Tuesday 10 September 1996
Mr Ed Harper
Brampton Taxpayers Coalition
Mr Ernest McDonald
Mr Paris Gardos
Taxpayers Coalition Burlington
Mr Frank Gue
Ontarians for Responsible Government
Mr Colin Brown
Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Mr Jason Kenney
Mr Ted White
Mr David Mitchell
Direct Democracy Group
Mr William S. Wills
Mr Ernst Kneisel
Mr Darin Barney
Tax Equity Alliance
Mr William Clark
Ms Carol Burtin-Fripp
Taxpayers Coalition of Caledon
Mr Don Crawford
Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association
Ms Marilies Rettig
Mr Paul Cavalluzzo
Mr Claire Ross
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Président: Mr Ted Arnott (Wellington PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président: Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
*Mr TedArnott (Wellington PC)
*Mr RickBartolucci (Sudbury L)
Mr DaveBoushy (Sarnia PC)
Mr David S. Cooke (Windsor-Riverside ND)
*Mr CarlDeFaria (Mississauga East / -Est PC)
*Mr TomFroese (St Catharines-Brock PC)
*Mr BillGrimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay / Muskoka-Baie-Georgienne PC)
*Mr JohnHastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale PC)
Mr RonJohnson (Brantford PC)
Mr FrankMiclash (Kenora L)
*Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East / -Est L)
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
*Mr TonySilipo (Dovercourt ND)
Mr R. Gary Stewart (Peterborough PC)
*In attendance /présents
Substitutions present /Membres remplaçants présents:
Mr JimBrown (Scarborough West / -Ouest PC) for Mr Boushy
Mr MarcelBeaubien (Lambton PC) for Mr Stewart
Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC) for Mr O'Toole
Mr GerryPhillips (Scarborough-Agincourt L) for Mr Miclash
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND) for Mr Cooke
Mrs LillianRoss (Hamilton West / -Ouest PC) for Mr Ron Johnson
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes:
Mr ChrisStockwell (Etobicoke West / -Ouest PC)
Clerk / Greffière: Ms Lisa Freedman
Staff / Personnel: Mr Philip Kaye, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 0906 in room 151.
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): I call this meeting of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly to order. We are presently engaged in public hearings discussing the issue of referendums and a paper which was referred to this committee by the provincial government.
We've got quite a tight schedule this morning, committee members, from 9 o'clock until noon, and we've got every witness with a half-hour time slot. Because of that I'm going to be quite strict about trying to keep to the schedule. We have half-hour time slots for each witness, and whatever time is left after the witness's presentation will be divided equally, as best I can, among the three caucuses, and the caucuses will each have an opportunity to speak first in rotation.
The Chair: Our first witness this morning is Ed Harper, the MP for Simcoe Centre. Welcome to our committee, Mr Harper. We look forward to your presentation.
Mr Ed Harper: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I'm looking forward to giving my presentation. Members of the committee, I'm very pleased to be here this morning, and I do appreciate the opportunity to talk about the need to get our citizens more involved in the process.
Of course, in my party in 1993 political reform was a major plank in our platform, and of course recall, referendum and citizen initiative was indeed a big part of that. From my experience in door-knocking in 1993 for the first time running for office, I was very pleased that I had that as part of my arsenal. I have to tell you, at far too many doors as I went about campaigning, I encountered a level of cynicism that was almost frightening, the attitude that, "Oh, yes, you're another politician who's standing here telling me today what I want to hear, but then you'll go to Ottawa and you'll do exactly as you're told." It was some comfort that I was able to say to that kind of response at the door, "I understand how you feel; however, for myself and my party, we want to give you the mechanism to deal with that," and was able to introduce the recall, referendum and citizen initiative among some of the items in political reform.
Since being elected in 1993, my experience has been that that situation, the need for change, has been reinforced. It certainly hasn't been diminished in any way.
Canadians have changed, and I think we as politicians must react to that change and change also. Just to reinforce the objective of the committee, which I and my party wholeheartedly endorse, I'd like to give you just a little of the background to the change that's taken place in Canada and help you reinforce your objective to meet your goals of improving government accountability and increased public participation.
In my view, the first indication of the change that had taken place in Canada was the 1990 Meech Lake accord when in fact Meech fell apart. The government of the day realized for the first time that there was a mood of unrest in the country, to the point that the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future was put together to go across this great country of ours to find out: What is the mood? What is bothering the Canadian people?
In spite of what was in that report, however, we then proceeded to the 1992 Charlottetown referendum, with the result of that referendum being defeated in spite of the fact that we had something that happened for the first time and may never happen again, that the three major political parties supported it and indeed I think most of the major print media were encouraging Canadians to support it. In fact, the Canadian people did not; they rejected it.
The next thing that happened, of course, was the 1993 election where we had the unheard-of turnover of 205 members of Parliament, so there was a very strong message from the Canadian people that they were not happy with government and the leaders of this country.
Peter Newman in his book The Canadian Revolution has documented this change that's taken place. He says in there, in "From Deference to Defiance," "We are dealing with a voter who indeed is unhappy and is looking for change." I believe what we're talking about at these hearings is a change that's very much in the right direction.
I said earlier that in 1991 there was the Citizens' Forum on Canada's Future, perhaps better known as the Spicer report. I have a copy of that report with me. I've read it several times, actually, and that report, where Mr Spicer and his commissioners talked to hundreds of thousands of Canadians, in my mind clearly identified what was on the minds of, what was bothering, the Canadian people. However, to this date, much of the information or the advice in that report unfortunately has been ignored by governments.
I just want to quote from the report, if I may. This is on page 96, section 9, dealing with responsible leadership in participatory democracy. It begins: "One of the strongest messages the forum received from participants was that they had lost faith in both the political process and their political leaders. They do not feel that their governments, especially at the federal level, reflect the will of the people, and they do not feel citizens have the means at the moment to correct this. Many of them, especially outside Quebec, are prepared to advocate and to support substantial changes to the political system if these would result in a responsive and responsible political process and in responsive and responsible political leaders."
Going on, on page 105, under "Direct Citizen Participation," they talk about political reform. "Much of this concern about the need for political reform focuses around the process of constitutional reform, the desire for a more open, public democratic process. But it also extends, with almost equal weight, to other important policies. As noted earlier, changes which provide for a more open, responsive government may diminish the demand for direct citizen participation and decision-making. However, in the absence of such changes, and in some cases in addition to them, a number of mechanisms have been suggested. The two most popular were more use of referendum on major policy issues, and constituent assembly or other ex-parliamentary mechanisms for constitutional reform. Citizen-initiated referendum to make members of Parliament accountable to their constituents would be an excellent check on extravagances."
I'll just finish off my quoting from Mr Spicer's report by going to the very final chapter in his report. This chapter was not written by Mr Spicer or indeed by one of his commissioners. What we have here is a quote by one of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians they interviewed. The quote is: "No hyperbole or political hedge can screen any member of any Legislature who thwarts the will of the people on this matter. The voters are watching and waiting." When I read that, I think those are very prophetic words when you realize that they were published in June 1991. I would suggest to you that to a large degree what was in that report was ignored when we went into the 1993 election, and indeed those words proved to be very true. I think those voters are still watching and waiting and looking for the changes.
If we want trust as politicians, we have to be prepared to give trust to the voter. Let me deal for a moment with the main objections to referendum or citizen initiatives. The first is cost, the second is that the issues are too complex, the third is the danger of heavy advertising and big money monopolizing an issue, and fourth is the frequency of referendum.
Let me deal briefly with cost. Cost is a two-way street, and I'll use as an example the GST. I will tell you I was a supporter of the GST. I think it was a much fairer and a much more equitable tax. However, I think the GST could have been sold. Had the government been faced with a referendum, they would have done a better job on selling that tax. I for one believe it was saleable. But in not having a referendum and in fact forcing that legislation through, it has created an extremely costly backlash in what is known as the underground economy, at whatever estimate you want to put on it; I've heard everything from $30 billion to $100 billion. The point here is that there is certainly a cost to referendums, but there can be an extreme cost to no referendum, and I think the GST may very well be an indication of the very high cost in not following that process.
Certainly referendums are costly, but indeed they can be held at the time of elections to minimize costs, and I think the future of electronic voting is just around the corner. There is the technology to do that.
Briefly, dealing with "the issues are too complex," I think there's an assumption there that the voters are not very well informed and that politicians are very well informed. I don't know that either of those statements is accurate. In any event, when you look at the party discipline system in place at the moment, even those members of Parliament who are very well informed in many cases don't have the opportunity to exercise that because they're instructed, because of the party whip or the discipline, that they are going to vote in a certain way.
I think we do a disservice to our voters to suggest that they would not have the ability to understand the issues on the basis that they are too complex. We underestimate the ability of our voters. We underestimate the common sense of the common people.
The third item is the heavy advertising or that it could be captured by big money. I don't think there's really been strong evidence of that. Certainly it's a danger, but I would come back to the Charlottetown accord. As I mentioned, we had the three major parties supporting it, we had the print media all encouraging the Canadian people to vote for it. In the spending by the two campaigns -- in the one campaign there was a difference of about 10 to 1 in support of the Charlottetown accord. Yet in spite of that the Canadian people looked at it, understood it in their minds, right or wrong as you may feel, but it was rejected.
Then the fourth is the frequency. I hear this at town hall meetings: Who wants to have government by referendum or a referendum a week? I don't believe that's what you're talking about and it certainly isn't what we would like to see happen in Ottawa. We believe in referendum on the major issues and only those, so we're not dealing with a referendum a week or anything even near that kind of frequency.
I want to leave some time for questions, but in finishing, there were some questions posed, and I have noted some comments to those questions. "Should referenda be permitted on a broad and unrestricted range of public policy issues?" I believe that indeed they should be. Also part of that question is the question of recall, and that is part of our platform. We believe there is a place for recall.
"Who should decide whether a referendum will be held?" We believe that should be in the hands of both the legislatures and the citizens. We believe that both should be able to bring forward referendum.
"Should a referendum be held in conjunction with a provincial or a municipal election?" I think that certainly would be appropriate in the interest of keeping costs down.
"Does the experience of other jurisdictions show that campaign spending or advertising affects the outcome of referenda?" To my mind, there is no conclusive evidence that that is the case, and again I come back to the Charlottetown referendum as rebuttal to that.
"How do we ensure that ballot questions and results do not offend the Constitution?" There is a suggestion there that the court should be involved in the wording of the question. I don't believe that should be the case. I think the courts are in place to interpret whatever legislation might result from that. I think the onus should be on those who have posed the question or prepared the legislation that it will withstand subsequent court challenges.
Those are just a few of the questions I have highlighted. You are going to be hearing later today, I see on the agenda, from our critic in this area, Ted White, the MP from North Vancouver; he's our direct democracy critic. He will be going into more detail on some of the answers to those questions, and he's going to be in a position to relate the BC experience with their legislation dealing with referenda and citizen initiatives.
In closing, I wish you good luck with your deliberations and consultation. I think it's extremely important in Canada's future. I don't see referendum and citizen initiatives taking away from the democratic process; I think they can be worked together to make a much more democratic process that all citizens can take part in. I believe that's what's happening, not only in Canada but, as I suggested, it's happening right around the world. I think you're on the right track, and I wish you well with it. Thank you very much for your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Harper. We have about five minutes per caucus. I would ask for the members' cooperation in helping stick to the schedule.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): Thank you, Mr Harper. My experience is that the public generically say that referendums are good, without perhaps knowing the detail of the legislation. I'm trying to get an idea from you on how you see framing the legislation. I think you've indicated that you believe the use of referendums should be for cases of major policy decision -- I may be paraphrasing you there -- but there are others who would argue that it should be used perhaps for other more detailed areas; for example, that if a government plans to take tobacco tax or any tax up, that should be subject to a referendum. You've got this range of opinion, from using the referendum on what some might regard as detail -- like if we want to take sales tax up on tobacco or on gas, that must be subject to a binding referendum -- to using it where a government plans a major initiative. I think you used the GST and constitutional amendments as your examples.
Where would you fall in your advice to us on whether we should require the referendum on specific items like tax increases? Is that something you would recommend we incorporate, or should we have it a more broadly defined piece of legislation?
Mr Harper: We would like to see the legislation try to limit how broadly this will be used. As I said, I think the legislation has to be drafted in such a way that it will deal with the major issues. I realize that has to be defined. But if you get into peripheral or smaller issues, I think you would find that you would have difficulty getting the support required in the case of a citizen initiative, which of course would be a little different from government-initiated. In government-legislated referendum, there could be guidelines drawn that would clearly define the parameters, and in our view it would be the major issues: major tax increases -- as I said, the GST; or moral issues such as capital punishment. As a party, we are on record as saying we would support, if elected, a binding referendum on the issue of capital punishment.
Mr Phillips: One of the things that the government, that I guess the Premier himself, is extremely worried about is what he calls "well-financed and politically able special-interest groups that have been able to have their narrow interests translated into public policy." Should we be careful about making sure the legislation deals with these well-financed, politically able narrow-interest groups, that they not hijack a referendum with their well-financed, politically able skills? Should the legislation deal with that?
Mr Harper: I think the legislation should be aware that the danger is there and have some mechanism to deal with it. I'm thinking of the ability, in California I think it is, where you can buy signatures. I think that's something that should be covered. I don't think that should be allowed.
Mr Phillips: What about spending limits?
Mr Harper: We would not be in favour of spending limits, but such things as going outside and buying signatures we think should be legislated against. But I come back to the fact that no matter how well-heeled the lobby group may be, you still would have a difficult job selling a bad idea.
Mr Phillips: But I gather that these well-heeled groups have been successful selling bad ideas in the past.
Mr Harper: There have been some well-financed election campaigns that have not worked out very well, depending on your interpretation of the outcome.
There is a danger there, but I think the real danger is reacting to that and not putting enough confidence in the ability of the voters to see through it. Sometimes overspending can work against an issue. People can see a lot of money being thrown at it by a special-interest group, and it becomes obvious and it works against what they're trying to achieve.
Mr Tony Silipo (Dovercourt): Mr Harper, thank you for your presentation. There are a couple of areas I wanted to pursue. One was this area that Mr Phillips and you have just been discussing around how we go about defining, particularly in this legislative framework, the question of major issues. Are you of the view that what we should be doing in this legislation is setting out a framework that says, "This is how referenda would be held"? What do we say about the areas? How do we go about defining major issues, or do we just find a catchphrase that is the equivalent of major issues and then leave to the Legislature, to the government, the decision about what constitutes major issues?
I go back to your example. I'd agree with you that introducing a tax like the GST is a major change in a tax system and therefore certainly something that one ought to contemplate as a possibility for a referendum. I would not, on the other hand, feel that a government thinking it has to increase existing provincial taxes or federal taxes by 1%, 2% or 3% necessarily constitutes a major issue in the same kind of range.
How do you go about defining those in a legislative framework like this, from your perspective?
Mr Harper: That is going to be a difficult question to deal with. But I do think there has to be some kind of framework to identify what is broadly described as major legislation. I think the citizens' initiative would cover off, if that were available, what the government might decide is minor. So that avenue would be open. If the public did not agree with the government's interpretation of what is major legislation, the citizens' initiative would give them the ability to introduce that on their own. I don't feel we can legislate in that area. But certainly as far as governments are concerned, I think they have to come up with some kind of framework. I don't suggest that's easy, but I do think it has to be defined a little better than just an all-encompassing statement.
Mr Silipo: I wonder if I can go perhaps a little beyond the framework of what we've been discussing and what you've been talking about this morning. I can't resist, having a federal member from the Reform Party here, asking this question, given that the premise for your presentation, as I understood it, is based on greater accountability to the public and hence greater democracy.
I'm a bit puzzled about what your position or that of your party is on another issue that I think would go a long way towards making the whole system we have more democratic, and that is the whole question of proportional representation. I look at the results of the last election and see that the Reform Party and the Conservative Party got roughly the same percentage of vote across the country, and we obviously know that the representation in Parliament is very different because of the system we have now. What's your view on that as a system of improving the level of democracy, whether it would be done as straight proportional representation or a mixed system? There are lots of models, as I'm sure you're aware, across the world.
Mr Harper: I personally think there is a place for proportional representation. I've looked at it. My party has not debated it and we do not have a party position on it, but I feel there is merit. As you pointed out, in the last federal election there was an enormous discrepancy. Whether it goes all that way or a mix of the two -- but yes, in the interest of better representation, there's a very strong argument to be made for that. I personally have been looking at it. I believe New Zealand is experimenting with a mix of the two.
Mr Silipo: Germany has had that system for some time.
Mr Harper: I think it makes a lot of sense and I personally would support something in that area.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): Mr Harper, you mentioned that at times we underestimate the common sense of the common people. Yesterday, we had comments from both the chief election person for Ontario and from Patrick Boyer. They seemed to take different views on the issue of whether the public would be best served by piggybacking the referendums on general elections. Do you have any concern that the public may not be able to deal with the general issues in a general election and the specific issues on a referendum in the same election?
Mr Harper: Thank you for the question. No, I don't. I think the voters would be quite capable of dealing with that. I wouldn't suggest that we could handle too many questions in terms of the ballot on the referendum. Whether it be kept to one or two -- but certainly in that range, the public would be very capable of dealing with both issues, and hopefully it would encourage a better voter turnout than we experience in some of our elections.
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): Thank you, Mr Harper, for joining us today. I just want to elaborate a little on the whole discussion of special interests, because that has so far been a prime topic at these committee hearings. Of course, one party's special interest is another party's advocate for social justice, so we could argue till the cows come home about who has special interests and what have you, and I don't intend to get into that.
But one idea that has been floating around that was heard yesterday -- of course special interests, I suppose, will always be there, no matter what sort of democratic system you want to create, but is there an advantage, at least in a referendum context, to having the special interests duke it out in the court of public opinion rather than behind the closed doors of the Legislature? Is that one of the advantages you see?
Mr Harper: Yes, absolutely.
Mr Silipo: We could open the doors here, Mr Clement.
Mr Clement: We wouldn't have the benefit of this fine air-conditioning if we did that.
Mr Silipo: Could we have that one framed, please?
Mr Clement: It's a metaphor.
Mr Harper: Well, there's the tyranny of the special-interest groups and the tyranny of the majorities. But I think that would be one of the benefits of the legislation. It would be out in the open so that indeed the public could see and have an opportunity to participate in it. I think there's a line here that we have to be careful of, certainly of the tyranny of the majorities, but it has been said that up until this point there's been the tyranny of the special-interest groups, that a small group had dictated to the majority of our people. I think this legislation -- referendum, citizens' initiative -- would be a way of avoiding that and striking a far better balance than we've got under the present system.
Mr Clement: On the question of recall, what's your party's position in terms of what the thresholds would be, how it would actually, mechanically, work?
Mr Harper: We did have a private member's bill that was introduced in the House. The threshold we established for that bill was 50% plus one of the voters who participated in the previous federal election. We also stipulated that it could be used only once during the term of office. Another requirement was that it would not be invoked short of 18 months so that the member would have an opportunity to establish his or her credentials, with the one exception to that being if the member had blatantly misrepresented himself or herself. That would be the only exception to the 18-month provision.
