I will make some brief remarks in Inuktitut.
Thank you to the public meeting of the House of Commons special committee and the federal electoral representatives, and welcome to Nunavut on behalf of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Cathy Towtongie, and the Board of Directors of NTI. Welcome to Iqaluit, and we do appreciate that you invited us to the meeting of the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform.
I will go back to English.
We're pleased that you have come here to hear what we have to say about the federal electoral system. Any reform of our federal democratic institutions, particularly our electoral system, affects all Canadians, particularly those Canadians who are also members of an aboriginal people, as we are. Your work is important to us.
That said, in common with many other Canadians, we would not define any reform of the federal electoral system as a core organizational function. We do not have a finely worked out official position on this topic built around extensive discussions or debates backed up by carefully phrased AGM or boards of directors resolutions.
We do, however, appreciate this process being conducted in an open and informal manner. In the spirit of shared exploration, there are some points and preferences, by way of context and outlook, that we would like to raise with you.
NTI represents all of Nunavut Inuit for all purposes associated with the Nunavut land agreement that we signed with the crown in right of Canada in 1993.
The Nunavut agreement is a modern treaty, or land claim agreement, for the purposes of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In addition to our treaty rights, Inuit have retained aboriginal rights in matters not governed by the Nunavut agreement.
Our responsibility is to ensure that the Nunavut agreement is fully respected and implemented.
Article 4 of the Nunavut agreement provides for the creation of the territory of Nunavut. Getting article 4 was a very hard struggle for Inuit, but we succeeded, and through it, Nunavut was created on April 1, 1999.
We have experienced colonialism, with all of its attendant problems: laws imposed from outside, loss of control over resources, lack of respect for our languages, and residential schools. It is a formidable list.
We know what it looks like to be outside the electoral system looking in. It was not until the 1962 federal election that all Inuit in Nunavut were allowed to vote. Until 1979 there was only one MP for the entire Northwest Territories.
We are aware of the problems posed in our history, but we are not trapped or paralyzed by them.
We are determined to overcome the negative aspects of our history of colonization. We are particularly mindful of the need for Canada to define its democratic processes and institutions in ways that are as inclusive as possible. While key democratic values and principles are universal in content, they must be expressed in ways that are tolerant, adaptable, and creative.
The Constitution Act, 1982, defines the aboriginal peoples of Canada as Inuit, Indian, and Métis people. It's been acknowledged that the constitutional rights of aboriginal peoples extend to include an inherent right of self-government.
Accordingly, aboriginal peoples are not just holders of common law rights to make use of land and resources; rather, we must be seen as peoples who are fundamentally constituent parts of our national identity and fabric.
New Zealand, for example, is a country with many similarities to Canada. It has provided for direct Maori representation at its Parliament from its early days, and has retained that feature of its democratic life. Accordingly, each of Canada's three aboriginal peoples should have direct representation in a reformed House of Commons. Representation in the range of two to four representatives from each of Canada's three aboriginal peoples would roughly track the New Zealand precedent.
Aboriginal peoples' representatives should be elected by aboriginal electors. In the case of the Inuit of Inuit Nunangat, the four regions that make up the Arctic homeland in Canada, the electorate would logically be made up of all these people who live here, are of adult voting age, and are enrolled in the four treaties governing Inuit Nunangat.
There is no reason that aboriginal peoples' representatives need to be elected on the occasion of federal general elections. For reasons of continuity of representation, it would be a considerable advantage to have such representatives elected for fixed terms. Perhaps six years would be advantageous, with staggered terms similar to the United States Senate. In the absence of elections being tied to overtly partisan general elections, there would be an enhanced argument for us for using a ranked ballot system to ensure at least 50% support.
In the case of Nunavut's geography, even the quickest glance at the electoral map of Canada reveals that the riding of Nunavut is, by far, the largest. It is almost impossible to overstate the sheer size of Nunavut. Entire regions of Canada would fit comfortably into Nunavut. Much of western Europe would fit into Nunavut. Nunavut covers three time zones.
Unlike larger ridings in Canada, the population in Nunavut is not heavily concentrated in one or two large population centres. Rather, the population of Nunavut is spread over 26 communities with important distinctions as to their physical, socio-economic, and cultural environments. Nunavut has been energetically served by its MPs—thank you to —but the travel demands on them, both in terms of sheer distance and the infrequency and unpredictability of air routes, are extraordinary and excessive.
Democratic values are not well served by having a constituency of such extreme geographic size that anyone not enjoying peak health or not willing to risk basic health can be excluded from running for office. For these reasons, electoral reform should bring about the division of the single Nunavut riding into two smaller ridings.
We suggest two MPs for each territory and for Nunavut. Quite apart from Nunavut's unique size, there is a good argument that all provinces and territories should have a minimum of two MPs. Having two MPs can accurately reflect a diversity of views. In the event of illness or an absence of one MP from Ottawa, the jurisdiction would still have representation.
There is plenty of precedent on this point. Looking back in parliamentary history, we see that two-member representation—two for each shire, borough, and two old established universities—was the rule at Westminster in England from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. It is my understanding that two-member constituencies were also part of elections in Canada as late as the 1960s. Of course, the U.S. Senate is still structured around two senators for each state in the union.
There are costs related to campaigning in Nunavut. Healthy democratic engagement requires that there be a reasonable opportunity for candidates to interact at a personal level during campaigning, yet the cost of airfare in Nunavut is prohibitive to many potential candidates.
In the past, airlines serving Nunavut have been willing, on a non-partisan basis, to assist candidates by offering free seats when they were available. That has been welcomed, but considerations of fairness and predictability suggest that reasonably foreseeable transportation costs in Nunavut must be met by some form of public subsidy. The availability of such subsidies should be confined to the candidates of those parties who secure a minimum percentage of the popular vote.
On alternative general designs of the electoral system, we understand that many Canadians are unhappy with the existing manner in which MPs are elected. The first-past-the-post system can skew the vote at a national level heavily toward one party or another. In Nunavut, our election results have sometimes shown a three-way split. In other years, the choice has been very clear, and a modified voting system would probably not have affected that result. NTI does not detect any great groundswell of opinion either in favour of retaining or of modifying the first-past-the-post system. We suspect that most Inuit see both advantages and disadvantages in the current system. We would like to hear and know more, and are keeping open minds.
One alternative to the first-past-the-post system is the ranked candidate system, with each elector numbering candidates in order of preference, and then the votes of candidates with fewer first preferences being tabulated and redistributed until one candidate is the ranked choice of at least 50% of the electors. This system has the virtue of overcoming one defect of the first-past-the-post system: in a first-past-the-post contest, a person can be elected having extreme positions that may appeal to a minority of voters that are heartily rejected by a majority. The ranked candidate system appears to be more in keeping with the premium placed on consensus-building and the preference for inclusiveness that is characteristic of Inuit culture.
We understand the ranked candidate system is used by the Australian House of Representatives and in other parts of the world and that it appears to work well in those places. In the event that another electoral design system is to be adopted, the ranked candidate system would seem to best fit Nunavut.
France has a variation on the ranked candidate system, using run-off elections several weeks after general elections to choose between the top two candidates where no candidate secured a majority of votes in the general election. This variation may deserve some further examination, although the extra costs might be quite considerable.
With regard to proportional representation by party vote, we are aware that some Canadians favour having MPs elected entirely by party lists according to overall national party votes, or having a mixed member proportional system, as they have in Germany and New Zealand, with some MPs elected in first-past-the-post constituencies and others through a nationally calculated top-up based on overall party votes.
