Thank you to the special committee for inviting me here today. Welcome to the Northwest Territories, and welcome to this new hotel.
I am the Minister of Justice, Attorney General, Minister of Lands, Minister Responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, and most interestingly, Minister Responsible for Public Engagement and Transparency for the Government of the Northwest Territories. We have a very small cabinet, so we all have to have many roles.
I would like, first of all, to thank the committee for its work on electoral reform and express appreciation for the inclusion of the Northwest Territories in your travel as part of the consideration you are giving to federal electoral reform.
I expect that your experiences here will reinforce what you likely already appreciate. The Northwest Territories is a unique part of Canada, and any consideration of electoral reform should recognize these circumstances of our territory.
I hope to assist the committee by providing information on the particular context of our territory that might have bearing on the options for reform you will be weighing. My remarks here today are intended only to provide such background, and I should note that the Government of the Northwest Territories is not taking a position on electoral reform.
The Northwest Territories is a vast territory with 33 communities spread over 1.4 million square kilometres. Our geography and our demographics bring special consideration to bear on the issues before you. I would like to focus my remarks on a few of these considerations, with the first of those being the need for plain language.
Approximately 25% of our population does not have a high school diploma. Outside of the four largest communities, this number climbs to 32.2%. Any changes made to the existing electoral system will need to have a clear plain language communication plan to explain the new process or it risks disenfranchising voters.
Radio and print media remain staples for information to communities. Social media, particularly Facebook, is used by younger people throughout the territories.
With respect to the lower rate of home Internet access, 79% of households in the Northwest Territories have Internet access compared to 83% nationally. Outside of Yellowknife and the regional centres of Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Norman Wells, and Fort Simpson, this number drops drastically. Outside of metropolitan areas, nationally, 75% have Internet access. Of our 33 communities, 13 have less than 50% household Internet access.
In our smallest communities, the percentage of households without Internet access ranges from 17.5% to 66.7%. Many of these small communities are reliant on satellite Internet, which can be interrupted. Should this happen on election day, entire communities could be disenfranchised.
Only 72% of the NWT residents have photo ID; however, once Yellowknife is removed from the equation, where 82% of residents have photo identification, the numbers change drastically. One community has as low as 3% of its residents who have government-issued identification. In total, the majority of residents in 20 of 33 communities have no photo identification.
Previously, the chief electoral officer of the Northwest Territories presented to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in March 2014 regarding proposed amendments to the Canada Elections Act. He specifically requested that amendments removing vouching be deleted. For every 1,000 votes cast in the 2011 territorial election, 15 electors required another elector to vouch for them to establish their identity and place of residence.
I should note that while Canada restricted the use of vouching, the Northwest Territories expanded it. In the 2015 territorial election, electors were able to vouch for up to five other electors, which is up from one elector previously. Although the numbers are not yet available, I note that the number of votes cast in the 2015 election increased over the 2011 election by 873 despite no corresponding increase in population.
On mandatory voting, the Northwest Territories has had a traditionally low voter turnout in federal elections, reaching a high of 63.36% in the 2015 election, which is up from 53.95% in the 2011 election, and 47.71% in 2008. Territorially, voter turnout in 2015 was 44%, although our chief electoral officer has noted that the total number of votes cast in 2015 is higher than in 2011 despite no population growth, which indicates there may be issues with the voters list.
However, low voter turnout for territorial elections is a relatively new phenomenon, as turnout in 2007 was 67%, 68% in 2003, and 70% in 1999. Prior to the division of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, turnout was in the mid to high seventies.
On mandatory voting, I would be concerned with any proposed penalties for not voting.
While Yellowknife skews the average wage for the territory in any national reporting, according to Statistics Canada, the NWT has the highest average weekly wage earings in Canada, at $1,421.46. This is true of Yellowknife and the largest communities. I note, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, that in 2015 the average salary in Inuvik was $130,340. In Paulatuk, a community not far away, the average annual salary was $6,005.
Financial penalties for not voting would fall most harshly on those residents already struggling with the day-to-day reality of being unemployed or underemployed with no economic prospects, a far higher cost of living, and heavy reliance on government programs.
Finally, I'll conclude with the request that whatever the committee recommends to Parliament, you ensure accessibility to resources and systems of voting equitable for all residents.
I was invited to come here and speak, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to do so. I live in a little town called Fort Smith, which is due south of here. Certainly it's a pleasure to be here with you.
I'd like to, first of all, share a bit of my experience as a member of Parliament. Ultimately, when we vote for someone, what we expect to happen is that the member of Parliament will provide a service to us.
I spent 10 years in opposition in Parliament. As the member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, I often felt that the government would bypass me in its dealings. That's a problem for many members of Parliament. We are elected by the people to represent the people. I think it's quite important that respect be given to members of Parliament, and that in the electoral reform we do everything we can to ensure that the roles of members of Parliament are enhanced rather than taken away. Quite clearly, over a period of years, the importance of members of Parliament has declined in the eyes of the governing party, regardless of which party that is.
I have had some unique experiences as a member of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, where I sat with many other parliamentarians from countries around the northern circumference. Most of those parliamentarians were part of a proportional representation system.
Interestingly enough, in Sweden parliamentarians do not sit in parties; they sit together with the other people from their regions. You would have a Conservative and a Social Democratic sitting side by side, and when they would speak, it would be from the front to the whole group.
There are different ways of conducting business as parliamentarians that we need to consider, as well. It's so important that there's a relationship that can work between all people who are elected to Parliament. That's why, in a way, I support proportional representation. We're going to create a situation where there's a necessity to work with members of Parliament.
Under proportional representation, most likely you're going to have a situation where not one party controls Parliament at all times. There will be more minority governments. There will be more need for coalitions. There will be more need for working together, understanding each other better, and respecting each other as representatives of the people.
I think that's the end result you will get from proportional representation. If you look around at the countries that do have this system, many of them in situations similar to ours, first world countries that have experience in democracy, those situations occur.
One time I met with a Danish energy minister on climate change issues. He said that there was no way that they could have created an energy policy like they have without the full support of all the parties. This was a conservative minister of energy. It was quite clear that the system they have, where there is more need to work together, produces results in a very complex world that requires not single-minded solutions.
Here in Canada we play politics like hockey: there's only one winner. That attitude has to change. Minority Parliaments are better. Minority Parliaments place more emphasis on the average MP. That's been my experience in both majority and minority Parliaments. In your time in Parliament, I think you'll find the same.
Another thing I have to say is that Canada is a colonial state. When I came from the Northwest Territories, I had thought I lived in a colonial part of Canada, until I went to Ottawa and realized that we're hidebound by what had been set out for us by the British Empire almost 150 years ago.
We need to become our own country, with systems that represent this diverse, far-flung body. We can't continue to try to run as a first-past-the-post political system. It's not working for us.
We certainly don't want to fall into the American model, which we can see continually works toward this very disadvantageous situation for the American people.
I am supportive of proportional representation. Of course, as a northerner, I want a mixed proportional representation because, coming from a region that has 40,000 people, I realize we are not going to get a lot more members of Parliament out of here, regardless. We need to keep our member of Parliament representing this huge area. So does Yukon, and so does Nunavut.
These areas are very important at the federal level, because so much of the power for the control of land and resources still resides within Ottawa. That may change, but as it stands now, many of those powers still reside there.
Indigenous interests are inseparable from the three territories, and I would say for many other regions in Canada now, and they need to have proper representation.
One thing I have to say is that there was common interest among northern MPs, whether they came from northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, northern Saskatchewan, or the three territories, and any riding that actually represented indigenous people. There was a common bond there that I found over the 10 years I was there. There were common issues. There were things that came out that made us work together, regardless of our political stripe.
When we come to proportional representation, the system, even if it's mixed proportional, will have lists that political parties will assign their choices to. I think it's very important that you consider how to control those lists. Those lists have to recognize the regionality of this country, if you are going to go in that direction. This is true in other countries. I've seen it. In the way the political parties set up their lists, you have to take into account regionality, and you have to respect what the country is.
If you are considering a change to the system, and you are considering proportional representation, there are more things to be taken into account about how it's done.
I actually believe that the northern regions and indigenous people have similar interests. If you are going to go to a proportional representation system, I think that if you look at Canada as a whole and put the northern and the indigenous ridings together, you would have a population base that's large enough to assign proportionality to that group.
That's the major point I am trying to make here. Look at the north in terms of its common interests, rather than the political boundaries, because that's the only way the northerners will get larger and better representation in the House of Commons. Northerners and indigenous people need more representation there. Their issues are at the table in Parliament to a greater extent than those of other parts of this country.
