Mr. Chair, I want to thank you and the committee members for providing me with the opportunity to appear before you today, especially since you are beginning work that is of vital importance for Canadians.
I must commend you for sitting during the summer. I know how demanding your work is as MPs. It's something for which I have always had the most profound respect. I know the sacrifices you make.
It's a pleasure as well to have met a number of you, but I want to mention Mr. Christopherson and Mr. Reid. We did a lot of work together at the other committee, procedure and House affairs, so that is the answer to ”When shall we three meet again?”
I heard Mr. Kenney speak yesterday of the strength of Canada, of the fundamental values of Canadians, and of the strength of our institutions. That includes a functioning Parliament with a well-funded loyal opposition; an independent judiciary, as incorporated in our Supreme Court and the other court systems; the Auditor General; the Chief Electoral Officer, to be blunt; freedom of the press; and political parties. I attribute importance to that; that's part of the right of assembly and the right of free speech.
Civil society—the right for us to organize ourselves as we wish in the courts, with legal objectives—is also a necessary adjunct to our Canadian values.
I also heard President Obama say that the world needs more Canada. Because of the quality of our democracy, we rank at the highest level, along with a very small handful of other countries.
I agree with both Mr. Kenney and President Obama.
Because of our international reputation and the quality of our electoral processes, Elections Canada, when we were invited, visited or received visitors in a myriad of delegations from around the world. I can't remember if it was 80 or 100. We met with different countries that came to us or invited us because of the quality of our democracy and the quality of our electoral processes.
Still, a number of questions are being raised in our society today about the role and the appointment of senators, the functioning of parliamentary committees, the authority of the Prime Minister, and our electoral system. The very strength of our democracy lies in our ability to question its functioning and to seek ways to improve it always. This is at the heart of the quality of our democracy.
That brings me to why we are here. We have given ourselves, we claim, a system of representative democracy because we have not yet found a way to govern ourselves by obtaining the participation of the electorate on every societal question, every societal decision. We haven't found the way yet to have direct democracy, as opposed to representative democracy.
Since Confederation, the two main parties have served us well and have been well served by our first-past-the-post system of representation. Third parties, as I call them, are not third in the sense of the Elections Act; other parties have existed or were permitted right from the start. There was never an interdiction on third parties, and we could accept the results of elections because those parties were not garnering a lot of electoral support. We could say to ourselves, “Well, this party got 52% of the votes, 60% of the seats; that's not an issue, since they got 52% of the vote.”
However, for some time now the third parties have been having much more success and have effectively become the victims of our own success in allowing different ways of expressing themselves beyond what I've called the two main parties historically.
The awareness of Canadians—and I'm talking about many civil organizations such as Fair Vote Canada and others with whom I have had the pleasure of meeting—of the “distortions” of the results compared to the expressed will of Canadians has been growing over time. The minister, academia, and the media have all given examples. I don't intend to reiterate them and waste the committee's time, because they were here yesterday. Fundamentally, the issue of 40% of the votes getting 60% of the seats has begun to raise questions among Canadians.
The other distortion lies in the fact that it can take 700,000 votes to get one seat under our system, or in another case it can take 30,000 votes, if you're in the governing party, to get one seat. One member, 30,000 votes; one member, 700,000 votes. This is the type of disproportion that is beginning to raise questions. We owe more and more people an explanation, and we owe them the opportunity to review what we could do differently or better.
Other systems of representation have been tried, each with its strengths and its weaknesses. By the way, some of the strengths are viewed as weaknesses by some, and vice versa. There's not even going to be agreement on the strength of a system, but there will be and can be general agreement about general strengths. I would recommend to the committee that each one must be weighed, and the three or four main advantages and disadvantages of the different systems that will be presented to you should be focused on. If you try to focus on the fifteenth factor, you will find yourselves spending a lot of time on what will be disproportionately useless work.
A number of criteria or factors have been put forward for the enlightenment of Canadians. As the minister said, you cannot broaden this. I would like to submit several for your consideration.
The first one is what I would call the relative simplicity of the system or the ballot that we would replace, if we replace the present system. By the way, nothing will be viewed as being as simple as the present system, because we've been at it for 149 years. I don't care what you propose. This is part of the woof and fabric. This is part of the DNA of being Canadian and being born Canadian.
The real point is that the elector must understand the choice that he or she is making. How does my vote translate into our system of representation? Canadians must understand that. At the same time, they must understand how that translates into the establishment of a government and a functioning Parliament. This is at the heart of it.
The second one is the rapport, the link, between the elector and the elected, both for the representation of the electors, collectively and individually, and for the accountability of the elected representatives. These are the two factors that, in my view, exist together and are related to that link between the elector and the elected. Canadians are well accustomed to that rapport, that link. It has to be weighed very carefully if there's going to be any change.
The third factor that I wanted to bring forward is the tendency or the need to reinforce or to favour coast-to-coast-to-coast representation within political parties. I'm talking about national parties that would be of broad orientation and would have representation across the country. In other words, there would be representation in caucus from across the land, and blocks of the country would not be missing or significantly under-represented. I think that is essential for caucus. I'm not sure that we've always obtained that. We may not even have it today. Of course, the same applies to cabinet, but I'd put more emphasis on the caucus because I know what happens at caucus, and this is vital to our system of representative government.
A corollary to that would be to try to avoid intraparty competition between candidates at election time. If you have candidates from the same party vying for the same seat and they're in competition with one another, I think that affects party unity, and that aspect should be weighed very carefully.
The fourth factor is the ability to obtain parity between women and men. I heard all your conversations, by the way, both yesterday and today. I was glued to my television set. What can I say?