It is difficult to see how either forms of a system like this could work for Nunavut. Having MPs elected entirely from party lists would remove the ability of Inuit to evaluate the particular strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, and that first-hand evaluation—that personal touch—is highly compatible with our values and experience. We would also not be comfortable with a system that makes it hard to identify the MP or MPs who have particular responsibilities on our behalf.
MMP, as I highlighted, would seem to be slightly more appealing, but it has the major difficulty of setting up a two-class tier of MPs, with some MPs excused from the constituency work that keeps them busy but that also keeps them grounded and informed. Given Nunavut's small population size, adding extra MPs based on national party vote totals would diminish Nunavut's relative voice.
When it comes to gender-based representation, not all members of the committee may be aware, but prior to Nunavut's creation in 1993, a referendum was held on creating an electoral system that would guarantee equal numbers of male and female MLAs in a gender-balanced legislature. Equal numbers of male and female MLAs would be brought about by having two member constituencies, with male and female candidates grouped on separate lists and with all voters allowed to cast a vote against each. In the event, the referendum rejected this system by a fairly narrow vote.
It would appear that the gender-based approach looked at the world view of females and also the very different world views that males have. That was used as a reason to represent these people.
It would not appear that the issue of securing a better balance of men and women in Parliament has figured prominently in the current process, but the committee may well wish to look further into Nunavut's experience in this respect.
A good article about the Nunavut referendum has been published, and we brought some extra copies if any of you would like to get a copy of it.
As for securing public endorsement, there has been some talk of organizing a national referendum or plebiscite before making any changes to the electoral system. We saw complex constitutional issues put to a national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, which failed, of course. As well, proposals to electoral changes in B.C., Ontario, and other provinces have failed to win support. Reaching back in Canadian history, we understand that the national vote on the conscription issue was a very difficult one for Canada during World War II.
The Inuit of Quebec and throughout Nunangat are very much aware of some of the negative dimensions of the Quebec referendums in 1980 and 1995. Given the small population weight of Nunavut in Canada, our voice would be a very small one in any national referendum or plebiscite. That would be an important drawback in itself.
The larger and more compelling drawback to a referendum would be its potential to divide Canadians from one another, reopen old lines of division, and create new ones. There is always an opportunity for mischief in any single-question, win-or-lose campaign.
Rather than having a referendum, due respect for democratic process and for our parliamentary history would be shown by having each majority party adopt a clear position on a detailed program for electoral reform prior to the next federal election and then let the voters make their judgments on those proposals as part of casting their votes. In that fashion, the next Parliament would have a mandate to proceed.
In conclusion, Canada is a remarkably diverse country with many important and pronounced regional, linguistic, social, and cultural differences. One of the bedrock diversities of our country is the presence and the role of Canada's three aboriginal peoples.
Whatever is crafted to improve the representativeness of our political system, it must work effectively and fairly for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, for the Arctic and the south, and for the territories as well as the provinces.
I end with some conclusions in my language.
Lastly, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the special committee for coming to our community. In doing the committee on electoral reform, I hope you have a very successful electoral reform. It’s going to benefit the Canadian public as well as the territories.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That’s all I have.
The Nunavut Association of Municipalities represents 25 municipalities in Nunavut. Each mayor is a member of NAM. In preparing for our testimony here, to be honest, our mayors are very practical people in Nunavut, and for good reason, but we got lost in talking about the electoral designs, proportional representation and stuff, so I don't have a lot of comments on that because as a board we just backed away from that whole thing.
I do have four comments from our board, and I'd like to pass those on to you. The first is on electronic voting.
Everybody agreed that would be a good thing, but before it can happen in Nunavut, there would have to be a substantial upgrade to the Internet infrastructure, and probably before we got into that, some kind of Canadian standard would have to be set so that everybody could participate equally. I know the Internet connections up north here from Grise Fiord to Kugliktuk really vary. I could imagine on election night they'd probably be jammed right up in light of the infrastructure.
Second, we did talk about mandatory voting, and we don't support mandatory voting at this time. I know there's a whole range of constitutional issues regarding it, but if there was mandatory voting, the mayors wondered how it would be enforced and monitored, because up north here people could come up with a whole range of excuses: couldn't find a babysitter, had an accident on the way to the polling station, or perhaps the weather is bad, which is not uncommon in the north.
Third, we focused on Senate reform, and everybody believed that the Senate should be an elected body.
Fourth, the last item we discussed was similar to what NTI mentioned here, but we arrived at it completely independently. It was that the mayors felt that in territories such as Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and even perhaps looking at northern Quebec—Nunavik—and Labrador, if there's a way to establish a minimum of two candidates per riding, that should just be put in there. The mayors felt that would be a more accountable arrangement and it wouldn't leave us hanging onto one candidate, which is how we operate right now.
Those are our comments. I don't think I stretched it out to 10 minutes, but that's okay. I'm available to answer any questions anyone may have.
Thank you very much.
I want to thank all of the witnesses for their very interesting testimony. I'm not sure who I should be thanking for the lovely weather. I got to go out and wander around town for about an hour and a half. It was really nice and really refreshing.
Mr. Arreak, I want to start by asking you a little bit about some of the things you said. This is why I had my computer open. While you were talking, I was looking up some population figures. Baked into the DNA of the House of Commons in Canada or, more correctly, baked into the constitutional provisions that structure the House of Commons is the concept of representation by population, the idea that all ridings should be roughly equivalent in size within a province. That's pretty much an ironclad rule across provinces. We allow for fluctuation, but as little as possible. Then an exception is made for the territories, because they are so much smaller.
This raises a question. I actually have three questions. I'll read them to you at all once, because I think it would be better if they were answered thematically.
The first is on having two MPs for Nunavut, if that's what you were advocating. Unless we greatly increased the number of members of Parliament elsewhere in the country, that would have the effect of causing a very significant disproportion and a departure from the principle of representation by population. That's the first thought on which I would invite your comment.
Second, when you talk about the idea of having three members of Parliament who would serve as the parallel of the Maori seats in New Zealand, presumably one for each of the three general groupings, I assume you meant Inuit, Métis, and first nations as the three groups. There are two basic problems that I can see constitutionally with this. The first is that there's no provision in the Canadian constitution that permits seats that overlap provincial boundaries.
You could in theory have a single member of Parliament representing multiple territories. We asked about that in the other territories, and people weren't very enthusiastic about it. Of course, a large number of Inuit people live in northern Quebec and also in Newfoundland and Labrador. Geographically I could see how that would work, but constitutionally, there is a hard impediment to it.
The other problem I see with this is just a matter of fairness and the idea of representation by population. Wikipedia says there are 59,445 Inuit people in Canada—I guess that's as of the last census—451,000 Métis, and 851,000 people from first nations. You can see a substantial disproportion.
I realize I'm giving a very mechanistic interpretation of what you're saying. The distinction between this and the Maori in New Zealand is that the Maori are essentially one ethnicity. They have different tribes that used to fight each other, but they are one ethnicity, and that makes things a great deal simpler.
I throw out those problems to you and I'm looking for your feedback as to how you would respond to them.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
I have had the great honour and privilege of having been here before. The first time was in 1986, when the minister I was working with was Tagak Curley, for the creation of Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve. I've had great fortune to be able to travel this land. Few Canadians have had this opportunity.
I've been fortunate also to work with your president, I believe, Cathy Towtongie. I worked with her at COP 21 in Paris. There has been a lot of climate leadership from Inuit people. I'm very drawn to your proposals.
