Evidence of meeting #5 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 question.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-Pierre Kingsley  Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Madam May is next.

2:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's an honour to have you here, Mr. Kingsley. Thank you so much.

I will come back to your proposition. Since we do have the possibility of asking you something pretty direct, I wanted to know if you believe, with your experience as our chief electoral officer in the past, that given the distortions we experience under first past the post, our democracy will be improved when we get rid of first past the post?

2:40 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I'm not going to hedge and I'm going to say what I think. I think that our democracy will be improved once the work of your committee is done and the decision is made by Parliament and Canadians about what the best system is for us—or the least worst system, as Shakespeare would have said.

I attach a lot of importance to the process that's being followed here. I have raised issues, values that I think are fundamental, but how you address them....

You represent the people; I don't. That's your job, and I don't want to pre-empt that by saying one thing or another. Democracy will be improved once we make a final decision.

2:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you.

You concentrated in your opening statements on the distortions within the first-past-the-post system, in that 40% of the vote gets 60% of the seats, or as Mr. Christopherson puts it quite rightly, 100% of the power.

You noted in your introduction that another preoccupation of Canadians lately has been concern about the power of a prime minister's office. I wondered if you wanted to expand on that, because that's an almost unique feature of the Canadian system, even as compared to other Westminster systems.

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I was highlighting several aspects that have come forward for a number of years about how power is concentrated. The system that was established by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau—and I was a middling public servant at the time, but I was participating in it—was meant to ensure that there was a unity of direction on the part of the government, as opposed to ministers flying off in directions that were contrary to what the party wanted. Presumably this must have been occurring, because he saw this system as a necessity, but over time, various prime ministers utilized that machinery more to centralize the authority of the prime minister, and a lot of people consider that to be problematic in our democracy.

That's not directly related to the particular issue here, but it is part of what is feeding into—and I consider this to be natural and part of democracy—the need to review certain elements of our democracy. The strength of our democracy is the ability to review it, including a review of that particular issue.

2:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you.

I wanted to go back to the line of questioning that my friend Scott Reid was asking and clarify your view on our current Referendum Act.

Just to clarify, it's your view that while Parliament can certainly decide to hold a referendum on electoral reform, we would have to revisit, revise, and amend our current Referendum Act before we could do that. Is that a correct statement of your view?

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

We would have to do that even if we were to raise it as a constitutional question, because there are references in there that no longer apply and they need to be rectified by Parliament. At the same time, it would allow an opportunity to review the financing regime and other aspects.

By the way, I will say that regime was exceedingly good in the allocation of free broadcast time. I think it set Canada apart so well in its Referendum Act . It set us apart with the one hour and a half to both sides, and the broadcasting arbitrator being able to allocate time to everyone who was interested in getting broadcast time. They had to get the money to put up their ads and to prepare their ads, but they did not have to pay the broadcasters. This was such a deep strength of our Referendum Act.

2:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I think I have about 40 seconds left.

I wanted to ask about your comment around our section 3 charter right to vote and the fact that we also, as you put it, have a right to “effective representation”, and that the Supreme Court has commented on this.

Is it your view that under our current system of first past the post, some voters have a right to wonder whether their vote was an effective representation?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

We have 15 seconds.

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

It is my view that we owe an explanation to the people who feel that way, and they are numerous. There are many people. There's Fair Vote Canada, and they encompass a lot of other organizations. We need to bring them into the fold somehow.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Go ahead, Ms. Romanado.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Kingsley, for being here. While I haven't known you as long as Mr. Reid has—we've just met—I did appreciate your presentation.

You mentioned a couple of criteria or suggestions for us. One was relative simplicity of the ballot. The second was the link between elector and elected—and you elaborated a little on that—and the third was the tendency or need to reinforce coast-to-coast representation in political parties, cabinet, and caucus. Could you elaborate a little more on that?

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I'm alluding to the fact that right now in the western provinces people voted one way. There's representation here, and some parties are under-represented. This body's missing in caucus.

