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

6:50 p.m.

Interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

R. Bruce Fitch

I can speak to what goes on in New Brunswick, where we've used referendums in different parts. We've gone to the people on amalgamations of communities, which indirectly determine how people will vote to be represented by the people who spend their tax dollars. Some have said yes. Some have said no, they wanted to stay where they were.

Again, it is one of those points of debate. There are some people who say that there needs to be that ask and others who say that there shouldn't be. That's where I make that point.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Mr. DeCourcey.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

First of all, to our Brigadier-General and Colonel, thanks very much for being here. I have the pleasure of serving the riding where Base Gagetown is located, so I'm certainly aware of the issues of exercising franchise for women and men who serve in uniform. I appreciate your concerns that were brought here today. This committee and other committees of the House will have the opportunity to discuss in depth how we can better assure that military members are able to vote.

To Mr. Fitch, thanks very much, and let me congratulate you on the two years you served as interim leader for the Progressive Conservatives in the province. I wish you and your new leader, Blaine Higgs, all the best of luck as the House returns into session next week. However, I would be a bit loath to compare this process here to the one in New Brunswick. Here we had a government that committed to engaging with Canadians and to working with all the parties. You see all the parties assembled around here coming to some form of agreement on what we can offer to Parliament. In the situation in New Brunswick, unfortunately, both opposition parties ran away from a process proposed by the government. All the same, I know there will be robust debate going on at home, and I certainly look forward to seeing how that turns out.

Mr. Dias, perhaps I can return to some of your testimony, particularly around the polls that were commissioned recently and how we read those. I've heard testimony from certain people in front of this committee to the effect that clearly there's a consensus and absolutely people want this. The testimony indicates that there's an interest in electoral reform, and we would be naive and ignorant to suggest otherwise. At the same time, I go to the Ekos poll, and I read the statement that respondents were asked to respond on a sliding scale of one to seven. The first statement was: “Electoral reform is something the Liberal Party campaigned on, so they should deliver on this promise.” On that, 59% agreed, with either five, six, or seven out of seven. Now, that hardly surprises me, hardly at all, that people think the government should fulfill its promises.

The second statement was: “Electoral reform is too important to be rushed; the process should be slowed down and subjected to more public consultations.” There were 57% of respondents, either five, six, or seven out of seven, who agreed.

The third question was: “Electoral reform is crucially important and should not be delayed for another election cycle.” There were 47%, five, six, or seven out of seven, who agreed.

It tells us that there is a variety of opinions on how this issue should be addressed. Then, when we go to the preferred form of electoral reform, we have 43% of respondents suggesting that proportional representation is the best option for Canada; 29% for first past the post; and 26% for preferential ballot, which leads me to think, again, that there's a diffuse and diverse view of exactly how this issue should be addressed.

Is it not more fair to say that we need to address this with some level of modesty, work together across partisan lines, understanding that there's no clear consensus on how we should move forward on this issue, and do our best, in a smart, possibly incremental way, to find a solution and bring Canadians on board?

6:55 p.m.

National President, Unifor

Jerry Dias

Which of the nine statements would you like me to deal with first?

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

I can address the Forum poll that said only 48% of Canadians think we should move forward with electoral reform. There is a variety of opinion out here. I think it's dangerous for us to move forward thinking that clearly there's a consensus in any one direction. We need to understand that there's a diversity of views, and address that with some level of modesty.

6:55 p.m.

National President, Unifor

Jerry Dias

There's a difference between clear consensus and unanimous consent. First of all, you're never going to find unanimous agreement on this issue. If we found unanimous agreement on this issue, then I would suggest we'd be starring in the next version of Mission: Impossible.

This is an important subject, and I agree, nobody should rush it. I believe there has to be broad-based consultation. I would suggest that the government has done that. But I would suggest that it takes real guts and ownership for a government that benefited by first past the post to have the courage to change it because they said that was part of their platform. To me, that is something Canadians will understand and would respect.

Do we need to have broad-based consultation? Yes, I think there's a check mark. Do we need to have—what's your terminology—clear consensus? I think you do. I think four of the five parties are expecting some type of a change, so if you take a look at the elected parliamentarians, I would suggest that you have a clear consensus.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

A clear consensus to go exactly where and do exactly what?

6:55 p.m.

National President, Unifor

Jerry Dias

The consensus is to eliminate first past the post. We would trust those on the committee to make the recommendation on the best way to proceed.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Lupia seems to want to jump in, Mr. DeCourcey.

Do you want to jump in, Professor Lupia?

6:55 p.m.

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

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Oh, okay.

I'm sorry, Mr. DeCourcey, to interrupt you. We'll give you a bit more time there.

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

I appreciate the comments. I think it's dangerous for us to think that there is any one view guiding us in one particular direction on this issue. Our friends from CARP reminded us that there perhaps is no consensus on how we should move forward, so we need to take care to deliberate intelligently as a committee, put the sloganeering aside, and come to a recommendation or a set of recommendations that will be palatable to the largest possible number of Canadians.

7 p.m.

Interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

R. Bruce Fitch

Can I just jump in for a minute?

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You can have maybe 25 seconds.

7 p.m.

Interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick

R. Bruce Fitch

When we talked about electoral reform in New Brunswick, I said to the premier at the time that we shouldn't put closure on the legislature that Friday but come back and debate electoral reform on the Tuesday. However, they let the motion die on the order paper. They went and did something else and brought closure for the summer.

Thanks.

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

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

7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Please, if possible.

7 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Go ahead.

October 25th, 2016 / 7 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

He has a minute and a half.

7:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Oh.

Sorry about that, Blake.