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Evidence of meeting #46 for Electoral Reform in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was referendum.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Helen Johansen  As an Individual
Mark Batten-Carew  As an Individual
Stephen Nickerson  As an Individual
Christopher Wilson  As an Individual
Gerald Ackerman  As an Individual
Bradley Mullen  As an Individual
David Shostal  As an Individual
Denzil Feinberg  As an Individual
Paul Cosgrove  As an Individual
Ian MacDonald  As an Individual
Andrew Madill  As an Individual
Nicholas Thompson  As an Individual
Roderick Ramsden  As an Individual
Darian Bittle  As an Individual
David Gibbons  As an Individual
Chelsea Mahon  As an Individual
John Carley  As an Individual
John Redins  As an Individual
David Gussow  As an Individual
Andrea Strathdee  As an Individual
Martin Laplante  As an Individual
Jerry Dan Kovaks  As an Individual
Sharon Reeves  As an Individual
Jay Fallis  As an Individual
Ted Cragg  As an Individual
John Legg  As an Individual
Réal Lavergne  President, Fair Vote Canada
Gary Corbett  As an Individual
Lucas Holtvluwer  As an Individual
Michael Mallett  As an Individual
Jean-Nicholas Martineau  As an Individual
Carl Stieren  As an Individual
Jon Westlund  President, Humanist Association of Ottawa
Carole Bezaire  As an Individual
Aurora Arrioja  As an Individual
Marilyn Olsen  As an Individual
Sonia Smee  As an Individual
Alan White  As an Individual
Joel Charbonneau  As an Individual
Julian Potvin-Bernal  As an Individual
Clive Doucet  As an Individual
Andrew Cardozo  Executive Director, Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy
Julien Lamarche  President, National Capital Region Chapter, Fair Vote Canada
Teresa Legrand  As an Individual
Eric McCabe  As an Individual
Daniel Kyle Horn  As an Individual
Colin Betts  As an Individual
Andrew Hodgson  As an Individual
Brett Hodnett  As an Individual
Marlene Koehler  As an Individual
Nathan Hauch  As an Individual
A.C. Gullon  As an Individual
Christopher Mahon  As an Individual
Ann-Marie Balasubramaniam  As an Individual
John Schioler  As an Individual
Adam Houblen  As an Individual

9 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9 p.m.

As an Individual

A.C. Gullon

However, having the best system doesn't mean that it can't be improved. The first-past-the-post system has three chronic problems: a party can gain a five-year mandate when 60% of the vote was for the opposing parties; there is a decreasing voter turnout; and finally, there is that ubiquitous feeling that a vote for a losing candidate doesn't count at all in a new parliament.

Borrowing from my German connection for the second, I propose two electoral changes that just might cure all three problems. The first change could be called the proportional mandate. The latest date for the following election would be fixed by Elections Canada as the function of the proportion of eligible voters voting for the winning party's candidate. I am currently suggesting that the mandate would range from one year, with 25% or less of the electorate, to the full five years, for 51%.

For the translator, skip to the second page.

For the second change, we note that Germany only uses proportional representation for some of the seats in the Bundesrat. Borrowing from that, while noting that many, if not most, Canadians vote for the party or at least a sexy party leader rather than the candidate, I propose that in addition to the current 315 or 316 votes in the House, it would be up to 100 party platform votes. Each leader of a party registered for the election would have a block of votes equal in number to the percentage of the eligible electors voting for her or his party.

Translator, skip the next paragraph.

Finally, with these simple electoral changes, every vote cast would count, whether for a winning candidate or not. Actually, your vote would count many times: the first would be in lengthening, if your party wins, the mandate of the government; the second would be every time the leader of your party casts the platform vote in the House. Campaign teams, even for losing candidates, would have a simple goal: get out every possible vote. They would be inspired to fight on even when the local situation was clearly hopeless, and best if all, we wouldn't have the complaints from B.C. that the election is over before our polls close.

Thank you.

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, and thank you for your consideration for the interpreters. I'm sure they appreciate it.

Ms. Ann-Marie Balasubramaniam, please go to a mic.

Go ahead, Mr. Mahon.

9:05 p.m.

Christopher Mahon As an Individual

Thank you.

Nobody in Canada right now knows what is ultimately going to be proposed to replace the current electoral system. Nobody in this room knows what is ultimately going to be proposed.

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

That's true.

9:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Christopher Mahon

So nobody can claim that whatever is ultimately proposed has the consent of the Canadian electorate.

If this government seeks to impose whatever it concocts behind closed doors, without a referendum, they will cast the Canadian electoral system into disrepute. They will destroy its legitimacy. It is important that the Canadian electoral system look legitimate, and right now it's the envy of the world. It is. We're very lucky to be in Canada. We're very lucky to live under this electoral system.

9:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

We're very lucky to be in Canada.

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

But in Canada, it's that everyone gets to have their say.

Go ahead.

9:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Exactly.

9:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Christopher Mahon

If this government imposes whatever it contrives behind closed doors without a referendum, it will look to many like a shameless attempt to rig the system.

If this government believes in what it ultimately proposes, it should have the guts to put it to a referendum. I ask every member of this committee to please go back to the government to protect the legitimacy of the Canadian electoral system and demand a referendum.