It may just be because I'm the Green Party that I don't think it's a bad idea that caribou and polar bears should be represented in our Parliament. Maybe that's too much for most people, but I think that when you're looking at a land mass and you look at it as a partner instead of as an asset, it changes perspective in a very powerful way.
I want to let you know that although we are here, so far from southern Canada, a lot of Canadians are actually listening to us live. They don't have video, but they are watching Twitter. There are a lot of people who like what you just said. They like the idea that land is a partner.
I want to go to the New Zealand model because you expressed a lot of skepticism about how mixed member proportional might work for Canada. I know, thanks to knowing Cathy Towtongie, that Inuit do not want to be described as a first nation. She was very clear on that. This is a different relationship. It's community partners, as Canadians first, but with a perspective that needs to be heard.
First of all, I should tell you that one of our expert witnesses, Sean Graham from Alberta, actually has advocated this to us on the record, so you're not the first witnesses to suggest that there should be two members for each of the territories. It goes right against our principles of representation by population, but his model, which is one of the ones we're looking at, would put two ridings together across most of Canada and still have two MPs. One would be elected the current way and one would be representative of proportionality, but to make that work he was suggesting we would put two MPs for Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.
The other model, of course, is mixed member proportional, under which, as we were discussing, in New Zealand the seats for Maori have been there for quite a number of years. They have a minimum guaranteed number of seven seats for which only Maori voters can make those choices, but due to mixed member proportional, Maori MPs are also being elected in the proportionality system, so that right now the number of Maori members of Parliament perfectly reflects the proportion of the population of New Zealand that is Maori.
I want to go back for a bit more discussion on whether you could see some form of a system, when we're reforming our voting system, that had reserved seats for indigenous peoples but didn't make divisions along ethnicity lines. That is, for purposes of getting a voice out there, we would ask Inuit, Métis, and first nations people to vote for Inuit, Métis, and first nations representatives without breaking that down. Would that be feasible? Do you have any thoughts on that?
. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to appear before you today.
I would like to welcome all honourable members of Parliament here and thank you very much for this opportunity to discuss my thoughts on electoral reform as they relate to my home jurisdiction of Nunavut and here in my home community of Iqaluit.
I understand that today marks the final day of committee hearings outside of Ottawa. I want to strongly commend you for taking the time to visit every province and territory in the country. I'm sure it has not been easy.
I have two messages for you today.
First, we have a long-established tradition of dealing with important public policy questions in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, which I respectfully ask you to consider in formulating your recommendations to the government.
Second, please let's not rush this important process. It's especially important to us northerners to have an opportunity to weigh in on a question with significant national importance, such as this one.
As you know, Nunavut was officially separated from its sister territory, the NWT, on April 1, 1999. The NWT and Nunavut, in their relatively short time as fully elected governments responsible to their people, have forged strong traditions that the rest of us could well emulate, including a tradition of respectful relationships with the aboriginal peoples who are the strong majority in both territories.
Another of our strong traditions is the so-called consensus system of government, which has served us well in making major progress on challenging issues such as the resolution of complex and comprehensive land claims and significant progress in what we call “constitutional development”, reflected in the steady acquisition of province-like responsibilities from Ottawa in areas such as health, public utilities, and management and a revenue share of lands and resources in the NWT in 2014, a process that is being negotiated in Nunavut as we speak.
We've managed to do all that without partisan politics in the NWT and Nunavut. It is a great system in which I proudly served for 16 years, and a system I'm most comfortable with and welcome in the Senate of Canada, now moving towards more independence and less partisanship.
What I want to emphasize today, honourable members, is that we know how to address big public policy questions successfully. We agreed to divide the Northwest Territories to create a new public government in Nunavut with a strong Inuit majority, alongside the largest and most ambitious land claims settlement in history; to establish a new regulatory regime—because we don't use the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act here in Nunavut—and to determine a boundary for division. All that was done without strife, and certainly without bloodshed or bitterness.
We did so by taking our time, as it was a process of more than 20 years. We did so by consulting all citizens at every major step of the way, and this is my message to you today, respectfully.
Dear parliamentary colleagues, I ask you to respect that the NWT and Nunavut have a very strong tradition of consulting the people on major public policy decisions and have established from the first days of elected government a long-standing and well-established system of public voting—we call them plebiscites—to ensure that the general electorate is consulted on major public policy decisions such as the one you're wrestling with, reform of the electoral system.
In Nunavut, the Plebiscites Act regulates direct votes on community and Nunavut-wide questions. This fundamental tool for legislators to secure a mandate for major changes in public policy was established in the NWT when major electoral and constitutional reforms were contemplated by the elected legislators of the day.
The Plebiscites Act was established in 1974 and became a crucial vehicle to assure the federal government that the people of the NWT were supportive of major political changes. I want to give you some examples of the important questions on which the people of Nunavut were given a voice.
In 1982, when Nunavut was part of the NWT, there was a very important vote on whether or not the Northwest Territories should be divided into two territories. The outcome of this vote, in which 56.5% of residents of three years' standing in the NWT voted “yes”, was absolutely critical in paving the way for the creation of Nunavut.
Then in 1995 there was a vote on which community should become the capital of Nunavut. The choices were Rankin Inlet or Iqaluit, and 60% voted for Iqaluit as the capital, compared to 40% who voted for Rankin Inlet.
Please note that we then considered what I thought was an exciting and beneficial change to our voting system in territorial elections. It was a very exciting proposal that would have seen one man and one woman guaranteed to be elected in each territorial riding. We held a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the general electorate. The question in that vote was, “Should the first Nunavut Legislative Assembly have equal numbers of men and women MLAs, with one man and one woman elected to represent each electoral district?” The result, which sadly was very disappointing to me, was that 57% voted against the change.
People must have a voice and a vote if we are to change our way of electing MPs. However, for that vote to truly be representative of the will of the Canadian people, I strongly believe that it's important to ensure that every Canadian has the opportunity to make a truly informed decision.
I have a Senate Facebook page. Facebook is ubiquitous in the north, even though we have very slow Internet. Some of my posts have had a reach of over 4,000 all the way to 19,000 people. My most popular post to date has had 933 interactions, which include likes, shares, and comments.
In September I launched an Internet survey asking respondents to identify how much they understood about the options available for electoral reform. I've received only two responses to date. This, to me, is an indication that more engagement and a better, deeper understanding of alternative systems are needed.
In preparing for today, I reviewed your committee's mandate and noted in particular the welcome emphasis on principles of engagement and legitimacy connected with your study of alternative voting systems. I also noted that the standing order establishing the committee directed the committee to study and advise on additional methods for obtaining the views of Canadians.
Today I've described a decades-long tradition of a territorial government seeking the views of their electorate on proposals for significant policy change through what we call plebiscites. I do hope this history of our experience dealing with major changes in a non-partisan system of government, time-tested over decades in our albeit short history of representative elected government, is informative. I also hope that your committee will consider this method of engaging northerners and obtaining their views. This is how we make important decisions on matters of public policy in the north. This is how we've engaged our aboriginal majorities and established successful partnerships to implement modern treaties, enshrining aboriginal rights alongside public government. This is how we persuaded the federal government to draw new boundaries in the north and on one-third of the map of Canada, and to create a new contiguous territory of Nunavut alongside a modern treaty.
I respectfully recommend that a public vote is similarly what will be required to give legitimacy to any plans for electoral reform in Canada.
Thank you very much for this opportunity.
I will try to address the key issues.
Before I begin my presentation, I would like to offer my condolences to the family of Mayor Bryan Pearson.
