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

2:55 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

As we say in Latin, tempus fugit. In practice, you have a very tight schedule. I grant you that, and I agree. However, as members of a Parliamentary committee, you have access to everything that has been done in Canada by various citizen assemblies, to the systems they considered and to those other Canadians will talk to you about.

I believe that you have to consider them very seriously and then come to a decision. In my opinion, it's possible to do so, but it will require you to be here this summer. Then we will see. I cannot guarantee it. I cannot say that I am absolutely sure, but I think it is possible.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Just a few seconds ago, you insisted on us, parliamentarians, knowing which system is the best.

Do you sincerely think that an electoral reform of such importance should be left in the hands of parliamentarians? Should it not rather be left in the hands of Canadians?

July 7th, 2016 / 2:55 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I also referred to Canadians in my comment, Mr. Deltell. I should have perhaps mentioned it first, but I was thinking logically in terms of the procedure you have to follow here. That's all.

When it comes to ways to find out how Canadians feel, we are in a representative democracy, and we encourage you to consult your constituents to give you some food for thought.

It's a matter of figuring out how Canadians feel about what you are doing and what you will propose.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

The least we can say is that the schedule is very tight. Like you, I recognize that. I also recognize that, as parliamentarians, we have a job to do, but Canadians will ultimately be the ones to provide us with insight and, more importantly, inform our decision.

Let's take the exercise further. As you have been in charge of Elections Canada for 17 years, I would like to know whether you feel it is more important to hold a community consultation process, in front of a café, or rather hold a referendum where all Canadians will have a vote.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have 10 seconds left. The schedule is indeed tight.

2:55 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I cannot answer in 10 seconds.

Could I answer this question in the second round?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Okay.

Ms. Sahota, go ahead.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Kingsley, for being here today.

At the 2000 federal election we saw a very low voter turnout, and you had stated that perhaps requirements should have been made at that time. What do you think about the decrease in voter turnout? However, I think in this 2015 election we have had a little bounce back in voter turnout, which is great.

Do you believe that participating in electoral reform and perhaps getting a new system in place would increase voter turnout? In your introduction, you talked about perhaps not compulsory voting, but compulsory attendance, so you can frame it in those terms if you like.

2:55 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I wanted to frame it in those terms because that should be the reality. If there are five candidates and you must vote for one of the five, I don't believe in compulsory voting in that situation. I made that very clear.

In the year 2000, when I expressed myself in the media—and it took me 16 years to come back to that particular issue, in a sense—I said that we should be considering it. I did not say we should do it.

I wanted to send an alarm, and I sent that alarm again today because of the need for legitimacy of the results. I don't know if 50% attendance at the polls is sufficient to lend legitimacy to a government. If 50% of the people voted, and 39% voted for the governing body, and it got 58% of the seats, at some point in time you start to ask what's going on. That's why I made that comment at the time. It was branded as though I had recommended it, but that is not the fact. I am not recommending it today either. I have given you what I consider to be things to consider. I don't make these decisions on behalf of other people, but I will express my views about the factors to take into account and about the values that are assumed in that.

I've overlooked another part of your question.

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Do you think voter turnout would increase? I have a question from Twitter too. I should give a shout-out to Andrew Campbell, who asked me a Twitter question: “How much higher is voter turnout in countries with proportional representation?”

Do you have those facts? What is your opinion? If we have a change, would voter turnout increase? Essentially, that's what we want. We want people to participate in the democratic process. We want their voices to be heard, so we need an increase in voter turnout. Would proportional representation bring about that increase?

3 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I remember reading some studies. There was one, I think by Professor Blais, and I think initially there was a view of about 7%, but I don't know if this has been sustained over time. I may even be wrong about the percentage I'm talking about.

There was a view that it might tend to increase it. I think that is it. However, there is also a view that it would be marginal, so I don't know where the answer is on that front.

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

In your opinion.... That is the reason we have you here as a witness: not to impose a system on us, but to get your expert opinion, because you did serve us for so many years.

You talked about simplicity of the ballot, so would a certain system be more prone to getting more people out to vote?

3 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

It's possible that one system as opposed to another might have a slight increase or a slight impact on voter turnout. Because you're asking me the question directly, what really matters is that if we're going to keep a voluntary system of voting, we simply have to get to young people. They were voting at 38% at the previous election, and it was on a downward trend. It went up to about 58% at the last election, and that made a difference, by the way. I'm not saying that only young people were among that group, but the 58% were young people.

We're simply not reaching out to them. We're not succeeding. You, the candidates, are not succeeding, and you and we, the political parties, are not succeeding in reaching out to them where they live. They no longer communicate as we communicated, and they have to have an appreciation of what it's all about. I alluded to this in my earlier remarks.

If we're going to keep a voluntary system of attendance at the polls, we simply need to do more to reach out to people about the importance of voting, and not only about how to do it, but about why this is tied to democracy. That means engaging the educational system and the relationship between young people and how they relate to one another. They don't relate to television; we know that. Why do we still do television?

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

We will now go to Mr. Boulerice.

3 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Kingsley, for joining us this afternoon.

I won't be making an overly personal confession by telling you that I began my political involvement in 1990 as a volunteer. Let's just to say that you were always Mr. Election during my first years of volunteering.

We are talking about an extremely complex and important issue that has consequences on political choices and on the way Canadians express their choices. However, this issue is pretty unknown. We, here in the room, and the people watching us at their office, are interested in the voting system and the electoral reform. However, it is not always easy for ordinary people to understand. In fact, even the current system is often poorly understood. People feel like they are voting for the prime minister, while they are actually voting for a member, a local candidate. Those are things we hear when we go door to door and shake hands on the street.

