Summary of the Citizen Round Table meeting held on March 15, 2019: abridged version

On March 15, the Citizen Round Table (CRT) members expressed their views on two issues relating to a potential reform of Québec's voting system. In addition to taking up the question of imposing quotas to boost the political representation of women and minorities, they weighed in on various types of ballot papers that might be used if the current voting system is reformed. They also discussed direct democracy mechanisms and communications with Élections Québec. An unabridged summary of the meeting is also available (in French only).

Chief Electoral Officer's remarks

Québec's Chief Electoral Officer, Pierre Reid, opened the meeting by noting that the issue of direct democracy comes up regularly in his discussions with young voters: they ask him what exactly is their role as voters in between elections? Along with the CRT members, his view is that electoral participation encompasses both political and civic involvement.

Mr. Reid then discussed the main issues Élections Québec will be focusing on in the coming months.

He noted that under the new 2019-2023 strategic plan, Élections Québec will be placing special emphasis on boosting voter turnout, developing the democratic culture, consulting with the public and improving the voting experience, particularly as regards access, waiting times and information provided to the public.

Follow-up on Élections Québec's activities

Protecting personal information

Catherine Lagacé, secretary general of Élections Québec, noted that consultations with CRT members on the issue of protecting personal information helped to enhance Élections Québec's recent report on political parties and personal information protection (available in French only: Partis politiques et protection des renseignements personnels : exposé de la situation québécoise, perspectives comparées et recommandations). In light of the members' comments, some report sections were adapted to facilitate public understanding of these issues.

Ms. Lagacé also noted that most of Québec voters who responded to a survey place a priority on protecting privacy over accommodating political parties' desire to communicate with voters.

Capping off her remarks on this topic, Ms. Lagacé pointed out that the report's recommendations were in line with those put forward by the CRT members at their previous meeting.

Review of the 2018 general elections

Ms. Lagacé also submitted the results of the voter satisfaction survey (available in French only: Évaluation de la satisfaction des citoyens du Québec à la suite des élections générales du 1er octobre 2018). Among other things, she noted that the results indicate an overall satisfaction level of 8.0/10, similar to the 7.7/10 rating provided by the CRT members at their November 2018 meeting.

In conclusion, Ms. Lagacé mentioned that the results of a voter turnout enquiry were in the process of being analyzed and will be submitted at an upcoming CRT meeting.

Direct democracy mechanisms

The CRT members pointed out that they have noted a certain distance between elected officials and voters. They acknowledge that it is impossible to perfectly represent the interests of the entire electorate, although they maintain that consideration should be given to direct democracy mechanisms that could give elected officials a clearer understanding of the concerns of the people they represent.

In the CRT members' view, these mechanisms, including referendums, agenda setting and voter initiatives, would serve to:

  • Foster and enhance decision-making among elected officials.
  • Open up lines of discussion between elected officials and voters with a view to improving the quality of decision-making and governance.
  • Survey voters' views so the government can change course if need be.
  • Give members of the public the tools they need to react and to ensure that the government honours its commitments.
  • Enhance certain projects and adapt government decisions in light of public contributions to the decision-making process.
  • Offset executive power by striking a new balance between voters' wishes and those of a strong majority government.
  • Encourage more civic commitment and participation outside of political parties; members of the public should be asked to play a more active role in debates and collective decision-making.
  • Boost the quality of democratic dialogue and reduce public cynicism with respect to politics.

The CRT members acknowledged that direct democracy mechanisms also pose certain risks:

  • These mechanisms might only be used by highly motivated voters and other stakeholders who already have an opportunity to make their voices heard.
  • They might favour the "tyranny of the majority", i.e. by addressing the needs and concerns of majority groups rather than those of certain minority groups.
  • They could reduce the effectiveness of government actions if they are not well thought out or regulated.

The CRT members discussed a number of direct democracy mechanisms:

  • Recall, which they regard as appropriate if elected officials ever switch party affiliation during their mandate or engage in conduct deemed inappropriate by voters.
  • Voter veto, which could be a way of combatting proposed government measures that have proven unpopular.
  • Agenda setting, which would involve putting certain matters or issues regarded as relevant by the public on the parliamentary agenda. This is seen as a way of creating momentum for certain ideas or of ensuring that elected officials do not turn a blind eye to certain issues.
  • Referendums, which the CRT members regard as undesirable due to their divisiveness and their tendency to oversimplify complex issues.

As regards all of the above options, the CRT members emphasized the importance of putting in place an effective oversight system aimed at striking a balance between direct democracy and representative democracy.

Quotas aimed at boosting women's political representation

The issue of candidate quotas aimed at boosting women's political representation sparked mixed reactions. Although the CRT members see women has having made significant progress in the political arena, some take the view that implementing quotas and financial penalties for non-compliance would be required; this requirement would only be acceptable if the quotas were temporary.

Although most CRT members are not in favour of introducing quotas, they are calling for peripheral measures aimed at boosting women's political representation, particularly training, assistance and mentoring programs. These members maintain that implementing quotas would overshadow the existing political party culture and could open the door to implementing quotas for other groups.

Regardless of their opinion on quotas, the CRT members all recommended that peripheral measures be taken to encourage women's political participation, particularly steps designed to facilitate work/family balance among elected officials.

Quotas for minority representation

The CRT members are of the opinion that members of minority groups should have political representation. However, they also believe that implementing quotas for these groups would be complex; any such quotas would be hard to enforce. Instead, they suggested creating mentoring, networking and training programs in partnership with various communities aimed at encouraging individuals from minority groups to run as candidates.

Communications with Élections Québec

Élections Québec staffers went over the various ways in which the public can communicate with the institution. The CRT members voiced their opinions on the relative importance of each option.

Téléphone :

  • Élections Québec should keep on offering this option.
  • Information should be posted on the website indicating the short average waiting time to speak to a telephone representative.

Courriel :

  • Keep on offering this option.

Clavardage :

  • Keep on offering this option and make it more visible on the homepage of Élections Québec's website.

Texto :

  • Expand the text message-based information service for all voters.
  • Offer this option only during election periods.

Médias sociaux :

  • Ensure that Élections Québec has an ongoing presence on social media.
  • Social media platforms should not be used to communicate personal information.
  • Focus on the social media platforms used most often by young people.

In conclusion, various CRT members stated that Élections Québec offers a wide variety of communication options; members of the public have everything they need to find essential information during election periods.

Consultation on types of ballot papers

The CRT members were given an opportunity to look at various prototype ballot papers that could be used in the event that a compensatory mixed voting system is put in place as the result of a reform.

The members voiced a clear preference for using two separate ballot papers, rather than just one. They also favour having the names of all list candidates appear on the ballot paper.

Follow-up meeting

The next CRT meeting (the final one in the members' current mandate) is slated for October 2019. The Chief Electoral Officer informed the members that he would like to renew their mandate for two more years (2019-2021).