

I noticed in one of your papers you make reference to the signature-gathering component of an initiative in California typically amounting to around $1 million just for that part of the campaign. By the way, this is the paper I referred to earlier, the one you co-authored with Matsusaka. You pointed out that when they are very substantially funded, a “no” campaign can develop. You don't use the term unfair advantage, but they can develop an advantage that is pretty substantial.

On page 471 of your paper you state:

Voters prefer to stick with policies whose consequences they have experienced, namely the policies that continue when initiatives lose, rather than risk voting for a new initiative whose consequences might be very bad. Thus, spending vast sums of money to defeat an initiative may make voters sufficiently confused and uncertain that they vote against it.

You then go on to point out that there's no similar advantage to spending vast amounts of money in favour of an initiative, which would be relevant, I guess, if you're talking about initiatives on things like changes to the insurance industry, etc.

Can you give me an idea of the kinds of dollars you're talking about? Let's use California because it is a jurisdiction the size of Canada with the same population as we have, more or less. What kinds of dollars would we be talking about on the “no” side when they've been successful in stopping an initiative?

7 p.m.

Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Lupia

As a general matter, you can have referenda where there's nothing spent, then you can have huge amounts spent. In the insurance case that you referenced earlier, that was amazing, because there were five different referenda to reform the insurance industry on the ballot in one state, in California, and the amount of money spent for and against those five referenda was more money than was spent in the presidential election nationally that was happening at the same time, the hard money. There were some soft-money expenditures, but it was comparable, so you had a debate in one. This was the late 1980s, so you had maybe $85 million spent by both sides in the presidential campaigns in the hard money, and $88 million spent on these five initiatives. You can, on certain initiatives have, let's say, $100 million spent.

You know, there has been innovation in the U.S. about presidential campaigns, so now they're spending $1 billion. Obama spent over $1 billion on both of his. There are no referendum campaigns getting anywhere close to that, but you can get in the $150-million to $200-million range at the top end.

7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you.

I raise that because I think people, like my colleague Mr. Cullen, referring to the impact that money can have on campaigns, may not be aware of the vast difference in the dollars that are likely to be spent here in Canada, should we have a referendum on electoral reform, on the pro or con side.

This is why I'm asking this question. We also, unlike the United States, have the capacity to amend our referendum law to reflect the rules we have in our election law, which places very strict limits. You can't go over, for example, a $1,500 Canadian donation to any party in an election. One could put similar restrictions. Indeed, they exist in some provincial legislation. We would be talking about numbers that are, I would think.... Well, I shouldn't put an exact number. They would be a small fraction of what they are in the States.

In that kind of environment, is the ground, pro and con, levelled? It must be to some degree, but how much does that level the playing field?

7:05 p.m.

Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, As an Individual

Dr. Arthur Lupia

In terms of campaigning, the “no” campaign always has the advantage if they can make their case well, because if you vote no, you continue with something known. At the time of the campaign, “yes” is an imaginary thing. Yes is this virtual world, this thing that has to be described to you. No one has lived it before. So the modus operandi for a no campaign is to find a worst-case scenario and run with it. It's very easy to do that if you know what scares voters.

The yes campaign has to find a simple, urgent, and direct message to try to relate it to people's lives. It can be done, but it's harder. I would say that, if two sides are given equal amounts of money, the no side still has the advantage because it's just built in. It is advocating for something that people have lived through, while the yes side is advocating for something that, at least at the moment, people can only imagine.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

All right. That's very helpful. Thank you very much.

I'll let Mr. Richards have the remaining time.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

He has a minute and a half.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Oh.

Sorry about that, Blake.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Banff—Airdrie, AB

That's okay: not a problem. I'm a generous guy, what can I say?

You'll all have to be brief with your responses, I suppose, but I want to ask this of each of you. Some of you've alluded to it and/or mentioned it. I just want to see the positions that any of the organizations would have with regard to online voting and mandatory voting. I know I heard some allusion to it from some, but we haven't really got positions from anyone specifically.

I don't know if you want to start, Mr. Fitch, and then we'll work our way across.

7:05 p.m.

Interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

R. Bruce Fitch

The online voting is, I can imagine, something that will eventually come. I made note of the computer glitches we had when we used modern technology in the last election. We didn't have the results until the next day on some of these. What was supposed to be an advancement turned out to be a real concern, because people were concerned that there was a rigging or that there was a problem with the machinery. Again, security's always an issue when you talk about online.

As to mandatory voting, people have rights and freedoms to choose to vote or not to vote. That's why, again, if we force them to vote, it starts moving into being heavy-handed and takes away that freedom of choice that we all find so important.

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Be very brief, please. We've gone way over time here.

7:05 p.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Vice-President of Advocacy, Canadian Association of Retired Persons

Wanda Morris

With respect to online voting, if we look at our members' behaviour in other areas, surprising numbers of seniors, and particularly elderly seniors, are not online, do not have access to computers, and are not comfortable with an electronic environment. Even those who are online are reluctant to make important transactions online. For example, many of them refuse to pay their CARP membership electronically—and it's such good value.

7:05 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!