What you are doing is important, and I'm very glad that you are here in the north and visiting the different communities to understand what we need from the changes you're going to make.
Thank you very much.
Dennis, I want to start by asking you a couple of things, first of all by saying how nice it is to see you again. You look—I've noticed this with a number of my former colleagues who have left political life—better rested, less kind of pasty than those of us who stayed on. At any rate, it is good to see you and to listen to what you had to say.
I have a very strong sense...I have no particular expertise about the north, but I am a historian so I'm aware of the fact that much of what is now northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, was actually part of what was then a much larger Northwest Territories, and was given to the provinces often, or perhaps always, without much regard for the people who were actually living there. For example, the Inuit in northern Quebec share a language and a culture with people who are in Nunavut. I'm positive that when that land was transferred to Quebec in 1912, that was not taken into account. I'm guessing a similar history applies to these other areas, so I have a lot of sympathy for what you're saying about the commonalities of interest.
I suspect there is a constitutional barrier that makes it impossible to have votes in one province—I'm saying province, not territory here—affect representation in another. I suspect the courts would not permit that. But I do think it would be possible—I'm not recommending this; I'm more asking for your opinion on this because it actually came up when we were in Whitehorse—to consider the idea of having some kind of joint representation across the territories. Territories are not baked into the Constitution the same way that provinces are.
An idea that was discussed there, not conclusively of course, was the idea that you could have all three territories having some kind of system that allows for a degree of proportionality among their federal MPs. You obviously need to have more than one MP to have some kind of degree of proportionality, and this would be a way of achieving it.
What you lose, of course, is that while there are common interests, there are also some obvious distinctions. You have three separate governments all working with Ottawa and doing their own domestic legislation, and the linguistic and cultural makeup of the territories have some differences as well.
May I throw out that idea that was tossed around when we were in Whitehorse, and ask what you think of that idea?
Messrs. Dunbar, Sebert and Bevington, thank you for being here with us today.
We saw some beautiful landscapes as we landed in Yellowknife, not just from the taxi. I am very pleased to be setting foot in Yellowknife for the first time.
The committee has been sitting for some time now. We sat this summer, and we have been touring for nearly two weeks now. As Mr. Bevington said, we have an important and historic mandate to study a new voting system pursuant to the Liberal government's promise that 2015 will be the last year for the present one.
Mr. Bevington, you advocated the mixed-member proportional position. I find it very interesting that you discussed your relations with parliamentarians from the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, Denmark, Sweden and other countries that have been using that system for decades. Where I come from, a coalition is often presented as a sin that you should not commit, a kind of bogeyman, whereas it is normal for most western democracies. It is normal to discuss issues, form a consensus, and find solutions.
Arend Lijphart, the American academic, also said that switching from simple-plurality voting to the proportional system changed the political culture. You suggested that the role of members should be increased in parliaments, not decreased. The current system tends to reduce the role of individual MPs.
In Edmonton yesterday, Mr. Green told us this:
“As far as I'm concerned, we are not electing trained seals”.
However, sometimes you would think that is the case.
I would like to know what you think a proportional voting system might change in Canadian political culture at the federal level and in the role of MPs as representatives of their communities.
Thank you, Mr. Ste-Marie.
You are in a very tight time frame, so I think if you move ahead with this, this committee will have to work very hard to come up with the answers you're looking for. As you say, there will be some bigger issues with that. We've heard talk of constitutional issues. We know that people may or may not want to conduct a referendum. I think if you don't move ahead, though, in a timely fashion, you're going to lose the initiative to do this.
So I'd say that quite clearly the majority of Canadians voted for parties that promised them electoral reform and that there is an obligation on our part to work collectively to come up with some answers here. That's something that is a challenge to all MPs. In Canada it's a challenge to work together, and I see in other countries it's not as big a challenge. So we have to change what we're doing to work together. Part of what you can do here is to set an example of working together to come up with solutions, as the majority of you promised the voters you would do.
For indigenous people, I absolutely believe that there has to be a way, and that's why I said the north and indigenous people have many similarities. In fact in the Northwest Territories, 50% of our population is indigenous. In Nunavut, it's 80% or 90% indigenous. In Yukon it's 20% or 25% indigenous. The northern regions of many provinces have a high degree of indigenous people in them. Those people have very similar interests. It's my opinion that this is an area of interest on which people could work together and that should be recognized. It's going to be difficult to give our three territories extra seats. This territory has 40,000 people, and we have a seat in Parliament. It's going to be very difficult to give us two seats in Parliament.
What about Atlantic Canada? Is there going to be regionality there? Are you going to throw the four provinces in Atlantic Canada together? Otherwise, Prince Edward Island isn't going to get much proportionality either. It has four seats for 100,000 people. So this is an issue not just for the north. It's an issue in Atlantic Canada, and I think you have to recognize that and realize that with the mixed proportionality, there need to be areas of regional interest, and the political parties have to be held responsible for making that distinction.
It's wonderful to be here. For me, it's a trip back to Yellowknife. I've been fortunate, over my life, to spend time here, in Hay River, in Inuvik, and throughout much of the territories.
People in Whitehorse, Yukon, told us that whatever we do, don't lump them together. Their northern and cultural identities are all different, territory to territory.
I will address most of my questions to you, Dennis, because we MPs have been on a crash course, starting with what I'd call summer school. We spent all summer in hearings listening to a lot of experts. Then we hit the road, and this is our 10th day on the road to hear from Canadians from all over. We're hearing from people who have designed their own systems, some with a lot of experience from other countries and others not.
I'll pick up on one thing that may be an assumption, Dennis, around your comment that if we go to proportionality, we're going to have lists. There are a couple of proposals before us that don't involve lists at all. There's one proposal in front of us that actually involves increasing representation for the three northern territories. I want to put them to you.
We've had a lot of proposals from people who said to look at the New Zealand experience. It's been over 40 years; I'm forgetting the exact date. I'm sure that Scott will remember how many years it has been that the Maori population has had four specific seats just for Maori representation in their Parliament. Now it's seven specific seats, but on top of that, with proportionality, there are additional Maori MPs elected.
We heard from a young man in Edmonton named Sean Graham, who developed a system called dual member proportional. His system got the attention of the Government of Prince Edward Island, and they've put it as one of the choices on their plebiscite. The essence of dual member proportional is that we would couple the ridings, and each joint riding would have two representatives. You would never have to increase the number of MPs. The first representative is elected the normal way; the second is elected proportionally. The only problem he looked at across the country was what to do with Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories? The solution is to add another seat there so they're not deprived of the opportunity for proportionality. That second seat would be based on how their party had done, and not just on how the person on the ballot had done.
I'm probably not explaining this adequately, but it does occur to me that we could defend a second seat for a very small population base if it were in the interest of ensuring better representation of indigenous people in Parliament. I'm thinking out loud, which is a dangerous thing to do on the record in a committee. If there were two seats each for Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon, and if the second seat was both proportional and reserved for indigenous representation, I think that might be worth thinking about.
There's also a single transferable vote suggestion from Jean-Pierre Kingsley, where we would cluster all the ridings capable of being clustered. This generally means that rural and remote areas would keep first past the post voting, and proportionality would only be granted to those who live in ridings that can be clustered. You certainly suggested in your remarks, Dennis, that this would not be satisfactory to you, and that the benefits of proportionality should be extended to all.
Having given you a somewhat incoherent picture of a number of our options, I'd like to hear your thoughts on these ideas.
Thank you to everybody for attending today.
Mr. Sebert, thank you very much for your remarks. I found them to be very helpful and instructive in helping us understand the challenges of the territories. That's very helpful.
I'm going to address most of my remarks to many of the things that Mr. Bevington has raised in his remarks.
If I heard you correctly, in your opening statement you characterized the current voting system as bad because it is a colonial inheritance. A colonial inheritance, even if something were such, is not a value proposition. Many things and ideas of how our society should look and what it should aspire to have very ancient roots. The idea that the crown can't seize property is an old idea. We're not going to abandon that because the Magna Carta is 801 years old. Tolerance and freedom of conscience, and the pluralism that has flowed from that, we're not going to abandon simply because it's a legacy of the Enlightenment from hundreds of years ago.
We have to really decide what's the best system on the merits of a system and not just throw out.... We've heard it not just in the testimony we've heard today, but we've heard repeatedly from a variety of speakers that if the current system is old, then we have to get a new one. I reject that as a reason to abandon a system. If the system is not serving present needs, that is a different matter, and we should be wise to not forget that.
Mr. Bevington, many things that you did raise as difficulties and obstacles to effective government, and things that Canadians raise quite frequently, about frustration over rigid party discipline, or the perhaps disproportionate power of a prime minister's office, and the erosion of the individual role and powers of the member of Parliament, these are things that are very important, but perhaps can't and shouldn't be expected to be simply solved with a change in the way a voting system works.