Second, I'm pleased that the government has taken this initiative to review the electoral system. It's an interesting opportunity. I heard about electoral reform when I first came to Canada, and it has been an ongoing public discussion; however, there has been little debate by senators and members of the House of Commons. I'm presenting here today as a city councillor of Iqaluit.
My presentation is going to be short, because Senator Patterson has already given a very comprehensive and extensive history of the electoral reform landscape in Nunavut. I couldn't have done it any better, because he has been here for so long that he has a better grasp of the transition of the northern territories than I have, so thank you so much.
While Canada is a strong and respected democracy, we inherited the first-past-the-post system. The government believes that it is time to create a new system that is broad and representative of voters' views. Of the 34 member countries of the OECD, Canada is one of only three that continue to use the first-past-the-post system to elect legislators. It's time to remind all Canadians that they are in charge. We need to modernize our voting system so that it provides all of us with an opportunity to participate more fully in shaping our country.
In the first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if that candidate has less than the majority of the votes cast.
While proponents of the first-past-the-post system argue that the system is simple for voters and most likely to produce governments with a stable majority, others have noticed that the first-past-the-post system routinely forms governments without majority populace support, and at times with less support but more seats than the second-place party.
The first-past-the-post system incentivizes strategic voting, which distorts voter intention, and sadly, minority rule and strategic voting can weaken the perceived legitimacy of elected representatives and governments.
While there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system, as a country we can do better. We deserve broad representative politics that lead to elections that inspire Canadians to vote. That does need to be emphasized, based on the number of people who usually go out to vote.
We need stable governments that respond to the needs of Canadians, and a representation that reflects our diversity and political views.
The five principles that guide the parliamentary committee study are very noble: looking at the effectiveness and legitimacy of the voting system, encouraging engagement and participation in the democratic process, supporting accessibility and inclusiveness for all eligible voters, building integrity into the system, and taking into consideration the accountability of local representation.
Senator Patterson has touched on all of these issues, and I will just emphasize the issue of local representation.
As a territory, we are huge, and we feel we might be better represented if we adopt a different voting system, one that will provide us with not only one member of Parliament but maybe a couple more, and one that is not based on the first-past-the-post system, but something that will be more representative of the voting electorate.
Finally, one issue I want to stress is the issue of effectiveness and legitimacy. From a democratic participation principle, I think it is very important that the system we have should have legitimacy so that people can have faith that when they go to vote, their vote will count, and that the system they are voting in will help them have a reflection in the division of power so that it's not just one person with a slim majority taking all the power, the winner-take-all situation. If we can build some form of equity into the system, I think we might see a lot of people participating in the system.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone. It's my privilege, and it's a great privilege, to have the opportunity to be here this afternoon and to address this committee on some very important matters. I believe that electoral reform is a very important question, central to our form of democracy in Canada.
I promise to keep my comments brief, but first I'd like to point out that many of us here in Nunavut have a day job that sometimes complicates the ability for us to speak independently on occasions such as this. Nevertheless, I want to make it clear to the committee that I'm here today as a private citizen. I'm not in any way representing the organization I work with on a daily basis, or any other organization of which I'm an active member. The views I may express here today are mine alone.
Second, I'd like to touch briefly on my own history. I grew up and was educated in southern Canada, in the very large cities, even then, of Toronto and Montreal. My first employment following my university graduation was in the Lakeshore-West Island area, where I also lived for most of the eight years that I was living in Montreal before I came to the Arctic.
For half of my adult life, I have lived and worked in the north, initially in the Northwest Territories and for the past 17 years, since the beginning of Nunavut. For both my wife Mehrun and me, our working and living lives in the north stretch back over an almost 49-year time span. My work experience and fields of interest have included adult education, housing education, human resource development, and economic development. My wife Mehrun was a registered nurse and midwife.
I've worked closely with Inuit during all of that period, and also with other indigenous people, in all parts of the three territories.
I want to confirm 's observation on how major decisions have been made in the north and about how parliamentary democracy should work, at least in recent decades. The decision not to divide the Northwest Territories, as the senator has pointed out, into two territories, the Mackenzie and Nunassiaq, as it was called then, as proposed in legislation first introduced into the House in 1963, ultimately emanated from the Carrothers commission report in 1966. I'm sorry to be a little pedantic about history, but I think it's important that the idea of dividing the Northwest Territories was not new. It originally stretched back to the early sixties.
Second, the Carrothers commission, which was formed right after the legislation died on the order paper, after two years recommended not to divide the territory. I think that decision may in fact have been the last time that important and crucial changes were contemplated in any of our three northern territories without a broad public consultation process that culminated in some sort of referendum or plebiscite.
As Senator Patterson has pointed out, in Nunavut we actually have a Plebiscites Act for direct votes on community or Nunavut-wide questions, and I'll come back to this in a minute. I think it's also important, though, to emphasize that a critical aspect of the Inuit land claims process in Nunavut was the decision to work towards a parliamentary form of public government rather than Inuit self-rule.
I believe that electoral reform falls into the category of an important and serious issue that calls out for an opportunity to hear the voices of all the people, particularly the citizens of Nunavut, who have come to the party a bit late. I also understand and agree that the issues at play are complex and difficult to understand. It's not easy to explain the various options under consideration. Nevertheless, and with all due respect, I do not believe that this is reason enough to deny the people an opportunity to have a say and to then leave the matter solely to parliamentarians for a decision.
Furthermore, I believe that Parliament has an obligation to ensure that appropriate steps are taken by way of public information and education to ensure that the voters of Canada all understand the electoral options that are being considered. In my opinion, again with all due respect, this should involve more than the use of websites and travelling parliamentary committee hearings. I believe there's a strong expectation here in Canada's newest jurisdiction that something as important as changing the rules governing how federal elections will run would require a referendum and an opportunity for all citizens to vote for the process they would most favour.
If the outcome of the consultations that you have embarked on is to go ahead anyway, with just a vote in Parliament, then I agree with the Mr. Cullen's suggestion that this should, in effect, become a temporary or interim measure, to be followed at some early point down the road by further consideration, after people have had a chance to witness and experience first-hand the impact of whatever changes are brought about. This would then provide an opportunity to review and reconsider, making further modifications to electoral reform with public inputs and preferably a public vote.
It's also important to reflect on the history of electoral evolution in Canada's north. Inuit, who continue to make up the vast majority of our population here in Nunavut and in other parts of the most northerly areas of the Northwest Territories, were only enfranchised in 1948. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that the first time Inuit voters living in what is now Nunavut had an opportunity to vote in a federal election was perhaps 1953, but from my brief examination of the records, it appears that it was likely many years later that Inuit first had an actual opportunity to vote, and that was simply logistics.
As a quick aside, when I filed my first income tax return, having moved north, it was as a foreigner, as a non-resident of Canada. It was the same income tax form that was completed for citizens living abroad, so the north was sort of barely part of this country. It means that Inuit have really only taken an active role in our federal electoral process for perhaps 60 years. That is not a very long time. I know that potential members of Parliament were campaigning in parts of what is now Nunavut in the early sixties.
I had an opportunity in 1968 to see one of the candidates campaigning in Chesterfield Inlet. His campaign methods were somewhat interesting, as he distributed oranges at the meetings he held in the community. Of course, this was so that potential voters would recall his last name when they were voting, which was Bud Orange.
