Evidence of meeting #9 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 zealand.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Tom Rogers  Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual
Robert Peden  Chief Electoral Officer, New Zealand Electoral Commission

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Go ahead, Ms. Sahota.

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you.

I'd like to start with Mr. Rogers from Australia. The first question that comes to my mind is why there are different systems for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Also, has there in your opinion been a lot of debate about moving towards one system for both? What's the reasoning for this, and what are the pros and cons?

8:10 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

If we go back in history with the Senate system, one of the reasons that the current Senate system has developed is that at various times there has been quite a high level of informality in the Senate vote. I'm looking here at some dates. I think we went to what we would recognize as the modern Senate voting system in about 1948, with some changes in 1984, and it was in response to the complexity of the Senate ballot paper. It's still a complex ballot paper with many candidates and each state paper is different, so I can't give you the statistics for this in any meaningful way.

That's why we went to that system. There has been no overarching public debate about bringing both of these systems into line, and it would be very difficult to do. People broadly accept where we are. The level of informality still remains an issue in both houses, as far as I'm concerned. We've just completed, or are in the process of completing, a recount for one seat in the House of Representatives for the election we've just run, and I think the level of informality was close to 7% in that particular election. It was quite high. We try to work to bring it down as low as possible.

There is, then, no great public clamour for those two systems to be the same, but there were changes recently to try to make the Senate system clearer for the public.

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Clearer? How so? Has there been confusion?

I know you have mandatory voting and everyone has to go out, so how can you tell that there's been confusion?

8:10 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

Part of the debate that occurred in Parliament here was on the fact that previously we had the ability for citizens to vote “1” above the line in the Senate and their vote would then to be transferred according to a very complex preferential system with each party. This system was linked to what some people perceive to be odd results, with some senators being elected with a very small primary vote.

Parliament mandated the changes to the Senate voting system to give people more control over where their preferences went. That's probably a better way of describing it.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Okay.

We talked to academics from Ireland and other academics throughout the day, and there was a lot of talk about mandatory voting and that it could lead to...no offence, but “donkey voting” is what they were calling it. The idea was that we shouldn't be forcing people to vote if they choose not to vote. If they're not educated on the matter, then what good is their vote?

What is the perception of that? From your perspective, how do you feel about your mandatory voting system and the results you receive?

8:15 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

I think I mentioned previously that our consistent data shows that over 70% of Australians support compulsory voting. I think we had about 90% turnout in 2016, the election just past. It does have an impact. I don't have statistics about donkey voting.

From time to time, some people say they don't like compulsory voting. There are some members of Parliament who don't like it. There is a debate that's fairly low level; however, broadly, there is large-scale support among the populace for the current system of voting.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

How much more time do I have?

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

You have about 35 seconds.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Okay.

Mr. Peden, I want to follow up on my colleague's question about the electorate system and then the list system. A candidate who loses in the electorate system could then possibly be chosen in the list system.

You spoke a little about legitimacy. I think that's the one scenario that plays in my mind that may question the legitimacy of that particular candidate. Overall, the party, of course, has received that percentage of votes, so you would want that many members representing them under your system. However, for that particular candidate, since he has lost, there has been some will to not elect him and see him serving as a member of Parliament.

Is there illegitimacy when you see that happen?

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Briefly, please.

8:15 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, New Zealand Electoral Commission

Robert Peden

Indeed, the royal commission saw the capacity of people to stay on a list as well as be an electorate candidate to be one of the real strengths of mixed member proportional representation. It enables parties to have strong candidates contesting an unwinnable electorate but being able to be elected through the list, thereby improving the overall quality of the electoral contest.

8:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

Mr. Blaikie is next.

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you very much for joining us for what is our evening and for talking about your various electoral systems.

One of the witnesses we heard today, who is not an advocate for any form of proportional representation, said that one of the real dangers—and he seemed quite worried about this—was that under a proportional representation system of any kind, you would get a serious fracturing of the political landscape. He went so far as to suggest that every major municipality in Canada would develop its own political party that simply put the interests of that municipality first.

In New Zealand under the MMP system, or in Australia for the upper chamber, I'm wondering, is it the case that every major municipality in your country has its own political party that simply puts the interests of the municipality first? Was that a consequence of adopting the new system?

8:15 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, New Zealand Electoral Commission

Robert Peden

Well, the MMP system relates only to Parliament and the New Zealand Electoral Commission is responsible only for parliamentary elections. We don't govern local body elections.

As I said in my opening remarks, there have been seven Parliamentary elections using MMP, and there have been six to eight parties represented in each of those Parliaments. Each of those Parliaments has been able to form a stable government and to retain the confidence of the House throughout the parliamentary term.

8:20 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

I think the party system in Australia is quite strong, with four major parties and a number of minor parties. Even the Senate, which is a states house, is essentially run along party lines, and the party system is strong. What you refer to has not been the experience in Australia. I would say it's probably the same at the state level and less so in local or municipal government.

July 26th, 2016 / 8:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

So even in the New Zealand case, switching to a proportional system didn't mean the end of national parties. National parties continue to be relatively strong and haven't been usurped by regionally interested parties.

8:20 p.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, New Zealand Electoral Commission

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I'm curious about the Australian case because the two houses are elected by different methods. Is there a sense in Australia that the verdict of the house that's elected by the alternative vote system is more legitimate? Do Australians relate differently to the two houses based on the way that those seats are elected?

8:20 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

Australians are conscious of the role of the two houses, but Australians respect both of them. I'm giving you an answer that I gave before my joint select committee, which has both senators and members in it.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

In Canada it's usually thought that the Senate, because it's not elected, should not impede the will of the lower house in any significant way. There's no corresponding priority rule in Australia, given the different way they're elected. Is that right?

8:20 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

Government is formed in the House. The upper house is an elected house, and it's a requirement for legislation to have a majority in both houses. Government has to work with that.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

How does the government relate to that second house? The government is formed in the lower house, presumably on a majority or as a result of a coalition or as a minority government supported by other parties. How does it represent itself in the other house? Is it often the case that the governing party in the lower house will have something near a majority in the upper house?

8:20 p.m.

Electoral Commissioner, Australian Electoral Commission, As an Individual

Tom Rogers

Actually, in the last few years there was the reverse of that. The government may have a majority in the lower house or a coalition to deal with, and the upper house will have to rely on some pretty strong negotiations with a range of parties to get its legislation through.

There are ministers in both houses. You can be a senator and still be a minister. I can't remember the last time a government had a majority in both the House and the Senate, but it would have been quite a few years ago.

8:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you.

It's now Mr. Deltell's turn.