Party discipline and the accountability of a cabinet and a prime minister to Parliament have changed throughout, even under the current system, and for better or worse. There was a time when a government was, on a day-to-day basis, very much aware of its accountability to its own Parliament, not to its party membership, because it was the Parliament itself, not the members of a political party, that chose a party leader. These are all issues that have come about and changed within a system, and perhaps they're not going to be solved overnight by moving to another one.
You had mentioned the need for consensus, and the importance of consensus, the desirability of consensus among our committee, and among parliamentarians, and indeed among Canadians. Yet we have heard from both experts and from [Technical difficulty—Editor]
I'll wrap up quickly. I've probably burnt all my time and I don't know if we'll get to a question or if this is just going to be a statement.
Mr. Bevington and indeed others who have spoken before us have talked about not only the desirability of consensus but the need for consensus. We've had discussion about what would constitute the legitimacy necessary to change a voting system. We've been told by many people who advocate a proportional representation system that it's necessary, but in the same breath they say we shouldn't put it to a referendum, because it would likely fail. We've heard that a referendum is simply a way to prevent change from happening.
I would reject that notion with due regard and understanding of the importance of getting a question correct, and having a good debate, a robust and fair and civil debate, but indeed, I don't know what legitimacy would look like in the absence of a referendum. I am also bothered by the assertion that maintaining the current system is unfair and unjust because it's an unjust system, but that we should use the power of that unfair system to impose something without a referendum.
The translators have a copy of my notes, so I'll mostly stick to those.
First I will acknowledge that we're on the traditional territory of the Dene people, Chief Drygeese territory.
I'll tell you a little bit about Alternatives North. It's a small non-profit. We're a social justice coalition with members from churches, labour unions, environmental organizations, women and family advocates, anti-poverty groups, and quite a few just individual citizens. We meet once a week to discuss what's going on in the territories.
Generally we operate under a consensus-based system, which means that we rarely need to vote on an issue. I think perhaps even when you look at your own lives, that's quite often the way you try to make decisions. Whether you're ordering pizza or running a business or whatever you're doing, you generally don't need to vote on every single thing. You find consensus by listening and accommodating different viewpoints until you get to where you're going.
It's interesting that Mr. Sebert was here from the territorial government, which also calls itself a consensus-based system of government. As he outlined, we elect members to that body, they then select a small number to be in the cabinet, and that cabinet stays in a minority position all the time. This forces them to talk to all of the members, and they do. We think proportional representation would move the federal government in a similar direction, which would allow for more listening to a diversity of opinion. We would end up with more representative decisions being made.
That's the introduction. At Alternatives North we met as a whole group and came to a consensus on a position on electoral reform in the federal government. Alternatives North fully supports a strongly proportional system for Canada in general. This would be a system where every vote influences the outcome, and the seats in Parliament reflect the proportion of the vote that each party got.
We prefer that proportional representation be implemented without needing to change the Constitution, because we think that would take a huge effort, at least in the short term. Perhaps when you get to Senate reform, we might look at some other reformations as well.
For now we suggest that any of the systems proposed by Fair Vote Canada would be acceptable. We looked at a few of them, and we think the mixed member proportional system would be the easiest to explain to people. We looked at the Law Commission report of 2004, which makes a solid 600-page-long recommendation and case for mixed member proportional.
We also understand, and were surprised to discover, that proportional representation involves creating electoral regions that go within Canada. When you talk about proportional representation, you don't use the whole Canadian vote. You have these different regions, and these regions can't cross provincial boundaries. We also understand, although we're not experts, that the Canadian Constitution does not prevent them from crossing territorial boundaries, as was discussed earlier today.
As I think you heard in Yukon, the three individual territories are very attached to having their own representation, with at least one member each. We understand that any attempt to go towards a system where I think we would share three members would not be received very well. We understand that and we agree with the rest of the north on that.
We also understand that proportional representation would not be possible for the Northwest Territories if we had only one MP. That's kind of obvious. If there's only one, he'll represent only one party.
We propose a couple of things. One, we propose that there would be some degree of proportional representation in the NWT if we had at least two MPs. It's interesting; we also listened to what people were talking about in Yukon. It's a very Canadian thing almost, where the territories are saying, well, we've discovered that to do this, we're going to need two MPs. We really don't want to suggest that we need more MPs, but because this is the way it has to work, we suggest that we have two MPs. We understand that we have a low population and all those things, and we're not demanding more representation, but we see that for this to work on a fair basis, we're going to need two.
It could work either through a mixed member proportional system or through a single transferable vote system. The results wouldn't be as proportional as in the rest of Canada, because even with two MPs you might get your first and second choice, but it wouldn't be very easy for the third and fourth choices to get a seat. However, it's still better than nothing.
We also looked at what's being discussed a bit, the idea of combining the three northern territories with the additional MPs, so that Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut would each get to elect one MP directly, and then the remaining three could be pooled, and some form of proportional system could be used to select those three seats. It seems the best way to do that would be mixed member proportional, where there would be some form of a list, so you vote twice, once for your local MP and once for a party that would represent the whole north. Basically, that would probably work.
Finally, we also came across the dual member proportional system which I think you just heard about yesterday, which is a form of mixed member proportional, as we understand it. As far as I understand it, that seemed like the most elegant solution. I won't go into the details of it, but that would be a very simple ballot and that would also allow for a mixed member system to operate in the north.
To wrap it up, we really think that proportional representation in Canada is the key point. As Alternatives North, we would be willing to accept things that wouldn't work quite that well for the north, as long as we get it for Canada. Also, a single MP for the Northwest Territories is really important, and for the other two territories. The last remark is that it is interesting that our own was saying we have to keep things simple and that people have trouble understanding different systems. Last fall, in Yellowknife, we had three elections in one month, and they were all under different systems.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and respectable members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. I consider this opportunity on the important initiative of improving Canadian democracy an honour and a privilege as a Canadian citizen.
My submission on electoral reform has provided the following: one, the personal background and experience that led me to make this submission; two, the reason for my support for proportional representation; three, my views on Northwest Territories and electoral reform; four, the method of proportional representation; and five, expectations in the implementation of electoral reform.
I came to Canada as an immigrant 35 years ago, at the age of 28. As a newcomer in the first few years, having less privilege to access connections and networks, I struggled for my well-being both financially and professionally. Later, during my 28 years of life in Ontario, I had the good fortune to come across a few political parties, and I learned about the democracy of Canada and the positions of various parties on different issues. Soon, I realized that taxes levied from the Canadian citizens are spent partly to sustain the democratic system in Canada. Therefore, I looked upon Canadian politics as a way to improve my well-being. I freely used my voting rights as a Canadian citizen, choosing the best candidate who would represent me.
But more now than in the last two decades, election campaigns, in the name of strategic voting, are fearmongering, indicating who should not represent us more than who should. The last few days of campaigns are generally taken over by only two rival parties. This leads to voter confusion, panic, and frustration, and to unexpected losses for certain candidates and their supporters. This is a result of the current winner-take-all system and does not help to maintain integrity or to maintain Canadian democracy.
My connections and networks made me become an ardent supporter of Fair Vote Canada, which advocated to “make every vote count”. The referendum on electoral reform in Ontario gave me an opportunity to learn about proportional representation through Fair Vote Canada in terms of how the number of votes gained by parties would be distributed in equal percentages to the number of seats. This gave me the confidence that, with my vote, I will not be deprived of electing a representative.
In the last four and a half years, I learned about the benefits of consensus-building governments in the north, based on issues and matters that impact the general population. With proportional representation, there will be continuity in the enactment of laws and the delivery of policy, and efficiency in resource management in serving the interests of the voter population and its affiliates.
As I understand it, any proposal for change in NWT needs to be processed through a duty to consult. My submission was as a witness taking this opportunity to express my views as an individual. NWT and other territories are represented by only one MP in each, and one political party at a time, regardless of what position the party holds in Parliament.
First, the implementation of proportional representation becomes impossible with only one representative. Second, in spite of the territories' makeup—almost two-fifths of the geographical extent of Canada—only three MPs represent the Government of Canada. The territories are not only underfunded, but also are very much under-represented. Elections Canada can provide for electoral distribution by geographical area as well.
In the 33 communities in NWT, with the lack of infrastructure and hardships due to harsh arctic weather conditions, a constituent and the representative may not meet each other in the entire term or sometimes may not even communicate. The all-party committee on electoral reform shall provide a way to be represented by members of all parties by increasing the number for representatives in the NWT to five. It would not be too much to expect, where 19 MLAs represent the government of NWT.