Don't you think that, as part of this important reform—which we want at the NDP, let me be clear—the government has a responsibility that goes beyond the public consultations we will all conduct? Don't you think we should implement an education and awareness-raising program to explain exactly what this is about? That won't be done simply through the work of this parliamentary committee, as our work is not followed by the majority of Canadians.

What do you suggest?

Do you not think that the government would show some consistency by investing the time, the means and the money necessary to better explain what this is about?

3 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Yesterday, I heard the minister explain to you why $8 million or $10 million had been allocated to her department, the Privy Council Office, and $300,000 was allocated to you. I think that the committee should play a leading role. I agree that the government has a responsibility, but the government is the government. I am talking about a parliamentary institution—you. I believe that Parliament should try to reach the country's electorate directly.

I think that the solution doesn't lie in asking the government to take on this responsibility. It will do it, and that's great, but you should have a much more imposing structure, including mechanisms for sharing and receiving information, as well as analyzing in depth what you are hearing from Canadians who are tuning in.

At some point, things will stick and people will understand that significant changes are being considered. That will be accomplished through the media and your work. If you use social networks, which many people are involved in—be they younger or older—there will be a snowball effect. When people learn about a change to the voting system being currently considered, they will be surprised, they will tell themselves that they would benefit from staying tuned and they will learn about what is happening.

I have personally believed my whole life that Canadian voters are reasonable. If that's not the basis of our system, what is? Canadians are capable of understanding what is at stake in our democracy. If that's not the case, what is the point of democracy?

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

That's a good question, Mr. Kingsley.

Last December, the Broadbent Institute conducted a survey, which was insightful. In fact, it could be noted that people felt it was a priority to ensure that the voting system makes it possible to represent plurality, as well as the diversity of voices and political opinions within Parliament, and to reduce the major distortions created by the first-past-the-post system.

Another priority was to make the voting system simple and make it possible to have direct access to a member representing a particular region or a community.

I would like you to draw on your experience and tell me what international voting system could address these two concerns of Canadians, in your opinion.

3:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

The question is specifically about certain voting systems, and I am not saying that they are the ones I favour. That said, a mixed system is an option. That system makes it possible to elect a member based on a defined geographic location, while a certain number of other seats are established based on a proportional system. In the case of Quebec, I believe that the first-past-the-post system was used for 75 seats and the proportional system was used for 50 seats.

According to that system, voters can maintain a direct relationship with a member.

I personally suggested another system, but it should be determined whether it would be acceptable for there to be four or five members, whether the relationship would be sufficient. If you are against that, it should be eliminated. Your work will consist in eliminating what you are against.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Monsieur Richards is next.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to return to something you were talking about. I forget who asked you the question, but you were talking about the system that you had suggested. I know you said it wasn't a proposal you were making, but it's the one about having two different types of systems, one for urban parts of the country and one for what we'll call rural parts of the country. I have a few questions around that idea.

You explained what you would see that system do and how it would work, but you didn't really give us any sense as to why we should look at that system or why it would be a good system for Canada. What would be your rationale for such a system?

3:05 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Thank you.

I'm pleased to elaborate on what I was saying. The reason I call it a suggestion is that I have not had the resources to analyze this system. It is a huge undertaking to analyze the implications of a system like this across the land. I would be more than willing to do that quite voluntarily if I were provided some resources, by the way, but that's up to you to decide.

Effectively what I'm saying is if there's a new riding of five existing ridings and in all five the winning candidate came in with 40% of the votes and it's all with the same party, assume that, that's 100% of the seats. If that were run with five seats joined—

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Sir, no; I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I understood that part.

Obviously you're proposing two separate systems. You're proposing one that would be for urban areas and one that would be for more rural or remote areas. I was trying to get a sense as to why you felt that the hybrid of those two things was a good idea for Canada.

3:10 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I'm sorry; I misunderstood your question.

I'm basing it on a perception that may not be fair. After I have explained or suggested the system, I have had people come up to me who don't agree with my basic thesis, but I'm saying that people who live in rural or remote areas are very accustomed to that direct link between themselves and the elected. To put them into a proportional type of system represents more difficulty for them in accepting that, because already geographically the expanse of those ridings is too huge to be covered by one person. They would see that their vote would be subsumed to all of those urban votes.

I may be wrong about this. Certainly some people have come up to me after I have made presentations and said that they were rural people but would prefer to vote proportionally. I respect that. However, that was the basis for my proposal.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I appreciate the comments about the rural seats. I think you've hit on something important.

You mentioned earlier that you figured about 40 to 60 seats might be in the country. I would argue that you're probably quite low in your estimate of the number of rural seats in the country. In my province of Alberta, I would say that at least half of the seats would be done that way, so that would be probably 16 to 18 seats. That's just one province, so you would probably be a bit low.

I'm wondering how you, or if you, have given any thought to this next question. Maybe you haven't, but if you have, can you elaborate for us on how you would see those seats being allocated in the urban areas? In other words, would you set up certain limits of a certain population, and above this population that city would then be multi-member districts, or how would you do that? Have you given thought to that?

3:10 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I have given some thought to it. Under the present system, we have a quotient, and we would continue to respect the quotient. For rural and remote areas, we would exceed the quotient whenever necessary, because that's what the law allows for those boundary commissions. They're allowed that leeway.

I would take five existing ridings under the present system and bunch them into one. I heard the Chief Electoral Officer say he thought that redistribution might be required as well because of community of interest. I will tell you one thing about community of interest: it is the most nebulous of factors and is the most difficult for those commissions to put into place because it varies depending upon perception. I defy anybody, anybody in Canada, to define community of interest in precise terms. There's just a feeling.

Now, when you regroup five, this is what you would have. You could use the present quotient to stay....