Those are some of the safeguards that we want to build in. We didn't want it used in a frivolous way. So with those qualifiers, the private member's bill was debated and voted on in the House and it was defeated, unfortunately.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Harper, for your presentation today. We certainly appreciate your advice. We will consider it in the context of our discussions.
Mr Harper: Thank you very much for allowing me to be here. I appreciate it.
The Chair: I want to draw to committee members' attention a paper that has been circulated by the clerk, which was prepared very quickly by our research staff. I want to thank them for working so hard to make this available to us in response to committee members' questions of yesterday. There'll be more detailed information forthcoming on Thursday.
BRAMPTON TAXPAYERS COALITION
The Chair: Our next presenter is Mr Ernest McDonald, who is representing the Brampton Taxpayers Coalition. Welcome, Mr McDonald.
Mr Ernest McDonald: Mr Chairman and members of the standing committee, thank you very much for the opportunity of presenting to you this afternoon, or this morning. Pardon me. I've been here some three hours this morning and I make the assumption that the whole day has gone by.
The Chair: You know you have half an hour to make your presentation.
Mr McDonald: Fair enough; thank you. I'll read my report, if I may, and I apologize for the fact that I do not have copies. Such was the shortness of notice given to me yesterday that I wasn't able to prepare that or get it typed. I can and will get the report typed and ready for you, if you so wish.
For too many years in this country of ours, there's been a wide disparity between what Canadians want done and what governments do to Canadians. The schizophrenic split between actions needed and actions initiated has developed and accelerated to the point where real crises, fiscal as well as social, if not already upon us, are waiting just around the corner. A number of economic and social observations are in order and should be made.
(1) In this country we are spending and have spent well beyond our means -- in Canada and Ontario.
(2) We must reverse our fiscal irresponsibility and suffer in the process, somewhat now or even more so later.
(3) Taxation has become the heaviest drain on the average Canadian taxpayer.
(4) There is a growing fear of big government on the part of our citizens far and wide in this country.
(5) There is an even larger, growing fear of taxation.
(6) There is seemingly no end in sight to governments spending, particularly federal.
(7) We have developed into an adversarial society where the black market economy, estimated at anywhere between 15% and 25% of the gross national product, has dictated that simple honesty and a sense of civic responsibility have been replaced by a tax avoidance war.
(8) We have become a less caring society. It's no secret that the biggest contributor to Canadians being less charitable than Americans is our antipathy towards the "we'll do it all for you" social welfare state that exists in Canada.
(9) We have developed into two classes in this country: the governors and the governed.
(10) Finally, we have gone too far down the road to becoming a top-down, as opposed to a bottom-up, society. This question should be foremost in each and every one of our minds: Why should tax freedom day come some time in August every year in this country?
There's a rage in the minds of Canadians in reaction to the mess into which this country has evolved socially, fiscally and politically. No intelligent Canadian can recall ever having been consulted and, as a result, giving permission to go into debt, destroying the present and mortgaging the future, to enable a transient, inflated standard of living. Some questions come to mind:
Why weren't we asked? What level of debt, if any, are you prepared to assume? Why weren't we informed or educated? These will be the fiscal and social consequences of going into a particular debt level. Why were we patronized, as in, elected government officials really do know what you want and what is best for you?
Why do we have no laws to limit or eliminate debt in this country, laws that dictate that the government may not go into debt on behalf of the people? Failure to comply implies the downfall of the government in a subsequent election.
Taxpayers' groups in the region of Peel are pleased then that the discussion paper Your Ontario, Your Choice: A Preliminary Look at the Referendum Aternative has been released. We believe that a consultative process will do much to assuage the hostility, resentment and apathy alluded to in the 10 points above.
The use of referenda will make government accountable to all Ontario citizens, rather than pander to the special-interest groups or just those who voted for the party in power. It will enfranchise the citizen who has too long been marginalized by autocratic, governmental decision-making, or at least the perception that that happens, and encourage more citizen participation in the democratic process. Nothing motivates citizens more than believing that what they have to say is important and matters to their representatives.
Referenda are superior to polls, less subject to bias and bungling, and reassuring to the public in that everyone is in the population sample.
MPPs would still be necessary, although their role descriptions might change somewhat. Referendum direction must be translated into policy, and policy into action.
Carefully worded, binding referenda would leave less to interpretation and alleviate the need for non-productive adversarial posturing, too often associated with the Legislature.
Referenda may be expensive. This implies that you will have to look at telephone, computer and media technology. You must take advantage of municipal elections and tap popular support for a wide range of topics at any one time. They must be carefully worded, free of manipulation and constructed on a contingency basis, taking relevant factors into account when decisions are to be formulated.
We do not believe that voter turnout would be a problem for the government. Provided that a practical means of presenting referenda was effected, voters are motivated to take part in a process where they believe they'll make a difference.
We would hope too that the success with referenda, and we believe you would be successful with it, would lead to consideration of both initiative and recall, both essential cornerstones of a consultative process.
In summary, we would comment that it's about time, it's about right and certainly seems to be evidence that common sense for common people seems ready to start moving forward in Ontario. Reform is long overdue. I wish you well in your deliberations and success in the plans that have been outlined in the document.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr McDonald. We have considerable time for questions in this round. I look to Mr Silipo to lead off.
Mr Silipo: Thank you very much, Mr McDonald. I guess your group would be one of those special-interest groups that the government talks to us about.
Mr McDonald: I think Mr Clement phrased it quite well: Social justice on one side is a special-interest group on the other.
Mr Silipo: I see. That's how you define it.
Mr McDonald: Depending on which side you're coming from.
Mr Silipo: So if you're advocating social justice, you're a special-interest group and that's negative; if you're advocating tax fairness, that's okay.
Mr McDonald: I take it for granted there's no sense of sarcasm in the social justice comment, that in fact I do believe in social justice.
Mr Silipo: I do too, and that's why I make the point that I really was only half-joking. In fact, there is a bit of a danger, I would suggest, in even getting into that old discussion around special-interest groups, because what to me it really means is that there are groups of people coming together to advocate for particular things, as you are doing, as your organization is doing, and I think that's actually a good healthy sign of a democracy when people are doing that. The only thing I would say is necessary is to make sure that it's all happening aboveboard. As long as that's the case and everybody knows, then what's the harm? In fact, I think a lot of good can come from it.
It's obvious that during these hearings we're going to hear from a number of groups similar to yours who have serious concerns about the way in which the taxation system works and the whole emphasis on wanting government to spend less, and that's fair. Whether we agree or disagree with those perspectives, I think it's fair that we hear those points of view.
I want to pursue that a little bit more. Here what we are dealing with as a committee and eventually as a Legislature is the potential establishment of a law around referenda, presumably one that would go beyond covering the issues that might be of primary concern to the members of your coalition.
I would ask you a similar question that I asked Mr Harper earlier, which is, how do we go about, in legislation, from your perspective, defining the framework under which referenda would be functioning? Do we spell out in the legislation the kinds of issues or the kinds of things that should be open for referenda, or is that basically a judgement call for the Legislature on the one hand to make, or by citizens' groups on the other, if we are to have citizen-initiated referenda? Again I think there's merit for both of those existing. I'm agreeing with the basic principle and approach that is being looked at here, but I'm quite wary of how we would go about setting that out in the legislative framework. I'd appreciate very much your thoughts on that.
Mr McDonald: I think any attempt by any group that comes before this standing committee is fraught with danger when they wade into the waters of how you'd go about establishing what are the major philosophical tenets that had to be considered and what comes forth before the people for their consideration.
I believe it would be left to the judgement of this government, made up of a number of parties, to decide on what are major issues, and certainly you seem to be prepared to do that in the Legislature, heaving to and fro on your perceptions and beliefs and values when it comes to those major tenets. Certainly, it would appear that each and every party in Queen's Park is prepared or able to make some perception or make some decision as to what the major issues are.
I would suspect that the government should issue what I would call the broad strokes of legislation to be considered and leave it to the people to decide on those issues, the fine points to be filled in by the members of the Legislature. No further comment on that.
Mr Silipo: That's fair. I understand what you're saying with respect to the legislation. Moving from that to the actual application of referenda, would you be of the view that an increase in provincial taxes is something that should be subject to a referenda?
Mr McDonald: You recall that I indicated that referenda should be put forth on a contingency basis, depending on what your definition of an increase is, whether it's large, small or what have you, but I think it should take into account and, as I said, be carefully worded: "Given that the following conditions might obtain in the province of Ontario, would you be in favour of a tax increase of such-and-such"?
Again, I would make the condition that the population should be educated. These are the consequences of us going into that kind of debt level in this country, and we have not been consulted at any point in the past that I can recall.
Mr Silipo: So could I conclude from that that you would also want to make sure that if there were going to be tax decreases people also understood the implications that come from that in terms of the effect on services?
Mr McDonald: Yes. But I would caution the people to take into account the platform of the group that was presenting this kind of information to the public, that this is what a particular group might believe, when they're presenting to a population, a decrease or a rollback in salaries, for instance, in public service might have implications for.
Mr Silipo: But that presumably would apply on the first issue as well, in terms of taking into account which group is advocating --
Mr McDonald: For sure. I agree with that.
Mr Silipo: How do we balance the appropriateness of using referendums to deal with those issues as opposed to using elections to deal with those issues, in election campaigns in which political parties are clear about their positions and the reasons for those positions?
Mr McDonald: I'm uncomfortable with the idea that a government should be put into place and make the assumption that they would know what the will of the people is for, say, a four- or five-year period. I think you're going to have to come up with some framework that takes a look at timeliness, appropriateness of topic and taking into account the ease with which you could use municipal elections or other agenda coming before the public and make good use of them. But from time to time, I think you're going to have to consult with the public more often than you do and not make assumptions.
I'm well aware that the public might be viewed as just as fickle as what the perceptions of MPPs might be at any one particular time, but I do think the democratic process has to be put into place. I recognize too that it might be somewhat expensive, but I think well worth it.
Mr Tom Froese (St Catharines-Brock): Thank you very much, Mr McDonald, for coming this morning. You had indicated that in your opinion the need for referendum is because governments say one thing to get elected and do another thing when they are elected. You agree and I totally agree with you that there needs to be greater accountability and responsibility to the public at large who elect them.
Mr Silipo talked about, and you responded in a general sense, what items should be on a referendum. Right now we're very concerned and we campaigned as well on issues like tax increases, being more accountable and responsible.
In your opinion, in a referendum, should they just be major issues? Could you give us a little bit more input on what other issues there might be that a government of the day could call a referendum on? Do you feel there should be more than just major issues?
Mr McDonald: I can't think of anything more important to the average Ontario citizen right now than the use of his or her money as it's spent by government, whether that be provincial or federal, so certainly anything having to do with the finances or how well-heeled any particular citizen is as a result of what they may perceive as gouging or simply excessive taxation. That certainly comes to mind, that finances have to be a major issue in the mind of the voter.
I feel reasonably comfortable resting on the intelligence of the members sitting around this standing committee that they would have a good grasp of what would be a major issue for the people to consider. Certainly those will come up during election campaigns. They'll be made apparent to every person who is running in a campaign, and that should be forwarded to the people who are in the business of putting a structure on these referenda, putting it out to the people.
Mr Froese: The question was asked earlier to Mr Harper as well. Do you feel that referendum questions could be handled at the time of federal elections, provincial elections or municipal elections? Do you feel that people could respond and would be well educated enough to vote on specific items as well as general election items?
Mr McDonald: The short answer to that question is yes, I really do believe that. I don't think our population is overwhelmed by the number of considerations they take into account when they make an election in the first place, and I suspect every one of the questions you would have on a referendum is likely broiling in the mind of the taxpayer or the citizen or the voter as he or she goes about the business of electing the MPP in the first place. Those questions are all in place, and by that one single vote they are in effect giving support to a wide range of topics that exist, or at least they perceive to exist in their minds, when they're supporting you. And yes, I do have a tremendous amount of respect for the common sense of the common people.
Mr Clement: Thank you very much, Mr McDonald, for appearing before our committee. I might add that in Brampton we have no special interests, only very concerned citizens --
Mr McDonald: As I see it, Mr Clement.
Mr Clement: -- so it's good to have a fellow Bramptonian here.
I hope I'm not getting too ethereal by asking this question, but you had drawn a distinction in your remarks as to how our society has been divided into the electors and the elected. That was something that was referenced, maybe not in those exact words, in the discussion paper, that that is part of the decline of the legitimacy of our public political institutions.
I wanted to draw you out on this. Is it your view that it is possible that by seeking to push down some of the power to the electors through this mechanism, if we are successful in doing so, could that be a way of in one sense perhaps limiting the role of special interests? Could it be that special-interest groups or pressure groups or interest groups -- I'm trying to use terms that are not pejorative, but groups of citizens coming together to try to mobilize support, could that have been a function of all of the power being in the hands of legislatures that seemingly did not care about what the electors thought were the big issues of the day rather than what the legislators thought were the big issues of the day? By driving the power back down, could we in a sense be de-emphasizing the need for special-interest groups?
Mr McDonald: I think you would certainly have an effect upon them, Mr Clement, and I would also point out that I think to the greatest degree possible there should be a wide sharing of all the information that comes to bear on the questions that the population would be considering.
I would think -- Mr Silipo has referred to the special-interest groups here before -- that there would be a widening number of whatever you would want to call special-interest groups to the point where they would be somewhat disparate and approach, I suppose, the possibility of one vote, one citizen, with each and every one of us being able to make his or her contribution to the process.
I would point out too that you should be applauded for the concept of pushing down this empowerment to the people as opposed to waiting for some group to come along and grab or claw it back, that being extremely important to each citizen who wants to take part in the democratic process. I don't know that I can give the fine points to the question you ask.
Mr Clement: I'm just thinking out loud here. Do you think that special-interest groups could be a symptom rather than a cause and that perhaps the real problem is political and media élites that have been controlling the system a little bit too much?
Mr McDonald: To the degree that some élites believe that they do indeed control -- Mr Harper, I think, spoke very well to the Charlottetown accord effect where in fact there were some well-heeled groups that had financed what they believed to be a successful campaign for whatever their agenda was. I'm sure they must have been extremely surprised when the Canadian people -- and I think by definition the Canadian people are right -- decided otherwise. In fact we need not fear these well-heeled, so-called powerful groups.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Thanks, Mr McDonald, for your presentation. Your views certainly are abundantly clear and make a great deal of sense. Let's talk about thresholds for a second, because that's important as well. What do you think the threshold should be before a referendum is held? What percentage?
Mr McDonald: I'd like to perhaps go into some overlapping between what I believe is really important here, not just referendum but initiative and recall as well. I believe that any major issue brought forth by 10% of the population is certainly indicative that something is stirring in this country or this province and needs to be addressed.
Mr Bartolucci: That 10%, should it reflect geographical areas or should it be unrestricted?
Mr McDonald: Again, we're looking at the dangers of a concern coming from any particular part of this province, and I suppose to the degree that a concern has been made by 10% of the people, it should not matter where it comes from. That's a large chunk of our population, and surely each of our citizens is as important as the other. To the degree that we think we have something we should be afraid of, I suppose we could have those fears somewhat assuaged by the fact that the rest of the people are going to have a say or a vote on this referendum and either vote it down, vote it up or sideline it.
Mr Bartolucci: Several people have spoken about the types of issues that should come forward. For each referendum, a cost was quoted yesterday. Do you know what Mr Bailie said was the average cost of a referendum held in the province of Ontario?
Mr McDonald: I honestly don't know what the cost of a referendum held in the province of Ontario would be, but I suppose it would not be any more costly than a number of fiascos that have taken place in previous administrations of government in this province before. Perhaps the health cards that have gone astray in this province might be an example. There are other examples in other parties as well.
Mr Bartolucci: It's $40 million. I would suggest that if we were to make wise use of our dollars, it would be very, very important to ensure, as Professor Boyer indicated, that it be of transcending provincial importance when we deal with an item. You're suggesting that any issue should be brought forward?
Mr McDonald: No, sir, I am not suggesting that any issue should be brought forward, but I am suggesting that any issue could be brought forward should the people so decide. I would also like to point out that $40 million is not a lot of money compared to, say, being $100 billion in debt.
Mr Bartolucci: If you do it 10 times a term, it is a lot of money.
Mr Phillips: Just to go on record, we in the party think $40 million is a lot of money.
Mr McDonald: I wouldn't want to be quoted as saying $40 million isn't. It's a relative thing, Mr Phillips, and I wasn't sure that you understand --
Mr Phillips: On recall, I gather from Mr Clement's comments that the government is serious about incorporating recall in this. I'm interested in the threshold there too in that I can recall, with all due resect to Mr Silipo, that during the last government, had there been recall, it is possible that in Mr Rae's riding somebody may have initiated something, and I could see in the future that happening. With any government, what would be your threshold for recall of a member?
Mr McDonald: Fifty per cent plus one of the eligible voters in the riding in the last election.
Mr Phillips: Of the eligible voters.
Mr McDonald: Yes. It's not much different from the answer that Mr Harper gave.
Mr Phillips: I think he said of those who voted in the previous election.
Mr McDonald: I understand he said that. I perhaps made it a little bit wider.
Mr Phillips: So it could, I gather, mean that you could have during the life of a government a Premier recalled, and for all intents and purposes a government could fall on that basis, but that would be your recall option.
Mr McDonald: I don't know that the government would fall because a Premier had been recalled, but I don't know why you would treat one MPP differently from another.
Mr Phillips: Okay. I just wanted to be sure. So 50% plus one of the eligible voters for recall.
Mr McDonald: I support that.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr McDonald, for your presentation. We appreciate it very much.
The Chair: Our next witness is Mr Paris Gardos. Welcome, Mr Gardos. You have half an hour for your presentation.
Mr Paris Gardos: I would like to begin by thanking the clerk of the committee for her help in booking my time. She was extremely courteous and I think that's a testament to the good people in the precinct and in the blocks around Queen's Park. I think they're good bureaucrats.
I hope everybody has gotten a copy of my sort-of/sort-of-not brief. My presentation is going to be hopefully divided into three five-minute blocks.
I'd first like to address the consultation paper that was issued. I believe that if referendums are to be held -- and I am in favour of the idea of referendums; I am only a grade 13 high school student, but none the less -- the referendum must be simple to understand. Therefore I really don't think that any technical or regulatory matters ought to be included in the guise of referendums and for the people to vote upon.
In a sense, I believe the Legislative Assembly and the government must have the final say about when a referendum happens. This way the lawmaking bodies that we have will determine when votes happen, although resolutions, perhaps presented through constituents as a petition, could serve -- perhaps many MPPs might present petitions as they do presently and that could serve as the basis for a resolution which might turn into a referendum under whatever proposed law was eventually passed.
I don't believe there should be any mandatory referendums on subjects like tax reduction or tax increases or deficit reduction, or debt reduction for that matter, or that they should be within time frames. Perhaps they can be included in the guise of municipal elections or provincial elections because naturally, considering the cost of these sorts of things, it might just be easier to piggyback them from the perspective that it'll save money in the long term. But when you have mandatory or specific time frames, you limit the movement of the Legislative Assembly and the government in dealing with public policy. Supposedly we elect our politicians to do a job, so I think that we may as well permit them to do it.
