AN ADDRESS BY JOHN H. HUMPHREYS, Esq.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto February 3, 1916
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,-I do not desire by any words of mine to divert any energy from the main task of today, for we all recognize that the prosecution of the war must command almost exclusively the attention of Governments and even citizens of British nations. But I am reminded that a British Cabinet Minister, Mr. Runciman, speaking in the House of Commons just before Christmas, said there was scarcely a question affecting the public welfare which is not being examined by the British Government in the light of what is likely to happen after the war, so as to be prepared for all possible contingencies; and that a good deal of quiet thinking is being given to many of these questions which must come up for consideration when peace is declared. This war has perhaps given rise to a spirit of devotion to the welfare of the nation such as we have never known, and if that spirit is rightly informed by knowledge and by a clear vision of the means by which real advances can be made it may lift the British nation to a higher plane of development.
But in all these questions there figures Parliament. We cannot consider constitutional changes without considering at the same time the character and constitution of Parliament. That is the institution through which British nations give expression to the principle self-government, and we cannot conceive of anybody which can replace Parliament. The part which it' must continue to play in shaping the destinies of app Empire cannot be measured. In these critical days there rests upon our Parliament, and the Governments which depend upon them, the supreme task of showing that democracies can be more efficient, more self-sacrificing and more inspiring in the conduct of great affairs than the most powerful autocracies; and, when victory has been won, very serious problems which will demand almost immediate solution will tax to the utmost the ability of our Parliament to solve them.
And yet there is a good deal of criticism of the working of Parliamentary institutions, and we have to admit that a good deal of this criticism is-justified. We are not satisfied that we are obtaining through the present working of our Parliamentary system the best that can be obtained for our country; and this decision is not only taking the form of criticism, but is taking the form of changes which imply a distrust of the representative principle itself. Coming through the western provinces of Canada, I noticed that such reforms as the initiative and referendum were being pressed through with considerable rapidity. It is not any part of my duty to speak against direct legislation when it is used sparingly, but I venture to suggest that all those methods which are coming to us from across the border do imply a distrust of the representative principle, and we shall be well-advised in considering whether we cannot strengthen Parliament by making it more fully representative and more completely responsive to the wishes of the citizens in whose name Parliament acts and speaks.
Let us consider for a moment our present electoral machinery in the light of that conception of Parliament which has been handed down to us by our great Parliamentarians. I think it was Burke who said that the virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons consisted in its being the complete expression of the national will; and today Mr. Asquith, speaking not many years ago, said it was infinitely to the advantage of the House of Commons that there should not be any substantial body of the King's subjects which should not find their representative and speech. All our Parliamentarians conceive of Parliament as being a complete representation of the nation at large.
Let us compare the composition of Parliaments in the light of these statements. Take first the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That Parliament, before war was declared, was engaged in the consideration of a Bill which was to carry through the disestablishment of the Church of Wales. Now, were all the people of Wales represented in our House of Commons ? By no means. In one recent Parliament the whole 30 seats allotted to Wales were won by members of one party. The minority, representing nearly 38 per cent., had no representation. It was a mere accident that the Nationalists, (or Conservatives) of Scotland, numbering 277,000, obtained any representation at all at the last election. They did win a few seats, but in every case the seat was won by a very small number of votes; and a further slight displacement of public opinion would have deprived more than a quarter of a million of Scotch citizens of any hearing in the House of Commons. The political representation of Ireland is also, in some respects, misleading. For 30 years past minorities in the south of Ireland and in the north-east of Ireland have had no spokesmen in the Imperial House of Commons. Similarly, I found when recently in Australia, that large sections of the citizens were disfranchised. The city of Adelaide is represented in its local Parliament by 15 members. Every member belonged to the Labor party. The rest of the citizens, numbering about 40 percent, had no one to speak for them; and I suggest that that was an exaggerated presentation of the political conditions of Adelaide, when 40 percent of the people, not within the ranks of organized labour, found themselves unable to send any one of themselves to Parliament.
