Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will make some brief remarks in Inuktitut.
Thank you to the public meeting of the House of Commons special committee and the federal electoral representatives, and welcome to Nunavut on behalf of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, Cathy Towtongie, and the Board of Directors of NTI. Welcome to Iqaluit, and we do appreciate that you invited us to the meeting of the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform.
I will go back to English.
We're pleased that you have come here to hear what we have to say about the federal electoral system. Any reform of our federal democratic institutions, particularly our electoral system, affects all Canadians, particularly those Canadians who are also members of an aboriginal people, as we are. Your work is important to us.
That said, in common with many other Canadians, we would not define any reform of the federal electoral system as a core organizational function. We do not have a finely worked out official position on this topic built around extensive discussions or debates backed up by carefully phrased AGM or boards of directors resolutions.
We do, however, appreciate this process being conducted in an open and informal manner. In the spirit of shared exploration, there are some points and preferences, by way of context and outlook, that we would like to raise with you.
NTI represents all of Nunavut Inuit for all purposes associated with the Nunavut land agreement that we signed with the crown in right of Canada in 1993.
The Nunavut agreement is a modern treaty, or land claim agreement, for the purposes of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In addition to our treaty rights, Inuit have retained aboriginal rights in matters not governed by the Nunavut agreement.
Our responsibility is to ensure that the Nunavut agreement is fully respected and implemented.
Article 4 of the Nunavut agreement provides for the creation of the territory of Nunavut. Getting article 4 was a very hard struggle for Inuit, but we succeeded, and through it, Nunavut was created on April 1, 1999.
We have experienced colonialism, with all of its attendant problems: laws imposed from outside, loss of control over resources, lack of respect for our languages, and residential schools. It is a formidable list.
We know what it looks like to be outside the electoral system looking in. It was not until the 1962 federal election that all Inuit in Nunavut were allowed to vote. Until 1979 there was only one MP for the entire Northwest Territories.
We are aware of the problems posed in our history, but we are not trapped or paralyzed by them.
We are determined to overcome the negative aspects of our history of colonization. We are particularly mindful of the need for Canada to define its democratic processes and institutions in ways that are as inclusive as possible. While key democratic values and principles are universal in content, they must be expressed in ways that are tolerant, adaptable, and creative.
The Constitution Act, 1982, defines the aboriginal peoples of Canada as Inuit, Indian, and Métis people. It's been acknowledged that the constitutional rights of aboriginal peoples extend to include an inherent right of self-government.
Accordingly, aboriginal peoples are not just holders of common law rights to make use of land and resources; rather, we must be seen as peoples who are fundamentally constituent parts of our national identity and fabric.
New Zealand, for example, is a country with many similarities to Canada. It has provided for direct Maori representation at its Parliament from its early days, and has retained that feature of its democratic life. Accordingly, each of Canada's three aboriginal peoples should have direct representation in a reformed House of Commons. Representation in the range of two to four representatives from each of Canada's three aboriginal peoples would roughly track the New Zealand precedent.
Aboriginal peoples' representatives should be elected by aboriginal electors. In the case of the Inuit of Inuit Nunangat, the four regions that make up the Arctic homeland in Canada, the electorate would logically be made up of all these people who live here, are of adult voting age, and are enrolled in the four treaties governing Inuit Nunangat.
There is no reason that aboriginal peoples' representatives need to be elected on the occasion of federal general elections. For reasons of continuity of representation, it would be a considerable advantage to have such representatives elected for fixed terms. Perhaps six years would be advantageous, with staggered terms similar to the United States Senate. In the absence of elections being tied to overtly partisan general elections, there would be an enhanced argument for us for using a ranked ballot system to ensure at least 50% support.
In the case of Nunavut's geography, even the quickest glance at the electoral map of Canada reveals that the riding of Nunavut is, by far, the largest. It is almost impossible to overstate the sheer size of Nunavut. Entire regions of Canada would fit comfortably into Nunavut. Much of western Europe would fit into Nunavut. Nunavut covers three time zones.
Unlike larger ridings in Canada, the population in Nunavut is not heavily concentrated in one or two large population centres. Rather, the population of Nunavut is spread over 26 communities with important distinctions as to their physical, socio-economic, and cultural environments. Nunavut has been energetically served by its MPs—thank you to Hunter Tootoo—but the travel demands on them, both in terms of sheer distance and the infrequency and unpredictability of air routes, are extraordinary and excessive.
Democratic values are not well served by having a constituency of such extreme geographic size that anyone not enjoying peak health or not willing to risk basic health can be excluded from running for office. For these reasons, electoral reform should bring about the division of the single Nunavut riding into two smaller ridings.
We suggest two MPs for each territory and for Nunavut. Quite apart from Nunavut's unique size, there is a good argument that all provinces and territories should have a minimum of two MPs. Having two MPs can accurately reflect a diversity of views. In the event of illness or an absence of one MP from Ottawa, the jurisdiction would still have representation.
There is plenty of precedent on this point. Looking back in parliamentary history, we see that two-member representation—two for each shire, borough, and two old established universities—was the rule at Westminster in England from the Middle Ages until the 19th century. It is my understanding that two-member constituencies were also part of elections in Canada as late as the 1960s. Of course, the U.S. Senate is still structured around two senators for each state in the union.
There are costs related to campaigning in Nunavut. Healthy democratic engagement requires that there be a reasonable opportunity for candidates to interact at a personal level during campaigning, yet the cost of airfare in Nunavut is prohibitive to many potential candidates.