The prime motive of my witnessing is for an electoral reform with proportional representation, rather than for which PR system is applied. When in Ontario, I became familiar with the MMP system. Lately, through Fair Vote Canada's extensive efforts, I've learned of different systems and found that STV is also a good system. I do not support any system of closed list, which again deprives electors choice.
Any process implemented needs to be clearly understood by the participants, and the participants should respond with no biases. The subject matter behind any referendum is generally not simple. Many citizens are busy with their day-to-day matters and are unable to focus on such matters. Instead of putting the onus on voters, elected members should take responsibility for deciding on what is best for Canadians. The general public depends on non-profit organizations and advocacy groups that specialize in areas and advocate to the governments.
In the past, referenda on electoral reform in different provinces set the threshold much higher than 51%, deviating from regularly accepted democracy. This indirectly sends a message to the ordinary public that they were expected to vote on something undesirable. Therefore, my humble request as a responsible Canadian is that the special committee limit the electoral reform work to wide public consultations only, and not extend it to a referendum.
Once again, thank you, Mr. Chair and respectable members of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, for having provided this opportunity.
Good afternoon. Welcome to Yellowknife.
It's a privilege for us all to be here in Chief Drygeese territory in the Treaty 8 area.
I'm speaking here as a northern resident and also as co-chair of the NWT chapter of the Council of Canadians.
I want to focus my comments in the short time that I have on two areas. One is on representation, and the other is on the rule of law. These are the two principles that underpin our democracy.
On the principle of representation, I want to make it clear right off the top that I don't support the first-past-the-post system. There is no way that we should be living in the year 2016 and having millions of votes wasted in every federal election. It's no wonder that Statistics Canada reports tell us people are too busy to vote, that they don't think that politics matter, or they're not interested in politics, when their votes are wasted. It is clear that the current system has to change.
It's also pretty outrageous that we can have a party with 39% of the popular vote and likely about a quarter of the eligible voters in the country having control of the public policy agenda and making decisions for this country. If there is any way of saying to citizens that they don't count, or sending the message that politicians don't care about us and they don't care whether we participate, the current system is the system that's sending that message. That's not something that we need to continue. It has to change.
I'm sure you all agree that representation is a fundamental principle of our democracy and that we must value every citizen and every region equally and we must end this false majority and the winner-take-all system.
I'm sure you've heard in your travels that every region is unique. The NWT is unique as well, and we need to see our uniqueness reflected in the House of Commons just the same as every other region needs to see its uniqueness reflected in the House of Commons. The best way for that to happen—and other folks have spoken to that—is with a proportional system. Given our experience here in the Northwest Territories and also the experience in Nunavut, we know a lot about picking people to represent us based on their knowledge, their skills, and their compassion, rather than a party with which they may or may not be affiliated. The mixed member proportional system offers a lot of opportunities for us to honour the traditions we have here in the north to really get good quality representation.
That's all I'll say at the moment about representation.
The other area I want to speak to is the rule of law, the other principle that is really fundamental to the health of our democracy.
As you well know, the Fair Elections Act was passed not so long ago. It is misnamed. It's anything but fair, and I will refer to it as the unfair elections act. I'm sure you know that the Council of Canadians launched a charter challenge with respect to the unfair elections act. Unfortunately it was unsuccessful, but on the good side, I'm happy that Justin Trudeau is committed to repealing that act. I am really hoping that you folks are going to hold him to his word.
The unfair elections act is punitive when it comes to northern communities. You heard some of the previous speakers talk about the circumstances of our communities, where people don't have IDs and there are no street addresses in lots of our communities. People are not coming to the polls with ID. What's happening is that people are losing the right to vote, and they're losing the right to citizenship. I'm sure you're aware that there's a bunch of northerners that come from the experience of not being recognized as citizens and not having the right to vote. The unfair elections act is not encouraging in supporting a change in that attitude. I'm sure you know a lot about the intergenerational trauma that has come from years of colonial governments and residential schools. Not being a citizen, and not having the right to vote, has had deep-rooted impacts on people's participation in our democracy. We need to have a robust election law that encourages and supports that right of citizenship.
We also need an election law that unmuzzles the Chief Electoral Officer and empowers Elections Canada to be that kind of non-partisan independent facilitator of open, transparent, and fully participatory kinds of federal elections. Given the shenanigans that have been happening around spending and around robocalls, you'll know that the Council of Canadians also launched a challenge around the whole robocall scandal. The courts did admit that there was widespread fraud. We need to have laws that protect citizens' right to vote, that ensures no party or individual has unfair advantage, and that ensures there is no particular interest that is buying an individual or a party.
Thank you to our three panellists for being here today. To the citizens who are here in the audience, thank you for being here.
It's my first time in the Northwest Territories. I wish I were outside playing, but I'm enjoying my time here with you.
I have a question about fairness.
We've heard from a lot of Canadians that our current system is not fair, and that we need to move to a system that's much fairer.
We've heard today, Ms. Balakrishnan, you feel that in order to have proper proportionality, you would recommend that the Northwest Territories have five members of Parliament. As you know, the devil is always in the details. How can I say to people in my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, in which I have 83,719 voters, that they'd get one MP, but for voters in the Northwest Territories, with 29,432 voters, you want five? Each member of Parliament would represent 5,886 voters. The time that a member of Parliament could allocate to their constituents would be much greater in the Northwest Territories than it would be in downtown Montreal, or Toronto, and so forth. I think it's great; I think we should be able to give even more time to our constituents.
We would also have to look at the costs. For each member of Parliament that we increase in the Northwest Territories, there is a cost of approximately $637,220 just in terms of our member's operating budget, travel budget, and salary, not including the travel back and forth. We're talking about $2.5 million every year to have four more members of Parliament. When we're talking in terms of fairness, it would be difficult for us to go back to Canadians and say that just to satisfy proportionality we need to increase members of Parliament in whatever region or whatever constituency to x number, but it's not proportional to the number of constituents.
I'm just throwing that out there because we're talking about fairness. It would be difficult for us. I'm not trying to pick on the Northwest Territories, or my riding, or anything, but how would we sell this to the general public if we told them they're not going to get to see their MPs as often as someone in the Northwest Territories? Could you comment on that?
These are the concerns that northerners have in general. Unfortunately, I am presenting only for NWT. If you had asked me to present for that community, I'd represent the same argument here.
My concern is, when you look at the ridings—this one is submitted in the revision—I have listed how many provincial representatives there are in each province and federally. For example, when you look at Ontario, the number of federal MPs exceeds the MPPs. I don't know how that happened. They should either have increased the provincial MPPs, or they should have reduced the federal MPs.
These things happen everywhere. It's only in the territories that it has not happened for a long time. It has remained as one. This kind of objection has perhaps never come up because of the situation of the people who live here. They have many more things to look after, and they have not taken this issue to the Parliament to ask them for local representatives.
Here, again, you have talked about the cost. I'm suggesting a different way to reduce the cost.
Ms. May has suggested how in New Zealand they have have introduced seats for the aboriginal people. Likewise, we can form an NWT caucus. You have one representative who travels to sit in Parliament, and we have other representatives stay within the communities and look after matters while also attending to issues that are common to NWT as a whole, by working there.
My suggestion is for proportional representation. We will have all parties who have been represented already, and they have different views, and they can work together.
Thank you to our witnesses.
I have two thoughts. First of all, I should say I have to agree with my colleague Ms. Romanado about the underlying problem, but I actually don't think you can add seats for the north unless you were to do the same thing in the south, which would create massive constitutional issues. It would also guarantee enormous unpopularity for our proposal if you were to quintuple the number of seats up here. Given the fact that the north already has half or less than half as many voters per MP, I think you would really have to quintuple the numbers down south, and I don't think the Canadian people would go for that. We'd be talking about 1,500 members of Parliament.
Just to make this point, there are 44,000 people living in the Northwest Territories, and in my riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston there are 98,000 people, so that's more than twice the number in the territory. You can say they are southerners and they've got it good, but it's actually one of the poorer ridings in Ontario. I know of constituents who don't have electricity. We have an aboriginal population which, while it's actually been very, very successfully integrated, still has an unresolved land claim very similar to situations up here. And being a rural area, people are very spread out on the ground. It's not like they need less representation. I would say they need representation and service to the same degree, but already their vote is worth less than half of the vote of a person up here. I don't, by any stretch of the imagination, have the most populous riding in my province. To say that your vote should be worth one-tenth of the vote up here is just not something that is saleable, and I would add as well, not defensible, in my opinion, although I appreciate the good intentions you have in bringing it here.