Coming through Canada I noticed when I was in' British Columbia that there was a Parliament which was the possession, almost the exclusive possession, of one party. Thirty-seven percent of the electors had voted for Liberal candidates, but had failed to return any. Toronto and its suburbs is represented, I believe, by some ten members in the Ontario Legislature. Is that a complete representation of the citizens of Toronto? I understand that some 29,000 votes were cast for candidates of the minority, but that those votes counted for nothing in determining the composition of the Ontario Legislature.
What is the result of this incomplete representation of the people? I think Parliament ceases to be national in character. It has been even asserted by a good many whom I have met in Canada that Parliament discriminates between those constituencies which return supporters of the Government and those constituencies which return members of the Opposition. It would, therefore, seem that not only is parliament not national in character, but that the Government in its ordinary work -I am not going to say in the crisis through which we are passing-ceases to be truly national in character.
When disfranchisement becomes permanent in character it is regarded and felt as a very keen injustice on the part of those who suffer from it. I recollect very well the words of Professor Culverwell, a senior Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, who formed part of a deputation that was received by Mr. Asquith whilst the Horne Rule bill was being discussed. This deputation, which was headed by that great Irishman, Sir Horace Plunkett, waited upon Mr. Asquith to ask that if a Parliament was established it should be representative of all Irishmen, and Prof. Culverwell stated his case thus: "I have taken an intelligent interest in the affairs of my country; I have possessed a vote for 30 years; but that vote has been valueless to me; I have not even had an opportunity of exercising it, and because those who think with me are in the minority, and we know that we are in the minority, there has been no organized political life in our district in which I can take part." And he demanded, not as a privilege but as right, that if a Parliament was established the method of voting should be such that he, and all other Irishmen, should be able to take a direct interest in their national affairs.
When I was in Adelaide I could not help noticing that 40 percent of the citizens, many of them engaged in big enterprises, and who had serious responsibilities, felt that their political disfranchisement was a grave injustice. Probably they had not realized in times past that others were suffering from an injustice, but here were 40 per cent. of the citizens who had this prospect, that they might never in the future, unless there was a change in the electoral system, have any voice in the national affairs. And I will say this, that disfranchisement tended to increase that bitterness which arose from the economic struggle between labour and the employing classes.
I could continue for a very long time analyzing many defects of the present system, but I would at this time draw attention to one aspect of our electoral system. As members of the Empire Club you are doubtless interested in the question of Imperial unityand although we are thinking as to the way in which Imperial unity can be accomplished, we cannot yet say that we have arrived at any definite conclusion on that point. But I venture to suggest that Imperial unity would be more easy of achievement, and will be a greater success if we can accomplish a national unity within every-one of the divisions of which the British Empire consists. Now, Ireland still stands in the way of the complete unity of the United Kingdom. That problem must be solved if we are to achieve unity within the United Kingdom; and the exaggeration of the political differences in Ireland, which directly arise from our political system, has made the solution of that problem more difficult. For the last 30 years there has come from the north-east of Ireland a solid block of representatives; from the south of Ireland there have come, opposed to them, another solid block of representatives; and there has been erected within the British House of Commons, as it were, a political brick wall between these two, and statesmen and writers have thought in terms of that representation. A good many far-sighted Irishmen wanted, when the question was being discussed in the House of Commons 30 years ago, to apply the proportional system to Ireland. Had they been successful those minorities in the south would have had an opportunity of collecting around them perhaps the more moderate Nationalists. There would have been representation of the minority in the north-east of Ireland; and although I do not say that all difficulties would have passed away, I do say that we should have had a different conception of Ireland; that those differences would not have presented themselves to us in an exaggerated form and we might have been nearer the amicable solution of that difficulty than we are today.
Take another case, that of South Africa-another one of our Dominions. There some of our greatest statesmen-yes, the greatest statesmen of the British Empire-have been working for complete unity throughout South Africa-Gen. Botha and Gen. Smuts, both of them supporters of proportional representation. But what has been one of the obstacles in the way? Orange River Free State is represented almost exclusively by followers of Gen. Hertzog. There comes from one state a solid block of representatives opposed to racial union. Now, that is an exaggeration of the political conditions of the Orange River Free State. There are more than 30 per cent. of the electors who are British in origin or who are in sympathy with that policy, but who have not a voice in Parliament under the present system. If a system of representation had been introduced in which all found a voice we should have had a truer conception presented to us of the conditions prevailing in the Orange Free State, and one of the difficulties in the way of complete unification would have been diminished.
