Thank you, committee chair and members. Welcome to Yukon. It is indeed a pleasure to appear before you on this important national matter.
Ten minutes is short, so I'll jump right into it. I will not spend time on the various models that you are considering; you have had and will have many informed experts speaking about these. My general thought, however, is that a different model that more exactly aligns popular vote with representation in the House of Commons is laudable, and should be what guides you as you wade through the plethora of options that will be before you.
What I wish to speak to this afternoon relates largely to three of the principles you have been asked to explore in your mandate statement, specifically, principle two on engagement, principle three on accessibility, and principle five on local representation. I am coming at these three areas with a northern bias that I hope you will consider as you address the broad interests and issues of this large and complex nation of ours.
Relating to principle two on engagement, I will highlight that, among other things, you are to encourage participation, enhance social cohesion, and offer opportunities for inclusion of under-represented groups in the political process. With respect to this principle, I would suggest you consider the following.
In our Canada of today, we have set as a very high priority working to find a path of reconciliation with the first peoples of this country—first nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. One avenue that is open to you to contribute to this reconciliation is to consider some form of guaranteed representation in the House of Commons for aboriginal peoples. I do not know if New Zealand's chief electoral officer spoke to this unique aspect of the New Zealand parliamentary system, but they have had guaranteed seats for the Maori dating back, interestingly enough, to 1867. Today there are seven Maori seats in its House of Representatives, which is determined through a mixed member proportional system. There are two rolls, one for Maori voting. Maori can choose whether they wish to vote on a general or on a specific Maori roll.
I'm not suggesting this particular model. It's only to say that this is an example of where a parliamentary system has embraced a unique approach so that a first people—in the New Zealand case, the Maori—can, quote, see themselves represented directly in the system.
I am reminded of Jean-Pierre Kingsley's presentation to you. The fifth point that he asked you to consider is that the “Canadian reality must be reflected in the system of representation.” As well, “Canadians must be able to see themselves in their representatives and in the system by which they choose them.”
I believe there is no better way to achieve this than by your committee actively engaging with aboriginal representative groups such as the Assembly of First Nations, and Inuit and Métis organizations, among others, to determine if there is an avenue forward that would achieve this principle for the aboriginal peoples of our country. I do not know if you have hearings set with these groups, but if not, I would suggest that you reach out to them.
I note there is aboriginal interest in reform at the parliamentary level that would build linkages between our aboriginal citizenry and Parliament. You may be aware that in 1996 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended that a house of first peoples be established as a third chamber of Parliament. The details on its role and responsibilities are set out in the commission's report. In brief, it is recommending a chamber with legislative responsibility over bills that have substantive impact over Canada's aboriginal peoples.
In addition, in its 1996 Four-Ten Declaration of Dedication and Commitment, the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, a body representing all aboriginal groups with modern land claims agreements in Canada, called for the creation of an independent implementation and review body, perhaps similar to the Office of the Auditor General, reporting directly to Parliament on progress of land claims implementation matters that relate to today's modern treaties.
This proposal is not about the electoral process, per se, but I use this example, along with the RCAP proposal, to underscore that the aboriginal first peoples see Parliament as a fundamentally important institution relating to their relationship in Canada. In short, I would suggest you consider how electoral reform might assist in our reconciliation journey in Canada.
Principle three on accessibility and inclusiveness calls for change that would support access by all eligible voters. This takes one immediately to the consideration of online voting. Indeed, in the first paragraph of the committee's mandate, online voting is expressly noted as a matter for the committee to consider. I wish to bring to the committee's attention that there are many communities throughout the north that do not have reliable communications infrastructure that would reliably support this voting option.
Indeed, even in Yukon if a backhoe in northern British Columbia takes out our one fibre optic cable, the entire territory goes dark. A second line is being worked on, but I use this reality that Yukoners face to raise the point that rural and remote areas of Canada do not have the same level of access to or reliance in this mode of connectivity. Online voting may help many areas of Canada, but do not assume that it is a good option for all regions and communities.