I am very much aware of the fact that the Northwest Territories has a large number of official languages trying to accommodate the fact that it has so many different indigenous cultures, unlike Nunavut, which has a relatively homogenous indigenous culture that predominates. There's an enormous amount of complexity, and I have no clever idea how to resolve it except to say that your MP, if well chosen, will have to be a very skilled individual to accomplish that.
I'd like to start with you, Mr. Robinson. Three times in your presentation you said, “We are not experts”, and you proceeded to get right a number of things that a number of people with Ph.D. after their names got wrong before our committee, so I was impressed. I think you're more of an expert than you give yourself credit for.
We did hear when we were in Whitehorse about what New Zealand has done. They have Maori districts. I think one American state, the state of Maine, has three aboriginal districts, which they would call Indian districts, one of which is assigned to each of the three, as they would call them, Indian tribes—we would say first nations—of the state. There are a bunch of restrictions on them, and I won't go into details.
The Maori model, on the one hand, is very impressive, but, on the other hand, Maoris are essentially ethnically homogeneous. They aren't spread evenly across the country, but they're spread in such a way that you can accommodate them, and as a further consideration, they don't have the kind of restrictions we constitutionally have. They aren't federal, so you can design your ridings like anything you want. That's why they can deal with their seven districts.
Having put all those caveats in place that are problems, what in general do you think of trying to figure out a way of pushing through, either aspirationally, which we could do, but we'd have to change the Constitution, or perhaps practically, the idea of providing separate indigenous representation?
Thank you all for being here today. I am pleased to be with you. This is the first time I have come to Yellowknife.
I will not go back over what will happen to the very large districts. Since I am a member of a district with an area of 11 square kilometers, this subject is somewhat beyond my understanding. However, I am very pleased that you have come here with proposals.
The committee has a mandate to study a new voting system, a new way to ensure that voters' ballots, once placed in a box, result in the election of MPs and thus in representation in Parliament. You are also right to say that the present system creates absurdities and incoherences and betrays the will of citizens to the extent that their choices are not represented.
A very big red wave broke over the Maritimes and the Atlantic region last year. The Liberal Party—so much the better for Mr. DeCourcey and his colleagues—won all 32 seats in the Maritimes. However, I do not think they received 100% of the votes. They got 61%, which is very good.
The fact remains that 40% of people voted for the Conservative Party, the NDP and the Green Party. However, those 40% are not represented in Parliament. Their voices are not being heard there. The situation is somewhat the same on Vancouver Island, where the New Democrats and Ms. May occupy the seats, but where 20% of people voted for the Liberal Party and 20% for the Conservative Party. However, those people are not represented in Parliament.
Consequently, I am pleased that you are seeking solutions that involve greater proportionality. The role of Parliament is to reflect society and people's will.
Ms. Balakrishnan, you raised the list issue. The issue of the list, which is entirely legitimate, comes up in a mixed-member proportional voting system. You do not seem to be in favour of a closed list so that voters can have more control and make their own choices. I would like to hear the views of Ms. Little and Mr. Robinson on the subject.
Would you opt for an open list or a closed list in a mixed-member proportional voting system?
Ms. Little, go ahead, please.
Before asking any questions, I also want to applaud the fact that we are in the Northwest Territories. Without telling you my life story, I have to say it has been a personal dream of mine to come to the Northwest Territories at least once in my life. We cannot spend 43 days here, but we can at least spend a few hours.
Earlier I went to the supermarket to buy a sandwich. I walked through the streets, where I crossed paths with my Bloc Québécois colleague. I even had to remind him of the time. I do not know whether it was a happy coincidence, but everyone I met in the street said hello. I do not know whether it is a local tradition to say hello to everyone. I do not think I am that popular here, but everyone said hello. That is something I will remember, and I will be pleased tell all my friends in Quebec City about it.
Now let us talk about the reason we are here today.
Earlier your former MP, who represented you in the House of Commons for nearly 10 years, advanced a very bold proposal that deserves at least some thought. I am not saying I am for or against it, but I am extremely curious about it.
He said that, if in a proportional voting system there were MPs to offset voting distortions, they should be members representing the north. I am not talking about the north in the sense of a territory, but as a geographic location, as a human reality. So there could be inter-territorial and inter-provincial representatives, as it were. There would be no boundaries within the provinces or territories but rather an overall northernness element.
I would like to have your comments on that.
First, Mr. Robinson, the floor is yours.
Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming. I really appreciate being here.
I come from a riding in northern Saskatchewan. From La Loche to Cumberland House, it takes me 12 hours to drive, and if I'm going to drive to the far north from my home, it will take me 20 hours, so I can appreciate exactly what you're saying.
Here I am, as a member of Parliament. I go to Ottawa and I hear my colleagues say, “We're Canadian”. Yet in reality I don't feel that way, as a northerner, because of the discrepancies and because of the exclusions and because of how even the discussion occurring here.... A Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen. That's how I see it and that's how northerners see it. So I really appreciate the input that you're providing to validate my thinking and what I experience even in my own riding. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.
I want to clarify about the northern caucus. There is no northern caucus. What we have going is an aboriginal caucus, an association. There are 10 members of Parliament, seven Liberals, one independent, and two NDP. We're trying to come together to form that. So we're working on that collectively.
Nation to nation, northerners, in my riding, and I'm sure Nathan's riding too, and all over the Northwest Territories, we, as aboriginal people, take that to heart. What that means to me is that I am the same citizen in Canada, so I have access to services and programs and to everything else. I'm really interested to hear how, first of all, we validate the 11 languages here in this territory and the other territories and the mid-north of the provinces. I'm really curious about how we could spend more time on that to make sure we engage northerners.
Are there any other suggestions?
Thank you to the panel as well as our audience members for attending.
I want to thank all three organizations, the Council of Canadians, Fair Vote Canada, and Alternatives North, for the work and the preparation that has gone into the presentations. They all were very detailed. Our committee has heard from a wide variety of experts and different lobby or advocacy groups that have positions on what system should be recommended for change. We've had a lot of people come out to attend these meetings to give private remarks as well.
One of the experts that we heard from, who was an advocate herself for proportional representation, pointed out that the consultative process that we are undertaking has failed to attract younger, less wealthy, less educated, or other marginalized groups, to attend many of the meetings. She said that the meetings have tended to attract a specialized group of people, those people who are very keen on the subject matter and probably possess a fair bit of specialized knowledge. I would also, perhaps, add to her list of people that we have not seen at meetings, people who simply have varying levels of interest in the subject matter. They might certainly vote. They might think from time to time about electoral systems, but they are perhaps not willing to give up a day at work, or hire a babysitter, or otherwise give up other things in their day-to-day life to tell our committee what they think.
We are hearing specialized testimony both from expert panellists and audience members, and ultimately we've been asked, and there's desirability that we've heard from this panel, about finding consensus. Well, real consensus would actually be everybody in Canada agreeing. That's consensus: everybody agrees. There would probably have to be a lower threshold than that. It's not reasonable to expect millions of people to all agree on something, but the legitimacy of the outcome is extremely important.
Ms. Little, you told us that we must never underestimate the intelligence of citizens. Then why not put the final recommendation of this committee to a direct vote, to all Canadians including those who were either too busy or something to come and tell us what they think at a microphone at an open public session?
Thank you very much for being here.
I'd like to first acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Dene people. Mahsi cho.
First, to the committee, welcome to Yellowknife. I hope you have been able to experience first-hand what makes each territory unique: the people and the land.
The Northern Territories Federation of Labour, or NTFL, represents over 10,000 workers in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We advocate for workers' rights, and we strengthen and protect the democratic institutions of our society, encourage all citizens to exercise their right to be heard, and promote peace and freedom in the world.
The population of the three territories represents only 0.03% of Canada's population, but the territories make up 39% of Canada's geographical area—3.9 million square kilometres—with the oldest known rocks in the world, an abundance of natural resources, some of the harshest living conditions, both natural and man-made, and the bravest, toughest, kindest, and most knowledgeable people—both in northern Canada and on northern Canada.
Often we northerners are forgotten, ignored, and told from the south what the issues are in the north, and how we should fix them.
Across Canada there are still many remote communities that do not have access to reliable broadband Internet, many with infrastructural deficits that create barriers for northern communities, especially in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Now is the time to put aside political rhetoric and interests and do what is best for Canadians by adopting an electoral system that represents the diversity of the people who are Canada.
In terms of the first-past-the-post problem, it's an electoral system that we inherited from the British before Confederation, at a time that was politically and socially very much different from today. The problem with first past the post is that it creates distorted electoral outcomes and false majorities. Voters often vote against something, instead of voting for something they want. It generates and increases regional tensions: us versus them and big jurisdictions versus small. It creates barriers for women and minorities in being elected. It creates an environment in which parties fight each other instead of fighting for Canadians.