Take the case of Canada. Racial and religious difficulties exist here. I do not want to stress the point too much, but we can never say what trouble may arise from those differences. I venture to suggest, however, that any statesman working for the complete unification of the Dominion would deprecate any exaggeration of those differences; yet your method of election may result in undue exaggeration. Certainly the political differences between the two Provinces do find expression in exaggerated form. Take the last general election in 1911, in which some 73 Conservatives and 11 Liberals were returned for this Province. That was an exaggeration of the political conditions of this Province. Some 207,000 votes were cast for Liberals, an average of about 16,ooo for every member returned. Some 269,000 votes were cast for Conservatives, an average of about 4,000 only for every Conservative member returned. In a Liberal year, a year of Liberal victory, 1908, the Conservatives in Quebec polled 115,000 votes, or about 40 per cent. of the whole; but they only returned some 11 representatives instead of the 26 to which they were entitled.
I merely state this fact, that if these two Provinces were represented fairly in election after election, all Canadian politicians would have a truer view of the magnitude of those differences which exist between the two provinces; and I venture to say that a provision of this true system of representation would enable, even within Nationalist movements, an expression of opinion on the part of those who appreciated larger issues and would co-operate in any larger movement towards Imperial federation.
Take one other aspect of the dangers which result from exaggeration. The social and labour questions are going to press for treatment almost immediately after this war is concluded. We cannot quite see what is going to be demanded in that sphere. Again exaggeration will impede the amicable solution. The disfranchisement of one side will give rise to a feeling of injustice which will prevent calm consideration of those questions. In every direction exaggeration hinders peaceful development within the British Empire.
I will now give a brief outline of what the proportional system of representation is. It is a new method of election for ensuring, within the limits of practicability, the fair representation of all classes of citizens. Three changes in our present methods of elections are required. The first is the grouping of single constituencies into larger electorate areas returning five, six or seven members, say, according to their population. Why is it necessary to group those constituencies? Because whilst we elect but one member at a time, only the majority can find representation; and if you will trace through the working of your electoral system you will be able to point to this fact-that the need of winning the majority of votes is the point to which can be traced nearly all the evils-gerrymandering, bribing, etc. But the point on which -I wish to lay stress is this, that whilst you have the singlemember constituency system you cannot do justice to the claims of the minority, which minority may represent a very large number of citizens; but as soon as the constituencies are grouped so as to return five or more members, then it is possible to apportion the representation between the majority and the minority. In those large districts we propose that each elector shall have one transferable vote. The single transferable vote requires:--
(1) That constituencies shall be large enough to return several members each.
(2) That each elector in such constituencies shall have only one vote.
(3) That this vote shall, in certain contingencies, be transferable, the transfer being controlled by the elector.
What will be Ore effect of that change?
Let us assume that the City of Toronto is one Parliamentary constituency returning, say, 10 members to the Ontario Legislature; and let us assume that as many as 100,000 electors go to the poll and record their votes. It follows that any candidate obtaining as many as 10,000 votes must, as an absolute certainty, 'be one of the 10 chosen, because only 10 groups of 10,000 each can be formed out of the total of 100,000. Any group of citizens amounting to one-tenth of the whole cannot only vote but can secure what is their right-one-tenth of the representation.
You may ask: Why, then, do you make this vote transferable ? It is to meet several of the contingencies that may arise in the course of the election. There may be the leader of a party standing in the constituency, and he may obtain some 20,000 votes, though 10,000 would be sufficient for his election; and thus his popularity, instead of being an asset to his party, might cost that party a seat. It is necessary to provide for that contingency, without destroying the secrecy of the ballot; and the transferable vote enables us, to do that. The elector goes into the polling-booth, and in full confidence records one vote for his favourite by placing the figure " "I" " against his name; but he can also place the figure z and the figure 3 against his second and his third choice, and in this way express his preferences just as though he gave such instruction to the returning officer, in the sense that the vote is given to the candidate marked " z ", but in case that candidate obtains more votes than are requisite for his election the returning officer transfers such excess votes to the second choice of those who voted for the candidate who obtained such excess. Thus the votes given in excess are not wasted.