If we go to eastern Canada, the reverse is there. If we go to Quebec, it's the same thing: there are fewer Conservatives than should be there. I'm saying we lose out, because national decisions are made at the caucus, at least by the parties that have a national ambit, and that's part of what they want to do. They don't want to represent regions. I'm saying we need to facilitate that, and one way would be to do some kind of proportional or mixed proportional system, including the suggestion—not the proposal—that I've made, which would allow us to achieve that to a large degree, although not to a full extent. Again, we must realize that no system we devise, no matter what it is, will be perfect.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Okay. You answered the second part of my question, which would have been if you had a suggestion on how we could address that.

How would coast-to-coast representation affect intraparty competition?

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Yes, you mentioned avoiding battles—

2:45 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I was making an allusion to what is called an open list, which is where the electors rank, within the same party, which one they prefer.

I've never been a candidate, but I'm saying that if I were a candidate and my name was fifth on that list, and I'm expecting only four to be elected, I would really bust my proverbial to be among the first four.

There would be some temptations. I'm sure you face some temptations in your electoral things when it comes time to do certain things. Of course, party discipline might come in, but we know what that gives us.

That's what I meant. If you want to see that introduced into the whole game, so that within the same party at election time people are choosing among the candidates of the same party, I'm really saying you have to think very seriously about what that does to the campaign at that level.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Do I still have some time?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have two minutes.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

You also talked a little about the importance of that rapport between the elector and the elected. I had seven candidates in my riding, including me, and I benefited from first past the post. That's the reality. Regardless of who voted for me or who didn't vote for me, I represent them all, in my view. I keep that direct representation. I think that the onus is on the elected official after the fact to maintain that rapport, regardless of who voted for them.

I'm curious about what system you think would address that aspect, if we already have that commitment. I'm pretty sure my colleagues around the table have that commitment. Regardless of who voted for us or who didn't, we have that rapport already established.

2:50 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

There are systems that would allow for some kind of direct rapport. What I'm saying to you is you must weigh very carefully if it's going to be a system that is equated with, mainly, proportional representation. In other words, if 30 seats are going to be decided in this particular province by a proportional system, and there are 210 candidates if you multiply by seven or whatever, then what is the link between the elector and the elected among those 30?

To come back to the suggestion that I made, if you're choosing four or five, is it possible to consider that to be an acceptable linkage? Can the elector know and easily reach one elected MP? Might the elector even be able to choose among the four or five the one he or she prefers to carry his or her issue, or appeal to all five when it comes time to represent a particular point of view of national import?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Mr. Deltell is next.

July 7th, 2016 / 2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's a great honour for me to meet you. I have known you for decades, but, unlike my colleague Mr. Reid, this is the first time I have shaken your hand, just like my colleague Ms. Romanado, whom I also wish to greet.

Mr. Kingsley, you said earlier that

if we make any change, we need “a fair process”.

What do you mean by this term, more specifically in the context of changing the voting system?

2:50 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Mr. Deltell, it was also a great pleasure for me to meet you. I have actually been watching your evolution on the provincial stage, in Quebec, with a great deal of respect.

For me, a fair and equitable process is exactly what you are currently doing: considering the possible choices, the weight of major factors associated with each of them, assessing the advantages and the disadvantages—and we know that there is no perfect system—and, finally, determining which system is best for Canadians in your opinion.

This committee must ensure that Canadians know about your deliberations, so that anyone who is interested may not only know what your recommendations are, but also have an opportunity to be heard.

In other words, I anticipate two-way communication. I would even go further by saying that it is important to analyze the feedback you are getting from Canadians intelligently. Some companies specialize in providing an intelligent analysis of what Canadians are saying to us. They do more than simply provide a report without a real assessment. Things can be assessed. That is what I am trying to say, Mr. Deltell.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Kingsley.

You say that Canadians must know about our deliberations. I personally do a lot of work in my riding, on the ground. But people were quite surprised to learn that I had to come to Ottawa twice a week in July to sit on this committee. That said, I love what I do.

You also say that we should carry out an intelligent analysis. Yet we have only a few months. Our schedule is very tight.

In that sense, do you believe this is a fair procedure?

We have just a few months to carry out this analysis, which you consider so important.