Thank you, Chair.
I'll make five points in the presentation and spend a couple of minutes on each of them, though I am happy to provide the speaking notes later to the committee if they want more details. Some of the points have already been made by Pippa Norris, who really is one of the world's great experts on these issues and a woman whose writings I consult when I am asked about them. You are very lucky to have her here, and we'll all learn from her.
Of the five points that I want to make here, the first is that there is no crisis in democratic process or outcomes in Canada.
The second is that although there is no crisis, even superior systems can be improved, as the history of Canadian democratic practice shows, and I want to outline some of those important improvements in the various elements of how one runs elections.
The third point—which I don't have to emphasize, because Professor Norris has already done it—is that there is no perfect electoral system. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, and it is really a question of values, of differing perspectives, that will inform your own debate. There's no technical solution to the issue of electoral reform. It is basically a political process of deciding your purposes and values and what you value most. I ask the question that again Professor Norris asked: if our system in fact operates pretty well, what is the reform, and what problem are you trying to solve?
The fourth point I want to emphasize is that a consensus in a committee like this is crucial. It's difficult, but it's attainable. I want to refer to my own experience—the chairman raised it—about the creation of the special joint committee on the constitution in 1980-1981, which had an even more difficult set of issues than you're grappling with but eventually was able to reach a consensus, a difficult one.
The last and perhaps most important of my various points to you is that electoral reform, your issue, is just one piece of the democratic reform agenda. There is still lots of work to do even as you grapple with the issue of electoral reform. Electoral reform itself has such a tremendous impact on the role of the House, the apex of accountability, that I would recommend to you that as you grapple with all of the technical issues and the difficult issues—and Professor Norris has raised them—you must keep in mind the complementary reforms that will be necessary to make our system work under whatever system you choose.
I'll go very quickly, then, on those five points.
There's no crisis in Canadian democratic practice. We have had in this country in recent years a tremendous crisis, in my view, in the role of the Senate, and that was leading to tremendous disrespect for a critical institution in Parliament. The new government, though, has moved with dispatch and I think with boldness in trying to reform the Senate by making it merit-based, independent, and non-partisan. There are difficult and interesting challenges ahead to make that system work in our parliamentary system. However, that was a crisis and it was addressed.
I think there is less of a crisis when we look at electoral systems. When we look at the various assessments internationally, we see that the World Bank, for example, which sponsors a worldwide governance indicator project, indicated that in 2014 Canada had ratings of 96% in accountability, 91% in political stability, 95% in government effectiveness, 98% in regulatory policy, 95% in the rule of law, and 94% in the control of corruption. That's absolutely in the top ten of attainment.
Professor Norris's own electoral integrity project had Canada again as probably—and she can correct me on this—at the top of the majoritarian practitioners of electoral systems, with a rating of around 75% to 80%, ahead of the United States and so on. Again, it was in that absolute top rank.
This international assessment about the value of Canadian government practice and electoral practice has led, as we all know, famously to the human development index of the United Nations, where Canada has always been in the top 10 and sometimes has been number one. I think in 2014 we were number nine.
The strength of our government system and our electoral system has certainly had a positive impact on those achievements in the human development index. That is because—pride of position here—the Westminster system, with its combination of a concentration of power to get things done and an accountability related back to what David Smith, the brilliant scholar from Saskatchewan, calls “the people's House of Commons”—that combination of people sovereignty as represented in the House and the concentration of power for effective government—is really the secret of the Westminster system when it is working correctly. For most of our history, it has been working correctly in Canada.
I'll go to my second point. Even as I would argue that our Westminster system is superior, everything can be improved. The history of Canadian electoral practice when you look at it in all the dimensions of running elections—voter registration, election management, how wide is your franchise, party financing—shows that in every one of those important pillars of how one runs elections, over the last 300 years Canada has made tremendous changes and innovations. It's been a constant record of reform, leading to the building of those institutions that have led us to get such high responses on these international results that I have talked about. Most of them were initiated in the provinces, with Quebec leading the way on election financing, Manitoba leading the way on votes for women, and New Brunswick on the secret ballot. We can look at all aspects of elections and see a constant series of innovations in them.
The third point is that there's no perfect electoral system. I won't go into that because we just heard a very learned discussion on it.
On the committee process, let me just quickly remind you about that joint committee that we talked about. It met for months and had hundreds of submissions, but there were two key elements in that very difficult process.
The first was timing. The committee asked for, and Mr. Trudeau—the first Trudeau, my Prime Minister Trudeau—gave that committee length of time. He had a strong deadline, but changed that deadline to accommodate the needs of the committee, which asked for more time. The question for this committee is that the timing issue should be flexible in order for you to get it right.
Second, and equally critical, was that the representatives of every party had a tremendous impact on that committee. If I remember correctly, for example, the Conservatives on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms debate proposed over 20 amendments, of which I think seven or so were accepted by the government. The NDP proposed 40, of which over 20 were accepted.
The point is, the government was open and encouraged a consensus, and the committee then, though some had basic disagreement with the whole project, worked hard to make the substance work. Consensus can work.
Lastly, and I'll just end here, if this committee can achieve consensus and if you're given enough time to do so, or the government gives itself enough time to do this right rather than impose arbitrary deadlines, then as soon as you do that, a whole host of additional agenda items have to be covered. These include election debates, the role of Parliament itself, civic literacy, and many groups, not the least of which is our group at Massey College, which has a two-year program on a democratic agenda, including the idea of party policy foundations. There is much more to do once you help Canada solve this question of electoral reform.