I would prefer to follow the Quebec method, as is outlined in my sort-of/sort-of-not brief, where it's simply 50% plus one of the population determines whether something fails or passes. The results could be potentially codified in a resolution or a law to start off with, so that the individual MPP or the Premier might present a bill dealing with a particular subject and it would be passed and therefore at that point submitted to the people for referendum.
I prefer the plebiscite option as opposed to a binding referendum because moral suasion on government can be an antidote to reckless actions.
Campaign spending must be similar to elections, because simplification in this matter is the key to participation. If you end up having bizarre rules or no rules at all, it simply ends up being difficult for people to understand and impossible for people to participate.
I don't agree with the idea of initiatives. It simply creates a human rights and political and legal vacuum on issues because particular -- I guess we could call them interest groups; it seems to be a bit of a difficult word that we're using around this table. But it can end up that there will be too many citizen initiatives, and that would simply create more apathy and more disappointments with the political process.
As I said before, a resolution and petition method through the Legislative Assembly from a private member could reach a referendum in the same time frame and potentially bring about a result, without having the citizens just sort of push, push, push.
It can end up being very difficult because what you would have is -- for example, within the United States many jurisdictions have had citizen initiatives dealing with, for example, rights for homosexuals which, although it's a very dicey moral and political matter, rights of individual citizens and citizen groups have been rolled back by "the will of the majority." So that must be an issue that is dealt with in any piece of legislation.
Lastly, and considering the costs of these things, we must avoid corporate involvement in these sorts of things. Similar to the premiers' conference that happened in Jasper, I don't really want to have vests with Nikon Camera or computer companies, vested interest groups who could potentially sway the result, influencing voters directly. They can of course financially support these people, but direct, visible support I don't think is on.
I'm also concerned about the automatization aspect of phone-in ballots. It can create a serious threat and end up having phoney results. I think there was a major problem with the Nova Scotia Liberals when they elected Dr John Savage to be leader. It ended up being quite a fiasco, so I don't think that's quite a good option.
The second point I have -- I'm going to try to move through this a little bit faster -- is that it's valuable to examine the historical context in which referendums in Ontario have been held. There are two very different types that I'd like to look at. After the 1919 plebiscite that endorsed Prohibition, the United Farmers of Ontario government, under Attorney General Raney, brought in the Ontario Temperance Act. Then in 1921 another plebiscite endorsed the banning of the importation of liquor. By 1924, cracks had emerged with bootleg-like liquor and pharmacy liquor stores.
Professor Peter White wrote a very interesting book in 1977 -- he was a professor at York; I think he still is -- entitled G. Howard Ferguson, Ontario Tory and I'd just like to read two interesting quotes from it. I've been reading the book recently.
"In 1920-21, for example, there were 588,000 prescriptions" -- this is for liquor -- "and in 1923-24, 810,000. On the 15th of December, 1924, the dispensaries issued $22,000 worth of business and on December 23, $55,000 worth. But on December 26, the epidemic had so subsided that only $11,000 was sold."
That was laughed at, and Attorney General Nickle, Ferguson's Attorney General at the time, responded that the OTA was debasing the medical profession and the druggists, that "Not one doctor, but a score of doctors have come to me and said, `Cannot something be done to lift from our shoulders the iniquity of being the bartenders of the province?'"
Ferguson's response to this was that he dodged the thorny issue in a sense and decided to hold a plebiscite on the subject of eliminating the Ontario Temperance Act in October 1924. He posed two questions: "Are you in favour of the OTA?" and "Are you in favour of sales of beer by the glass?" The result was a narrow victory for the dry forces around the province and, on the other hand, for beer by the glass.
What was interesting was that Ferguson ended up "virtually insisting that by all canons of democracy the rural folk, who it was said frequently resorted to stills and home brews even as they cast their dry ballots, must not be allowed to impose their will upon the great cities of Ontario. The urban wets were in no mood to meekly accept such dictation. In the middle, in imminent danger of being crushed, was the clever author of the clever plebiscite legislation which had so utterly failed -- Mr Ferguson." So it ended up being a bit of a political dodge.
The end result was that Mr Ferguson, in another shrewd move, decided to implement another historical aspect, the "non-intoxicating 4.4% brew" dubbed Fergie's foam. The risk is that it can end up being a political dodge.
The next case is Premier Mitchell Hepburn and the December 1936 Hastings East by-election. Although the bill passed in the spring 1936 session to force more corporations to divide their taxes on the basis of Roman Catholic and Protestant shareholders, most found it unenforceable. There were too many loopholes. During the summer of 1936 the Tories passed convention resolutions -- that was the same convention that elected Earl Rowe -- that demanded the repeal of the bill. The true test came during the by-election in perhaps an unfair fight in Hastings East, still largely Protestant and untouched by the 20th century in 1936. In spite of George Drew's infamous Plainfield speech in which he cited that French Canadians were a defeated race, it clearly didn't influence his political career, because he got into the Premier's seat, but it's remembered among historians in the Ontario perspective.
There's another quote from a book done by Professor John Saywell, another York University professor, as a part of the Ontario historical studies series, a biography of Mitchell Hepburn. Here's an interesting quote: "The election was widely seen as a plebiscite on separate schools." This was from the Toronto Star. "The government's separate school legislation accounts for its overwhelming defeat in this strongly Protestant constituency, and nothing else," the Star declared. "The electors discarded all but one issue. They listened to but one appeal, the sectarian appeal."
So in a sense what we determine from this rather long short by-election story is that by-elections can be a form of referendum. They are of course isolated to one particular area, but if the issue is promoted within the riding, it can end up being a referendum on a government or on a particular issue. The end result of the defeat in Hastings East was that Mr Hepburn in the winter 1936-37 session accepted leader of the official opposition Earl Rowe's resolution to eliminate these particular sections of the bill which would have given more taxes to Roman Catholic schools.
That's the historical perspective, and I hope you're not all asleep by the time I finish.
I'd just like to briefly go over my draft bill, which I assume everybody has got. It's a traditional omnibus bill, just a lot of technical changes. It simply amends the Election Act and the Election Finances Act and provides for referendums and simple word changes like changing the "chief election officer" to the "chief electoral officer."
In schedule B of my draft bill I have added a Referendum Act which provides a framework for referendums, based mostly on the Quebec legislation. For example, there are two umbrella campaigns, and as well there is a referendum council to adjudicate over specific matters dealing with legal technicalities, which would be composed of justices of the Supreme Court of Ontario.
I believe that this route, by my draft legislation, will provide a simple, straightforward process that in the long term will create more public involvement. I think that's the general goal of what we're trying to do here, which is to focus on trying to bring more people into the democratic process. That is something I am in favour of.
That's the end of my presentation. I hope I haven't bored anybody to death. Now we can start on the questions if anybody has them.
The Chair: Not at all, Mr Gardos. Thank you very much for your presentation. The government side leads off.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Could you give us some background? Are you at university or are you a lawyer? Where are you coming from on this issue?
Mr Gardos: I'm a grade 13 high school student and I've been involved on and off in the provincial political process. I believe that the front cover of that bill, although I should have replaced it with the long title of it -- I've participated for the last two years in the Ontario model Parliament which is organized by Upper Canada College. We use the legislative precinct two days every May for the process. Normally I've always sat with the New Democrats, but I'm trying to be as non-partisan in this as possible. That's the extent of my political involvement. I know I may not be an expert in everything, but that's where I'm coming from.
Mr Hastings: What I'd like to query you on a little more is how you came to the decision as to your preference for the Quebec model of the referenda process, given the several difficulties that have arisen out of the Quebec model in terms particularly of its implementation and administration, ie, the questions that have been raised over the years; secondly, the consequences of the fallout from the 1995 referendum question in terms of illegalities.
Even more so, I'm quite amazed at your suggestion that we apply the Quebec model and particularly instil the role of the Supreme Court of Ontario in this whole operation, given that most of the presenters here -- and even in the paper you can sense a spirit of greater citizen participation and not so much reliance upon a legalistic approach or a greater enhancement of the legal role in the referenda process as a whole, unlike Quebec's, where you do have this very strong, top-down, legalized, very formalized approach. I'd like to hear your thoughts as to how you came to the Quebec model.
My final question is, does your approach in any way illustrate an unease with the use of citizen-driven referenda? You said at the outset of your remarks that you were a little worried that we'd have to suggest that we may have too many referenda questions raised over time.
Mr Gardos: You've certainly given me a lot to chew over there. Specifically addressing my preference towards the Quebec model, in the issue of vote tampering, which continues to be a running news story within both the Ontario and Quebec media, I'm a little concerned that, perhaps depending on who presents the option, clearly in this case the Parti québécois government sent out its umbrella Yes campaign people with specific instructions. That can become a real concern, and perhaps that would involve strengthening the Election Act to provide against fraud and against vote tampering, but those would be relatively minor amendments when you get down to it.
Addressing the issue of the legalese aspect of it all, I think it could be very beneficial to have the Supreme Court take a look at this and address these questions, because sometimes very technical matters come up during the referendum process. The public is the final arbiter and they will participate in these processes, no matter which model we choose, because they will involve themselves, whether it's two umbrella campaigns or individual groups. I think that's primarily where citizen involvement can come in.
Of course we can always allow, as I said initially, the option of having petitions becoming resolutions becoming referendums, which is pretty much simply linking several processes that occur right now -- or some of them don't occur as often, in the case of resolutions -- linking them together and creating almost the same result.
But I think on the legal aspect of it, it could be very beneficial to have lawyers and jurisprudence take care of certain matters which sometimes are above my head as an individual citizen and sometimes above the heads of those politicians who sit around in Queen's Park and do the hard work that they do, because it's a very compact process and politicians have a lot of stuff to do. When you refer to the judges, sometimes it's a little bit easier than simply referring it to somebody else, say the public or to the politicians.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much for a well-thought-out presentation.
Mr Clement: Thank you for appearing before us. Why did you choose the model of the umbrella organizations according to the Quebec model rather than the federal model, which allowed for a number of different Yes or No committees?
Mr Gardos: There is clearly going to be a common interest among those people who would be in favour of an option or opposed to an option that simply brings many forces together and can create a unifying force. For example, if there were a referendum on debt reduction, there would be many forces in favour of debt reduction and many opposed to debt reduction. You can lump everybody together and they can work for a stronger effect and a stronger campaign; you don't have as much dilution in the process.
Mr Phillips: I appreciate your thoughtful comments and all the work you've done on the bill. To draw out your thoughts on the actual way the referendum would work, I gather from the government's paper that the driving force behind the referendum in their mind is that there's been some well-financed, well-heeled special-interest groups that have had their way with previous governments -- although they've yet to name anybody, I must say, and some day we will ask for the examples of these enemies of the state.
But you in your document are suggesting, if I read the bill correctly, that with a referendum there be two committees set up with -- are you suggesting strict spending controls on what money is spent on the campaigns?
Mr Gardos: Generally speaking, in the amendment to the Election Finances Act section, which is schedule C of the draft bill, it simply involves adding the words "and/or referendum" after the word "election." What we get is, hopefully, a very simplified process in which the election and referendum are almost the same thing under the Election Finances Act, and therefore the spending controls under the Election Act for elections and by-elections presently would simply be the same, hopefully, for referendums. Therefore, you impose some control on these issues. Naturally, you can't get 100% control, but you simplify the process and you get more control, hopefully, over these sorts of issues.
Mr Phillips: What, in your mind, is the need for spending controls and why would you recommend spending controls?
Mr Gardos: The corporatist element, I guess you could say. You end up having different groups and different corporations and different organizations that do have money and do potentially support one option or the other throwing their potential weight behind, say, a yes or no option in the case of debt or deficit reduction, sometimes for more sinister reasons, sometimes for more virtuous reasons. In that case, what you can do is limit the possibility of having something like that occur so that you have a fairer playing field for both sides.
Mr Phillips: I'm trying to get an idea from you of the sorts of issues that you would suggest referendums be used for. To elaborate, what we have right now is a range of opinion, from the position that even if there's going to be an increase on tobacco tax there must be a binding referendum, up to that referendums should only be used in unique cases of very major new policy direction for the province. Can you give us any guidance on where you would see us trying to aim in terms of the use of the referendum?
Mr Gardos: Perhaps somewhere in the mushy middle between those two. We must take into consideration that having technical and regulatory matters submitted to referendums simply isn't going to serve the purpose and will make almost impossible questions for people to answer. Even if you give them an A and B, A and D or A and F option in terms of their ballot, it's simply going to be too difficult.
I believe that a government is elected every four or five or possibly even three years to do a job. We should be cognizant that we have given them the right to do that as voters, those voters who do wish to vote, and we should permit them to do their job as well as we can. I think we should be leaning towards having referendums on major policy shifts or major societal shifts, moral or otherwise. I hope that answers your question.
Mr Phillips: Yes, it does. You don't comment on recall, which was part of the government's paper, and I assume it's the government's intent to include recall. Did you consider it?
Mr Gardos: I thought about it, but in my field of vision it falls into the same category as citizen-initiated referendums, that you get a group of particularly determined people together. I think there was some comment from somebody that in Premier Rae's riding you might have ended up having a recall, by a number of people who lived in York South and just couldn't stand him for one reason or other. In that sense, you get into a real problem with personal vendettas or political vendettas.
Considering the Burkian model of parliamentary democracy, it just won't wash to be having politicians constantly under threat of being thrown out, because it will inhibit their work. I assume that most politicians are virtuous people and do what they say they will do. There are constraints in a system of parliamentary democracy on parties and on individuals. If you're that concerned, hold more free votes in the House. Don't insist on the right of recall of people.
Mr Silipo: I like the idea of more free votes, Mr Gardos. Perhaps we should talk about that another time.
Mr Clement: How the tune has changed.
Mr Silipo: I've liked them for some time, I'll tell my colleagues across the floor.
I wonder if you could talk a little more about your opposition to the notion of citizen-initiated referenda. I understood you to say that your concern primarily is that a group might be able to take hold of the agenda and exert greater control. Couldn't you guard against that by establishing significant levels of support that would have to be there for a particular petition or issue before it could be sent out to referendum?
Mr Gardos: It becomes a very difficult matter, in my personal opinion, because you can end up with too high a threshold and you can't get enough people to have signatures on a petition for a particular referendum subject; too low, and it just becomes a sort of hairy canary process. Particularly in the case of some of the American states, they have 2% or 3%, which is pretty low; of course, America has a larger population than Canada. But it can become a very dodgy process in which you have a plethora of subjects coming towards all the people in terms of a referendum vote if you have a threshold that's too low. Too high and you're going to end up with having none.
I think it's a matter best left to having perhaps a wide number of petitions submitted to the Legislative Assembly; then perhaps an individual MPP backbencher or a cabinet minister presenting a resolution to the effect of what the people in the petition want; and then perhaps clauses in the resolution that this should be turned into a referendum. That process simply links existing processes together and limits the possibility of having -- I hate to use this word, but I am going to use it -- "wackos" harnessing the agenda and driving it towards their own needs.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation, Mr Gardos. We appreciate your input.
TAXPAYERS COALITION BURLINGTON
The Chair: Our next scheduled group is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, but they're not physically in the room yet, although we do have representatives of Taxpayers Coalition Burlington here and they're prepared to come forward at this time.
Mr Frank Gue: Thank you, Mr Chairman. We are Hugh Doull, president, and Frank Gue, myself, education chair, of Taxpayers Coalition Burlington.
We have 10 points to make this morning. But first, this government is to be complimented on this initiative. It has identified a wave of the future. Unfortunately for you, our notes were prepared before we received the information packet which included Your Ontario, Your Choice, so a few of our remarks are going to sound as if they were lifted right out of that document. Sorry, you'll just have to put up with that.
We'll quote a few lines from a fine article in a recent issue of the Economist. The writer gives a working definition of good government as a three-level structure. At the bottom is an industrious, intelligent, incorruptible civil service getting instructions from and making suggestions to the middle level of two or more political parties, publicly debating rival ideas. The top level is the voters "to whom the arguing parties submit the ideas for the final choice." This amazing article -- you should read it -- goes on at length, including the following quote: "The `western' idea of democracy in fact probably appeals to something people everywhere want to believe: that every human being is entitled to an equal say in how he is governed and should not be denied by others who claim that the business is best left to them." With that in mind, let's proceed.
(1) A definition. A referendum is "the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body." That's from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
(2) A summary of our position, Taxpayers Coalition Burlington. We are in favour of referenda in principle. However, like motherhood, a referendum can be either a blessing or a disaster. We will suggest ways to get more blessings and fewer disasters.
(3) Why we favour referenda. Representative government has failed in many respects. Politicians often do things for which the citizens didn't dream of electing them and fail to do things for which the citizens had held cherished expectations. This is often not the politicians' fault, since it is obviously impossible to foresee and have an election plank platform for every eventuality.
Politicians can have a difficult time learning what constituents want. Some hold town hall meetings or set up citizens' advisory groups, as Alderman Don Smith did in Burlington; send out questionnaires, solicit letters and so forth. Furthermore, some issues are the politicians' third rail: Touch it and you're dead. Only two such are abortion and capital punishment. By the way, most of our examples are like those foregoing, federal rather than provincial, in order to avoid inflaming any nerves, which is not our purpose here. However, having said that, may I ask why this government insists on bulling onward with the very contentious AVA proposal without a referendum?
Politics is a mixture of leadership and followership. The old wisecrack is that the successful political leader figures out where the herd is stampeding and gets out in front. But there is a constant nagging question: "Do I lead on this issue or do I follow?"
The price of leadership can be very high. Bernt Gilbertson, once PC government whip, MPP for Algoma, alone in his caucus voted against his government on an issue of conscience, instead of taking the customary way out of absenting himself from the House. He paid with his political life at the next election. While not excusing politicians from this kind of agonizing soul-searching, a referendum can at least sound out the constituency on an issue, or perhaps more likely a plebiscite for some matters.
Referenda, done right, offer a means of overcoming public cynicism and indifference, which is illustrated by the low turnout in many elections. "Done right" includes a duty to publicize issues in a transparent, unambiguous way, debate them openly and sell the electorate honestly. Referenda should raise dramatically the public's awareness of the fundamental issues, ignoring the petty and the irrelevant, which might, for instance, include debates on tainted tuna or whether the PM used foul language in the House.
Referenda should cause politicians to do routinely several important things which they hate to do. Example: Any major fiscal measure, such as the startup of a new program like CPP or the Canada Health Act, should have been costed out at present value with the best actuarial and demographic service and advice available. A voting, taxpaying citizen, to make an informed choice, should have understood in the 1960s that a yes vote would cost him X thousand dollars per year. Hopefully we are past the era when we thought that government services are free.
Referenda should remind politicians of their promises and keep them standing firmly on the platforms on which they were elected.
(4) The downside. Questions can be confusing, ambiguous or cunning, eg, the Quebec referendum or the Charlottetown accord question. Neither politicians nor civil servants should be entrusted with the framing of a question. It should be done by a small panel of independent outside professionals who, working with an initial outline, perhaps from Hansard or some such, and general direction from perhaps Mr Speaker, would be asked to create a simple, unambiguous, unslanted, unloaded question; or to critique and, if necessary, sanitize any citizens' petition question.