Mr. Chairperson, I think the committee needs to look at Nunavut as an example of how referendums or plebiscites on important matters of public interest can actually work. There have been several examples, as Senator Patterson has clearly indicated: the fusion of the NWT, the location of our capital, and gender equity in our legislative assembly. Other territory-wide decisions concerning land title and the sale of beer, wine, and spirits have also been conducted. Local decisions concerning prohibition of alcohol are also undertaken in communities from time to time.
From a personal point of view, I believe that a better initial option for Canada would be one of the two majority systems: alternative vote, as is the case in Australia, or a runoff, two-round system, such as they have in France.
I believe that many voters here in Nunavut may already think we have a majority voting system in place now, but of course that's not true, and in fact our current member of Parliament, with all due respect, did not win a majority of the votes in the last election, but just over 47% of all votes cast. One of the two majority systems I have just cited might have produced a different result here in Nunavut, and of course the same might have applied in other parts of Canada as well. We can only speculate.
I promised to keep my comments brief, so I will end my presentation here, Mr. Chairperson, but will be happy to respond to any questions the committee members might have during the question period.
Thank you for coming to Iqaluit. Thank you for having me on this panel. It's an honour to be here.
I submitted a brief on electoral reform and I will speak quickly about what I propose. I will, for the most part, skip over the analysis of the various options that are typically discussed, except to say the obvious, which is that there are trade-offs and drawbacks to all of them, and you have the challenging task of not only picking one proposal out of the noise, but then trying to rally everyone to it.
I'd like to start by drawing attention to geography. It is easy for urban Canadians, when sitting around dreaming of electoral reform, to map the German system or the Irish system or whatever system onto Canada, but one defining characteristic of Canada is its widely dispersed population. Nunavut is, of course, the most dramatic example, but it is not just true for Nunavut or even just for the territories. Our expansiveness, combined with a long legacy of first-past-the-post elections, means localness is more important here than perhaps anywhere in the world. Even expanding ridings by 50%, as mixed member proportional systems might, hurts local representation in many parts of Canada. This may not be nearly as true in urban areas, which often have less distinct riding boundaries and where an average urban street can separate two ridings.
Alienation is an easy problem to have in Canada, and local representation, as local as possible, is key for voters to feel they can continue to be connected to government during elections and between them. Many Canadians in small towns or even small cities, and especially those in rural and remote areas, will feel a great loss if they are subsumed into larger ridings. This could hurt voter engagement of marginal groups; it's detrimental to the inclusion of aboriginal groups, farmers, and any other interest that struggles to be heard in a riding of 100,000 or more people, and it could be lost entirely in a larger riding. The solution is to have a hybrid system, which is a system with some single-seat ridings and some multi-seat ridings. This solution has also been proposed by a few others, as I'm sure you know.
I don't propose this as a one-issue solution. I think there are benefits to a hybrid system other than just balancing localness and proportionality, but while everyone seems to want to keep local representation, they propose larger ridings, and that concerns me. The problem here, or let's call it an opportunity, is that there is some difficulty in determining which ridings should remain single-seat ridings and which ridings should be merged. I don't think it's as simple as looking at physical size. There may be some urban ridings of a distinct nature that want to maintain their distinctiveness. There may be some rural or remote ridings that value the ability to elect multiple members over maintaining the most local riding they can, so I propose this decision to be the riding's choice—not just once, but on an ongoing basis.
What's at stake when deciding between a single-member riding and larger multi-member ridings are two important decisions. The first decision involves localness and proportionality. These are the two electoral reform features talked about the most. There is no way to maximize localness and proportionality at the riding level. To gain proportionality, there are some costs to localness.
The second decision, although much less discussed, is how constituents are represented, but I believe it is important in practice. There's no way to give constituents competition and choice among multiple MPs, as in multi-member ridings, while also keeping the strength of representation in small single-member ridings with an MP with a duty to serve all constituents. The larger ridings can only weaken an MP's feel for the riding, which would be at least 50% bigger than now, and it make it harder for constituents to identify with their MP.
These are very important factors that affect people's connection to their democracy, and what happens when you make that decision for them? Your five principles for electoral reform apply to the process as well as the outcome. Taking these important decisions away from voters and putting them up front in this process in electoral reform invites many people to be against whatever is proposed. Keeping this in the hands of the electorate means people aren't pulled in as many directions and are more likely to accept this change.
The mechanism I propose for this is a yes-or-no question at election time, asking voters if they want to stay as they are or change. In the first election, upon implementation, it would be a question of staying as a single-member riding or joining a multi-seat district. In the future, they could vote on switching back or on switching from one district to another. Leading up to the election, there would be a petition process to see what options should be put to voters. In most parts of the country, the primary merger option would be fairly obvious.
This is the short version of what I propose. This system has some unique advantages.
First, while mixed systems are not terrible, they are a blunt tool. Why impose a compromise system on the whole country when we can have location-specific solutions?
Second, it's the most democratic, because voters decide. It has a small initial step that leaves some future decision-making in the hands of voters, making it the most sellable to the public. Change must be incremental for the electorate to support the changed initiative. The best proposal in the world accomplishes nothing if it's voted down.
It's one of the few proposals that can possibly be initiated for the next election, since there are no changes to electoral boundaries. It just needs time for a petition process in each riding to have a merger option to vote on at election time.
It would improve proportionality on a national level, while allowing ridings to stay the same size as they are now, where and when that is considered important by those constituents. It is as proportional as people want it to be, and it's as local as people want it to be.
While it has a unique procedural element to it, what I propose will involve tried and true political systems in the actual election itself. Federal elections are not the place for experimenting with brand new election systems.
Our riding choice model is moderate, easy to sell to the electorate, balances localness and proportionality, and is strong on effectiveness, on legitimacy and voter engagement, and above all excels at being democratic, which is what this is all about.
Qujannamiik. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I do share that appreciation for innovation.
The provincial jurisdiction thing does come up when, as Mr. Arreak was proposing to us earlier, there is direct representation based on ethnicity. There would potentially be first nations, Métis, and Inuit representation. Do you try to capture people geographically in that representation, or do you capture it in a way that it is presented, as it is in New Zealand? I don't know if we have other examples. I'm sure there are some.
Mr. Matshazi, first of all, congratulations on your election to office.
I'd like to quote your cousin, Beacon Khumalo. I looked you up. He said on the night of your historic election win:
||Winning is actually when he delivers (on his promises) so I think this is half the point where I can say he has won.
I like that quote, because on election night we celebrate the winners. We say, “Oh, they have won”, yet they're not truly winners, particularly according to your cousin and I think others, until they deliver on the promises that got them elected in the first place. That quotation struck me simply because the formation of this committee is an effort to fulfill a promise. won the last election federally under our current system, but won it with a promise, which is ironic, to do away with that system. As I said, 63% of the people in the House of Commons....
I'll turn this question to Senator Patterson. I'll read you another quote, this one from a former senator. This is weird for a New Democrat, but we're going there.
Senator Len Marchand was talking about first nations' strength in our country in terms of representation. He noted back in 1990 that the current voting system is bad and a barrier because it “fragments aboriginal voting strength to the point where an aboriginal vote is next to meaningless.”
What I'm hearing so far today, if I found a theme throughout the testimony, is to please do no harm to the north. Our voices are often singular in terms of Nunavut, but for three vast territories across the north, the theme is “Don't come up with a system that will do us harm”, and maybe there can be some enhancements.
Let me put both of the citations I just read those to you, Mr. Patterson. One is about fulfilling a promise, and the second is about the dilution of aboriginal first nations, Métis, and Inuit voices in the current system that we have right now.
