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

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

You're saying you would defy anyone to define it, but would you agree that's an important thing to consider, the idea of community of interest?

3:10 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I would agree that it's an important thing to consider. It's important not just to do it without thinking about it. It's a matter to be thought of. Does it necessitate a redistribution? That is the thing that should be considered very seriously.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

We'll go to Mr. Aldag now.

July 7th, 2016 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Thank you.

This question comes from Twitter, and I'd like your thoughts on it. The question is, simply, how do independents fit into any sort of new system? A lot of the work we've talked about relates to parties. Do you have any thoughts on independents and the future of our electoral system?

3:10 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

This is a major consideration on the international scene with purely proportional systems. It seems to obviate...and I think some solutions were found, but I can't remember what they are.

In the mixed-member system, it is not an issue, because you can still run as an independent in this particular case.

In the example I've given, you could also have independents. Their chances of being elected, by the way, would probably be the same as they are right now. We can't devise a system—at least, not readily—in which independents would rule the day, but it is important for that phenomenon to be able to express itself under our system, and there are various systems that would allow that quite readily.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Thank you.

In your opening comments you made a statement that from your perspective, online voting is coming. I'd like to get a bit more of your thoughts on that. We heard earlier today that the current Chief Electoral Officer is not foreseeing online voting for 2019. What makes you think that it is coming, and in what horizon would you say we will be facing online voting in Canada?

3:15 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

It's going to be later than we think, and it's going to be faster than we think. We're living our lives at the end of these gizmos. We're doing everything with them, so it's just a natural thing. I've indicated how important it's going to be to devise the right control mechanisms to ensure that the person who's voting is the person who registered, the person who's entitled to vote. Is it going to be a photo of the iris, as I said, or something else, such as fingerprints? Fingerprints are problematic, because those are tied to our criminal system. Some jurisdictions, new democracies, have no problem at all with doing that.

I'm saying it's coming because it's pervasive and people will expect it to become a reality. If it doesn't, there will be problems.

The Chief Electoral Officer said he cannot do it for 2019. Number one, he needs the permission of the House of Commons and the Senate before he even thinks about it. It used to be just this committee or the PROC committee of the House of Commons. Now it's been extended to the two bodies, so he can't even test it. I don't blame him for saying he cannot do it for 2019.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Along with the comments we heard this morning on online voting, one suggestion was to pilot and perhaps look at some groups. One group that was mentioned was persons with disabilities. There were others. If we were to do a phased-in approach, would there be an approach that you would prefer or suggest? Would there be a group that you would prefer over another? How could we phase something in if we needed to take that approach?

3:15 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

The initial consideration would be that it not apply generally to a whole group, and by that I mean to the Canadian population and the idea that people could opt in if they wanted to. That would be too broad. You could restrict it to one, two, three, five ridings, or whatever, and to people with differing abilities—by the way, that's a Mexican expression. Instead of “disabled”, they say “differing abilities”. I like that a lot.

It could be those groups that do it, or people who have mobility issues and who would be able to say they have a mobility issue, and we would take their word for it. People don't lie about these things. We would be able to envelop that with control mechanisms that we could then use to check how well we performed and how well received it was by the electors, by the way. How much easier was it for the elector? If it's more burdensome than the present system, then why bother? That's how I would go about it.

I talked about parallel systems, by the way, so that we can ensure that what people are manifesting as their choice is really what is being manifested at the other end.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Another question I heard you ask—

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Aldag, you're almost at the end. You may comment, and then maybe it can come up again.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Aldag Liberal Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Sure.

You simply asked what margin of error would be acceptable. You put that to us, and I was going to put it back to you. What margin of error is acceptable?

3:15 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Wittingly or otherwise, under the present system there is a margin of error. It is exceedingly slim and it is not mathematically ascertainable, but if we try to convince Canadians as a general population to vote online, they will say they want 0% error. That is going to be their expectation. That's why we need to develop slowly, over time, and then rapidly, more rapidly than we thought, so people have confidence that we know what we're doing and that the sanctity, as I will call it, of our electoral system is being preserved.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

We will now begin the second round, starting with Mr. DeCourcey.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

Thanks again, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Kingsley, I wanted to come back to the issue that we left off on, which is the relationship between elector and elected.

