I was invited to come here and speak, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to do so. I live in a little town called Fort Smith, which is due south of here. Certainly it's a pleasure to be here with you.
I'd like to, first of all, share a bit of my experience as a member of Parliament. Ultimately, when we vote for someone, what we expect to happen is that the member of Parliament will provide a service to us.
I spent 10 years in opposition in Parliament. As the member of Parliament for the Northwest Territories, I often felt that the government would bypass me in its dealings. That's a problem for many members of Parliament. We are elected by the people to represent the people. I think it's quite important that respect be given to members of Parliament, and that in the electoral reform we do everything we can to ensure that the roles of members of Parliament are enhanced rather than taken away. Quite clearly, over a period of years, the importance of members of Parliament has declined in the eyes of the governing party, regardless of which party that is.
I have had some unique experiences as a member of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, where I sat with many other parliamentarians from countries around the northern circumference. Most of those parliamentarians were part of a proportional representation system.
Interestingly enough, in Sweden parliamentarians do not sit in parties; they sit together with the other people from their regions. You would have a Conservative and a Social Democratic sitting side by side, and when they would speak, it would be from the front to the whole group.
There are different ways of conducting business as parliamentarians that we need to consider, as well. It's so important that there's a relationship that can work between all people who are elected to Parliament. That's why, in a way, I support proportional representation. We're going to create a situation where there's a necessity to work with members of Parliament.
Under proportional representation, most likely you're going to have a situation where not one party controls Parliament at all times. There will be more minority governments. There will be more need for coalitions. There will be more need for working together, understanding each other better, and respecting each other as representatives of the people.
I think that's the end result you will get from proportional representation. If you look around at the countries that do have this system, many of them in situations similar to ours, first world countries that have experience in democracy, those situations occur.
One time I met with a Danish energy minister on climate change issues. He said that there was no way that they could have created an energy policy like they have without the full support of all the parties. This was a conservative minister of energy. It was quite clear that the system they have, where there is more need to work together, produces results in a very complex world that requires not single-minded solutions.
Here in Canada we play politics like hockey: there's only one winner. That attitude has to change. Minority Parliaments are better. Minority Parliaments place more emphasis on the average MP. That's been my experience in both majority and minority Parliaments. In your time in Parliament, I think you'll find the same.
Another thing I have to say is that Canada is a colonial state. When I came from the Northwest Territories, I had thought I lived in a colonial part of Canada, until I went to Ottawa and realized that we're hidebound by what had been set out for us by the British Empire almost 150 years ago.
We need to become our own country, with systems that represent this diverse, far-flung body. We can't continue to try to run as a first-past-the-post political system. It's not working for us.
We certainly don't want to fall into the American model, which we can see continually works toward this very disadvantageous situation for the American people.
I am supportive of proportional representation. Of course, as a northerner, I want a mixed proportional representation because, coming from a region that has 40,000 people, I realize we are not going to get a lot more members of Parliament out of here, regardless. We need to keep our member of Parliament representing this huge area. So does Yukon, and so does Nunavut.
These areas are very important at the federal level, because so much of the power for the control of land and resources still resides within Ottawa. That may change, but as it stands now, many of those powers still reside there.
Indigenous interests are inseparable from the three territories, and I would say for many other regions in Canada now, and they need to have proper representation.
One thing I have to say is that there was common interest among northern MPs, whether they came from northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, northern Saskatchewan, or the three territories, and any riding that actually represented indigenous people. There was a common bond there that I found over the 10 years I was there. There were common issues. There were things that came out that made us work together, regardless of our political stripe.
When we come to proportional representation, the system, even if it's mixed proportional, will have lists that political parties will assign their choices to. I think it's very important that you consider how to control those lists. Those lists have to recognize the regionality of this country, if you are going to go in that direction. This is true in other countries. I've seen it. In the way the political parties set up their lists, you have to take into account regionality, and you have to respect what the country is.
If you are considering a change to the system, and you are considering proportional representation, there are more things to be taken into account about how it's done.
I actually believe that the northern regions and indigenous people have similar interests. If you are going to go to a proportional representation system, I think that if you look at Canada as a whole and put the northern and the indigenous ridings together, you would have a population base that's large enough to assign proportionality to that group.
That's the major point I am trying to make here. Look at the north in terms of its common interests, rather than the political boundaries, because that's the only way the northerners will get larger and better representation in the House of Commons. Northerners and indigenous people need more representation there. Their issues are at the table in Parliament to a greater extent than those of other parts of this country.
What you are doing is important, and I'm very glad that you are here in the north and visiting the different communities to understand what we need from the changes you're going to make.
Thank you very much.