In the past, airlines serving Nunavut have been willing, on a non-partisan basis, to assist candidates by offering free seats when they were available. That has been welcomed, but considerations of fairness and predictability suggest that reasonably foreseeable transportation costs in Nunavut must be met by some form of public subsidy. The availability of such subsidies should be confined to the candidates of those parties who secure a minimum percentage of the popular vote.
On alternative general designs of the electoral system, we understand that many Canadians are unhappy with the existing manner in which MPs are elected. The first-past-the-post system can skew the vote at a national level heavily toward one party or another. In Nunavut, our election results have sometimes shown a three-way split. In other years, the choice has been very clear, and a modified voting system would probably not have affected that result. NTI does not detect any great groundswell of opinion either in favour of retaining or of modifying the first-past-the-post system. We suspect that most Inuit see both advantages and disadvantages in the current system. We would like to hear and know more, and are keeping open minds.
One alternative to the first-past-the-post system is the ranked candidate system, with each elector numbering candidates in order of preference, and then the votes of candidates with fewer first preferences being tabulated and redistributed until one candidate is the ranked choice of at least 50% of the electors. This system has the virtue of overcoming one defect of the first-past-the-post system: in a first-past-the-post contest, a person can be elected having extreme positions that may appeal to a minority of voters that are heartily rejected by a majority. The ranked candidate system appears to be more in keeping with the premium placed on consensus-building and the preference for inclusiveness that is characteristic of Inuit culture.
We understand the ranked candidate system is used by the Australian House of Representatives and in other parts of the world and that it appears to work well in those places. In the event that another electoral design system is to be adopted, the ranked candidate system would seem to best fit Nunavut.
France has a variation on the ranked candidate system, using run-off elections several weeks after general elections to choose between the top two candidates where no candidate secured a majority of votes in the general election. This variation may deserve some further examination, although the extra costs might be quite considerable.
With regard to proportional representation by party vote, we are aware that some Canadians favour having MPs elected entirely by party lists according to overall national party votes, or having a mixed member proportional system, as they have in Germany and New Zealand, with some MPs elected in first-past-the-post constituencies and others through a nationally calculated top-up based on overall party votes.
It is difficult to see how either forms of a system like this could work for Nunavut. Having MPs elected entirely from party lists would remove the ability of Inuit to evaluate the particular strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, and that first-hand evaluation—that personal touch—is highly compatible with our values and experience. We would also not be comfortable with a system that makes it hard to identify the MP or MPs who have particular responsibilities on our behalf.
MMP, as I highlighted, would seem to be slightly more appealing, but it has the major difficulty of setting up a two-class tier of MPs, with some MPs excused from the constituency work that keeps them busy but that also keeps them grounded and informed. Given Nunavut's small population size, adding extra MPs based on national party vote totals would diminish Nunavut's relative voice.
When it comes to gender-based representation, not all members of the committee may be aware, but prior to Nunavut's creation in 1993, a referendum was held on creating an electoral system that would guarantee equal numbers of male and female MLAs in a gender-balanced legislature. Equal numbers of male and female MLAs would be brought about by having two member constituencies, with male and female candidates grouped on separate lists and with all voters allowed to cast a vote against each. In the event, the referendum rejected this system by a fairly narrow vote.
It would appear that the gender-based approach looked at the world view of females and also the very different world views that males have. That was used as a reason to represent these people.
It would not appear that the issue of securing a better balance of men and women in Parliament has figured prominently in the current process, but the committee may well wish to look further into Nunavut's experience in this respect.
A good article about the Nunavut referendum has been published, and we brought some extra copies if any of you would like to get a copy of it.
As for securing public endorsement, there has been some talk of organizing a national referendum or plebiscite before making any changes to the electoral system. We saw complex constitutional issues put to a national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord, which failed, of course. As well, proposals to electoral changes in B.C., Ontario, and other provinces have failed to win support. Reaching back in Canadian history, we understand that the national vote on the conscription issue was a very difficult one for Canada during World War II.
The Inuit of Quebec and throughout Nunangat are very much aware of some of the negative dimensions of the Quebec referendums in 1980 and 1995. Given the small population weight of Nunavut in Canada, our voice would be a very small one in any national referendum or plebiscite. That would be an important drawback in itself.
The larger and more compelling drawback to a referendum would be its potential to divide Canadians from one another, reopen old lines of division, and create new ones. There is always an opportunity for mischief in any single-question, win-or-lose campaign.
Rather than having a referendum, due respect for democratic process and for our parliamentary history would be shown by having each majority party adopt a clear position on a detailed program for electoral reform prior to the next federal election and then let the voters make their judgments on those proposals as part of casting their votes. In that fashion, the next Parliament would have a mandate to proceed.
In conclusion, Canada is a remarkably diverse country with many important and pronounced regional, linguistic, social, and cultural differences. One of the bedrock diversities of our country is the presence and the role of Canada's three aboriginal peoples.
Whatever is crafted to improve the representativeness of our political system, it must work effectively and fairly for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, for the Arctic and the south, and for the territories as well as the provinces.
I end with some conclusions in my language.
Lastly, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the special committee for coming to our community. In doing the committee on electoral reform, I hope you have a very successful electoral reform. It’s going to benefit the Canadian public as well as the territories.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That’s all I have.