As I said earlier, as I was walking in there was nothing written in Inuktituk to tell me where I was supposed to go. If I didn’t speak English or French, I would not know where to go because there are no directions in Inuktituk. You are in Nunavut, and there are three official languages in Nunavut—English, French, and Inuktituk.
Thank you for coming to Nunavut, and I am grateful for the opportunity to address the committee and to speak to the concerns of Nunavummiut regarding electoral reform and democracy.
I will go back to English.
We have 26 communities spread across an area the size of western Europe. There are more than 400 million people in western Europe. There are 37,000 of us in Nunavut. We make up one-tenth of one per cent of the population of Canada, yet our land comprises one-fifth of Canada.
In a way, Nunavut is a microcosm of Canada, a vast land, sparsely populated by international standards. We joke about how Americans see us, see Canada—not just us, but Canada. They think it's all igloos and dog teams and lumberjacks, yet this is how many southern Canadians see Nunavut. For the record, we don't have any lumberjacks up here.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jack Anawak: I speak to you today as a former hamlet councillor in a community, as a mayor, a former member of the legislative assembly, a territorial minister, a former candidate for federal office, and a former member of Parliament.
When it comes to our electoral system, our concerns are twofold: promoting participation and supporting candidates and voters, and ensuring our interests are properly represented and promoted in Ottawa.
As to promoting participation and supporting candidates and voters, as you may have heard, the cost of living up here is very high. I encourage the committee members to visit the Northmart and Arctic Ventures to get a sense of how high the cost of living is and to see the prices of our groceries. A person considering running for office here has to consider forgoing income for the duration of the campaign. While this is true in many ridings, we have high costs for food, housing, electricity, heating fuel, and child care. For us, choosing to run for office usually means living off our savings in the most expensive riding in the country.
Finding ways to support more candidates to consider running for office has to be part of any discussion on electoral reform in Nunavut. I don't know what form this could take, but I know that it has discouraged many good-quality candidates from running for office. They can't afford to take anywhere from a few weeks to 78 days off from work.
It also means travelling throughout the campaign. We're a huge territory. While our territory is measured in millions of square kilometres, many ridings in southern Canada, southern cities, are just a few square kilometres in size. Just for the record, when I was running in 1993 for re-election, I happened to go down to Ottawa and drove around six ridings in a matter of a couple of hours. Here there are 26 communities spread across about 900,000 square miles. It has to all be by air. There are no roads connecting.
You can understand our situation when running for office up here in Nunavut.
It means strategically choosing which communities we have time to visit and which communities we can afford to visit. Candidates here spend thousands and thousands of dollars in airfare just to be able to meet voters. Can you imagine doing that in your riding? For a candidate, it means having limited opportunities to meet with voters across the territory. For voters, it may mean to only have a single opportunity to meet a candidate in your community, if they can afford to visit your community at all.
Electoral reform for us is more than changing the voting system. It means encouraging our system to be one that encourages candidates and voters to participate in a democratic process.
Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is the easternmost community in Nunavut. We are almost due north of Ottawa. Kugluktuk is our westernmost community, almost due north of Edmonton or Calgary. On top of being very spread out, our communities have large variations in geography, culture, language, economic opportunity, and priorities. Can each of you imagine representing a riding that has as much variation between communities as Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Calgary, and everyone in between with all those differences?
Although our population is small, an MP in Nunavut has to contend with these variations in community dynamics and priorities. We have to try to represent everyone despite having limited communication with each community in a cohesive way in Ottawa. Suffice it to say it's very difficult to do so effectively, no matter how hard you work as a member of Parliament.
Electoral reform for us has to recognize that not only our population but our size has to be a consideration in the way we elect MPs and the number of people we elect to represent us.
I'll revert back to Inuktitut.
I sincerely hope that regardless of which voting system you adopt, you consider granting an extra seat in the House of Commons to reflect Nunavut’s unique needs and challenges and to ensure that our hopes, aspirations, priorities, and politics are accurately reflected in the House of Commons in Ottawa.
I thank you for this opportunity to address you and I hope that your visit is very worthwhile.
Qujannamiik . Thank you.
(Interpretation): Qujannamiik. Merci.
Thank you to all of you for giving us and the people who are here with me, my colleagues, an opportunity to speak in front of you.
What I’m going to basically talk about are the things you’re going to consider. I will probably talk more in Inuktituk and I will also speak in English.
First of all, I’d like to talk about elections, so I’m going to start with having arrangements so that people can vote. This is my concern here in Nunavut, a concern that the Nunavummiut have.
Every year, at one time of the year, we hunt for our food, so if there should be an election when we are out hunting, this would create some conflict for the hunter. You have to consider the aspect that people do go out hunting. Elections are very important, but surviving with our country food as well is important, so this is what I’m going to start with.
The other thing you can consider is online computer voting. I have done that myself, but the addresses of the websites are written in English and in French only. They do not represent Inuit. How are they going to deal with the technical issues? We don’t want them to be left behind with the kinds of issues they have just because they can’t speak the language.
I will return to English.
Perhaps the final area that I would like to focus on in my brief presentation is that I have no real issues with the current practice of first past the post, as it has been our system for quite some time. If you are looking for alternatives, I would have some reservations about the proportional representation model, as it pretty much creates a permanent minority government, and that in itself creates challenges. I do not envy countries that try to govern under this system. I, being a Canadian, would be concerned that such a system could fracture our nation into regional, linguistic, and cultural divisions.
As you can see in our own territory system, we have a consensus model, which is the same thing as a permanent minority government, and it does have its challenges. For that reason, I would have to say that the proportional representation model is a bit of a concern.
If it's the desire and the will of the committee to move forward with a different model, I stress that it should be as simple and as clear as possible for all concerned. The alternative vote model would be my preference, as it maintains the clarity and simplicity to the voters and is in keeping with their wishes.
To conclude, if the committee could also recommend on changing how the senators are chosen in our country, I want to be able to elect mine. Please recommend a vote for our senators. That would be a perfect model for us here in our own territory, so we could have real representation in the Senate too.
Qujannamiik. Thank you.
I'm going to speak about some of the barriers I believe contribute to Nunavut's low voter turnout.
I'm going to start with the very first election that we were allowed to vote in. The first time the Innu had the right to vote dates back to 1953, the 22nd Parliament.
Then, in 1977, 10 years after the Toronto Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup, the first senator from the area that's now known as Nunavut was appointed. In 1977, in the 31st Parliament, the Innu had a representative in Parliament for the first time. I don't remember it, but that was not very long ago.
In 1993 Nunavut finally had a dedicated seat in the Senate, whereas before the Nunavut rep was one of the three NWT reps.
Since 1977, when Nunavut got its first representative, we've had two different senators and six different MPs. Since 2015, we haven't had a representative in Parliament who could speak Inuktitut. Nunavut makes up 21% of Canada's land mass.
It's 6:47 here and Nunavut stretches across three time zones. It's 5:47 in Arviat, 4:47 in Taloyoak, all in the same territory.
If you want to travel east or west in Nunavut, it will take you two days. You'll have to leave the territory. The Nunavut MP represents two million square kilometres. The MP from NWT represents 1.3 million square kilometres. The Yukon MP represents 483,000 square kilometres. St. John's, Newfoundland, has 446 square kilometres and has two MPs. Charlottetown has 44 square kilometres and an MP.
Other barriers I've observed are that many of the political platforms in campaigns include plans to address issues that have been challenging Nunavut for as long as I can remember. Anyone in their thirties would have lived in conditions or witnessed high levels of poverty and overcrowded housing. A lot of people suffer from PTSD, with little or no mental health services to deal with these...I hesitate to say “historical” traumas, because a lot of these traumas are from the 1950s and as early as the 1980s, and a lot of them continue today.