As you're all aware, but for those who are listening and may not know, in terms of the timeline, in the last election, in 2015, nine million votes were wasted. They did not go towards electing an MP. In June 2016 the electoral reform committee was formed to consult with Canadians. By December 1, the committee must report to Parliament. By April 2017, the committee has promised to present the legislative plan for electoral reform, and June 2017 is the deadline for Elections Canada to be able to prepare for a referendum, if need be.
The three principles from the NTFL on electoral reform are that no party should be able to win a majority of the seats without the majority of votes; that any reform should ensure that the number of seats a party receives is proportionate to its share of the received votes; and that reform should take into account the importance of local representation, which is especially true and important for the north.
Proportional representation is not complicated. It's just fair. Simply put, 51% of the votes entitles you to 51% of the seats. Ultimately, we feel that PR helps to address the alienation and dissatisfaction that voters feel, in that votes count, there are more choices, and there are increases in voter turnout, as seen in countries that currently use PR. As well, it may improve system satisfaction and political attitudes if the saying “make every vote count”, whose meaning is currently hollow, were actually true. It helps to close the gap between rich and poor and to elect more people from unrepresented groups due to the balance of PR in determining the number of seats from the percentage of votes.
In co-operation, conversation, and counting more votes, PR will bring a much-needed balance to the House of Commons, which would hopefully get parties to work together to build consensus instead of fighting each other.
Under PR, we're supportive of two potential models. Mixed member proportional representation, we feel, is the simplest way for Canada to move forward. However, simplicity is not the primary reason. It's a fairly balanced representation in the House, which is what we are seeking, and we want fair balance between local and party representation. It's still possible for a party to win a majority government with proportional representation; however, only if they receive the majority of the votes—fair and proportional.
The single transferable vote is not the simplest way for Canada to move forward, but it still provides a level of proportional representation similar to what MMP does. It could lead to changes in electoral districts within the north, and it could create tension between regions, as each territory has its unique identity, and northerners do not want to be represented as one homogenous territory.
In closing, the NTFL supports an electoral system that is founded on proportional representation to ensure the House of Commons reflects the diversity of the people of Canada; that removes the ability for any one party to receive a majority government without receiving the majority of votes; that party lists are open and support the model of representation through proportional voting; and that, regardless of the size of the jurisdiction, each candidate will have a fair and equal opportunity to be on the ballot in the district they are running to represent.
We won't support an electoral system that makes voting mandatory as it is not democratic. We may not agree with people who do not vote; however, a country that values rights and freedoms must uphold those values in all its laws and leave the choice to vote to remain with the individual Canadian. We won't support an electoral system that uses online voting until there is technology, a website, that is secure, unexploitable, and ensures that beyond any doubt and concerns of voters that the democratic process will be upheld in its purest form. We won't support an electoral system that does not guarantee that all Canadians who are eligible to vote, especially Canadians in remote regions and communities, have access to the infrastructure, reliable Internet, needed to cast their vote in their community, not outside their community, and ensure that all Canadians understand in plain language what they are voting on.
First I'd like to thank the whole committee for coming to the north. I know you've been on a journey throughout the north and west of Canada, but it's great to have the opportunity to speak to you in person here, beyond just sending in written submissions and things remotely.
First off, for some context, OpenNWT is a non-profit civil society organization developed to promote open and transparent government in the north. The focus has largely been on digital tools to increase access to government information. For example, we have a local territorial version of openparliament.ca. We've developed a few systems to do government financial openness and searching electoral information, a whole bunch of systems like that, which are available freely on the web.
Additionally, just from my own context, I've run previously territorially, so I have some experience on that side of the equation as well. Some of the things I'd like to speak about today are a number of the questions that the committee has put forward.
First off, improving the election process in Canada is a very important topic, and the reforms very much need to speak to all Canadians, not just those who choose to come to a standing committee meeting. That's probably a pretty select number of people. There are only so many who find the format terribly comfortable.
In previous years, there have been things like voter ID changes, and a number of things that have ended up disenfranchising Canadians. Obviously, it was not the intent, but looking at parts of Canada that are more remote, it certainly has different challenges than are faced in a lot of other places.
Too often when we talk about reforms, though, we often talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's how do we gut the system? How do we do things entirely differently rather than looking at what sort of incremental improvements, what sorts of tweaks and other improvements, we can make to a system to take us forward? There are certainly benefits to what we've been doing, and any number of things that we could do, but I think it's important to consider all of those.
One other consideration is that often we find, in speaking to people from the south, that the north is often considered to be an east-west set-up, that there are lots of links across the north. In reality, the northern territories tend to have stronger north-south links. Largely it's related to logistics, costs, that sort of thing. Quite often, even culturally, a lot of the links and similarities between the territories tend to be with the provinces they're above. There are more direct flights, for instance.
We were talking earlier, and the cost of a flight east to west in the north is quite expensive. Often it's actually cheaper to fly down to Ottawa to get to Nunavut than it is to fly all the way across. Until recently, there were no direct flights to Yukon. In the last year, there's been one created, which has been great, but those links don't always exist. When we talk about northern representation, there really is a difference in culture and in people who are required to balance that out.
Overall, there are a few points to touch on. One is the modernization of the electoral process. I know the committee has heard from previous speakers that there's a lot that needs to be done to actually modernize the way elections work: getting your voter card in the mail, having the standard paper lists when you go to vote. All of these things, frankly, are logistically challenging. They're difficult. In the north, we could have problems even getting workers to run elections.
In this past year, there were a number of elections. We had three in a two-month period. All of the elections had trouble holding on to staff. Trying to get all of these things to happen at once is a challenge, and there are a lot of ways that technology can be used to improve that. The act is obviously quite dated in its origins now.
On the note of modernizing elections, online voting has been a big topic, and I know it's something that the committee has considered. One of the things I'd like to ask about the whole issue is what problem it actually solves. It's worth considering, and it certainly has some advantages to it. Again, it helps modernize it. As you've heard already in the north, connectivity is quite an issue. Even Yellowknife only has a single connection to the south. In the north, we have entire communities that share the equivalent of a slow cable modem for 1,000 people.
There are a number of barriers that way that create problems. In fact, our smallest communities have probably our highest voting turnout rates in the north. Those in the small communities seem to have a strong civic duty on voting, which is fantastic, and often it's bigger cities and bigger centres, even in Canada, that occasionally have turnout issues.
One of the challenges in Canada isn't that it's too hard to vote. It's pretty easy to go out and vote on election day. There's a voting poll every time you turn around. There are a dozen parties telling you that tomorrow is the day to vote, today is the day to vote. You can get a ride; you can get all kinds of things. If you want to go early, you want to go late, there are a whole bunch of opportunities that exist. It's important that if we're doing it, it's not just for convenience, but about how it actually enhances the process and our elections.
Related to that is mandatory voting. It's an interesting concept. I think it's difficult for a lot of people to talk about and put their heads around, because it does seem like forcing people to go out and do something.
On principle, I'm not against the idea of mandatory voting, but there needs to be catches in the system that would allow people to not vote. Just because you go to vote doesn't mean you have to vote for someone on the ballot. We should probably have that anyway. I know that a number of provinces in Canada already do have the ability for voters to go and deny their ballots, and that's an important message to be able to send.
At the same time, we have to reinforce the importance of voting and the celebratory nature of it. I'll talk about that a bit throughout this, but too often we don't celebrate the importance of voting and how much of a big deal it is. It's not that we have to celebrate and have parties around it. Those deeply involved in the system do, but there needs to be ways to get the rest of Canada to consider it the great occasion that it is. It's something to celebrate that we get out to vote and elect the government. If there's a wholesale change, or if there are minor changes, it's a big deal and it's affected by one person going out and casting a vote. Everybody can count.
In a lot of countries the mandatory voting is also a civic holiday. It becomes a community celebration and that's something worth considering maybe not on its own, but with a number of these other pieces. Maybe there's some validity there. The more we can show Canadians that individual votes and going out to vote does impact the system, even in the current system today, the better. Just because you're in a riding where 80,000 people vote doesn't mean that an election can't be decided by a handful of votes. It's amplified a bit in the north where we have territorial elections. In our last one here we had ridings decided by three votes. It's a bit of a different scale, but it's still amazing to see, and people don't always understand that their votes matter. When you look at those kinds of numbers, how do you connect with everybody and show them? If that doesn't do it, we have to find other ways to demonstrate that.