This panel should be of persons or agencies with an established reputation for impartial, non-political, dispassionate analysis and reporting. One such is the Fraser Institute, which has a worldwide reputation for excellence in this kind of work. Such groups as the Council of Canadians, however, have recognizable slants on certain matters. This is not to denigrate the council or any other such body but merely to urge that slants, biases good and bad, and special interests be carefully excluded from the process. The development of simple and honest questions is of paramount importance. It's the hard part.
The technology for referenda must be user-friendly and inexpensive. With universal TV, telephone, Internet and other kinds of household interlinking, such a system is within our grasp. Technology can protect us from having the process hijacked by special interests or used fraudulently. You might have a look at the fingerprint technology clipping attached to this brief for a glimpse of one tiny corner of this big, big technology -- security technology.
What Jean Chrétien has accurately dubbed the Constitution industry of lawyers and academics could have a field day with referenda. A way will have to be found to install referenda without inviting this constitutional wrangling.
(5) The scope of referenda. Referenda should be for major questions, and what constitutes a major question is a major question. We should consult with countries which have used the process for centuries, perhaps Switzerland or some of the states of the US and indeed some jurisdictions in Canada.
Among the criteria for an eligible question should be at least the following: having significant impact on taxes; affecting important domestic policy, such as education, pensions, grants, lotteries, labour law, the police-court-justice systems; or affecting quality of life, for example, environment, industrial activity, important municipal change such as boundaries and amalgamations.
(6) Who should launch a referendum? Referenda enable citizens to express their wishes. Therefore, we must have ready means to launch one. The regulations should be by a constituent assembly, because laws of this kind in the hands of professional drafters tend either to miss some main points or to become inaccessible to the very citizens for whom they are ostensibly created because of the cost of using them. Example: A citizen attempting to use the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act exposes himself to costs potentially in the tens of thousands of dollars. This Municipal Conflict of Interest Act could well be studied to learn how not to legislate, and follow-up training of folks such as court clerks is necessary to encourage them to assist citizens with some answers other than the standard one, which seems to be, "Get a lawyer."
A referendum should have the backing of some significant number of citizens as attested by a dependable petition. A filter is needed to protect against trivial complaints, hidden agendas, and so on. Again, the assistance of some experienced jurisdiction should be sought.
Referenda originating with Parliament: We've already talked about section 4.
(7) Exceptions and special circumstances. Some matters, for example, fishing, logging, mining, and school board amalgamation, are intensely local, and referenda should be regional in such cases.
Many advocacy groups supported by government, especially federal government, are hidden components of the system. It would be easy for a government, by back-door support of such a group, to influence the outcome while seeming to have clean hands. Advocacy should be a citizen initiative, not government's. Grants to advocacy groups should be eliminated.
(8) Binding or advisory? Some politicians' standard response to referenda proposals is that they have been elected to govern and, by golly, they intend to do so. This may have been okay when constituents were few, rural, uneducated, unconnected by radio, telephone or much else, and exclusive of women, who were once considered incapable of understanding politics and economics.
This is a different age with different people with different levels of education and sophistication. It is egregiously offensive for politicians or civil servants to assume serenely that they alone can understand complex issues which would only confuse ordinary citizens, an attitude which I'm sorry to say is not difficult to find. A review of a few decades of government in almost any country in the world will demonstrate that it is the politicians and bureaucrats who are often confused or inattentive to their homework. "Who reads the bills? I sure don't," is a recent remark of one politician -- fortunately, not an Ontario one.
There are many grass-roots organizations providing logical voices that must be heard between elections. The Ontario Taxpayers Federation and the Taxpayers Coalition Burlington are two such, as are the Fraser Institute and the National Citizens' Coalition, and others.
It is past time that politicians, surrounded by this clamour of editorial writers, columnists, academics, delegations, briefs, letters, talk shows, opinion polls and so forth, drew a deep breath and acknowledged something to the effect that we must legitimize, systematize, organize and summarize this deafening racket and draw it properly into the political-economic mainstream. Otherwise our so-called representative democracy will become a farce, as it sadly is already in the eyes of some. Direct democracy by referenda is one respectable way to do this. We just have to find an honest mechanism for doing it.
Accordingly, therefore, we favour binding referenda with suitable safeguards against hasty, ill-advised action, together with some sort of appeal or moratorium mechanism.
(9) Cost. Organized by government, a referendum system and its regulations will be complex and enormously expensive. This is no criticism of present company, but is merely a reflection of several thousand years of history. If you wish to note how many thousand years, you might read all of the book of Leviticus plus Exodus 19: 13-27. That's your homework, ladies and gentlemen, for today.
The referenda system design and installation should be let out to competitive tender from suitable consultancies, with guaranteed, demonstrable low cost and high security being prime criteria for placing the business.
(10) Finally, summary and conclusions. With reservations and caveats, only some of which we've recorded for you here, Taxpayers Coalition Burlington recommends that our system be steered purposefully, on a scheduled basis, with objectives and milestones, towards direct democracy using binding referenda on critical issues.
Many words in that statement need to be defined with care, and we suggest that the job be done by a constituent assembly which uses politicians and civil servants as resource people only, not decision-makers.
We wish you the very best of wisdom and good luck in your deliberations, and we thank you very much for your attention and we'll answer any questions that we are able.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Gue, Mr Doull. I turn to the Liberal caucus first for questions. We have about five minutes per caucus.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I'd just like to have your opinion. "There are those who say that referenda are instruments used only under certain circumstances to support and therefore legitimate the actions that the leadership already wishes to pursue. Those certain circumstances are defined as follows: when there's no clear consensus or when the leadership would suffer a loss of legitimacy from acting unilaterally." I'd like to hear your comments about that statement.
Mr Gue: That's very interesting. I've not heard that. Where is it from?
Mr Morin: It's from a book written on Mr Manning called Of Passionate Intensity.
Mr Gue: I've heard of that one. I haven't read it yet.
Mr Morin: I'd like to hear your comments about that statement.
Mr Gue: Certainly the opening bit of that is part of the downside, isn't it? Referenda can be misused. But it's hard to argue with anything said there. I suppose you could come back to an issue that is not a provincial one but a federal one so we can view it with some objectivity. I would think that abortion or capital punishment would be one of those where any government, as obvious from Canada's history, has simply run a mile from trying to make and enforce a decision upon the Canadian people. Legitimacy would probably be lent to a decision made after a referendum. You might disagree, but it's a democracy and you have to say: "Okay, 58% want or don't want capital punishment. I don't agree, but I'm a Canadian. I'll go along."
Mr Phillips: On the final page of your brief, the last paragraph, the Pagnuelo paragraph, says: "We have an issue before us now that should be by referenda: property tax reform. The government is bulling ahead and is not listening. This seems at variance with the letter and spirit of this discussion paper."
I gather the government is saying they were elected and this is a tax system that has to be fixed and they're going to fix it. Your organization, I gather, is suggesting this should be subject to a referendum. Is that right? I guess Pagnuelo's advice to us and to you was to make that point. Am I interpreting that paragraph correctly?
Mr Gue: Oh, yes. The current government is between Scylla and Charybdis, I guess. There is a need to correct the pretty bad property taxation system, and there is a need to have it done long before a referendum system could be in place. That doesn't alter the idea and the principle, which long predates these discussions, that we feel a referendum would be the ideal way to settle this matter.
Mr Phillips: Your recommendation on who the small panel of independent outside professionals should be to draft it is interesting. It may highlight one of the challenges, that the definition of independent, outside, dispassionate, non-political and impartial may depend on the viewer's eyes. The Fraser Institute certainly is well regarded and very professional, but I think they themselves would acknowledge they come at it from a view. I think they would regard themselves as a small-c conservative organization.
Mr Gue: Market economy.
Mr Phillips: Yes, but they're not dispassionate. Your examples are, I gather, the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens' Coalition and the Taxpayers' Federation. Do you think we may have difficulty if you regard those as dispassionate, non-political and impartial?
Mr Gue: I'm glad you brought that up, because that's not what that suggests, sir. It's in different context.
Mr Phillips: It says the panel should consist of -- "with an established reputation of impartial, non-political, dispassionate analysis in reporting. One such is the Fraser Institute."
Mr Gue: Yes, that's correct. But this paper does not suggest that, for instance, the National Citizens' Coalition falls into that category.
Mr Phillips: Oh, okay. Just the Fraser Institute.
Mr Gue: It's in a different paragraph in a different context.
Mr Silipo: Part of the background to this is certainly what you've talked about, which is, as the government puts it, the need to move away from special-interest groups taking hold of the agenda and controlling the agenda. I'd like to hear a bit about how you go about defining those groups. Would you consider your organization, the Taxpayers Coalition of Burlington, to be a special-interest group?
Mr Gue: Mr Silipo, that is a loaded question. That's not a reflection upon you at all, because my interpretation of the term "special-interest group" and yours are bound to be different.
Mr Silipo: That's why I'm asking the question. I'd like to understand your definition.
Mr Gue: All right. Hiding behind the dictionary definition, a special-interest group is a group dedicated to getting a government to spend money on a special interest. We are not a special-interest group.
Mr Silipo: Because you're trying to get the government to spend less.
Mr Gue: To spend less and raise quality.
Mr Silipo: What if the definition of a special-interest group were a group that is trying to get the government to do something?
Mr Gue: If that were the definition, then we could only agree with it. Of course we're trying to get the government to do many things.
Mr Silipo: Then you would classify as a special-interest group.
Mr Gue: If that were the definition.
Mr Silipo: The point I'm trying to make is that it seems to me we spend endless, futile energies debating this whole question of who has hijacked whose agenda, and what we really should be saying and accepting is the fact that there are clearly among our society, as part of the democratic process, different perspectives which find themselves translated through particular groups and organizations. In your case, your organization is advocating for less spending, among other things, by government. Other groups might be advocating more spending on such things as child care, for example.
It seems to me that the government, particularly the government of the day, makes a big mistake when they try to categorize one as a special-interest group and therefore negative, and the other one as not a special-interest group, as opposed to simply acknowledging that both are special-interest groups advocating for different things, and then that there's a political judgement to be made about whose advice a government or a political party follows. Wouldn't that be a fairer way to assess things?
Mr Gue: I think you've hit the nail on the head, Mr Silipo. A sentence that we purged from this to get down to the 15 minutes said that the sponsorship of special interests must not be a government initiative -- as it is, particularly with the feds. They sponsor any number of special-interest groups. It's iniquitous. There is nothing wrong with a special-interest group if it is as you define it, which is merely a group with a particular interest, be it spending less or spending more or raising quality or whatever. There is nothing wrong with that, and such a group must be acknowledged and is free to go and get their 10% of signatures on their petition.
Mr Silipo: I'm glad to hear you say that. I guess I would just suggest to you, sir, that your organization ought to look also at how you come to these definitions. It seems to me that when you make the point that, among other things, the question on the referendum should be set out by a small independent group, we could have a long discussion about how we'd get to establishing that independent group. When you classify an organization like the Fraser Institute as non-political, dispassionate and impartial versus other organizations, I think we enter into a whole other area of disagreement. I just make that point.
But I want to, in the moments I have left, ask you about something else which I acknowledge is a little outside the immediate scope of what we're dealing with through this referenda question, but it's certainly part of the whole issue around how to make the process of governing more democratic, and you did make the comment at the beginning of your presentation that representative government has failed. I wonder if you or your organization have any thoughts about the use of proportional representation as a measure to increase the level of democracy in the province, that is, its use as a method of electing MPPs, whether as a whole system or as part of a system. There are obviously various models of that system of government used throughout the world. Have you looked at that at all as something that could complement the use of referenda and the use of some of the other things you're advocating?
Mr Gue: Personally, yes; organizationally, no. My personal opinion -- I emphasize that -- is that there are several versions of proportional representation and I think we have to look at some version of that when we're talking about referenda. That's my personal opinion, not the Taxpayers Coalition's.
Mr Clement: We've been having a discussion for the past couple of days now on definitions of "special-interest groups." I agree with a lot of what you just said about how groups of citizens come together to try to influence their government. I guess what we're trying to say in the discussion paper -- I'd like your comments on this -- is that it's better to have those coalitions of people coming together in the sunlight rather than trying to influence 130 legislators only; that the process will be fairer, more democratic and will lead to a less questionable result in terms of legitimacy if these groups of citizens who feel very strongly about their points of view try to influence 10 million Ontarians rather than 130 legislators. Is that similar to how you would see things?
Mr Gue: Yes. I think that's embedded in what we say by "transparent" and "selling." It's a selling job. Anybody is entitled to try to sell anybody anything as long as it isn't illegal, immoral or fattening, and I can only agree with you.
Mr Clement: We were talking about free markets in relation to the Fraser Institute. We're trying to create a free market of ideas here with 10 million consumers rather than 130 consumers. Does that make sense?
Mr Gue: Oh yes, of course. I think it does.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): Mine is maybe a little bit off topic, but direct. There is this argument that they're out trying to affect the decision-making of 130 MPPs. It seems to me that those people -- I don't even know the definition of "special-interest group" any more -- who want to make input into the process, all they have to do is get to the Premier and the few people around the Premier who make the decisions. That's where the system, it seems to me, starts breaking down.
It seems simpler to me that rather than trying to empower -- and that's another word that sometimes I don't understand -- 10 million Ontarians, wouldn't it be a lot simpler to make the system work the way it was supposed to work and empower the 60 backbenchers or the 100 backbenchers in the Legislature to represent the points of view of their constituents and the people who elect them?
Mr Gue: I wish there were a simple yes or no answer to that. I suppose I'm an incurable cynic, but my feeling is that every system degenerates. You need only look as far as our good neighbours to the south. The American Constitution is a marvel, if only it were used.
Mr Stockwell: I'd rather look across the seas to the British system, where over the years, and you can go back into previous centuries, they've had very responsible prime ministers -- and you think of Disraeli -- even up to the date of Churchill and so on who lost votes in the Legislature because their backbenchers decided that it wasn't good for the party. It seems to me we've come a long way from there to today when any member who votes against their own government is literally punished.
I just can't get it through my head why we sit about here trying to empower these 10 million people when, fundamentally, to be an MPP you must be lobotomized or vote against your party and suffer the consequences. I look to people who come in here suggesting referendums and empowering the 10 million people when we sit about this place and we're supposed to represent these people, and I say to you, being from Burlington and being a taxpayer, do you really think it's important that we take that far a jump, a leap, or should we go back to the way the system was supposed to work? Governments could lose bills and not fall and people who represented constituencies actually did what they were supposed to do -- represent their constituencies.
Mr Gue: I think I would have to agree with you, sir, with one unfortunate disagreement, which is, if we could go back, and I don't think we can.
Mr Stockwell: Ultimately, by referendum and by election -- I think you'll agree with my opinion -- a cabal about the Premier's office -- not just this administration but previous administrations, back for decades, I would say -- fundamentally runs the province. I don't think there's anyone in this province who's in the know, or as much in the know as you need to be, who would argue with that point of view. You're suggesting to me that we've got to go backwards to create a process that was designed to empower the people under parliamentary democracy. Was this the way parliamentary democracy was meant to work? If it's not, rather than trying to fix this broken system, why don't we try and implement the process the way it was supposed to work?
Mr Gue: As I'm sure you're aware, there's no short answer to that, is there? I have to go back and say that the system is broken. I think it is irreparably broken. The economics and demographics that we are faced with today make it impossible to fix the system. I wish it were otherwise, but there comes a time when you have to change from a feudal system to something else. You have to change, as the USSR did, from a dictatorship to something else. I think we are at a place where we have to change from representative democracy, which wasn't all that bad but which has to some extent failed, to something else.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate it.
ONTARIANS FOR RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT
The Chair: Our next group is the Ontarians for Responsible Government, represented today by Mr Colin Brown.
Mr Colin Brown: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. I'm just going to do some initial remarks. I'm sure you've got some questions.
I'd like to thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you about the issue of referenda. As a wise man once said: In a democracy you have the freedom to say whatever you want; the real problem is getting someone to listen. It's heartening to see that this government is willing to listen to the people on a crucial issue and it's also heartening to see a direction from the government towards trusting the people who elected them.
My name is Colin Brown. I represent a group of about 6,000 citizens from across the province called Ontarians for Responsible Government. As our name suggests, we believe governments should be responsible. We believe that means government should keep its promises. We believe government must not squander our hard-earned tax dollars. Most of all, that means we believe government must be accountable. That's why I'm here this morning to speak out in favour of direct democracy. After all, where you have direct democracy you have governments that keep their promises, you have governments that won't squander our resources and you have governments that are accountable to the people who elect them. In short, you have governments that listen to the people.
Of course, where you don't have direct democracy, all too often you have politicians who do not listen to people. Oh true, they do listen every four years or so, during an election, but once they're safely in power it's a different story. All of a sudden they begin to disregard the views and desires of the people who elect them, all of a sudden they begin to pass laws that they want and not the laws the people want and all of a sudden promises made to voters during elections are forgotten. In effect, in the years between elections the voters must endure what to all intents and purposes is a dictatorship. Under such a system abuses will inevitably occur. Absolute power, after all, corrupts absolutely.
Not too long ago, for instance, the Conservative federal government imposed the infamous goods and services tax on Canadians, despite overwhelming public opposition. Canadians who made their views known through grass-roots campaigns, letters, phone calls and rallies were ignored.
Then there was the Meech Lake accord fiasco. It all started -- remember? -- when Canada's Prime Minister and the 10 provincial premiers met behind closed doors and agreed to fundamental changes to Canada's Constitution. Acting without an electoral mandate and without consulting Canadians, the Prime Minister rolled the dice in a high-pressure, all-or-nothing gamble to get his deal through. As we all know, the Meech Lake accord collapsed amid acrimony and confusion.
What went wrong? The same thing that went wrong with the GST. You had a situation where less than 1% of the people were making things happen, less than 2% of the people were watching things happen and 97% of the people could only ask: "What's happening? What's going on?" It was not, needless to say, democracy at its most shining moment, nor was it a moment that inspired confidence in political leaders or in democratic institutions. Indeed, Canadians became angry, they became disillusioned and, worst of all, they became apathetic. Much of that remains today. Who can blame them? It was the system that had let them down.
The bad news is that at the same time that same form of parliamentary system which permits self-seeking politicians to promote their own agenda rather than reflect the public will exists here in Ontario. In short, no mechanism exists here whereby citizens may check the untrammelled power of majority governments. The good news is that this government understands the need to give real power to the people. This is an excellent study, Your Ontario, Your Choice. In fact, it notes, "The Ontario government is firmly committed to using the referendum as a tool of increased accountability and improved public participation in the decision-making process." We heartily applaud this. We think it's been a long time coming and we're delighted to see it.
Allow citizens to make the laws they want to make, amend the laws they want to amend and repeal the laws they want to repeal. Trust the people. Think of it. If we had direct democracy here in Ontario, citizens could do an end run around politicians. Politicians, in other words, could no longer frustrate the public will. That means no more GSTs, no more Meech Lakes. In a way, direct democracy acts like a kind of political pressure cooker. When politicians ignore the will of voters or when political institutions are not working, anger naturally builds and builds. With direct democracy laws, you have a release valve that pops to relieve that pressure and relieve the anger. Exasperated citizens can do something, in other words. They can circulate petitions; they can hold referendums. It means something. They can repeal bad laws. In short, they can take control of their own destiny. To me, that's good for democracy.