Thank you.

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much.

Mr. Schioler, please go to the mic.

Now we'll go to Ms. Balasubramaniam.

9:05 p.m.

Ann-Marie Balasubramaniam As an Individual

That's an excellent pronunciation of my name.

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Well, when you have a name like Scarpaleggia....

9:05 p.m.

As an Individual

Ann-Marie Balasubramaniam

There are a lot of passionate arguments being presented here. I thank you for the opportunity to speak, and also for the hard work that you've been doing all across Canada. I came to listen, but I just stood to comment because I want to echo the sentiments of my fellow citizens here who have said that we don't necessarily need a referendum. I want to express my opinion that I trust your ability, as members of Parliament, to make that decision on our behalf.

I also think that the time in history for first past the post has passed. We're more than a two-party system, for which first past the post best works as a system. I think the diversity of our country is represented in our multi-party system, and that's a good thing. I think it's okay. I don't necessarily think we should worry so much about the fringe, because we're a country that's changing. A multi-party electoral system is something we should strive for to represent the multi-party system we have.

I also think this multi-party electoral system, if we change it with electoral reform, is something that would benefit not just one individual party, and not necessarily just the Green Party or the NDP, as I heard some others say. Certainly before the amalgamation of the Conservative Party, it could have benefited either the Progressive Conservatives or the Alliance. Instead of forcing parties to amalgamate in order to win the strategic vote, this would be a great alternative.

The most important thing is that the voters stand to gain, because their votes would count.

I would lastly like to say that the strategic voting of the last couple of years has made me feel like I've been at the horse races, betting on odds of what could happen. I'd love for that to stop, so if you did decide to go with electoral reform, I'd much appreciate that.

The last thing I'll say, to close, is that you have a great opportunity here. At the risk of a cliché, great moments are born from great opportunity. With the 150th anniversary coming up, I think a change would be amazing.

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much.

I'd ask Mr. Adam Houblen to come to mic number one.

Now we'll hear from Mr. Schioler.

9:10 p.m.

John Schioler As an Individual

I didn't come to speak this evening. It was only when I thought there was something missing as the discussion took place that I put my name down.

Those in favour of change seem to have gone into a lot of detail about how that was going to work, but those in favour of the referendum didn't tell us how a referendum would work. Would it be 50% plus one across the country? Would we do it by province, etc.?

It seems to me that it's incumbent upon them to show that there is something workable and something that would create confidence in the Canadian public that the right system was being addressed, and I wonder whether in your deliberations across the country you have had any representatives of the point of view of the referendum come to you with details about when, how many, and percentages.

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

The subject has come up quite a bit in the hearings, both on the road and here in Ottawa. Some have said we should follow the New Zealand example of two referenda prior to a change and then one after the change to give approval or not to that change. Some have said, for example, that the 60% threshold in the B.C. referendum was arbitrary and too high, so some extent, yes, people have touched on the details, but it has revolved mostly around the principle of a referendum.

October 26th, 2016 / 9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

One last thing is that we were in Prince Edward Island, where they're holding what they call a plebiscite later this month, but it's actually a referendum on electoral reform.

We had a number of people who are administering that referendum, and they had a previous one on the same issue several years ago in a different format. They presented, both of these administrators, on how those worked.

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Finally, last but not least, we'll hear from Mr. Houblen, please.

9:10 p.m.

Adam Houblen As an Individual

Thank you. My name is Adam Houblen. I'm finishing up my Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa here in town. I'm studying biology. I look at algae in lakes, so that really doesn't make me an electoral reform specialist in any way, but I am very much in favour of proportional representation, and I think what we have right now, the first past the post, is clearly archaic. It's an archaic form, and I think we can modernize. There are lots of examples, and I'll leave it largely up to the experts to decide which one might be the best form.

As for the question of a referendum, well, I'm here. This is my referendum right now. I'm speaking out at these public open houses. I also did vote in the last election, and I believe all but one party had electoral reform as a key platform issue, so I think it's there. I think we can move on.

I respect all of the opinions, but the best argument I've heard tonight for first past the post is that we've had stable government and it has been working so far. Well, that's not really inspirational, and I think that we have a civil government despite the electoral system. I think we can move on and experiment. I'm a scientist. Let's experiment. Let's have some perspective. We can change it again. It's not the end. It's not the last form. There might be something better.

Canada has been in a unique position as well. We have this large geography with pockets of dense population. We'd probably have to come up with something that might be unique or novel, so I hope that we can.

I trust you. If you have questions about algae, I hope you trust my expertise, and I'm going to basically trust this panel that has been working on this, doing a great job. I love that it's proportional and across all the parties, but I'm going to trust your final decision. I'll let you whittle out the final details. I hope you can take the opinion of the electorate, though, that they do want change. I think it's quite apparent here.

Thank you.

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you very much, Mr. Houblen.

I'd like to thank everyone here tonight and those who came to the mics to share your considered views. Thank you also for respecting the time limits, which allowed for a full and orderly discussion.

To the committee members, we meet again tomorrow morning at 7:45 a.m.

We will reconvene tomorrow at 7:45 a.m.

Thank you to the participants for their comments and participation.

We hope that you will carefully read our report, which must be tabled by December 1.

The meeting is adjourned.