Thank you very much for your invitation. You are certainly keeping busy in the middle of a very hot summer, which is greatly appreciated. You are working for all Canadians.
This special committee is mandated to study electoral reforms in order to replace the current first-past-the-post system with another that would increase public confidence among Canadians in that their democratic will, as expressed by their votes, will be fairly translated.
The new electoral system that will emerge from this reform process could result in more frequent minority or even coalition governments. A number of individuals have expressed the concern that this could encourage more frequent general elections and lead to political instability.
However, recent events in Scotland and Wales show that it is possible to modernize and streamline our parliamentary system while maintaining its intrinsic traditions and political stability. The parliaments of Scotland and Wales both elect their respective members through a form of mixed-member proportional representation known as the additional member system. While they have had minority and coalition governments, these two parliaments have not had to hold elections more often than every four or five years since they were created, namely in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2016.
The parliamentary system possesses a number of simple and proven legal measures to stabilize minority and coalition governments. Drawing from measures implemented by the United Kingdom and several other countries, I would like to suggest some minor modifications that could be made to our procedures to ensure the stability and political legitimacy of the governments formed following the anticipated electoral reforms.
These changes will also have advantage of bringing more clarity and transparency to our procedures. They will serve an educational purpose because it will be important to ensure that any changes made to our electoral system are accompanied by the public's better understanding of our political system. They might incidentally enhance the role and significance of a member of Parliament.
I will list four proposed changes that were all inspired by concrete examples drawn from other countries. Please refer to the appendix of my report for a list of the legislative and constitutional provisions on which they are based.
First, I propose to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to provide for the nomination of the Prime Minister by a vote in the House of Commons, to be held between the election of the Speaker of the House and the Speech from the Throne—with the appointment of the Prime Minister remaining the prerogative of the Crown, of course.
This proposal is based on the examples of Scotland, Wales, Germany and Spain, where, when there is no clear majority government, they make sure to have a clear decision on who should form the government and who should be its leader—who will have to appear before the Governor General to form government.
Second, I propose to establish the requirements for voting on non-confidence motions through legislation or amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and restrict these motions to what are known as “constructive” non-confidence motions or, at a minimum, explicitly provide for the possibility of a successor government following a non-confidence vote.
Let's start with the requirement for a constructive non-confidence motion. This type of confidence motion is required in Belgium, Spain, and Germany, for example. I would specifically refer you to the Spanish example, where the use of the non-confidence motion has been clearly regulated. Non-confidence motions may be moved a limited number of times and only during a certain period.
What is a constructive non-confidence motion? When a motion is passed to indicate that the House has lost confidence in the government, the motion must simultaneously provide for a successor government. Should the motion pass, this successor government automatically receives the confidence of the House. This is a mechanism to prevent the opposition parties from joining forces to overthrow a government and from taking advantage of an early election to increase their number of seats.
With regard to the possibility of a successor government should the House of Commons pass a non-confidence motion, I relied on the United Kingdom legislation. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides that where the government is defeated on a vote of confidence, an election will not be called until 14 days later, if there is no subsequent resolution to restore confidence in that same government or in the successor government that would have been formed in the meantime.
Third, I propose to amend section 56.1 of the Canada Elections Act to allow for the early dissolution of Parliament with the approval of two-thirds of the members of the House of Commons. This enhances the role of members of Parliament. Once again, this proposal is based on an example of the British Fixed-term Parliaments Act. This is intended to give more weight to members of Parliament.
My fourth proposal builds on the third; in other words, if it can be done for the dissolution of Parliament, it can be done for prorogation as well. We can also make this requirement mandatory.
Therefore my fourth proposal is to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so that asking for Parliament to be prorogued or dissolved without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons automatically results in a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister. Consequently, the Governor General would not be bound by a prime minister's advice requesting the early dissolution or prorogation of Parliament without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons.
I emphasize that the current Standing Orders of the House of Commons stipulate that the election of the Speaker of the House does not constitute a question of confidence. The current Standing Orders already allow for some say about confidence.
The Standing Orders of the National Assembly of Quebec explicitly stipulate what are the issues that may be subject to a vote of confidence. There is a precedent in one of the provinces. In British law there is a clear provision on the conditions under which the vote of confidence can be exercised.
We would have the opportunity to provide for the specific conditions under which a government, which would be a minority government, could request the dissolution or prorogation of Parliament, to help stabilize the whole situation.
In closing, to ensure that this reform is successful, and while we are engaged in a major change, we have to consider an important public educational issue. A study showed that most Canadians think that they vote directly to elect a prime minister. Therefore there is a need for an education component to clarify how our system works.
Following the example of the United Kingdom and New Zealand, I propose that we capitalize on this electoral reform to clarify, in some sort of Cabinet manual drafted by consensus, all the expectations associated with forming a government and proroguing Parliament.
The British experience showed us how effective and useful such a manual can be when in 2010 none of the parties won a majority of seats. That evening, there were no rushed media calls of the type, “If the trend holds, the next government will be formed by...”. The political parties were given the time they needed to negotiate among themselves who would form the next government, rather than allowing the media to decide that very evening who would be the next prime minister. This is a step forward for democracy.