There is also another contingency that has to be provided for. As you know, splitting the party vote is today one of the unpardonable sins. We may be completely dissatisfied with the way in which the nomination has been secured at the convention, but every member of the party refrains from taking further 'action lest by taking action he split the party vote. Now, the transferable vote enables us to meet this question of splitting the party vote. Not only may the convention candidates stand, but if there is some element within the party who feel that another gentleman would be a more worthy representative, both candidates can be nominated without any injury to the party's prospects. Take the case in which two candidates have been nominated, and between them they poll just about the number of votes entitling the party to one seat. In ordinary circumstances the party would lose the seat, but the transferable vote preserves the seat to the party in this way: Though the candidate at the bottom of the poll is declared defeated, yet the votes given to him are not wasted, but are transferred to the candidate indicated by those electors as their first choice; thus the party, instead of losing representation, secures representation through the candidate whom it most prefers.
I would like that members of this Club should take away with them not only these few words that I have uttered describing the system, but that they should understand as well as possible the processes involved in this new method of election. For that purpose I will go through the concrete example which is given in the little leaflet that has been placed in your hands.
On the front of that ballot paper you will find nine names, being those of candidates nominated in this imaginary election. It is proposed to elect five members of Parliament. The Liberals have nominated Messrs. Asquith, George and Harcourt; the Conservatives have nominated Banbury, Cecil, Chamberlain, Law; and the Labour Party has nominated Macdonald and Snowden. The elector is instructed to vote by placing the figure "1" opposite the name of the candidate he likes best, the figure "2" against the name of his second choice, and the figure "3" against his third choice. I think when this system is introduced you will find an increased interest in elections. At any rate, I may relate an incident which happened in Johannesburg when this system was first tried. They were electing ten councillors from the city at large, and there were 22 candidates. I was travelling in the train between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and beside me was a gentleman whom I did not know and who did not know me. At lunch we got in conversation, and I asked him if he had voted, and he said yes. I asked him how he liked the new system. He said, "Well, it is the first time that I have been called upon to exercise my intelligence at election time." I think he was probably putting it too strongly, but you can understand the point of view; that here a man was asked to send as a representative of himself the candidate he liked best, and he was making that choice in the knowledge that his vote was going to influence the composition of Parliament. This system, used in election after election, will certainly remove from Parliament those unworthy to fill a place there.
The result of this purely imaginary election, which is used for the purpose of illustration, is summarized on the second page of the pamphlet. The first duty of the returning officer is to sort the ballot papers according to the names marked "1." In this imaginary case Mr. Asquith is credited with 14 votes because he was marked number on 14 papers. Banbury obtained 5; and the other candidates obtained the votes placed against their name, the total being 115 papers, 115 people having voted. The next duty of the returning officer, which is also simple, is that of finding what we call the "quota."
The "quota" is that proportion of the votes which necessarily secures the election of a candidate. If there is only one candidate to be elected, it is quite clear that the quota is one more than half of the votes, for no other candidate can obtain that number. For instance, the candidate who obtains 51 out of 100 votes in a single-member constituency is sure of election. Similarly, in a two-member constituency any candidate who obtains more than one-third of the votes must be elected; in a four-member constituency, one more than a fifth, and so on. In general terms, the quota is found by dividing the total number of votes polled by one more than the number of seats and by adding one to the result so obtained.
In this case there are five seats to be filled; there are 115 votes; and in accordance with the rule we divide by 6--which is one more than the number of seats--and that simple division yields 19, and the quota is one more than that--20. It is a question of arithmetic; you can work it out yourself. There were six nineteens in 115, but there are only five twenties; only 5 candidates can obtain as many as 20 votes.