Moreover, direct democracy acts as an antidote to political apathy. If citizens had the opportunity to participate directly in the law-making process, if they believed their votes really counted for something, the feelings of powerlessness and anger would dissipate, and that's good for democracy. Consider this: If we had a system of direct democracy, it would encourage more people to enter the political process. Not that any of them would run against any of you people here, but in other words, direct democracy would encourage political involvement. Businessmen, doctors, auto workers -- anyone can circulate petitions, draft questions or promote issues important to them. That's good for democracy.
Finally, direct democracy gives laws greater legitimacy. People would be more apt to obey legislation -- and we think about tax evasion and avoidance in this country -- that has the clear, direct support of the majority of voters. In Switzerland two years ago they voted for a GST in a national referendum. It took them two attempts to do it, but there was 68% support for a new tax. They would know that the government was acting in accordance with the popular will. To me, that's good for democracy.
But how will direct democracy work in practice? That's a question raised in Your Ontario, Your Choice, and it's a good one. Let me suggest that as a first step this government should check out what's going on in other countries that employ direct democracy. In Switzerland, direct democracy has been employed for centuries, and when I say "direct" I mean really direct. The Swiss can vote on virtually anything. They can amend their Constitution, they can accept or reject foreign or domestic policy, and they can introduce their own laws through initiatives.
Direct democracy is alive and well south of the equator as well. Australia, for instance, which shares our parliamentary system, has a provision in its Constitution for national referendums. In fact, any amendment to the federal Constitution must be approved by both houses of Parliament, by an overall majority of voters and by a majority of voters in four of the six states. Referendums are also employed at the state level as well.
Referendums are also used extensively at the state level in the United States of America. Right now, 22 states in the US allow citizens the power to initiate state-wide legislation. What's more, the voters in 45 require a state-wide referendum to amend their constitutions. Initiatives are also widely used at the local government level throughout the United States.
Nevertheless, some people still oppose direct democracy. No doubt, you will hear from some detractors. That's why I would like to discuss some of the more common objections.
First, some will argue that direct democracy runs counter to our traditional parliamentary system. It's an argument that no doubt was first raised when the secret ballot was first proposed. The fact is that the parliamentary system is constantly evolving. Since 1215, when the Magna Carta was signed, we've gone from absolute monarchy to rule by aristocracy to the democracy we enjoy today. Implementing direct democracy would be a further step in that evolution and would further diffuse political power from the few to the many.
Another argument is that direct democracy would weaken or replace representative government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, direct democracy would enhance representative government. That's because direct democracy would stimulate the government to do the job it was elected to do, namely, represent the public. Only if the government fails to do that job will voters turn to referendums. Still, some say referendums would result in the tyranny of the majority. Here's another argument that doesn't hold water. After all, any measure passed by referendum would be subject to the same safeguards as any other piece of legislation: common law, the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What about the rich? Would they be able to somehow influence and sway referendum votes? The answer is no. It would be far too difficult to buy the support or sway the entire voting population. If you need proof, look at how the Yes side outspent the No side in the Charlottetown accord at least 10 to one and went down to a defeat.
A more élitist argument is that voters are simply not smart enough to vote on complicated issues. If that's the case, then maybe citizens should not be allowed to vote, period. After all, when they cast a ballot during an election, they must choose among a variety of politicians and parties, each of whom is representing a bewildering array of promises, policies and programs. By contrast, in a referendum, the voter faces a single choice on a single issue.
Of course, we can learn by what's happening here in Canada as well. The provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta all had some form of direct democracy legislation on the books earlier in this century. On the national level, we had a plebiscite in 1942 that helped to defuse the conscription crisis, and in 1992, Canadians from all walks of life participated with great vigour in the Charlottetown accord referendum debate. Recall that during the debate, the Yes side was supported by governments, political élites, corporate leaders and by big union bosses, yet individual citizens, empowered through direct democracy, said no. It was a great testament to the extraordinary way in which direct democracy can empower the people.
Of course, the Charlottetown accord vote was not binding and it was a one-shot deal. Here in Ontario, we need a more effective direct democracy law that is binding and which will truly empower the people. Towards that end, we at ORG recommend the Ontario government introduce and pass a direct democracy bill modelled on the draft bill which is our submission to you today. We think it's a good starting point. It's something we've proposed out in Alberta and we'd welcome your comments on it. It explains in detail how we think direct democracy could work in Ontario as well.
In conclusion, let me stress that Ontarians have always cherished the freedoms inherent in democracy, that many have fought for it and many have died for it. The time has come to take the next step in the centuries-old evolution of democracy. We strongly urge the Ontario government to take that step, trust the people. As Winston Churchill once put it, the government is the servant of the people and not its master.
The Chair: We have about five minutes per caucus for questions, starting with the New Democrats.
Mr Silipo: Thank you very much, Mr Brown. You haven't talked specifically a lot about the draft bill that you've given us. There are just a couple of areas in it that I'd like you to comment on a little bit more. You're suggesting in here that the threshold for citizen-initiated referenda, if I've understood it, be 3% of electors.
Mr Colin Brown: That's right.
Mr Silipo: Although you've set this out as a bill, I'm assuming that in effect -- sorry, I don't want to assume; I want to ask on this point. Is that in the context that others have been talking to us about, that is to say that a question could be submitted by a group with that kind of support? When you say a bill, are you talking in effect of a full-fledged bill that would be set out in here?
Mr Colin Brown: First of all, you're right about the threshold limits. Those are flexible numbers, but I would try to keep them low. We would support any legislation whereby an initiative could be as binding on politicians as it could possibly be. Let's say the people wanted to draft their own law -- a hypothetical situation -- we would support any situation where that law would essentially either have to be rubber-stamped by politicians or it would be very, very difficult for them to circumvent it, ie, a very substantial majority of the Legislature would have to countermand the public at their own political peril, I might add. We want to put as much power in the people's hands as possible.
Mr Silipo: You're taking the notion of referendum beyond what others have talked to us about in terms of citizen-initiated ones. You're advocating not just for citizen-initiated referenda on a particular course of action, but even to the extent of a full-fledged law being drafted.
Mr Colin Brown: Yes.
Mr Silipo: That's interesting, assuming there would be a number of particulars that we'd have to look into. But I note that this is the first group that's advocated that kind of use of this.
You have been asking various groups and, given the approach you've taken to this, I'd like to know if you or your organization particularly has a position on this. Part of the rationale for your making the presentation that you have is on the basis that there's no system in Ontario to check the power of majority government and obviously you see this as being an important way to do that. I wonder if you've looked at the notion of proportional representation as being another way in which that could be done, as I would argue, to improve the level of democracy that would be exercised by having that method of electing MPPs to the Legislature.
Mr Colin Brown: Anything is probably better than what we've got now. However, we feel that things have evolved and the climate that exists in the voters, in the taxpayers of this province and this country right now -- I think that any changes, Mr Silipo, you try to make to just how politicians are elected or that sort of thing, it too would be perceived with apathy, and you could spend a lot of time trying to do that and it might be a very noble cause.
Mr Silipo: I'm not suggesting it as a replacement for referenda, I'm suggesting it as an addition to looking at how we could expand the use of referenda, also looking at the way in which MPPs were elected as another potential area for change.
Mr Colin Brown: As I said, any changes that are more representative are good, but I think we've gotten to the point whereby the people are sufficiently angry and sufficiently apathetic out there that you've got to put the button in their hands.
The Chair: We turn now to the government caucus.
Mr Hastings: Mr Brown, thank you for an excellent presentation. My question relates to the general thinking of how we move from this climate of cynicism and distrust of our public institutions to a referenda culture. What specific steps do you think are required to educate -- and I mean educate in the broadest sense, because the public's pretty clued in -- upcoming voters and younger voters who don't necessarily in some instances participate in even provincial elections? Do you think the education system needs to be looking at being partner of that operation?
Mr Colin Brown: I would think this could change the way political science is taught in a lot of universities; a few of my old profs might not like it too much. If you were marching people out into society with the will that not only is there a fairly élitist group of very thoughtful and sometimes brilliant people who control the political machinery of this country, you don't even have to join them; that if you want you can end-run that gang and maybe stir up some trouble of your own, I think that would be terrific.
If you look at other places where it's been done, all you needed was Proposition 13 in California to start this thing snowballing and it's now just a way of life and it's an assumption of democracy in locations where it's been done once. There are people who overdo it. They think they can get themselves on an initiative and you'll hear every now and then on the news that there's some crackpot initiative in some state and it goes down in flames. But the fact was that people had the opportunity to run it up the flagpole and it got trounced and that's the end of the idea. I just think it opens up the process and I think all you've got to do is do it once and you change things forever.
Mr Clement: Thank you very much, Mr Brown, for your views in presenting to this committee. I wanted to highlight something about your bill because I think it's important to get this on the record and I'd like your elaboration on it.
What your bill proposes in essence is that if you get the right amount of petitioners within 90 days of a bill being passed, that bill becomes automatically repealable by referendum. We've had a lot of submissions over the last two days somewhat going in the opposite direction, saying that referendums are used only for important issues. Potentially what you're saying here is that a group of petitioners can decide what they think is an important issue and can force the repeal of that legislation. I'd like you to elaborate on that.
Mr Colin Brown: What they could do, they could put a hold on it. They could block the immediate assent to that bill. Then it would be up to them to go through the process of normal initiative referenda to do something else. If you were talking about a bill, they could effectively block something for a couple of years, because what we've suggested in the bill is that you have maybe one or two events every four years. You don't have referenda popping up every six months and driving everybody crazy, but maybe you have a 24-month period so that people know they're not going to be bombarded by these things. Effectively, yes, it can put a staying time in the implementation of legislation, if enough signatures are gathered.
Mr Stockwell: So ultimately, 150,000 signatures could stop a piece of legislation from passing and hold it up for potentially -- you say a couple of years; under this process it could be much longer than a couple of years.
Mr Colin Brown: No, we've suggested that you have a time line on it. I don't think there's any need to think it would go longer than that. But if you felt that --
Mr Stockwell: Okay, but a couple of years roughly, so you could actually settle a deal with the union, pass it through the legislation, change it and that wouldn't be implemented for a couple of years, on 150,000 signatures.
Mr Colin Brown: If 150,000 people rose up very quickly in anger about it, yes, that's right.
Mr Stockwell: They don't have to rise up in anger. All they've got to do is sign a piece of paper.
Mr Colin Brown: Yes.
Mr Stockwell: So 150,000 could stop dead any initiative taken by a Legislature, duly elected, and hold it up for literally -- you're saying a couple of years; I would say potentially to put one of these together it could be significantly longer than a couple of years, but at least a couple of years, and cost us, if it's an initiative as far as dollars and cents are concerned, investments or so on, cost the taxpayers money by holding up investment packages. Say they wanted to hold up a bill that we often debate, an appropriation bill that we have, they could hold that up with 150,000 signatures and cost millions of dollars to the taxpayers.
Mr Colin Brown: What if the 150,000 signatures had held up the budgets of the previous government? Or the Jobs Ontario program? It could go both ways.
Mr Stockwell: I'm not suggesting this for a minute. I'm not saying they couldn't do that. I'm asking you. This is your pitch and I'm trying to get you to commit that you understand what it is you're saying. So 150,000 people signing a piece of paper could literally, through holding up appropriations, which is just a straight appropriations bill, could cost the taxpayers millions and millions and millions of dollars, all the taxpayers.
Mr Colin Brown: I would think that the people who signed that paper, or given that scenario of yours, if it was some economically minded legislation -- one of the big arguments about the vote on Sheila Copps was the cost of a by-election. No one is going to support something, particularly if it's some sort of fiscal legislation, if it's going to end up costing the government a lot of money.
Mr Stockwell: Oh, you've never been elected.
Mr Colin Brown: I think your example, Mr Stockwell, is a little bit severe. But, as I said, this is presented to you as a suggestion, and in principle I think it's a good way to stop some very damaging legislation from going through.
Mr Phillips: I'm going to somewhat follow up on that just to make sure I understand what the Ontarians for Responsible Government's intent is here. If 3% of the people on the voters' list sign a petition, as I read your proposed legislation, there is no option but for the elections office to call for a referendum, and that's a $40-million pricetag. Mr Stockwell is probably right: the number of the electorate is between five million and six million, so 150,000 to 200,000 people.
Let's hypothesize. The government has said it's going to close a bunch of hospitals, for example. I gather, under your bill, a group of citizens could draft a bill saying, "Don't close the hospitals" and get 200,000 signatures, and then there would be a public referendum on that. There is no limit to the number of public referenda under your bill here, as I understand it. So 3% of the citizens can demand a referendum on issues that they view as important, and we could have quite a number of referenda. Is that the intent of the bill?
Mr Colin Brown: First of all, your $40-million pricetag, ideally you would be having these -- we haven't really explored the electronic capabilities of this --
Mr Phillips: Whatever it costs.
Mr Colin Brown: We may be able to do it for a lot less than that but also at times, as I said, when other elections are being held, so hopefully you don't have single events. But, yes, you've got the reading essentially right. You could have a situation where there could be one referendum on an issue and it could move to another. In the Swiss example, it took them three attempts to get their GST passed. I don't think anyone in Switzerland is sorry that it took that long to introduce a new tax.
On the major issues, if you look at examples in the States, examples in Australia, the fundamental issues of either tax and expenditure limits or government control of deficits or whatever, these numbers track pretty much consistently. The more detailed an issue, the more finite an issue, the more specific an issue, that's where you're going to get the chance of movement on the Yes and No sides on these referendums. But I'm just saying to you that not every issue would be unresolved. In fact, I think referenda would solve a lot of issues very quickly.
Mr Phillips: It seems quite unworkable to me, your proposal. With all due respect for how much work you put into it, knowing that there are on any issue a number of people -- and the government has said it's going to be doing some very tough things. There are a number of government initiatives -- property tax reform clearly would be another -- I can see quite a number of issues that at least 150,000 people in the province would want a referendum on. That is your intent, to permit that and to permit the holding up of government initiatives while that takes place?
Mr Colin Brown: Yes, because it's fundamental, in my assumption, that a lot of what comes out of this building is bad, not good. So if certain things are held up, I think that's fine. I would much rather have the public with a lot of power in its hands than as spectators.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Brown, for your presentation. We appreciate your input and advice.
CANADIAN TAXPAYERS FEDERATION
The Chair: Our next presentation is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. They are represented today by Mr Jason Kenney. Welcome, Mr Kenney.
Mr Jason Kenney: Thank you, Mr Chairman. First of all, I apologize for being late this morning. I was actually doing a talk radio show on these hearings and there were so many enthusiastic callers that I couldn't get off the show in time to get here. But I am pleased to be here and I think you all have received our submission. I have extra copies, if not.
Our organization is a national non-profit, non-partisan educational and advocacy organization with about 80,000 members across Canada and five active provincial affiliates, one of which is the Ontario Taxpayers Federation, whose executive director, Paul Pagnuelo, you heard from yesterday. I will not reiterate what Mr Pagnuelo had to say, who was I understand general in the nature of his comments addressing the principle of direct democracy and rebutting some of the common objections, as Mr Brown just did so eloquently as well. Rather than restating those general principles, I'm here to present a comprehensive and, I think, quite detailed draft bill for binding direct citizen-initiated and government-initiated referenda in Ontario.
But before I get to that, I simply want to say how excited our organization is that these hearings are taking place and that this government has indicated with this initiative its basic faith in the common sense of common people. It really is very refreshing.
I can tell you that our movement started six years ago out of the depths of public cynicism that Canadians were feeling and experiencing in the early 1990s, the conditions of which Mr Brown just described, the GST, the Meech Lake accord and so forth. Our movement grew spontaneously out of a sense among many people -- common, ordinary, middle-class, law-abiding, taxpaying Canadians -- that they were disconnected and alienated from their political representatives and institutions and that something dramatic had to be done to regain control of this country's destiny, and that something had to be some kind of concrete, systemic reform to our political system, namely through direct democracy.
So the basic founding principle or premise of our movement was to fight for the adoption of meaningful and effective direct democracy mechanisms across Canada. I can tell you it's been a long, hard fight. We've made very modest progress in some of the western provinces. The Saskatchewan plebiscite and referendum bill is a direct result of the efforts of our organization, and the British Columbia initiative and referendum bill is in part a substantial result of our efforts, although both of those bills are profoundly deficient and are virtually unworkable.
It's with great gladness that we come to Ontario to see a government taking the initiative, as it were, in moving towards direct democracy rather than having to be pushed reluctantly by its citizens. Not to overstate the matter, but I think if this Legislature decides in its wisdom to adopt a workable system of binding direct citizens' initiative in particular and other associated forms of direct democracy, it will be launching what may be the most important and dramatic reform to Canada's political institutions and system of democracy certainly in the latter half of this century.
I find it remarkable that this appears to many people to be a sleeper issue, but I can tell you that if a system of workable direct initiative comes into place here in Canada's largest province, other provinces will follow. I know that because I track this issue very closely. If you set a precedent, other provinces will follow and I think ultimately you will help to launch a new era for democracy in Canada.
It's very important that you get it right in whatever you come up with, and that's why we have put a great deal of effort into drafting what we think is a thoughtful and considerate legislative and statutory approach to binding initiative.
I'm not going to restate the rebuttal to objections that other people have because I think they all boil down to one basic objection that the opponents of direct democracy will not publicly admit, which is that they simply do not trust the wisdom of common people. I would like to paraphrase the famous statement of William F. Buckley Jr that I'd rather be governed by the first thousand people listed in the Toronto phone book than the faculty of Harvard University, or the University of Toronto, for that matter. Or to put it alternatively, I'd rather be governed by 10 million Ontarians in their wisdom than by 130 legislators, as competent and wise as they may be.
Of the various forms of direct democracy that are discussed in the discussion paper, we think the most important is the binding direct initiative and that's what we deal with here, although we do want to make one point that I think my colleague Mr Pagnuelo mentioned yesterday. We think there's a critically important form of direct democracy; I'm not going to get into detail, but it's what we call taxpayer protection legislation. Of course, the government has publicly committed to it in the last election and we're still waiting for its passage. Essentially, that is a simple legislative requirement that any proposed tax increases or new taxes be submitted to voters for approval or rejection in a binding referendum.
It's not rocket science. The Manitoba Legislature has already passed legislation modelled after a draft bill that we tabled here in June 1994, when it was received with an incredible silence. Hopefully, this government will decide to move on that very simple and public commitment that it's made.
Let me go through the submission we have. The bill we have in the proposal before you actually starts at page 16 and runs though page 33. Before that, there is a more readable synopsis of the bill.
The process that we propose begins with a sponsor. Essentially, we have two forms of direct democracy in this bill: One is initiative and the other is a government referendum.