There is a lack of reconciliation between Canada and the Inuit. There has been no substantial investment in the people of the Arctic. The investment that we've seen historically in the Arctic often has been motivated by a military agenda. More recently it is related to resource extraction.
There's a continued denial of a devastating dog slaughter carried out by the RCMP from the 1950s. If MPs represent Canadians, MPs in the practical sense are represented by government departments, programs, and services, and our interactions with government often haven't very positive from the very early days.
We haven't done very much to adjust this. It took a lot from the Nunavut land claim organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, for the Government of Canada to invest some funds in an Inuit employment plan, which is in the agreement that the government signed.
Nunavut has three regions: the Kivalliq, the Kitikmeot, and the Qikiqtaaluk, more commonly known as Baffin. I believe that if we had three seats in the Senate in our current model, it would adjust some of the representational issues we suffer from in our great land mass. The reason I say this is that if we can have three guaranteed representatives in the Senate, that will ensure we have three MPs in Parliament under the current model that was adopted in 1985.
The reason I bring up things like overcrowded housing, poverty, and abuse is that if you're not sure where you're sleeping, or if you're sleeping in shifts, and if you're not sure what your next meal is going to be or when it's going to be, and if you're not sure when the next time you're going to be sexually abused or physically abused will be, who really cares when the next election is?
I hate to leave you on such a sad note, but that's the reality of the territory. I'm going to leave it at that.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
I wanted to thank Franco for talking about some of the difficult issues.
I'm representing the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce. I was asked to come here today to be a witness. My understanding of why you're here is to look at better ways to represent the views of Canadians and improving public trust. I got that off the website.
How to do that is not necessarily about changing the entire system. The system we have now is not broken. Single-member plurality is the status quo. Some of the knocks against it are mounting viable candidacies across the wide range of territory and space, especially in Nunavut, and low voter turnout. I think that's the issue. Low voter turnout is the issue in Nunavut and across Canada.
What do you do about voter apathy?
They say that poor voter turnout happens because of disenchantment, indifference, and complacency. People don't care. Is it because they watch CPAC, and they watch what's going on in the House, and they say, “I'd rather not vote for somebody like that?” I don't know if that's accurate or not, but it's a possibility.
Let's talk about the different types of options or systems that we've seen here and in other parts of the world.
In 2005, B.C. came up with a single transferable vote, which is pretty much a ranking of candidates. Even though they got a 58% yes, because they were doing it by referendum, it had to be 60% in order for them to make that change. It didn't get changed in B.C. Perhaps that's an indicator of referendums across our nation and their effectiveness, or lack thereof.
There are a number of different options for electoral systems and their reform. Another is the mixed member proportional system that New Brunswick brought forward and reported on. You can have regional party lists with that system as well. There is also the runoff voting or alternative voting that Paul Okalik just mentioned.
One of the things that most of the witnesses here will remember is that prior to 1999, during the division and creation of Nunavut, there was also a discussion about dual-gender ridings. The idea was to have one man and one woman elected from each riding in our territory. That's another consideration as well.
Those are considerations in contemplating a change to the type of system that you have, but remember that I said at the beginning that I don't think the system is broken. I don't think it needs to be fixed. However, you do need to deal with voter turnout.
There are other ways that you can address that. One is ballot design. Another is voting equipment; Paul also talked about that in terms of the choices of how you're able to vote. As well, there are nomination rules and political party rules.
There is also the eligibility to vote. Our organization is called Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, and in our land claim beneficiary voting, the eligibility age for voting is 16.
What is this about voter turnout? The theory is that the probability of a person voting, times the benefit of that person voting, plus the duty or stratification of that person voting, have to outweigh the cost.
Most of the other witnesses today have talked about the factors that go into the cost to vote here in Nunavut versus the factors that go into the cost to vote in the ridings that you are from. I don't know where every single person here is from, but I'm assuming that you have less distance to cover in your riding than you do here.
How do we get people interested in voting again here in Nunavut? I think if you consider something like a mobile polling station in the smaller communities, with people who are fluent in Inuktitut going to elders' facilities or to their homes to record or get their ballots or get their vote in some form or another, you would increase voter turnout in Nunavut at a lower cost. You can't do this across the whole country. I understand that in larger ridings you would have to go to, I don't know, 10,000 voters, but in a small community in Nunavut, if you want to get to the elders, there would be 10, 20, 40, or 50.
Paul also mentioned the timing of elections. It seems these days that elections in Nunavut never happen on a warm summer day—I can't recall that ever being the case—when it is easiest for people with disabilities to go somewhere. You've been outside here in Iqaluit today and you've seen how slippery it is. Imagine you are in a wheelchair and you're trying to get to a polling station in December in Nunavut, and this is Iqaluit. This is the capital of our territory. This is the best our territory has to offer for people with disabilities. The amount of culture shock you would get coming from Saint-Louis in Montreal to here is similar to what you would get in going from here to Qikiqtarjuaq or Kimmirut, even though Kimmirut is only 100 miles away.
Therefore, making it easier for a person to vote in Nunavut would increase voter turnout.
I'm not sure that the only reason you guys are here is to talk about better representing the views of Canadians and improving public trust. I know you want to consider other options for our electoral system, and by all means. That's why we live in a democracy: it's so everybody can consider the different options that they have placed before them, but I don't think our current system is broken. I think you need to be able to incent people to vote, and it's not with a stick. Mandatory voting would be difficult to enforce in Iqaluit, let alone smaller communities in Nunavut, or to implement. I think you do it with a carrot and you make a public display of your actions to show something worth voting for.
That's it for me. Thank you.
I also wanted to take note and thank the people from Iqaluit, the citizens who are sitting in the audience tonight, and this very excellent panel as well.
I had chance to speak with Maatalii Okalik earlier, and I hope she'll come to the mike, not to put too much pressure on her. She's president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami Youth Council.
Just last month the parliamentary committee on indigenous and northern affairs was here specifically to talk about some of the difficult social issues that Franco brought to light. That committee was looking at the risks of suicide for Inuit youth, an issue that is really close to all our hearts, but not on our agenda tonight. I want you to know that we're all deeply concerned, and I hope we'll hear from more Inuit youth in our open mike session.
I'm going to turn my questioning to Mr. Anawak and Mr. Okalik as experienced politicians, federally and territorially. Not to turn your words against you, Mr. Okalik, because I wouldn't want to do that, but you said you go in with a clear mandate when you're a political party, and the Liberals did in this last election. Mr. Trudeau said very clearly that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post, and in this riding, my friend Mr. Tootoo represented the Liberals in the election and had 47% of the vote, and our friend Mr. Anawak represented the NDP with 26.5% of the vote, which means that of the voters who did turn out in Nunavut, 73.5% voted for parties and candidates whose commitment was that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post.
That's why this committee has been established. We're here because we've been asked to determine what will replace first past the post. It's unusual in the course of our hearings across the country to hear so many people say they don't see anything wrong with it. That's important to hear, but I want to turn it back to you and say that this is our mandate. This was a commitment in the election. It happens to have also been a commitment from my party, the Green Party. If you add the Greens, across Canada 63% of voters voted for a party that had a commitment to provide a voting system that would ensure, one way or another, that the way Parliament was constituted after an election would reflect the way Canadians voted, so that 39% of the vote would result in 39% of the power, instead of 39% of the vote giving 100% of the power.