The returning officer goes back to the first column and declares elected Mr. Bonar Law, because he has obtained more than the quota; he would declare elected every candidate who has obtained the quota of votes. Mr. Bonar Law has 30 votes to spare, and those votes are transferred to whom? To the candidates indicated as their next choice by those electors who have voted for Mr. Bonar Law. The whole of those papers are re-examined and sorted according to the names marked "2." Mr. Bonar Law could spare 30 out of 50, that is three out of every five, or three-fifths; so he can spare to every candidate who was entitled to participate in this distribution, three-fifths of those papers on which his name was marked number "2. " I will not go into further details, which are explained on the leaflet itself; but as a result of that careful consideration of the wishes of the electors, 6 votes were transferred to Banbury, 9 to Cecil and 15 to Chamberlain, because they represented the shares of the surplus to which those candidates were entitled. No others were entitled to participate, because no others were found to have the figure " 2 " against their name when Mr. Bonar Law's papers are re-examined. You will observe that Mr. Chamberlain's total is brought up to 20--the quota--and he is declared elected. If his total had exceeded the quota, the excess votes would have been carried forward in the same exact manner. In this case he reached the quota, and is declared elected.
The returning officer continues his work of building up quotas by declaring defeated the candidate who is at the bottom of the poll, in this case Mr. Harcourt, who had 4 votes. When the papers were re-examined it was found that 3 of those papers contained the next suggestions for Mr. Asquith, and accordingly those 3 votes-were transferred to Mr. Asquith, the other one contained a preference for Lloyd George, and it was transferred to George. In counting the votes Mr. Snowden was declared defeated because at the next stage he was at the bottom of the poll, and the men who voted for Mr. Snowden said, "Well, if we cannot elect Mr. Snowden we will vote for Mr. Macdonald." He being the next choice of the voters, their votes were transferred accordingly, and Mr. Macdonald was elected because now his total reached the quota. In this imaginary election Mr. Lloyd George was at the bottom of the poll and was declared defeated, but his papers were examined and the next choice was for Mr. Asquith, accordingly his votes were transferred to Mr. Asquith, whose total is now 25, and he was forthwith declared elected. There is only one seat now to be filled, and there is a contest between Banbury and Cecil as to which of those two shall fill the third seat that falls to the Conservative party. Now, you can see that even if Mr. Law's excess votes, 5, fell to Banbury, his total, which is now ii, would only be 16, and that total would be below that of Lord Cecil; therefore, Banbury was declared defeated and Lord Cecil elected to fill the last place.
The result of this little concrete example shows conclusively that, even where one party has a very large majority, the minorities secure their share of representation. All parties secure representation through those candidates most preferred.
Now, this principle is making continuous headway in all democratic countries. The movement, which is under the presidency of Earl Grey within the United Kingdom, is attracting the support of distinguished representatives of all parties. It has the support of leading Irishmen, and that is why it finds a place in the Home Rule Bill. It has the support of those distinguished South African statesmen who are working for racial union, and it was for that reason they proposed that it should be embodied in the South African constitution; and the South African Senate has been elected on this principle from the beginning. Just before the war broke out, when the resolution was submitted to the South African House of Commons proposing that this system should be applied to the elections also of the House of Parliament, the resolution was carried by a large majority, and among those supporting it were General Smuts and all the members of the Union Ministry who were present.
This is an international movement. I was privileged to be present as one of a deputation which was received by Mr. Poincare, now President of the three or four representatives from Belgium representing all different parties. These representatives could speak from experience, for proportional representation had been in force in Belgium, in a different form, for some 13 years; and I am very glad to be able to say that the representatives of all parties stated that it is not only working satisfactorily in the Parliamentary sphere, but it was being pressed for adoption in the election of their local county council. But the chief remark of value which they made was this-that there were many problems which the Belgian Parliament had been able to solve in a national spirit since the Proportional system had been introduced, and it was partly due to the fact that the convention which has entered into our Parliamentary practice-that it is always the duty of the Opposition to oppose had tended to disappear from the Belgian Parliament, and on questions affecting the national development there was a spirit which enabled these questions to be dealt with from a nonparty point of view.
I venture to suggest that when victory has been achieved it will be in some sense a victory for those nations which have developed Parliamentary institutions-and one of the ways by which we may fittingly celebrate victory is to carry forward the development of Parliament,-and to ensure that the Parliament of the Provinces, of the Dominion of Canada and of the United Kingdom-aye, and perhaps of that greater Parliament-shall be fully representative of the citizens in whose name they act and speak.
Mr. J. M. Clark, K.C., moved a hearty vote of thanks, which was seconded by Dr. Goggin.