Through the initiative mechanism, any elector can act as a sponsor and can make a proposal to the chief electoral officer. I guess it's called the chief elections officer here in Ontario. This proposal would include the name of the sponsor, an affidavit saying he's an elector, a draft of his or her proposed bill, a draft of the proposed initiative petition to be circulated and the proposed referendum question, together with a filing fee.
He'd submit this to the chief electoral officer, who would have the ability under this act to make use of expert counsel, be it the legislative counsel here, in helping to make recommendations to the sponsor about amending his proposed bill, initiative petition or referendum question to clarify his intentions.
One of the things we're trying to do in this bill is to marry the deliberative features and aspects of the parliamentary system with direct democracy. We don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We don't propose some kind of wild, American-style direct democracy, which is completely disconnected from the deliberative process of the Legislature. Rather, we think the two can be married. Right from the very beginning we suggest that the sponsor have access to expert opinion through the chief electoral officer to amend the bill if he decides.
But the sponsor ultimately runs the process. He cannot be compelled to make amendments to his draft bill by the chief electoral officer, although the chief electoral officer can disallow his bill if the sponsor proposes a bill that falls outside the proper subject matter; for instance, if it's not within provincial jurisdiction, if it contravenes the Charter of Rights, if it is a bill that would impose a tax or impost, a power which is by convention reserved to the crown, to the executive branch of our government. He could also reject the proposal if the question was not clear, if it was not impartial and if the initiative petition didn't meet the requirements set out in the act. So right away, the chief electoral officer has a veto over inappropriate, sloppy or frivolous initiative petitions. But the sponsor has a right of appeal to the trial court here in Ontario if he objects to the chief electoral officer's ruling.
Assuming that he makes a proposal to the chief electoral officer, the chief electoral officer gets this advice from legislative counsel and other authorities and then approves the sponsor's application and proposal, the sponsor then is given authorization to commence collecting petition signatures. We are proposing a maximum threshold of 10% of votes cast in the immediately preceding provincial election. That's high because we want to prevent a proliferation of complex, frivolous initiatives. You know that people object, for instance in the state of California, to having 20 different referenda on the ballot in a given month, in a given voting year.
We're proposing that the threshold be set high enough that it's difficult but not impossible to obtain, and we've looked very closely at all the thresholds in other jurisdictions. You'll see in appendix B on page 34 a summation of all the thresholds in United States compared to the ones we're recommending here in Ontario. At 10% of votes cast in the previous election, the current threshold for a successful signature gathering effort would be 420,000 signatures, which would be equivalent to 6.3% of registered voters as opposed to votes cast, and we would give the sponsor one year, 360 days, to collect those signatures.
Let me contrast this, if you don't mind, to the ridiculous excuse for an initiative bill passed by the NDP government in British Columbia which requires 10% of eligible voters signing the petition in each of the 75 ridings of the province, each and every one of the ridings, within 90 days. This is a joke, and if you folks come up with those kinds of thresholds, you will probably have the same level of credibility as the government in B.C. currently does when it comes to direct democracy. I advise you to pay close attention to these thresholds. They are the key. Set them high enough so that they prohibit frivolous initiatives but low enough so that they are usable and accessible and I think we've pretty much hit the mark here, but there is some flexibility.
The sponsor collects 420,000 signatures within a year. We have some regulations built into the bill. The petition goes to the chief electoral officer, who reviews the petition. He must survey at least 5% of the signatures on the petition to verify their validity. That's standard procedure in many American states.
In terms of the petition-gathering, we require full disclosure of the financing of a petition-gathering campaign and the expenditures of such a campaign. We also prohibit one of the features that has led to the greatest abuses in the United States, namely the ability of sponsors of initiative bills to hire for pay sort of mercenary petition signature collectors. In some states they get $1 a signature and they go out there and use high-pressure tactics.
The taxpayer movement in the United States strongly disagrees with our group on this point. They believe you ought to allow sponsors to hire people. We think that leads to an abuse of the system and we therefore recommend that be prohibited in the regulations or in the act itself.
Assuming that the petition is in order, the chief electoral officer will validate the petition and notify in writing the sponsor, telling him that the petition, if it has met the threshold within 360 days, is valid -- excuse me. I have to back up one step. When the CEO authorizes the proposal and petitions begin to be collected, the chief electoral officer must also notify the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who then tables a copy of the proposed bill, the proposed initiative question, and other relevant information with the Legislative Assembly and the Legislature may then, at its discretion, hold hearings on the proposal through the appropriate legislative committees. That committee, or those committees, may hold public hearings and report back with recommendations within 180 days.
The sponsor may decide to accept all or part of the amendments recommended by the Legislature, but need not do so. He can continue with the act as he initially proposed it. This again provides the Legislature with the ability to review in detail the proposal, and it involves this kind of deliberative process of the Legislature. It doesn't write the Legislature or the MPPs out of the process.
To jump forward to the point where the petition has been authorized: Then the chief electoral officer notifies the Lieutenant Governor in Council, who must within 70 days essentially draw up a writ or make an order announcing that the question will be put to the voters in a referendum. We propose that there be an annual referendum date set at the second Monday of each October or, alternatively, that the Lieutenant Governor in Council may choose, if it's appropriate, to hold the referendum concurrent with the provincial election, which would save money in terms of administration costs as experienced in the plebiscites held in BC and Saskatchewan in 1991, which respectively cost $250,000 and $560,000.
The cabinet then orders the referendum, and we have guidelines within the act for the conduct of the referendum campaign. We again require full disclosure on financing and expenditures but specifically prohibit spending limits in this act because they would contravene the freedom of expression rights guaranteed under the charter and which have been found consistently in recent judicial decisions in Alberta.
If the referendum passes with 50% plus one vote in at least 50% of the electoral districts in the province, the chief electoral officer would declare the referendum to be successful and would transmit it back to the Speaker. The minister responsible for the subject matter affected by the proposal would be required to introduce for first reading the bill, as passed in the referendum, and the Legislature would then be compelled to pass that bill. I'll close on this. This is the most important part of the bill in terms of the application in the Legislature. What we require is that the Legislature pass the bill within I think 30 days of reconvening.
This raises important constitutional questions, and I'd be happy to answer those in the question period here, but you will find in the synopsis portion of our presentation, at page 13, section VI, "The Issue of Constitutionality." This section, this extensive analysis of the constitutionality of binding direct initiative, has been written by Mel Smith, QC, who is one of the leading constitutional authorities in Canada, a former constitutional adviser to the government of BC, and he, quoting various judicial precedents and authorities, constitutional authorities such as Hogg, concludes that the Legislature can indeed bind itself to the result of the referendum.
There's much more in here, but that gives you a brief survey of the recommendations that we are making. I'll be happy to entertain any questions.
Mr Froese: Thank you, Mr Kenney, for a very detailed report. A lot of submissions so far have lacked that detail in specific items and issues.
My question is not really with regard to the report. You said you came late because you were on a talk show. I'd like to know, in a minute or two, what the public said to you on the talk show, if you can give a synopsis.
Mr Kenney: This morning I was on a talk show --
Mr Phillips: On 640.
Mr Kenney: That's right -- a good listener there. All the callers enthusiastically supported initiative. I will admit though, Mr Phillips, that on CFRB last week not all the callers were supportive. I've probably, over the last six years, done several dozen talk shows on this issue and I can count on two hands the number of people who have objected. Radio is not infallible but it is a pretty good reflection of what the polls show.
Polls that have been taken, not nationally that I'm aware, but at least in western Canada, show 85% to 90% public support for both initiative and recall. This was tested formally in October 1991 in British Columbia, where the issues of recall and initiative were put on the ballot in a sort of plebiscite-cum-referendum by the Socred government and received 85% support for initiative and 89% support for recall. That's consistent right across the country with the polling data I've seen. That is as close, as any pollster will tell you, as you come to unanimity on any public issue.
Mr Hastings: Mr Kenney, what specific public policy issues do you think ought to be entertained in referenda, unlike the Ontarians for Responsible Government, who took a more shopping-type list to things? Do you foresee any type of regional use of referenda in Ontario?
Mr Kenney: Yes, and to answer the second question first, I think many municipal ratepayer and taxpayer groups that are appearing before you have that as a particular concern -- the application and use of referenda and initiative at the municipal level. Because we're a national organization -- it took us enormous effort to put together this draft bill without proposing amendments to the municipal government act here -- I'm not going to get into that in detail; but yes, we think this ought to be applied at the level of municipal government.
I don't know what the status is in Ontario, I'm afraid. I apologize. We advocate money bylaws at the civic and municipal level which would allow citizens to have effectively a popular veto over money bylaws passed by their local authorities. So the simple answer to your question is yes, absolutely; we think it ought to be exercised at the local level.
The first question was, should this cover any particular subject matters? We leave the subject matters wide open to the public, whoever wants to initiate a referendum on any issue which (a) does not contravene the charter, (b) falls within provincial or, in the municipal case, local jurisdiction, and (c) does not impose a tax or impost. The last condition is necessary given the crown's prerogative in terms of money bills, although the voters could initiate a referendum challenging a money bill passed by the Legislature -- a new tax or impost. So we see this being broad-ranging. I'll leave it at that.
Mrs Lillian Ross (Hamilton West): I'm just a little unclear, not having read this whole document. Can you clarify something for me? Are you suggesting that the public would actually draft up legislation, and if it is passed by a referendum, the Legislature has no choice but to implement that legislation?
Mr Kenney: Yes. This is really the key aspect, the central aspect of our recommendation. The question you have just asked really dwells on the difference between indirect plebiscitary initiatives, that is to say non-binding, indirect initiatives and binding, direct initiatives. As far as we're concerned, there's a world of difference between the two. We do not think there is any point in the Legislature here passing an initiative bill, like the one in Saskatchewan, which allows a certain number of voters to initiate a question to be held for a plebiscite which is not binding on the Legislature.
It's an insult to voters to ask hundreds of thousands of people to become active in signing a petition to call for a referendum and the result of that referendum not to be binding, even if it has majority support in a majority of electoral districts across the province. For it not to be binding is a bad joke, as far as I'm concerned, and the only rational reason, I think, why you wouldn't come up with a binding initiative is that constitutional objections have been raised to that. We think we have addressed those constitutional objections here.
Mr Phillips: I'm interested in your proposal here because it looks like it contradicts your agreement with Mr Harris of a year ago. You may remember the old taxman's bill, the taxpayers --
Mr Kenney: Yes, I have it right here. I carry it in my wallet, Mr Phillips.
Mr Phillips: The reason I raise it is because I refused to sign it because I didn't agree with it, but the government signed it and you signed it. Your first pledge here is: "Make any increase in existing tax rates or new taxes subject to approval by the voters of Ontario in a binding referendum." That, I assume, was the taxpayers federation's policy. That is what Mike Harris -- I remember the big ad with you and he signing it and it certainly got a lot of votes for the Conservatives. It cost us a lot of votes. Am I interpreting your position today correctly, that you are not advocating that any longer?
Mr Kenney: No, you are not interpreting that accurately.
Mr Phillips: Where in this proposal -- as I read it: "And while the assembly may put a bill to referendum...." Does your proposal here make the proposal you are proposing today?
Mr Kenney: No. I'm sorry. I obviously didn't make this clear enough. At the outset I said that before I got into this initiative bill that we were still waiting for the enactment of the taxpayer protection act --
Mr Phillips: But your referendum proposal is inconsistent with --
Mr Kenney: If I could just answer that, it's a misunderstanding, and I apologize if I helped to create it, but I don't think it's inconsistent. One could write into this initiative bill, easily write into it, a requirement, what we call the taxpayer protection requirement, that any bills introduced in the Legislature proposing an increase in taxation or the adoption of a new tax must be submitted to voters for acceptance or rejection in a binding referendum. We could have written that in here. Its absence does not suggest that we backed off on that. We thought that ought to be in a different bill, namely, the taxpayer protection bill, which is far more comprehensive. It deals with the reduction in the debt, penalties for politicians, so we didn't think it was appropriate to include that provision in the initiative act. We think they're two different statutes that are mutually compatible and not mutually exclusive.
Mr Phillips: Frankly, you are inconsistent and --
Mr Kenney: I don't see how, sir.
Mr Phillips: Your proposals today do not incorporate what you signed a year ago. That is a fact, that you are now suggesting a different approach, that instead of saying "must," you are saying "may." That's fine if you want to do that and I understand how you can change your mind.
Mr Kenney: If I can make it as simple as possible, I am proposing that this Legislature pass two bills that we have submitted in complete draft form, the initiative bill before you today and the taxpayer protection act, the principles of which Premier Harris signed off on both bills. They are mutually compatible, not mutually exclusive.
Mr Phillips: I challenge you then, when we have more time, because I think you are wrong.
Mr Morin: The responsibilities you give the chief election officer are akin to the role of an ombudsman in reality because you don't want him to be perceived as a person who is politically slanted or would be influenced by political people. How would you appoint a chief election officer? How would you choose him?
Mr Kenney: We're confident it would be the same chief election officer that currently exists under the authority of the Election Act, who is, I assume, in this province an officer of the Legislature, as he is in other provinces, and is therefore independent, is not -- at least theoretically -- subject to political pressure from the government or any other party. That independence is critical, which is why we suggested somebody who is an officer of the Legislature.
There are other options, you know. In some of the earlier initiative bills that existed in western Canada in the early part of the century, the key person in the process for the government wasn't the chief election officer but was the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly or, I think in the case of the BC statute passed in 1913, it was the Speaker of the Assembly. In many of the American states it's a state officer known as the Secretary of State who handles these issues. You need to find somebody who is relatively independent and who is non-partisan and is accountable to the entire Legislature. We suggested the elections officer because it just seemed the most logical person in the current system.
Mr Phillips: You suggest in your proposal on page 11 that you worry about the government being able to buy a referendum vote. What do you mean by that?
Mr Kenney: We mean that we're concerned that governments not use public funds to advertise in favour of or against the passage of a particular initiative. The government's resources are so considerably larger than those of a group of citizens that this is a danger that needs to be considered.
Mr Phillips: Does it logically follow we should put restrictions, then, on other well-heeled groups?
Mr Kenney: The government's not a well-heeled group; it's accountable to the public, funded by the public and ought not to be taking sides on a contentious public issue.
Mr Phillips: That's different than buying it.
Mr Kenney: If you want to cut a cheque to the Yes or the No campaign on an initiative referendum, you're welcome to do so as long as you're not using my money.
Mr Phillips: Okay, I understand. You're saying that money can buy votes, but you just don't want government money doing it.
Mr Stockwell: He's got you there.
Mr Kenney: No, I think what we say elsewhere here is that -- as Mr Brown said, the case of the Charlottetown accord, one side outspent the other I would think by a factor of 40 to one, or something like that, and it clearly didn't have an effect. So no, I'm not concerned about the effect of money on the process so much. There have been studies done on this in California, where initiative is frequently used, which show that money is a minor factor in the outcome of referendums, not a major factor. So I'm sorry; that's not the impression I meant to leave you with.
Mr Silipo: Is it fair to say that on the other issue you talked about at the beginning and in response to Mr Phillips's question on the taxpayers' protection subject matter, that you're still waiting for that legislation to be introduced and passed by this government?
Mr Kenney: Yes. As I said, we're eagerly waiting for it.
Mr Silipo: I presume there's an expectation on your part that this will be done by the government.
Mr Kenney: We've received continued assurances that this is the case and we've been told that this committee is in part dealing with that issue, although I will point out that the pledge was for immediate passage, and immediate passage hasn't occurred. We have written to representatives of the government expressing our dissatisfaction with that.
Mr Silipo: Is that why, when you deal here in terms of referenda and the subject matter they should cover, you say citizen-initiated referenda would not be able to cover money bills?
Mr Kenney: Where does it say that?
Mr Silipo: On page 7 of your presentation it says, "Citizens may not initiate money bills; that power is left strictly to the Legislature."
Mr Kenney: Yes, "may not initiate." They can deal with money bills if they want to repeal a government money bill, if they want to repeal a tax, but they can't initiate a tax.
Mr Silipo: So a citizen-initiated petition or bill or referendum under the auspices of a bill would be able to take a part or all of a budget presented by a government and say, "We want to do something different."
Mr Kenney: If there was the imposition of new taxes. But again, if this taxpayer protection act were passed, there would be a requirement that referenda be held on proposed tax increases anyway.
Mr Silipo: That's why I asked you if the reason you're taking this position here is because you're expecting those issues will be covered off in that other legislation.
Mr Kenney: Yes, we see the two as being combined, in a way.
Mr Silipo: What -- I think Mr Stockwell was interested particularly in this -- in your view would constitute a money bill? Is the introduction by the government of VLTs a tax that would or wouldn't be subject? Is the introduction of casino gambling something that would be considered from your view to be a tax and therefore, either under the referenda or under the other provision, would have to be covered and approved by a public vote?
Mr Kenney: We do have a definition of "tax or impost" at page 18, which is not comprehensive: "any direct or indirect revenue-generating measure employed by the government...including
"(a) excise taxes,
"(b) value added taxes
"(c) income taxes
"(d) corporate and business taxes
"(e) import duties, and
"(f) licensing fees."
We also have a definition of that in our taxpayer protection act. I'm not going to be able to find it right here, but we have defined what we think that term refers to.
I don't know; we haven't defined it as such and I don't regard gambling revenues, lottery revenues, as taxation. It's a voluntary form of revenue and that by definition is not a tax, in my view at least.
Mr Silipo: So where government chooses to impose any of these other taxes that you have listed here on page 18, what you're saying is you would still expect there would be an ability by the public to vote on that through a referendum before they would be approved.
Mr Kenney: Yes, that's right.
Mr Silipo: But on the other hand, if a group of citizens wanted to initiate either an increase or a decrease in a particular tax, they wouldn't be able to do that.
Mr Kenney: They would not be able to initiate a referendum which would impose a tax or impost.
Mr Silipo: I don't understand the logic of that.
Mr Kenney: The logic is consistent with the parliamentary system, which reserves the right to initiate money bills to the crown, to the executive branch of government. This was reflected in the first four direct legislation statutes passed in Canada in the four western provinces and was a requirement of the courts who reviewed this issue in 1915 or something in Manitoba.
Mr Silipo: I understand that rationale, but I don't understand why you're also expecting the government to pass legislation concurrent with this or at some other point, or in your view they should have passed it already, that says a government can't increase any of those taxes without going back to the people and having a referendum. The two things seem to me to be contradictory.
Mr Kenney: I took formal logic in college. I don't see that there's any contradiction there. On the one hand, we're saying nobody but the government can initiate a tax, but if the government chooses to initiate a tax, it must be approved by the voters.
Mr Silipo: Then given that you want the voters to have greater powers, why couldn't the voters on their own initiate, under your proposal, a referendum that says, "We would like to increase taxes by whatever and devote that taxation to this service"?
Mr Kenney: Again, because in our parliamentary conventions and in our system of government, that is a power exclusively reserved to the executive branch of government.
Mr Stockwell: But the whole thing is exclusively the government. This is brand-new.
Mr Silipo: You're suggesting in some cases it's okay for that power to be shifted over, but in other areas it's not.
Mr Kenney: I would encourage you to read the judicial precedents that exist on this issue. This we came up with on advice from the lawyers who looked at this.