This is the context we're in here as a committee, and I wanted to turn it back to you. I'll start with Mr. Anawak and then Mr. Okalik. I don't want to put you on the spot, but given that we are changing our voting system, what would you like us to be mindful of? What matters to the people of Nunavut?
I'm hoping I have time to ask all four panellists. I'll start with the politicians in the middle and then work my way out to the edges.
Jack, would you like to jump in on that one first?
Hi. I'm Peter Williamson. I'm here as an individual.
I was here this afternoon and I found the presentation made by NTI really interesting. I thought the questions from the members of the committee were really good, so I want to speak to those a bit.
Just to back up first, though, there was also discussion around what Nunavut meant to the presenters. For me, I remember back in the late 1980s or early 1990s when the CBC announced that the federal government had withdrawn article 4 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which was the commitment to establish Nunavut. I remember being very surprised at the withdrawal of that article.
The Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, the predecessor to NTI, said, “If you're going to withdraw article 4, there's not going to be a vote to ratify the agreement”, so it really wasn't because of the goodwill of the Government of Canada that we have Nunavut. It really was because of the determination of Inuit to establish the Nunavut territory and government. For me, that's very important.
When I listened to NTI's presentation this afternoon, what really stuck out for me was that they thought that Inuit in Nunavut should have a member of Parliament elected to represent the Inuit of Nunavut and, to me, that makes a lot of sense. Some of the members had questions around that idea, and I'd like to address those.
One of the questions was, if you have a member of Parliament from Nunavut representing Inuit, what about the Inuit in the other regions? Would that MP be able to represent them as well?
There was another question about section 35 of the charter, regarding first nations, Inuit, and Métis. What it meant to me was what kind of justification can there be to elect an Inuit person from Nunavut that would accommodate some of the concerns that people might have around that?
For me, there are bigger questions at issue here. If we need to come up with some justification for Nunavut and there are questions around making sure that Inuit in other regions are represented and making sure that it's not just Inuit but also first nations and Métis who are represented, then that is an issue. In each of the jurisdictions and territories in Canada, aboriginal people face issues too, and it shouldn't just be the Inuit of Nunavut who have somebody to represent their issues.
I think taking a broader look at the issues that aboriginal people face in each province and territory and making sure that they have a voice is very important. I'll just use one example.
One of the policy issues that Canada has when it comes to land claims negotiation is occupancy. Under the comprehensive land claims policy, each aboriginal group that wants to negotiate a land claims agreement has to prove that it was there first. It has to be able to say, “We were here first. This is the land we occupied and this is when we occupied it.” It's not just Inuit but all of the aboriginal peoples in Canada who have to prove that. They were here first—we all know that—and still they have to prove that.
These are the kinds of issues that I think are important to aboriginal people. Being able to elect somebody from the province or territory that they are in would give them a voice in the Parliament of Canada, where they could address these issues.
. Thank you very much.
My name is Maatalii Aneraq Okalik, and I sit, as Elizabeth May has indicated, as the president of the National Inuit Youth Council within Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, so I represent Inuit youth across Canada.
I have the opportunity now to share a bit about who Inuit youth are and what their priorities are in relation to your standing committee as you review electoral reform.
As you are aware, there are 60,000 Inuit who live across Canada, and the majority of our population is made up of Inuit youth. It's very different from the realities of the southern Canadian population.
We are situated across four Inuit regions, and that is reflected in four provinces and territories. Definitely, representation is one of the highest issues with respect to elections and federal representation.
As Elizabeth May indicated, I testified before some of your counterparts on the standing committee on aboriginal affairs, specifically on suicide prevention, and at that time, I indicated the social inequities that Inuit face in Canada. I think that as we address the question on electoral reform, these inequities should be taken into consideration.
Inuit Canadians do not have the same quality of life as the majority of our fellow citizens: 39% of Inuit and Inuit Nunangat live in crowded homes, versus 4% of all Canadians; 29% of Inuit aged 25 to 64 successfully complete a high school diploma, versus 85% of all Canadians; 70% of Inuit households in Nunavut alone do not have enough food to eat, versus 8.3% of all Canadian households. The number of positions per 100,000 people in Nunavut is 30 in terms of access, versus 119 in urban health authorities across Canada, and 70.8 years is the average life expectancy for Inuit, versus 80.6 years for all Canadians.
Not only are we dying younger due to the aforementioned social inequities, but the leading cause of death is suicide. Across regions, we have a five to 25 times higher rate than the rest of Canada.
These are really important social inequities that we face on a daily basis. They have implications on our day-to-day lives, our quality of life, and they have a significant impact on how we are engaging in elections and how we're engaging with the federal government as a whole.
Compared to other jurisdictions with representation in the House of Commons or in the Senate, we are not represented accordingly. In relation to the Nunavut legislature, a lot of you, I noted, had a number of questions with respect to how the consensus-style government works, as well as representation. We are aware that there are 26 communities in Nunavut, with 22 representatives. Some of the communities that we have in Nunavut are multi-constituency communities by virtue of the unique needs and realities within smaller communities compared to some of your respective ridings.
There are 30 standing committees in the House of Commons alone, in contrast to those that sit in the Senate. When you have one MP for a region that is facing a number of social inequities that would be discussed on the standing committees, how are we to ensure that the basic needs of the population, who are supposed to be represented as equal Canadians, are being addressed effectively and are reflective of our realities and our culture?
When you make formal recommendations to the House, as well as ensuring accountability in spending, legislation, and issues related to departments and their respective mandates, how are we being represented when we have one MP trying to sit on all 30 of these committees when faced with these issues on a daily basis?
I sit on the board of directors for an Inuit organization and I lead the youth contingent. Inuit organizations like this one are required to work and lobby with a number of the departments that you work with through your standing committee to deal with these social inequities and the lack of an Inuit-to-crown relationship. In order to attack some of these issues, we need more representation.
A lot of you have indicated interest in the youth perspective on voting. In my position, I had the experience of helping create awareness and excitement about the last federal election, and I'd like to share some of my findings with you.
As a volunteer president with a day job working with the National Inuit Youth Council, I felt the responsibility to create basic awareness among Inuit youth, as Canadians, about the process of voting. They need to be aware of the way in which they can vote by having identification, as well as the locations where they have to show up in person to vote if they are students. Nunavut and the other Inuit regions don't have a university setting in southern Canada where they can vote outside their constituency and know that their voice is being heard. Actually, that's not my responsibility.
Inuit youth don't necessarily see themselves reflected in the materials that are being disseminated. Some of our regions have legislation in place, because we have the Inuit language here in Canada. We have official languages acts, as well as protection acts, but when the material reflective of that reality isn't being disseminated, Inuit youth don't see themselves in the process and don't have the appropriate information to be able to make their vote count. However, because of the composition of our population, Inuit youth can essentially decide the vote.
People are able to vote by going to an Elections Canada office. Are there many offices in our 53 communities in Canada? How many Service Canada offices are available for individuals to be able to attain the identification required to exercise their suffrage?
I made a call on behalf of an Inuit youth interested in attaining a social insurance number in order to get a passport. This was in Pangnirtung. This youth was told to go to the Gatineau office. That's a $3,000 cost for airfare, which is not an essential service in Canada. Our communities are fly-in only, and it's a two-day trek.
When only 1% of the Canadian population has been to our homeland and the issues that we're facing on a daily basis are not reflected in the House of Commons, I worry that the social inequities we face in this developed country will not be addressed accordingly.
Qujannamiik. Thank you very much for affording me the time to share my reflections.