Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the commission, good afternoon. You will have to excuse my language, but I spent 25 years in the National Assembly where we call a committee a commission parlementaire.
I am happy to be here with Mr. Broadbent today. I do not know if he remembers, but between my two political lives, when I was chair of the board of Oxfam-Québec, we led an observer mission to the elections in Honduras, if memory serves. We spent a lot of time together then. We did not talk about this matter, but I have realized today that we still are on the same wavelength on a lot of subjects.
I only have 10 minutes, with the rest of the time spent on discussions with you. First of all, I would like to tell you that, before we started, Mr. Cullen came to say hello; he asked me if I had been mulling over this question for long. When I said yes, he asked me why reform did not work in Quebec. I told him that it was because the elected elite had not kept their campaign promises.
Put another way, in our political system, first ministers have enormous power. If, in an election campaign, a party leader promises to change the method of voting from top to bottom, for example, the way in which that will be done will largely rest with them, or rather with the people they choose to take on that portfolio and the way in which their troops will behave.
In Quebec, we have been talking about reforming the method of voting since 1909, but there have been some real campaign commitments. Since it was formed, the Parti Québécois has had this commitment in its program. Only in 1981 was René Lévesque able to be hopeful about putting the program, the commitment that was close to his heart, into action. But unfortunately, subsequent events did not allow him to do so.
We had to wait until 2003, when Quebeckers again began to be interested in the matter, for the leaders of the three parties to make the same promise that Mr. Trudeau made in the last election, to change the method of voting used in general elections. The Liberals had just had a painful experience in 1998, when they found themselves as the official opposition while we, under Lucien Bouchard, took power with 35,000 fewer votes.
Today, in 2016, I am here before you as a former minister responsible for the file, and still nothing has budged in Quebec. Yet everything was in place. The chief electoral officer had issued a notice, Quebeckers had participated in a special parliamentary commission and, before that, I, as the minister responsible for reforming democratic institution, had got everyone on board. But Mr. Charest, the premier at the time, decided to put a stop to it.
In Quebec today, we are using the excuse that Ottawa has reopened the file to mean that we are going to wait and see what happens before we decide if we will reopen it as well. But with the exception of the party in power, all parties in the National Assembly now have reopened it.
Personally, I favour scrapping our system for the same reasons that Mr. Broadbent gave and for the same reasons you have heard from a number of witnesses.
As René Lévesque wrote in 1972, it is a democratically rotten system that produces governments, which, most of the time, are not built on popular majorities, but on distortions in representation. We live in a representative democracy, but representation is distorted and falsified.
Some parties and some ideas are over-represented, while others are under-represented or not represented at all, while a considerable part of the population, whether in Quebec or in Canada as a whole, support those ideas and voted for them.
In addition, as Mr. Broadbent said, in a system like ours, an ancestral system, we also generate an excessive culture of confrontation.
More could be said about the flaws in the system, but I hope that members who have recently made a campaign commitment to modify the system are convinced about it and are not in the process of studying the matter simply in order to decide to maintain the status quo. When you make a campaign commitment, you live up to it and you take steps to do what it takes—my apologies for putting it so bluntly—otherwise you are disrespecting the people, as was done in Quebec. We disrespected the people and ended up not living up to our political and campaign commitment. That is even more important when you are the premier or a party leader.
I support the mixed-member proportional voting method because it is the replacement system that most meets the needs and expectations of Quebeckers and Canadians in general. We would keep direct representation with the constituency members but the representation would also be fair and equitable.
Last year, in April 2015, the research chair in democracy and parliamentary institutions at the Université Laval organized a seminar at the National Assembly in cooperation with the National Assembly; the polling firm CROP conducted a survey for the university. The result was that 70% of Quebeckers agreed that a change was needed in the method of voting in order to have fairer and more equitable political representation.
Compared to all the other systems that have been tried, studied and even designed in theory, this system has the advantage of providing a transition. Does that mean that, in Canada, we would be forced to live for 100 years with a new way of voting, such as the compensatory mixed-member proportional system, for example? No, not necessarily. But the transition would make it easier for people to achieve their two objectives: to have fair and equitable representation and, at the same time, to keep constituency members.
We must be very frank about this. People, including some members here, have said that, with that system, there would be two kinds of elected members. There are not two kinds of members; the same citizens are responsible for and masters of the electoral system and those same citizens would, using two mechanisms, choose their own representatives and party representatives. That means that, when you are elected to Parliament, whether you are a member from a list or a member as a result of the current first-past-the-post system, the reality in the caucuses such as we have in Parliament is that the two classes of members become one. They all represent the people and they all also carry their party's banner. To claim that there would be two classes of members is a false argument.
There are no problems in countries that do it that way. Why would we have problems here when they do not have them in Germany, in Scotland, in New Zealand and in a lot of other countries? At some point, the argument has to be based on facts, not on some kind of abstraction.
One of the reasons why it did not work in Quebec is that most MNAs, including those who had made the promise through their leaders or their political programs, were afraid of losing their seats.
Second, a significant number of MNAs, especially those who were in the government or those who hoped to be able to get there, thought at the time that they would not be able to control the political program as they wanted. That is to say, to do what they wanted to do with a minority of popular support. As soon as you get a majority in Parliament, the process becomes accelerated by cutting off debate, whether at the National Assembly or here, with mammoth bills and with other parliamentary mechanisms. The parliamentary majority, resting on a minority of popular support, is used to gag Parliament and rush processes along, though there is no legitimacy for doing so.
There is a third and final reason why this did not come about in Québec. It is because the Parti Québécois considered that it would lose control of the referendum program, given that, in 1976 and in 1994, it took power with a minority of popular support.
Today, however, the Scottish model and the Scottish experience have proved that this did not hold water. A country is not won and formed by an election, but by a referendum process. You need a majority. So it is all very well to control the referendum program, but, if you do not have a popular majority, it will not get you much.
Even for those not calling for independence, it is ideally preferable to have a political mechanism that allows for the development of something fundamental in democracy: a culture of collaboration, compromise, and coalition. Coalition does not imply that our governments are unstable. That argument is soundly thrashed in any country with a proportional system, more specifically in those with compensatory mixed-member proportional systems. Having to make compromises with political opponents, just as with people whose ideology is closer to our own, actually creates a favourable political climate. When it comes right down to it, people are fed up with excessive partisanship and behaviour that devalues the institution of politics. We see that all over Canada, including Quebec.