Mr Silipo: No, I understand your defence of why the Legislature should continue to be vested with that power. I'm not arguing with that. I guess I'm taking a little bit of exception to the fact that you're saying even though that exists, you expect the government of the day to not proceed with implementing and exercising any of its power that you say it has and should continue to have, unless and until it goes back to the people through a referendum. But on the other hand you're saying you don't want that same public to have the right to initiate any of those measures, whether in favour of increasing taxes or decreasing taxes. I don't think it flows.
Mr Kenney: Let me put it to you this way, sir: If it was our view that you could constitutionally give voters the power to initiate taxes or impost, I wouldn't object to that, but we've had legal advice based on the judicial precedents that exist in Canada on this, based on legislation that goes back 80 years in the western provinces, that you can't do that. That's why it's not in this bill.
The Chair: Mr Kenney, I regret to say that I have to cut this discussion off. Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate your interest in travelling to Ontario to speak to this discussion.
Mr Kenney: Mr Chairman, on any of these issues, we have done a lot of research. I'd be happy, quite honestly, to provide more information on it. We have legal opinions and such. I'd be happy to share with any members who would like the information.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I'm concluding now our discussions this morning. We'll go into recess until 1 o'clock. I would remind all members that we start at 1 o'clock at the Whitney Block on the fifth floor, room 5540. I look forward to that with committee members. The committee is in recess.
The committee recessed from 1209 to 1308.
The Chair: The committee is called to order. We are continuing our public hearings on the issue of referendums and to what extent the government can make use of them. We have with us today, through a teleconferencing facility, Ted White, member of Parliament for North Vancouver. Thank you very much for coming in, Mr White, and we look forward to your presentation.
Mr Ted White: Thank you very much. I am the member of Parliament for North Vancouver. I'm also the direct democracy critic for the Reform Party of Canada, so the initiative and referendum are my areas of expertise, hopefully.
One thing I'll do before I start the rest of the program is to mention that there was an announcement in BC today, which some of you may have heard, that a group has started an initiative, a petition in BC, to try to put a stop to bear hunting in the province.
It's a good example of how unworkable BC referendum legislation is, because these people have to collect 10% of the province in the form of signatures within 90 days, and that includes 10% of every riding. That's practically unworkable.
In New Zealand, for example, which is the country I'm from and which now has citizens' initiative and referendum, they only have to collect 6% of the population in one year. It's really a massive difference and illustrates very well how New Zealand has actually established workable citizens' initiative and referendum. BC has unworkable citizens' initiative and referendum legislation.
I'm rather hoping, and it seems like there are good vibes coming out of Queen's Park there, that your government is very serious about having workable legislation. I'm not going to labour through the presentation at length, because I see that you have the text of the full presentation on your desks. I'd like to just highlight a few areas which I think are very important to consider.
I would hope, if your government is really serious about this project, that you will err on the side of democracy. If you make a system that's a little too easy to use, the citizens will soon tell you it's too easy and they'll give you permission to tighten it up a little, but if you start off with something that's unworkable, all you'll do is increase the cynicism, and you'll never have anything that's worth using.
Everybody thinks, first of all, that Switzerland is the place we should look to for some examples of referendum, and also California. The country of Switzerland and the state of California are often the target of criticism as well. You often hear comments in Canada, for example, that "We don't want to be running the whole place on referendum." I don't think anybody is suggesting that at this point. Certainly for Canada, what I would like to see and what I know the Reform Party would like to see and what I hope you would like to see is that at least the citizens will have some additional input into the system, that when they choose to, if there's something really pressing, they'll be able to put it before the government and then subsequently a referendum.
One of the criticisms of the Californian model is that there are numerous referendums, far too many for anyone to keep track of. It seems that part of that problem is created by the fact that in California you can actually buy signatures -- there are companies that are set up specifically to buy signatures for the petitions -- and they'll pay as much as $1 for a signature. The legislation which I have put together, or the draft legislation which I'll be introducing to the House of Commons probably next week, is based on the New Zealand system, which does not permit the buying of signatures. Probably most Canadians would feel more comfortable with a system that prohibited the buying of signatures. The purists would argue that any system to start an initiative is valid, but I think comfort level would be an important part of this legislation.
In Switzerland, it's important to note that as little as 15% of the population actually turn out to initiatives, and there are as many as 20 a month sometimes when they're held in the various cantons. The Swiss don't think it's a problem if only 15% turn out; they still take the result seriously and they enact the laws. I personally also don't have a problem with only 18% of the voters turning out. To people like myself who believe in direct democracy, I would rather have a system and I know the Reform Party would rather have a system that allows that 18% of very conscientious, very interested voters to have some input into the system, and if the majority seem to be quite happy for that 18% to be involved, then that's fine. If the 18% manage to push through something that the majority don't like, it's a good lesson to them that they must be involved in the process and that they're going to have to get involved in reversing a bad decision.
To put it all in perspective, around 65% of voters usually turn out in an election and many MLAs or MPs actually win their ridings with maybe 35% to 40% of the vote, so if you take 35% to 40% of those 65% of voters, it means that you or I perhaps are being elected by something like 26% of the eligible voters. If anybody is going to argue that a low turnout on referendums isn't valid, they must surely argue that a low turnout or a 26% vote for an MLA or MP is also not valid. I've never heard any successful candidate argue that they wanted their election reversed based on getting only 26% of the vote.
In the end, I think it all comes down to whether we as politicians have the political will to go ahead and do this, to take this project and turn it into a reality. Without the political will, the enactment of practical initiative and referendum legislation simply isn't going to happen.
When I speak at public meetings on this issue I often quote Edmund Burke -- and I'm sure you're all familiar with him, a politician of 220 years ago -- his famous quote, and I will quote him word for word: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion." That quotation is often used by critics of initiative and referendum. Of course, Mr Burke made his statement over 200 years ago when we didn't have technologies available that helped us to spread information the way we do today. The level of education was low, and it probably would have been doing people a disservice to expect to take their opinion to make decisions about international affairs, for example.
But in the information age of the 1990s I would like to see Mr Burke's quotation changed. I'd like to see modern politicians saying, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but also his commitment to alert you to the affairs of government that affect you, so that you may become informed and so that you may instruct him how to represent you."
Unfortunately, in Canada, there hasn't been the political will, hopefully until today, to modify the old-line party system, which has such rigid controls over its MLAs and MPs. As I mentioned earlier, I sincerely hope that the Ontario government is serious in proceeding with a workable system, because perhaps some of you are going to have to accept the possibility that from time to time you're going to have to vote contrary to your personal views.
That's something that has already happened to me in connection with the gun control legislation that was passed by the federal government. My party and I personally were against that legislation, feeling it had been sold as a crime control bill when it wasn't, but after an extensive discussion process in my riding lasting about nine months, eventually scientific polls indicated that 67% of my riding were in favour of the bill, so I voted in favour of that bill. There was no political fallout from that, because within the Reform Party itself, we are permitted to take those stands when we can demonstrate that we're representing our constituents.
That was a hard decision for me to make, to give up my personal beliefs in order to represent my constituents, and some of you may be faced with that in the future if you do indeed have initiative and referendum, and perhaps you need to start to thinking about that possibility.
Despite the reluctance here in Canada to introduce these types of tools, there are other areas with parliamentary democracies that are way ahead of us. I mentioned New Zealand in the beginning, and New Zealand will be holding its first mixed-member proportional elections this October. Some of you may have heard there's going to be a mixture of the old "first past the post" and also proportional representation. New Zealand is well ahead of us in terms of electoral reform, but they also introduced their citizens' initiative and referendum bill in 1993, so they've had a workable bill now for about four years. The New Zealand experience completely disproves the claims of the old-style politicians that initiative and referendum are incompatible with a parliamentary democracy. We've all heard those claims in the past, and frankly, they were red herrings. I heard them in New Zealand 20 years ago, but once the political will was there, New Zealand found a way, and Canada also can find a way.
As I also mentioned earlier, there is in your package on your desks a copy of the direct democracy bill which I intend to introduce as a private member's bill. There's little chance that it will be passed, of course, but there's about two years worth of work in that bill, and hopefully it sets a pattern for the future at the federal level when hopefully the federal government will catch up with what's happening at the provincial level.
I should make a couple of comments about special-interest groups and initiatives and referenda. In New Zealand, with four years' experience under their belts now, there are some interesting cases that have come up. For example, in March 1995 a group calling itself the Next Step Democracy Movement started two petitions which it felt very confident it could get on to referendum ballots. One petition asked for guaranteed free access to medical care and the other one asked for guaranteed free access to education.
A number of traditional-thinking New Zealand politicians were terrified that these petitions would be successful. A number of fiscal reforms had taken place in New Zealand and there had been partial private alternatives put into the medicare system and certainly private alternatives in the education system, and these traditional politicians were afraid that this socialist group, I guess you would call them, would be successful with their petitions. And I know there are plenty of politicians in Canada who would be terrified that such a petition could start here.
However, the Next Step Democracy Movement had a year to collect signatures; they only had to get 243,000 signatures on those petitions from a population of about four million. You'd think that would be a pretty easy task, but in fact the New Zealand people proved to the politicians that they were plenty smart about this whole issue and realized there was nothing free about education or medical care. After an entire year, only 79,700 people had signed the medicare petition and only 61,800 had signed the education petition. That was less than 33% of the required number to put it to a referendum. Instead of being a threat to the government agenda, these two petitions actually ended up endorsing the direction the government had taken in its policies. So there's a possibility that these tools of direct democracy can be of tremendous benefit to government.
I have used recall, which is a slightly different topic but relates to this, in my own riding when special-interest groups have come to me pressuring me for money for grants and their special interests. A good example would be the national women's monument. A couple of years ago, there was a group in my riding that was trying to get about $2 million out of the federal government for the national women's monument in memory of those women killed by Mark Lepine in Quebec. The monument was to say "In Memory of All Women Killed by Men," so there was a major public outcry about the wording and major opposition to any grant by the federal government. I managed to successfully derail it by bringing a lot of public attention to the issue, and the group was very, very angry. They called me up on a conference call one day and said, "Mr White, we're going to get rid of you at the next election." I said: "Please don't wait till the next election. If you can get 15% of the people in my riding to sign a petition that I'm not representing the majority, I'll resign." They were very excited about that. They asked for it in writing, which I gave them. To this day, I haven't seen even one page of signatures.
These tools are very powerful. I have found that the threat of recall has been a very powerful tool to dissuade special-interest groups from proceeding with their petitions.
The little town of Rossland in BC has found this to be a very effective tool, in terms of initiative and referendum. The town of Rossland, BC, has had initiative and referendum laws for some years now, and the citizens of that municipality have actually voted themselves tax increases twice, at least twice, once to pave the main street and once to improve their sewage treatment works. There is another example of how the criticisms of initiative and referendum are often misguided. These citizens, once they get the explanation of why a municipality wanted to do these things, were more than happy to see their taxes increased. On the other hand, they completely derailed the efforts of a special-interest group from Vancouver to start imposing its will on the citizens in terms of a logging contract in that area.
However, it is actually the New Zealand legislation that's probably the most relevant to what's happening in Ontario. It's designed for a more general application. The bill that's in your package is also more likely to be of help to you than talking too much about the municipalities.
Just wrapping up, because I'd like to leave you some time for questions, my bill covers a number of details:
A provision to prevent the government from proposing alternative questions which would influence the outcome. That's a danger, that the government tries to get the agenda back if it's not happy with the proposals.
A realistic threshold for signatures.
A reasonable time in which to gather those signatures.
A full disclosure provision so that those proposing the initiatives have to reveal the potential cost or the beneficial savings to the people of Canada.
A provision -- and this, I feel, is quite important -- for electronic voting using touch-tone technology. We're at the point now where companies like MT&T Technologies out of Halifax have perfected a really excellent system for electronic voting, and there's no reason we shouldn't be moving towards that. The state of Montana has already mandated electronic voting by touch-tone for school board elections, with paper ballots being the alternative. This is the way of the future, and it really cuts the cost dramatically and improves access for disadvantaged people or those with handicaps, the elderly, those who have trouble getting to the polls -- very, very cost-effective.
Another provision is a prohibition on the gathering of signatures for profit, which I mentioned earlier.
One last provision is a cost-saving provision for the government to delay a referendum if it intends to implement the intent of the petition. I think that's an important aspect that will cut the cost when the government shows that it's clearly very serious about enacting what the people are asking.
One last thing, just in the wrap-up. It always amuses me that opponents of initiative and referendum will say that direct democracy would make MPs and MLAs into trained seals who would blindly follow the instructions of their voters. In fact, as we all know, under the existing system MLAs and MPs, bless our hearts, are more like trained seals because we follow the instructions of the whip than we would ever be under the instructions of our voters. The presence of workable initiative and referendum legislation would make sure we had to work very conscientiously in our ridings and make sure that the public knew exactly what was going on, why we felt it was important to vote in a particular way. I think that's very important. The average Canadian voter is quite smart enough, certainly as smart as the Swiss voters, and smart enough to make correct decisions if they're given the correct information.
In the quick scan summary, which is in your package, I deal with specific questions asked in the Your Ontario, Your Choice paper, outlining problems or answering questions to do with the cost of referenda, the signature thresholds, informing the voters, deciding the outcome, and referendum operations themselves, particularly electronic voting.
I think that wraps up my presentation, so I would be pleased to answer any specific questions you might have.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr White. First of all, I think committee members would like to introduce themselves to you so you know who is asking the questions. I'm Ted Arnott, the Chair.
Mr Morin: I'm Gilles Morin, a Liberal member.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): Bud Wildman, NDP.
Mr Silipo: Tony Silipo, NDP member.
Mr Jim Brown (Scarborough West): I'm Jim Brown, PC.
Mr Grimmett: Bill Grimmett, PC.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): Marcel Beaubien, PC.
Mr Froese: Tom Froese, PC.
Mr Carl DeFaria (Mississauga East): Carl DeFaria, PC.
Mr Hastings: John Hastings, PC, vice-chairman of the committee.
Mr Morin: Mr White, you mentioned that you used more or less a petition to promote a referendum. Once the referendum has been agreed upon, a question has to be prepared. Who prepares the question, who evaluates the question that the question is correct, and who is that person who will make a decision that the question is properly posed and will not influence the people to make decisions which they wouldn't agree with?
Mr White: That's a very good question. What I've done with my bill to be put before Parliament is to follow the New Zealand lead, which is basically to allow the electoral officials to define how the question should be worded. There are some guidelines in the bill, so I won't go into detail here, Jim, but I will say that the basis of it is that in the end, you have to ask whether the people support or are opposed to enabling legislation.
One of the things that my bill does is that it forces the proponents of the initiative to prepare the legislation. They can do that with the assistance of their MPs or with their own funded lawyers, but there are certain guidelines they must adhere to, and then they must get into a process of informing the electors about the bill, what it does, how much it costs. In the end the question will basically ask, "Do you support the bill or not?" and it quotes the long title of the bill, the long form of the title, so that it describes the content of the bill. The detail is in my draft legislation. As I said, I don't want to get into laboriously long answers here, so I would encourage you to check that out in there, Jim, and certainly contact me personally afterwards if you have some more direct questions.
Mr Morin: My name is Gilles, by the way, not Jim.
Mr White: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear it very well over the link.
Mr Morin: What about the frequency of the referendums? How many referendums would you have in a year? Also, would you talk about the cost of those referendums? We've been given figures from $11 million to $40 million, which is quite expensive. Of course, with the new technology we may be able to lower that, but I'd like to have your point of view. Also, if you have many referenda, it may become after a while a futile way of asking the opinion of the public. Let me explain. Let us say, for instance, that an issue comes out and a minority group finds that yes, this is a very important issue and manages to raise a lot of questions to the public and then the referendum takes place and we realize all of a sudden that we made a mistake, we should not have had a referendum.
What I want to say is that a referendum is a very serious matter and it should not be used as a political tool so that the government has the ability to pursue its goals, that the government is stuck and says, "We'll go to the public because we want to make sure they are on our side." Do you follow me, Mr White?
Mr White: Yes, I do. There are a couple of questions in there. As to the cost aspect, we all say there is a cost of democracy; there is a cost of your salaries and mine under the present system. There will be a cost of direct democracy. As I mentioned earlier, it really comes down to political will, whether or not you want to do this, whether or not you are prepared to accept some cost, but certainly the use of electronic technology can dramatically reduce that cost.
In terms of the frequency, there is no evidence anywhere where initiatives and referenda are used that frequency is a problem. Particularly if we look at the New Zealand example, which is a good parliamentary democracy example, and certainly the town of Rossland, BC, which is another workable example at the municipal level, there is no evidence that the citizens are constantly doing initiatives and forcing referenda. They may try to take out petitions, but very few of them actually gain enough support to get to the referendum stage.
That brings me to the point you mentioned about, what if a minority manages to get enough signatures to force an issue to a referendum? I would have to say that it's no longer a minority issue then, and it never was. A minority issue will never get to a referendum. There is no evidence anywhere that they ever do. The example I gave in New Zealand was this socialist agenda I mentioned of free education and free health care, where they were incapable in a whole year of getting one third of the necessary signatures.
I think your fears are unfounded, based on the worldwide evidence and the worldwide experience. Besides, it really does come down to political will. If you want your voters to have a say in the process, you're going to have accept their judgement on which issues should go to referendum.
Mr Wildman: Thank you very much. I appreciate your presentation. I must say, I guess as an old-line socialist, that I have some philosophical differences with you. But I'll preface that by saying that on fundamental questions related to the fundamental law of the country, I believe we should have referenda, recognizing that they are not as simple, though, as I think many believe. Obviously, a vote on a Constitution is usually dealing with a very complex set of issues, and a yes or no vote is sometimes difficult to encapsulate a person's views on the whole document.
The same, I would suggest, applies to a bill. If you say your referendum question will be, "Do you favour bill number such-and-such and the long title," if it is quite a simple, straightforward piece of legislation, that would be quite appropriate, but if you have omnibus legislation or even complex legislation, there may be parts of the bill that are acceptable to people and other parts that are not. In a political debate, a legislative debate, those matters can be dealt with. Wouldn't it be much more difficult to deal with those kinds of complexities in a simple yes or no vote?
Mr White: Under the form of initiative and referendum that are proposed in my private member's bill, since it's the responsibility of the proponents to develop the legislation, it really is their responsibility to explain the bill to the people. If they make a poor job of it, then they're obviously going to lose in their attempt either to get enough signatures or, alternatively, pass in the referendum. I think it's their problem to worry about that rather than ours as legislators. We have a role to play in ensuring that unbiased, factual information is made available to support or to work against the bill, but it must be unbiased and factual.
My experience is that there is a lot of very carefully thinking people out there who really do pay a lot of attention to these issues. During the Charlottetown accord referendum debate, in every household, in every cafeteria and restaurant across the country, people were talking about the issues. It's true that if you have too many issues on the one question, it becomes too difficult to answer. That's something you learn with experience, and I'm willing to trust the voters to prepare their bills and put it to our judgement.