This, to my mind, correlates nicely with one of the principles that we've been tasked with exploring in the mandate, which is the importance of local representation. I would echo the comments of my colleague Sherry, who spoke to the good-faith effort that I think all parliamentarians undertake to represent the voices of their communities. Being a representative from Atlantic Canada on this committee, I know that we, as elected officials in Atlantic Canada, hold ourselves accountable to our communities quite closely, and our electors well understand the link they have with their elected representatives.

Given that preface, I have two questions. In the proposed system you've mused about a little, how do you envision Atlantic Canada being divided in some of the larger centres versus some of the rural areas in the single-member and mixed-member riding system that you touched on? Perhaps I'll give you a second to answer that.

3:20 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

With respect to your first point about members of Parliament representing the whole population, I agree that this is a reality. I've seen it and I believe it. However, I also happen to believe that when the Conservatives get together to discuss something in caucus, you're not there, and I think that is important. That's what I meant by having representation that globally represents people in Atlantic Canada.

Insofar as how one would handle Atlantic Canada under the suggestion that I've made, first of all I would respect provincial boundaries. Rule one is don't fool around with provincial boundaries. You will get nowhere, okay? This is Canada. Don't waste your time.

Then each province would have to be looked at individually to see what people think of and accept as being rural, and what people think of and accept as urban. I'm not the one who would be making that choice, but I'm suggesting it is a choice that could be made that would reflect what people in each province would do. Does P.E.I. combine all four seats into one, or does it consider itself to be rural in all four seats? Let's ask the people of Prince Edward Island.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

That's great. Thank you very much.

The second part of my question has to do with the role of an elected representative, elected potentially through a proportional system or a list system, versus a colleague who may represent a similar area who is elected through a first-past-the-post system.

Let's say we're in some sort of MMP. What is the role of that elected official toward the electors vis-à-vis the person who is elected through first past the post and represents a particular constituency? You have a person elected from the riding of Fredericton and you have a person who may be from Fredericton elected through a proportional list. What are the differing or similar roles they have toward the electors?

3:20 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I will conjecture with you. There will be strong similarities between the two and there will be important differences between the two. The advantage of the system now is that people feel that this member of Parliament represents them and this is the geographical area in which we're contained. I'm not saying people know who that MP is in urban settings, but there's a way of reaching out to that person. There's a way of knowing. I can let that person know that if he or she says that again, I'm not going to vote for them again. That is power.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Matt DeCourcey Liberal Fredericton, NB

And they do.

3:20 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

And they do, yes.

An election for members at large is where the word “ombudsman” comes from, because those members of Parliament owed less to individual electors. They knew that if it was a closed system and they were on that list, the next time around mattered more.

That doesn't mean they did not consider what was in the best interests of their country; that's not what it meant. It meant that the link with the individual elector was qualitatively different.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

We'll go to Mr. Reid now.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you.

Regarding the system you have discussed, I know you were at a meeting in February that was organized by the Senate and presented to it. Has it been published anywhere? Is there a printed version of what you're describing, or will there be at any point in the near future?

3:20 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I've been very careful not to publish anything on that front, but as I've indicated, I'd be more than willing to do some work if I were assigned some resources. This is not an easy task to accomplish. It cannot be accomplished by one person, by me, within severe time frames or even over time. It requires concentration, so it's not published.

Some variations exist. I think Minister Dion had something equivalent to this. I would not say it's the same. I do not wish to blame him for anything here. I'm just saying that I think this is something that's on his website. There are variations on it.

By the way, a number of different people and different organizations have gotten in touch with me, some of them in this room, suggesting variations on this theme, and I think they're worth hearing.

In any case, that's the status of it.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay.

From what you've said and from going through the models that I can think about there, the one that it seems most like is the STV model proposed in British Columbia, the so-called BC-STV model. It was the subject of a referendum in 2005. Am I right in making a rough approximation, or have I missed the point in doing that?

3:25 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, 1990-2007, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I would have to look at that model again before I would comment on it. I've not looked at it recently, but I'd be willing to do that and give you some of my feedback on it.

I will remind people, by the way, because people keep saying the referendum for change in British Columbia was not successful, that in the first referendum, 57% of the people of British Columbia voted in favour of change. The premier said they needed 60%; otherwise, they wouldn't get it. People say to themselves that it's never worked and that people have never wanted change, but they have wanted it. It was more than 50%, significantly more. To me, 7% means a 14% difference, in my books.