February 19, 1923 (14th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Charles Good

Independent Progressive


I am very sorry if I misunderstood the hon. member last year. I certainly heard all his address last year, and I think I read it all again this year in Hansard. But it is possible that I misunderstood the hon. gentleman, and I am very glad to

Proportional Representation
hear him state now that Lord Bryce did not oppose proportional representation. Since the matter was raised last year and since I was afraid that a wrong impression had been given as to Lord Bryce's position, I wished to read some remarks which Lord Bryce made in a debate on the Representation of the People Bill in the House of Lords in England, on 22 January, 1918:
My noble friend, .Lord Harcourt, poured some scorn upon the whole plan of proportional representation as if it was a fad confined to certain persons in this country. It is the fact that over nearly all the free countries at this moment men's minds are very much exercised upon this question of proportional representation. There is hardly any considerable country popularly governed which has not been confronted with the very same difficulty which proportional representation is meant to meet as we are trying to grapple With here. The experiment is being tried in an additional number of countries almost every year. New Zealand has just adopted it. I was in Tasmania a few years ago and I can tell my noble friend Lord Harcourt that the opinion of Tasmania was in favour of the plan which has been adopted, and that I did not hear of any desire to depart from it. The same thing is true about other countries which I will not enumerate. And the reason is this, that conditions have changed. My noble friend quoted the opinion of Lord Beaconsfield, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Bright. It is thirty-eight years since Lord Beaconsfield died. Our politics and our party system have changed completely. We have now got three or four parties and we cannot tell whether the process of dividing up parties, which has gone so far in some countries, may not fall upon us also. Under conditions so different it has surely become desirable to find new expedients for meeting the evils which have arisen. I think these considerations justify my noble friend in the proposal he has made, a proposal which of course is capable of modification, which need not be extended to that amplitude which he indicated, but which can well be adopted in more modest form, and which, I think, in one form or another, well deserves to be tried.
Just in that connection I may say that after investigating this whole question in 1909 and 1910, the British parliament appointed a Speaker's Conference in 1916, which reported in 1917. Lord Bryce was a member of that committee, and- I might here refer briefly to the recommendations made by that Speaker's Conference in Great Britain in 1917. They are as follows:
A parliamentary borough which may be entitled on a basis of population to return three or moro members shall be a single constituency; provided that a constituency entitled to return more than five members shall be divided into two or more constituencies, each returning not less than three, nor more than five members. The election in any such constituency shall be held on the principle of proportional representation and each elector shall have one transferable vote.
That, Mr. Speaker, is the recommendation with respect to proportional representation. At the same time, with reference to those constituencies which would not be thus grouped, the conference made this recommendation:
At any election in a single member constituency where there are more than two candidates, the election
shall be held on the system of voting known as the alternative vote.
So I think we may conclude that Lord Bryce was distinctly in favour, not only of the alternative vote, but of proprotional representation, and I do not know of any man who was better qualified to express an opinion on a question of that sort than the late Lord Bryce.
I should like also, to refer to what the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) said in the debate of last year on this subject. His remarks will be found on page 1655 of Hansard. He said:
In a word, Mr. Speaker, I find myself in entire sympathy with the resolution, and, so far as an individual member has voice in the House, would like to express myself as supporting it as it stands. In this matter, the government would wish to be governed by the opinion of the House, and if the House approves the resolution the government will do all in its power to give effect to it as opportunity affords.
Answering a question asked at that time by the hon. member for Vancouver South, the Prime Minister said:
I confess that as I study the question more and more, it is my view that instead of adding to the number of groups in the House, the adoption of what is proposed here might tend to limit the groups.
And so on. I should like also to refer, just in passing, to a remark which the Prime Minister made the other day when he was introducing the Redistribution bill. He spoke about the bitterness that was aroused one or two decades ago in connection with the process of gerrymandering. I would suggest that there is no possibility of gerrymandering being effective under proportional representation, and that is a consideration which, I think, we ought to bear in mind.
I have not much more to add at this time. No doubt a good many objections will be raised, and I shall have an opportunity of replying a little later on. But there is some additional information which we have now, which we did not have when this matter was debated last May. I would just briefly call the attention of the House to some of the information which we have received since that time. In the first place, I would point to the adoption of proportional representation in Edmonton on 11th December last by a vote of 5,664 to 3,075. The Edmonton Journal of the next day, December 12, comments on the election as follows:
Proportional representation was not defeated yesterday in a single polling sub-division and received the approval of the citizens by practically a two to one vote.
It seldom happens that a political reform is so emphatically endorsed when first submitted. Those who have watched its operation elsewhere can have no doubt that it will realize all that is hoped for from it in the improvement of the character of our city government.