I’ll turn now to principle five on local representation. It recognizes the value that Canadians attach to community, to members of Parliament understanding local conditions and advancing local needs at the national level, and to having access to members of Parliament to facilitate resolution of their concerns and participation in the democratic process.
Here I would like to provide a brief history on Yukon’s democratic journey. It has not been straightforward. Some of this history I am going to recount to you is not about Yukon’s relationship with Parliament, but it is a governance backdrop to consider when reflecting on the interests of a subnational jurisdiction in Canada, that being Yukon.
Our democratic journey has been inconsistent, to say the least. In the late 1890s, the population of the territory jumped to over 40,000 due to gold seekers in the Klondike. Between 1898 and 1908, Yukon’s legislature, at that time referred to as the Yukon Council, grew to a body of eight representatives. This was a wholly elected assembly, in keeping with the evolutionary track most provinces followed throughout their histories. Due to a massive drop in population combined with extreme fiscal pressures on Canada during World War I, this, quote, normal evolution of representative government in the Yukon took a nasty turn.
In 1918 Yukon’s Constitution, otherwise known as the Yukon Act, federal legislation, was amended to give authority to the Governor in Council to abolish the elected council and turn legislating authority to an appointed body. Although this did not happen, given considerable pressure from Yukoners, the Yukon Council was reduced in number from ten to three. This rump stayed in place until 1951, when the number of council members increased to five, and today we find ourselves with nineteen.
In the intervening years there was another event that threatened the very existence of Yukon as a distinct subnational entity in Canada. In 1937 a deal was announced between British Columbia’s Premier Duff Pattullo and Canada for the annexation of Yukon to British Columbia. Only thanks to a particularly thorny political issue around Catholic schools did this deal not go through. We were very close to becoming just another northern region in the province of British Columbia.
This is important to note because Yukon’s political rights journey has been turbulent, to say the least. We do not want this current process on electoral reform to take away any of the advancements that we’ve fought for over these many years. I recommend, in light of this uncertain evolution of political development in Yukon, that you be very careful in determining how a form of proportional representation, if that is indeed what you hone in on, will impact not just Yukon but the three northern territories.
Without a doubt our identities are distinct. In 1995 I co-authored a book with Professor Graham White, from the University of Toronto, called Northern Governments in Transition. A conclusion we reached was that:
…the Yukon, the Western NWT and the Nunavut region differ markedly from one another. At the same time, complex cultural and lifestyle differences are found within each region.
Just as you might risk life and limb if you were to suggest that there are few differences between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, or between Alberta and British Columbia, you may wish to be careful suggesting that the three territories are of similar social, ethnic, economic, or political character. Indeed they are not.
As a consequence, I would caution that whatever model or models you wish to propose, you should not suggest a commonality across the northern region. I suspect you would not think of proportional districts that would overlay a number of provinces. Similarly, do not consider “north” as a homogeneous political state that can be addressed as a single political entity. Doing so would be a profound mistake and completely contrary to the local principle that you are asked to uphold in your deliberations over your model of choice.
We recognize that each territory is privileged in that each has one representative in the House of Commons despite our relatively small populations. However, this is about regional character and distinction. This recognition of the Canadian identity, a collection of its many regions, should not be lost in an effort to find the right proportional mix.
There is a final point I would like to make, and this has nothing to do with the unique fabric or character of the north. I believe that the former Clerk of the Privy Council, whom I briefly had the privilege of working with while I was Yukon’s cabinet secretary, expressed to you a view that I too hold. The selection of candidates in a proportional system should align with the interest in voter preference. In other words, as Mr. Himelfarb suggested to you, it should be “voters rather than parties [that] determine order of candidates”.
Although parties are incredibly important to provide choice to Canadians on public policy options, I agree with the former clerk that we should not hand to parties the ability to choose who we would like in our House to represent us on matters of national importance. That is our job as the electorate in Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.