The fundamental question...a lot of the efforts discussed today have been about the power of individual MPs and the balance on parties. I heard the first panel, and a lot of discussion came up around empowering MPs and minority governments, and PR leading to smaller groups and more MPs working together. I think that's an important thing, but why don't we look at finding ways to empower MPs right from today? I know some work was done in the last government on that. I know 's bill did a few things.
Over the last number of years, power has been centralized in parties; power has been centralized in the PMO, and a number of other things have created an environment where perhaps MPs don't feel the full power of the position. The more we can do to empower MPs adds that strength to it. I don't think just turning to PR and turning to small parties necessarily does that, but the more we can do to strengthen that, then the more we strengthen Parliament, which is the most important thing in what we're trying to do.
When we're looking at party lists—and I know there have been some other discussions on other models—they don't necessarily lead to additional accountability. If people are voting for a party and getting a representative they don't know and didn't vote for, then I don't think that's necessarily a benefit. There are strong roots in our system and the accountability of an MP to constituents. I think that's something we'd have to find a way to uphold, however we develop it.
With regard to voting systems, there's obviously a number of systems proposed and a number of changes. I think one of the most important principles to keep in mind, which we've heard from other speakers, is that in the north, nothing could be considered that takes away the power of an MP for a particular territory or province, not that it's particularly an issue in the provinces. We only have one MP and one senator per territory. It's nice to see that representation, but it's important that no change would take that away. Rebalancing it, however that happens, needs to maintain the power of the territories to at least have a voice in Parliament for themselves.
While we had a unique constitutional situation with the territories, it's important that there's unique representation. I know some of the development of systems around PR takes that away, or blends that, and I don't think any of that would be acceptable to the north. That just isn't fair or right for Canadians.
The north is already a great landscape. A single MP from any of the territories could never possibly visit all of their communities in a single day and could barely even do it in a week without a chartered plane. I'd never want to see any of them have to do that or have any greater territory.
I agree with you. I used to live in Australia, where they have mandatory voting. Of course they don't actually get 100% participation, notwithstanding the mythology, and they don't enforce the fines—except against this one guy who makes a fuss about pointing out that he...you actually have to see this guy—for the obvious reason that there are all these people who are dispossessed and don't vote. There's the Australian aboriginal population, homeless people, people who haven't mastered the English language yet, people who are disabled. Notwithstanding the law, I think they recognize that there is something inherently perverse about fining those people for not participating. So I agree with you.
The other thing about it is that I think people staying home and not voting because they just don't like any of the candidates or the parties is actually a legitimate expression. They may not be motivated by the nature of the election. Those are legitimate points that would be disguised if you were forced to vote. It might actually be better to include a “none of the above” option, a box you could tick off. I think that would actually be great. I wouldn't want to do that and also have the mandatory voting, but I wouldn't mind having that as a way of letting voters who are unhappy express their point of view.
That's my editorial. Now I want to actually ask you a question.
I also believe there are significant barriers to people voting who are not part of the electoral system. You alluded to something that may be fruitful when you talked about people who are not literate. Several aboriginal languages in Canada, and Inuktitut is one, don't actually use the Latin alphabet. That does raise the question of whether or not someone can be literate but not in one of the official languages, and therefore are no more able to read a ballot written in our alphabet than I would be able to read a ballot in their alphabet. Is that something that is an issue, or am I just going in the wrong direction?
You can see where I'm heading with this. If a territory has an official language that uses syllabics, should we have the ballots printed in more than one alphabet?
Thanks to our guests for being here with us.
I am very pleased to come to Yellowknife. This is the first time for me as well, and I hope it will not be the last. I am a southern guy, and I come from a big city. I am an MP from Montreal, and my district is much smaller than your territory.
Mr. Lambrecht, I am pleased to meet the president of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour and to be able to ask him questions. I am a trade unionist too. Before being elected as a member of Parliament, I was a union advisor to the Canadian Union of Public Employees. I am currently on leave without pay.
I am pleased you are in favour of the proportional voting system that you referred to. There is in fact no perfect voting system, but that one is consistent with certain values and principles. For some, the purpose of an election is, first and foremost, to elect a strong government that can implement its platform. For that purpose, the present system, the single-member plurality or first-past-the-post system, fits the bill very nicely.
Others think the purpose of an election is to represent or reflect citizens' will, choices, and voices in Parliament. For that purpose, the proportional system produces much better results because it does not lead to the distortions or false majorities caused by the single-member majority system.
You stated your preference and that of your organization. Could you give us more details on the type of mixed-member proportional system, with a single transferable vote, with open lists or with closed lists? How do you think a proportional voting system would be implemented in the Canadian federation?
Thank you to the witnesses. I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territories of the Dene and Dogrib first nations and many more. Mahsi cho
for the welcome here in Yellowknife.
I wanted to explore some of the things that came up in both witnesses' comments. I don't want to generalize, but I think Mr. Lambrecht was much more willing than Mr. Wasylciw to say that a change to our voting system would change the culture of politics. I saw the two of you on different sides of that divide.
I want to make an observation and then ask for both of you to comment. I stand more with Mr. Lambrecht only because I've been in politics for 10 years, and it never occurred to me that one of the problems with first past the post was that it rewards cutthroat, nasty politics and punishes co-operation.
I don't think first past the post by itself has reduced the amount of co-operation and collaboration that we used to see in politics, because I worked for the Government of Canada in the minister of the environment's office in the mid-1980s. We had the same voting system, but we had much more co-operation.
On top of the things that have occurred that relate to the way first past the post rewards hyper-partisanship has been a trend toward unending campaigning. The election ends, but the spin doctors aren't let go so that they can go someplace to get relationship training and to try to become full human beings again. They actually keep working to destroy any thought of goodwill. That's all relayed in Susan Delacourt's book, Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them, this notion of targeted, sectoral.... If you know that all you need to do is get 35% of the vote across Canada and you need to get out your base, then what you want to find is the wedge issue, or what's now called dog-whistle politics.
I would say to my friend Sherry that you can't generalize from one woman's experience. I've spent a lot of time on the phone trying to talk women into running, and one of the reasons they don't want to is it strikes them that the atmosphere of politics is toxic.
Those are my observations. I ask both of our witnesses if that affects their thoughts about how our political culture is impacted or not impacted by our voting system.
Mr. Chair, despite the liberties taken by my colleagues around this table, I can assure you I will continue to serve as a shining example of how someone can remain within their allotted time here.
I joke. It's the end of a long week.
I am not so cynical about our ability to overcome the toxicity that people feel politics has descended into. I feel as though I came out of a positive campaign, and Ms. May will know the respect with which I hold the candidate for the Green Party who ran against me in the Fredericton riding. We had vigorous debates throughout the campaign, but we share a mutual respect for one another. I think it's as much a matter of political will and the style of leadership that you undertake as a politician, as a group of politicians, that can play a significant role in helping move people past the way they feel about politics in general right now.
I think that speaks as much to some of the disengagement and the reason that people don't go out and vote. It's not always that they feel their vote won't count. It's that they feel it doesn't matter because it won't change things anyway, because politics and politicians are all the same. I think there has been some conflation of those two arguments throughout testimony over the last number of months. I'm not saying that some people don't feel that their vote doesn't count. I think it's a valid argument, but I think the two things get conflated every once in a while.
Mr. Lambrecht, while you were delivering your testimony, I was at the back of the room, but just to clarify, it's not the committee who will be presenting legislation in April. It's the intent of the government to put forth their legislation. You're right. We have until December 1, and maybe that was a slip-up but I heard you say “committee”. So I just wanted to make sure that was clear on the record.
When you were speaking of incremental change, I first thought of the preferential ballot, and then you got into the idea of literacy challenges around the way that people would understand casting their ballots, and I was thinking about whether that was a literacy challenge or a comprehension challenge. Either way, it's an educational challenge. I then thought that would logically lead one to think, as well, of the challenges inherent in an STV ballot, a single transferable vote ballot. Are there other literacy or education-related challenges that you see on any of the other ballots that could potentially form part of an electoral reform recommendation?
Simply put, listen to the people. Respect that some people in the north have lived here for their entire lives. I love the reality shows, and a good example is Survivor
. That's great. Throw a couple of people out in some tropical place and watch them survive.
If you want to have a real survivor, throw them somewhere up in Nunavut and see how they survive. You could take me into the middle of the Northwest Territories, and based on the knowledge I have gained through northern schooling, having aboriginal friends, and going to aboriginal camps when I was younger, I could do quite well in the NWT out on the land. Nunavut is a completely different story. The way that you survive up there is entirely different.
Sit and listen to the people without any bias, without any judgment, without any assumptions. Chuck everything out the door and simply listen to what they have to say. Connect with them on the deepest level that you possibly can, and recognize that they live in the north because they love the north, as desolate and isolated as it is.