Proportional Representation
I might also quote from the Calgary Herald, which extended greetings to the city of Edmonton in these terms:
By a decided majority Edmonton has voted for the proportional representation system of conducting municipal election. Edmonton is the last of the cities of first class importance in the West to decide to employ that system. Calgary's experience with it has been so satisfactory that we are in no doubt of the success of it in Edmonton and we can indeed congratulate our northern neighbour on joining the cities that have adopted the system which best reproduces the political preferences of the voters.
Next, I would refer to the last British elections. I do not wish to burden the House with all the figures that I have here, but I may give some examples that go to show the extraordinary unfairness of the results in Great Britain last year. The Conservative party won 296 seats. In proportion to its voting strength it should have won only 208. The labour and co-operative forces won 138; they were entitled to 164. The Liberals won 54, although they were entitled to 101; while the National Liberals, who won 51, were entitled to 61. Independents and others won 8 seats, but they were entitled to 13. In this connection, let me quote from the late Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Lloyd George:
The result of the elections has fully justified those who maintained that no party standing alone could hope to secure the measure of public support which will guarantee stable government. It is true that the Conservatives have succeeded in obtaining the return of a majority of the members to the new parliament, but the most notable feature of the elections is the return of a decisive majority of members by a very definite minority of electors.
I observe that the Prime Minister, in returning thanks to the nation, claims that he has received a vote of confidence from the people of this country. Out of a total of 15,000,000 his candidates secured fewer than 3,000,000 votes. Making full allowances for uncontested seats, this figure cannot be stretched out to a height much above 6,000,000. That means that only two-fifths of the electorate voted confidence in the administration, while three-fifths voted confidence in other leaders of groups. A minority of 3,000,000 in the national referendum could hardly be claimed as a vote of confidence.
I do not wish to quote all that Mr. Lloyd George says, but towards the end of this extract, I read:
Of one thing I am, however, certain. That is that a minority administration in 1922 and onward will help to discredit the government with certain classes of the community. A minority administration will weaken the respect of other classes for representative government, and between them, an atmosphere will be created inimical to the moral authority of all government in this country.
I therefore earnestly trust that in the interest of stability and good government, which must be based on the good will and co-operation of the community as a whole, this Parliament will apply its mind seriously to finding some means of preventing a repetition, either in one direction or the other, of this freak of representative government.

Next, I shall refer very briefly to the second trial of proportional representation in the city of Winnipeg last summer. I have here an article that appeared in the August 2 issue of Canadian Finance, a magazine which is not especially given to propagating the Farmers' platform, -or the Progressive policy. In the course of this article the writer states:
There are a number of general criticisms against P. R. which should be either admitted or denied by supporters of P. R. They include the following:
(1) P. R. is too complicated. People will refrain from voting under it.
(2) There will be a heavy percentage of spoilt ballots under it.
(3) The counting takes too long.
(4) The voter cannot understand what happens to his vote.
(5) P. R. breaks up the party system and leads to group government.
(6) It is not a perfect system.
(7) It does away with government by the majority or tends to create governments with small majorities.
This article goes on to examine each of these criticisms against proportional representation. Let me read one or two of its answers to these criticisms:
The reply to the statement that people will refrain from voting under P. R. because it is so complicated is effectively given by the recent Winnipeg elections, when 45,000 persons voted out of a total of 61.736 persons entitled to vote, a higher percentage than was usual under the old system, and this despite the fact that the ballot paper contained 43 names and was 22 inches long. The next objection regarding large numbers of spoilt ballots is also shattered by actual facts. In the recent election at Winnipeg spoilt ballots were less than 2 per cent of the total votes, a percentage which compares favourably with the results obtained under the old system. The assertion that P. R. leads to group government is without foundation. Ontario has group government, but they do not have P. R. there. The Dominion government is without a majority in the House-
This, of course, was written last summer-
-but they have no P. R. elections under the Dominion Elections Act. The Farmer party in Manitoba is a minority party at the present time, mainly as a result of the vote in the rural districts, where P. R. is not in force.
I do not wish to weary the House with any further quoting of these answers, but I submit that the various criticisms that have been levelled against proportional representation can all be, and in my judgment, have been, very effectively answered. Of course, one must admit very frankly that it might break down in operation if those who are responsible for counting the ballots do not know
4 p.m. how to count them, or if the voters do not take the trouble to read the instructions and to vote according to those instructions. But our experience has shown that these difficulties are no more under this system than the same difficulties under the present system.

Proportional Representation
The allegation has been made that proportional representation is un-British. I happened to hear this statement at a meeting of the Social Service Council of Canada a short time ago in the Chateau Laurier, and Mr. Gisborne, who was Parliamentary Counsel for many years, combatted the idea very definitely and emphatically on that occasion. I fancy the evidence which I have already given as to the action being taken in Great Britain, and the fact that the Australasian countries are generally committed to this reform, constitute a pretty effective rejoinder to that criticism. I have here a certified copy of an interview that took place in Saskatoon not long ago. The date of the letter enclosing the certified copy is December 4. I read as follows:
"The proportional representation single transferable vote has undoubtedly proved a great success in Saskatoon ," says Mr. M. C. Tomlinson, city clerk. "First it has stimulated greater interest in the election. Last year there rvas practically 5,000 votes polled, while the highest number at any previous election was 3,000.
Secondly, it was found that there were fewer spoiled ballots under this system than under the old.
Frio( to the election last year we heard on all sides that numerous ballots would be spoiled by the voters, chiefly due to the western cities having a large foreign population.
This was not the case. The percentage of rejected bailot papers under the P.R. system was actually lower than was the case with the X-marked ballot, when voters were called upon to mark their ballot papers for more than one candidate. This would lead one to believe that the P.R. system is easier for the elector than the old.
Although this was the city's first election under the P.R. system, the carrying out of the voters' wishes as expressed on the ballots proved to be a very simple process.
The new system has won favour with the city council, the press, and the public. There are a few objectors, of course, but they are very few."
I have here a copy of a letter from the Secretary of the British Proportional Representation Society, Mr. Humphreys, to the secretary of the Canadian society, in which he says in part:
P.R. has never been so much discussed in England as it has since our recent general election.
I do not know that at the present juncture I should say anything further. I should be very glad indeed to hear any further objections that can be made to the proportional representation system, and I shall do my best to meet those objections when my turn comes.

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