If we're going to be represented by democracy, we want the same voice as the rest of Canada. Although we may have one MP and it seems like we have a big voice, we really don't. We get drowned out by the other provinces. You talk about having 40,000 in the NWT with one MP, and then you have a larger jurisdiction—not any specific one—with maybe 100,000 people with one MP. Does that mean that the NWT, Nunavut, and Yukon should have 0.3% of an MP because we only have 50% of the population of a larger jurisdiction that has the right to one MP?
If we had 100,000 people who lived in each territory, it wouldn't be an issue to have more than one MP. The simple matter is, why don't people want to live in the north? There are tons of opportunities up here, but it takes a special kind of person to want to live up here and contribute to the communities of the north. With the communities that we all live in, whether it be Yellowknife or Behchoko or Inuvik, or any of the other communities in the Northwest Territories, every person has a reason that they live in that community. When you go up to Nunavut and you go to Iqaluit, you will see a diverse population.
For me, when I see people I know are not from Canada, that doesn't make them any less of a human or Canadian than I am. It just makes me wonder why. What was it about this far north, Iqaluit, that they came all the way from the Dominican Republic or from Jamaica? Why would you go from such a beautiful warm place to such a dry, cold, desolate place? It's because there are opportunities. The communities, the environment, the cultures there are unlike any place you will ever visit elsewhere in Canada.
That wraps up our third panel.
Thank you very much to the witnesses for your eloquence and insights. I must say, you've made some profound observations and added to the perspectives that we're gaining through this cross-Canada trip, so thank you very much.
Of course, you're free to stay with us as we go to the public session, which includes seven citizens of Yellowknife who would like to speak to the issue of electoral reform.
I'll just explain briefly how we function and how we functioned in other cities. Each individual is provided two minutes to make their statement about electoral reform. We have two microphones. We try to keep both microphones occupied. In other words, while one person speaks, the other person is at the other microphone preparing their remarks.
I'll call to microphone number one Tasha Stephenson, and I would call to microphone number two Chief Georges Erasmus.
Nice to see you again, Chief Erasmus. I don't know if you remember.... Well, I'll mention that when we get to your intervention.
Go ahead, Ms. Stephenson, for two minutes, please.
I recently became aware of this organization called Fair Vote Canada, and I've had a chance to look at the three different proposals they have for proportional representation, something I've been very supportive of all my life, although I've never gone into all the different details. It was very interesting to read their proposals and some of their ideas. In the end I'm supportive of anything that brings us as close to 100% representation in Parliament of the vote across Canada. I want an opportunity for Canadians to be able to vote with their heart and their beliefs, and passionately say, “This vote is going to mean something because now I'm finally voting for somebody, not voting against somebody over there, but I'm voting for a party that I really want to vote for.”
I'm 68. I've been voting ever since I could, and it wasn't very long after aboriginal people could vote in this country that I was able to start voting. I have been very passionate about it. I remember working up here to get in our first aboriginal person when I was first able to vote, and working to get Wally Firth as an NDP member. For us to get an aboriginal person in was a very major thing,
Whether it's the mixed member, the multi-member, the rural-urban proportional representation, any one of those seem to improve.... Some are better that others, obviously. Then there's the whole question of how many members you're going to add. Are you going to keep the number of members in the House the same? It means only so many are going to be elected by a process where, perhaps, it's still first past the post, and then the rest are proportional, whatever, but I recommend that you try to get as close as possible to 100% representation.
For instance, in one of the versions, apparently, we would have had eight Green members this time. Wouldn't that have been an amazing thing?
I want to talk about something else. One of my previous jobs was as co-chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. In the report, in volume 2, “Restructuring the Relationship” there is a section that talks about not only self-rule or self-government for aboriginal people, but also shared rule between aboriginal people and the rest of Canada. We talked about a number of things. One of the things we talked about was perhaps having something like guaranteed seats, or if you're not going to change the Constitution, if you're going to go short of that, then obviously the recommendation made by electoral reform recommended the possibility of, I think it was, eight aboriginal districts, rather than having guaranteed seats. I think it's something we need to look at.
At the time when the royal commission reported, which was 20 years ago in a month's time, we had maybe fewer than 20 members who had ever been elected in Canada up to that time. Obviously, we're doing better; in this House I notice we have quite a few more members, but it's still not really enough. So I recommend that you take a look at that section of our report and see if there's anything there that you can garner out of it that would be useful for you.
Thank you to all the members and to everybody for doing this.
I wanted to touch base with you on the growing number of Canadians who choose not to vote. Many of us have campaigned for a long time to people like you. My issue happens to be a broken family law system and how our family is slated to die without really knowing our kids or not knowing where they are now and stuff like that.
Our campaign started in 1999. If you were to open your files, you'd see that we sent a signature sheet from all members of our family to the Canadian Senate and every MP in Ottawa, and to date we remain left out in the cold. The situation has become so bad that we're still in court after 24 years. We waited three and a half years for a hearing date, and we've waited three months for a court order. However, we've lost confidence that the court order is going to surface.
I wanted to touch base with you on people who, for a very long time, campaign to people like you. We haven't stopped. I tabled an almost 2,000-signature petition, with signatures from Hay River to Inuvik, with our last MP. He gave it no value. Monsieur Ste-Marie spoke about toeing the party line or actually giving your constituents some value. Our last MP toed the party line. It was labelled as one of the largest petitions ever tabled in the Northwest Territories. I thought it was a prominent issue, one as big as climate change.
When you look at the role of an MP to enhance a family or quality of life, or to actually give their constituents value, I can't identify a political party in Canada that does, with the exception of Elizabeth May. When your back is to the wall with the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party, who are giving this no value, you lose confidence in the Canadian Parliament as a whole. I am another one of a group—there are many, many people like me—who are choosing to no longer vote because my vote has no value.
I'm sure there are a lot of systemic issues in Canada and a lot of advocacy groups that feel the same way, but when you've been at it as long as people like me have and you're going to die without knowing where your children even are, we have what I would say is a big systemic problem with the culture in Ottawa, right across the board. Maybe we want to take a look at that.
Merci. Good luck with this.
Thank you very much to the committee for their work and for coming here.
One of the questions that was put forward was, what makes the north any different? What could you take away from being in the north? A number of points have been raised about the rural aspects, the distances, and various things like that.
Here's what I would also add. Perhaps this has been brought up. I haven't listened to all the presentations. The representatives here also have to represent land in a different way than they do in most parts of Canada, where a piece of land is privately owned. That land in fact is represented by a person and a vote. Here, the vast proportion of our land is held collectively, either by the crown or by various first nations groups through land claim agreements. In effect, then, that doesn't have the same kind of voting power that you would have in much of Canada.
I think this is another reason that we should be looking at some increased participation and members for the Northwest Territories: because the people who are going to Parliament are representing the land in a very different way, the land that is not only for the aboriginal people but for those of us who choose to be northerners as well.
Quickly, a proportional system, from the research I've seen, would increase the number of women in Parliament, which I think is a good thing, and also minority members. I think that is good as well.
I think you guys have an extraordinarily difficult job to do with all the input you have, so in that regard, I'm not in favour of a referendum, because the weighting of all the information that you're taking from across the country is extraordinarily difficult. I'm glad to see a very diverse representation around the table to do that.
Our important needs rest in your hands.
Thank you, as well, for coming up here.
It's great when people from the south can come up to the north and hear from us about our special needs, because we have many special needs. We are a sparse population on a vast tract of land. Many times we wonder what we're doing here, because we pay a price for being up here.
I would like to impress upon you a couple of things. One is that, in the north, because of our being drawn to the land in the way we are, there is a saying up here that you don't own the land; the land owns you. That's why we're here, and that's part of our dedication to the land. I hope that you will keep that in mind when you are considering issues of the north.
The other thing I want to say is, even though we have this small body of people up here, we have some of the hugest issues plaguing Canada right now. The suicide rates among our young people are the highest anywhere in Canada. This is an epidemic in the territories and Nunavut, as you may have heard. We may have this small body of people, but we have huge issues with our people. In Nunavut, we have many stories about them going to the dump to find food. That's how bad things get up here.
In the last election, I worked as an elections officer. I don't know what was happening in the communities, but those votes were so important to people. If they had any trouble getting to the polling station, they were desperate to call in to find out how they could get that one little vote in that ballot box, because that is their ticket to Canada. They love Canada and they want to participate. That little vote is their ticket for their children, and is part of this nation. They may be in remote communities, and they may not speak your language, but they consider themselves just as much a part of this country as anybody else.
On a parting note, I would just ask that you keep that in your hearts when you're making these decisions.
That's all. Thank you.