Mr Wildman: In that regard, isn't it quite possible that questions of personality of the proponents and opponents influence the vote rather than it simply being a vote on the substance of the question? For instance, if you use the Charlottetown accord as an example, I would suggest to you that the unpopularity of Mr Mulroney and his government at the time was one of the factors -- only one -- that played a role in the rejection by many people of that question. How would you avoid that, and would you indeed have Yes and No committees for the campaign for a referendum?
Mr White: The referendum that you're talking about is a government-initiated referendum, which is very, very different to a citizens-initiated referendum. I would say that all of the work I have done is towards citizens-initiated referenda. I would never expect, based on worldwide experience, to see an issue as complex as that Charlottetown accord result from a citizens' initiative.
I could have a debate all day with you about whether or not it was influenced by whom, but my bill does not set up Yes and No committees funded by government. It's entirely up to the proponents and opponents to fight it out in the public arena and to get it on to the order paper.
Mr Wildman: I just would raise two other points. Your comment that in Switzerland about 15% to 18% of the population quite often votes in their referenda alarms me. And I don't accept your analysis that since only 65% of the population vote in the federal election in Canada and you might be elected with 35% of that, that you're only getting elected with about 26% of the vote as adequate, because the 18% doesn't compare to the 26%; the 18% compares to the 65%. So you were comparing apples and oranges. The 18% is a very small number to make decisions for the majority, and perhaps it indicates either that the process has become so old hat in Switzerland that people don't pay attention to it, are not interested, or that there really is not much demand for referenda in Switzerland by the majority of the population.
Mr White: It could well be that there are elements of everything you say in this referendum process, but in practical experience it seems from looking at the evidence worldwide that those who are opposed to the referendum question, such as minorities or special-interest groups, are more likely to be enthusiastic in their promotion of opposition to the thing and to fire up their supporters. The majority, who are usually quite happy to see the thing go through, just don't turn out to vote.
What I've done on page 2 of my detailed presentation is I've set out about five separate points dealing with low voter turnout. Because I know we're short on time and Mr Mitchell is here as well, I would ask you to read the points on page 2 of my detailed presentation which deal with the low voter turnout. Please feel free to contact me again if you would like to on that.
Mr Wildman: I would just say one thing. One of the arguments for direct democracy, so called, is low voter turnout and cynicism of voters. If we end up with low turnout for referenda, we've got the same problem. We haven't resolved it.
Mr White: Well, of course, as a person who truly believes in direct democracy, I would rather have 18% of the voters having a say than 295 people sitting in the House of Commons on some issues.
Mr Hastings: Mr White, could you give us some background as to the Rossland, BC, experience in terms of the money bylaws, or what type of bylaws can be revoked or citizen cancelled out in a referendum?
Mr White: Unfortunately, I have no direct knowledge of the bylaws there. Mr Mitchell is sitting here and he's sort of nodding a little bit. He may be able to give you some more detailed information when he comes on. I do know that some council members who have perhaps shown some interest in getting rid of the initiative and referendum bylaws have been promptly thrown out of office at the next election. So the citizens obviously like the process.
Mr Hastings: What can you tell us about the Montana state experience on school board elections on the teledemocracy approach, direct telephone by the new technology? Why did they only select school boards? Is it an experiment that they're attempting to see how it works?
Mr White: I don't have any up-to-date information on Montana to know whether it's been used very much. It was only put into state legislation last year, or early this year even. I don't have any direct information. MT&T Technologies, if they're making submissions, were probably following that more closely than I am. I will make a note, though, to see if I can get some more information for you on that particular issue.
Mr Hastings: Okay. One final item. Do you support the use of this technology in your bill Canada-wide, if your bill became the law of the land?
Mr White: Yes, I do. I have used the electronic voting technology in my own riding to carry out an electronic referendum in 1994. We used MT&T technology, we used the voters list from the 1993 election, and we issued all the voters with PIN numbers which were about 16 digits long, randomly generated by computer, and they could vote by touch-tone telephone during a set period of time on changes to the Young Offenders Act. It was very, very successful and proved the technology works extremely well. So I have put a provision in my bill for that technology to be used.
Mr Hastings: How was that financed? By corporate sponsorship or through your own pocket?
Mr White: It was partly sponsored through direct donations, partly out of my MP budget, and partly out of sponsorship from MT&T itself. The only question that remains at this point is whether the telephone companies have sufficient infrastructure in place to handle an entire province trying to vote at the same time. But my understanding is that the city of Belleville in Ontario has recently had a plebescite on an issue using this touch-tone technology. You may be aware of it, and I know the mayor was just delighted that he could stand up and announce the result minutes after the voting closed.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much for your answers, sir.
The Chair: Mr White, thank you very much for making the effort to present to us today. We really appreciate this. It's the first time we've used this technology and we found it very helpful to get your input on this issue.
Mr White: Thank you very much, Ted.
The Chair: We'd like to call Mr Mitchell forward. Good morning, sir.
Mr David Mitchell: Good morning. Can you hear me?
The Chair: We can hear you very well. We've set aside half an hour for your presentation, Mr Mitchell. Thank you very much, first of all, for coming in. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Mr Mitchell: My pleasure. With the magic of this technology and the Ontario committee reaching out the way it is as part of this consultation process across the country, it's amazing that the whole issue of direct democracy should even be a controversy. If you can do this, then surely all legislators across the land should be able to reach out and consult using technology and using various means.
I'd like to talk to you this morning as a former member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly who served as an independent member of our province's legislative committee that preceded the introduction of the British Columbia legislation, which is known as the Recall and Initiative Act. I'd like to offer you some reflections on the British Columbia experience. I only wish and my only regret is that you can't be here with us this morning or this afternoon on this very glorious west coast day, but I'm not supposed to say that. There's a conspiracy among all of us as British Columbians that we're not supposed to make you envious, so I won't go into that in any detail.
But I do really want to leave a very serious message with you today about the British Columbia experience, which is referred to in your consultation paper, which, I must tell you, I think is very good. It's a good consultation paper in the sense that it asks the important questions that need to be asked and it raises the key issues that must be addressed prior to establishing an effective referendum procedure. I should tell you that we had no such well-considered process in British Columbia.
Very briefly, let me explain. In 1990, a Social Credit government enacted a referendum act in British Columbia allowing the provincial cabinet to submit non-binding questions to the electorate. Unlike Ontario, British Columbia actually has a history of provincial plebescites and province-wide referenda which have accompanied general elections in the past. This new legislation, however, in 1990 formalized the procedure. Unfortunately, at the time there wasn't much discussion about the process of how this referendum act might be used other than the fact that there was a legislated commitment in British Columbia that any proposed change to the Canadian Constitution must be put to the people of British Columbia in the form of a provincial referendum. British Columbia is not alone in that. Other provinces have a similar provision, Alberta and Quebec being the two notable ones.
In the following election, in the autumn of 1991, the Social Credit cabinet went further. They added two referendum questions to the ballot. When British Columbians voted for their candidates of choice in the 1991 election, they were also asked two questions. Question A asked, "Should voters be given the right by legislation to vote between elections for the removal of their members of the Legislative Assembly?" Question B was, "Should voters be given the right by legislation to propose questions that the government of British Columbia must submit to voters by referendum?" Those were the two questions.
It was speculated at the time that these two questions on recall and referendum -- recall and initiative, as they were known here in British Columbia -- were chosen as a kind of flirtation with direct democracy that might forestall any possible interference by the provincial Reform Party in the election campaign of 1991. There were also suggestions that the two referendum questions might somehow defuse the public's concern over integrity and accountability in the wake of political scandals that had plagued the Social Credit administration of the day.
In any event, the Social Credit administration was not returned to office in that election, but the two referendum questions were overwhelmingly endorsed by more than 80% of British Columbia voters. The incoming NDP administration in 1991 was anything but enthused about implementing these tools of direct democracy, but at the same time, the government could not ignore the clearly expressed wishes of the British Columbia electorate. It took a full year after the election before a legislative committee was assigned the task of reviewing the means of implementing the desire of voters. I served on this committee and I dubbed it the committee of delay. It took us another two years to complete our work and get the legislation through the British Columbia House.
I'd like to leave the process aside and the politics aside, if I could, and you can probably take it that I'm critical of the resulting end product. I'd like to tell you about it because it's referred to in your discussion paper, but I really think you need some context here before you can assume that in British Columbia we have any kind of workable referendum legislation.
In short, the legislation which was passed in British Columbia, which is known as the Recall and Initiative Act, and I'm sure your researchers can get copies of that or a summary of it for you, is purposefully designed to prevent the recall of any elected representative and to frustrate the desire of citizens who wish to have a question submitted to voters by means of a referendum.
Let me deal very briefly with recall, because it received the lion's share of attention in British Columbia, and I think the reason for that is because it focuses on the personality of a politician and the news media find it much easier to deal with that issue as well. Under the British Columbia legislation, in order to unelect or recall a politician sponsors of a petition would have 60 days to collect the signatures of more than 50% of eligible voters in a constituency from the previous election, not merely of votes cast but 50% of all eligible voters. This must be done by volunteers only. Not surprisingly, even in the sometimes heated world of British Columbia politics, no one has even yet considered a recall petition. In jurisdictions where the approval levels range between 10% and 20% of votes cast, recall petitions have proven to be very difficult and very rare. Under the constraints of the British Columbia law, it is virtually impossible.
Of these two tools of direct democracy, citizen-based initiatives are by far the more important, more significant in terms of their impact on our parliamentary system and much less understood as well. Under British Columbia's legislation, in order to get an initiative put to voters in the form of a referendum, a number of hoops would need to be squeezed through. Most significantly, sponsors of an initiative would have 90 days to sign up at least 10% of eligible voters in each of British Columbia's 75 provincial constituencies.
If such an extraordinary petition could be properly executed under the strictures established by law, then the initiative could be put to a province-wide referendum where it would need a double majority for approval. First, it would need more than 50% of all eligible voters, not merely votes cast, and the referendum would then also need the clear approval of 50 of the province's 75 constituencies. There's a double majority showing a regional protection as well. A majority of the regions of British Columbia would have to support that referendum in order to have it submitted to the Legislature. Then and only then, the government of the day would be required to introduce the initiative in the Legislature as a bill for first reading. There is no requirement to pass it into law.
In a nutshell, that's the initiative procedure under the British Columbia legislation. What has the experience been to date in BC? Many have spoken bravely of trying to use the legislation, but to date only four applications have been made under the act. To give you a bit of a flavour, let me very briefly explain the four applications that have come forward so far.
The first one was a proposed initiative to legislate a balanced budget and retirement of the provincial debt. The chief electoral officer of the province of British Columbia issued a petition, but the applicant could not find sufficient canvassers to pursue the matter within the prescribed time limit. The second was a proposed initiative to eliminate MLAs' pensions. It was withdrawn when the provincial government passed legislation that achieved the same effect. The third attempt was an initiative application to separate school taxes from property assessments in the province of British Columbia. Again, the proponent of this initiative was unable to organize canvassers around the province. The fourth and most recent, and you would have seen reference to this last night on the CBC national news, is an attempt to ban the hunting of bears in British Columbia. This initiative is currently being organized by a number of environmental groups in BC which already have more than 200 canvassers registered with the office of the chief electoral officer. Still, it seems very unlikely that they will achieve more than raising the profile of their cause.
The government of Ontario's consultation paper correctly notes, on page 29, "The level of signature threshold...is critical to the functioning of the referendum process." The British Columbia experience shows clearly that the threshold is much too high, and this serves only to frustrate the genuine desire of citizens who want to play a more direct role in the functioning of their democracy. Let me be clear: I don't believe it should be easy to recall an elected representative or to have a citizen-based initiative passed into law. It should be difficult. There must be safeguards built into the process to prevent abuse either by political opponents or by special interest groups, but if we place the approval levels at unrealistically high levels, so that any effort at direct democracy can only fail, we not only lose the safety valve for democratic discontent that people have clearly said they want, but we also risk further alienation of a general public that is increasingly disengaged from politics and politicians. We thereby feed the cynicism that is so maliciously directed towards all those who today participate in public life.
In British Columbia we had the opportunity, a golden opportunity, to develop a model of direct democracy within our parliamentary system of government. We failed, and failed badly, in my opinion. Rather than having toyed with people's expectations and hopes, our provincial government should have simply been candid, should have been honest and admitted that it didn't believe in direct democracy, and there would have been nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. But they didn't do that. Instead, politics have suffered. Politics in our province are now more poisoned than when the proposals first came forward five or six years ago.
Ontario today has before it the opportunity to implement a small but significant parliamentary reform. Do not repeat the mistake of British Columbia. Learn from the experience of the westernmost member of your Canadian family. Don't make promises that you can't keep, and keep the promises you've made by making an important element of direct democracy a part of decision-making in your province. I know from experience that it's easier said than done, but good luck, and thank you for your time.
Mr Silipo: Thank you very much, Mr Mitchell. I wonder if you could tell us, in your view, just dealing first of all with the question of citizen-initiated referenda, where you would set the parameters in terms of minimums. You talked about the BC experience, both on that and on recall, and told us clearly what you didn't like in terms of numbers. But could you give us some sense from your experience about where you would have set some of those numbers instead, both on the recall and on the broader issue of citizen-initiated referenda?
Mr Mitchell: First of all, I should tell you that I had concerns initially, when recall and initiative were put in the form of referendum questions to the electorate. I personally expressed some grave concerns about whether we should implement these without having broader discussion, debate and education. Having said that, when more than 80% of British Columbians said they wanted them, I believed our task as legislators was to implement both of these reforms in a workable fashion.
Our committee, which was doing some work very similar, I believe, to what your committee is now doing, took a comparative look at other jurisdictions that have implemented both of these reforms. The thresholds for approval were much, much lower in virtually every other jurisdiction that we examined, whether it was Switzerland, various American states or New Zealand, as Mr White has discussed. A key variable that could be changed to make this legislation workable would be to allow for a longer time period for the proponent of an initiative to campaign and to get whatever the level of signatures threshold is.
In British Columbia, for initiatives we require 10% of all eligible voters in every one of our provincial constituencies. There can be no paid volunteers or canvassers. This all has to be done on a volunteer basis, which I think is correct. We don't want special-interest groups coming in and funding this on a per-signature basis, which is done in California, which I think is atrocious. Having said that, within a 90-day time frame it's virtually impossible. It cannot be done over a vast expansive geography to sign up that number. Perhaps lowering the threshold to 5% and extending the time frame from 90 to 120 days might make the target a little more achievable. When it comes to recall, and again this is very controversial, we are asking for the signatures within 60 days of 50% of all eligible voters in the previous election. It's virtually impossible. You cannot do it. You'd need an army of canvassers going door to door, in shopping malls, on street corners, to be able to sign up that number.
I don't think it should be easy to recall an elected representative -- heaven forbid -- but if you put a procedure in place, it should have the possibility of achieving the goal. In American states that have used recall provisions -- not that I'm using the American model as something we should aspire to necessarily, but I think we can learn from their experience -- in American states that have set recall thresholds at 10% to 20% of signatures, which would cause a by-election, over a 50-year period we've only had one or two petitions that have ever gone to a by-election, and in at least some of those cases the incumbent is re-elected in the by-election that occurs. We need safeguards from abuse, but we also need realistic mechanisms that can work rather than frustrate the desire of people to participate in these processes. I hope I've answered your question.
Mr Hastings: Mr Mitchell, thank you for an illuminating presentation. You allude to the fact that you think the California model for gathering petitions is atrocious because it's a profitable enterprise or industry. Without getting into the merits or demerits of that, rather than the traditional process of gathering signatures the way we have in western democracies now, has your committee or you yourself ever thought of using the new computer technology as a signature-gathering device to get the appropriate threshold levels for a citizen-driven initiative to be put on the ballot for a vote? That is, if you can have a PIN for a teledemocracy, as Mr White alluded to, in direct elections of candidates to a position, why is it impossible to find a methodology for the gathering of signatures if you don't have sufficient volunteers to carry out the task, even with your lower thresholds in British Columbia, given your distance etc? Do you see a PIN as a way of being a verification of an actual signature, if that could be worked out technologically? Also, if you had a permanent voters' list situation?
Mr Mitchell: Thank you for your question; a very good question. Our committee did consider this. I can tell you why it was not included in the British Columbia legislation; it's because the government members on the committee quite frankly thought it would be too easy. They thought it would be too effective and they wanted to make the process as difficult and cumbersome as possible. Therefore, they stuck with the old manual signature collection system. Having said that, I'm personally very attracted to the presentation Mr White has made. I'm looking forward to examining his private member's bill, which is about to be introduced in the House of Commons, because I think the electronic methods that are available to us via technology could easily be used in the petition process that might lead towards a referendum. There's no reason it couldn't be.
When we looked at some of the American examples, I can tell you that in the Untied States these technologies have not so far been used broadly at that stage of a citizen-based referendum. The reason I refer to the California system as atrocious -- I don't want to mislead you -- is that I've been in the United States during elections and I've seen the ballots. When voters go into the voting booth in an American election, they are confronted with a ballot that is as thick as a telephone directory. The first ballot will ask them -- this fall, for instance -- to vote for president; the next one will be for their senator; the next one will be for their member of the House of Representatives; and then it will go in declining order into state governor, state representatives, state senators. When you get down dozens and dozens of pages into the ballot, then you'll start going through the various initiatives, and they could number anywhere from two or three to dozens and dozens. Most voters don't ever get through the ballot, through the telephone-book-size ballot. They vote for the first few and they never get to the others. It's ridiculous. I hope we never get to that point in Canada.
Having said that, the opportunity for a referendum to be put to voters, either at the time of a general election or at other intervals, I think is an exciting prospect that might bring citizens back into the democratic process, and that's something we need badly.
The Chair: Are there any other questions from government members? The Liberals are next.
Mr Morin: I'll possibly give you a chance to recap today what you've said. You were there when the legislation was created. If you were given the occasion today to bring amendments to that legislation, what amendments would you bring in?
Mr Mitchell: First of all, in the most recent British Columbia provincial election, which occurred just a few months ago, I did not seek re-election but I was a very keen observer of the election and I did media commentary. I can tell you that the opposition parties in British Columbia tried to make the recall and initiative issue a point of discussion during the campaign. It did not receive the attention that some thought it might have, because it became diffused with a whole variety of other issues, and leadership, of course, dominates most election campaigns, certainly in British Columbia. But it was proposed by both the Liberal opposition here in British Columbia and by the Reform Party opposition and by other opposition members that we should amend the existing legislation to make it workable. There were a number of proposals made.
My own personal view is that in order to make the BC legislation workable and not a joke -- and it's a bad joke as it is, because it's a law that cannot work and it's designed not to work. But in order to allow it to work, we need to do two main things: lower the threshold for approval for both recall and initiative to allow there to be a realistic chance that under some extreme circumstances these reforms, these tools of direct democracy, can work; otherwise it doesn't make any sense to have a law prescribing them. Secondly, we need to lengthen the period of times allowed for conventional technology to gather the signatures required. If we don't look at those two basic and simple reforms, these laws cannot work. Now, that doesn't go to the point made earlier of looking at electronic means for gathering signatures. Those are other amendments that I think are well worth considering.
But the existing law could be amended very simply by looking at lengthening the period of time required to gain support for an initiative and by reducing the signature threshold for approval. Those are issues that are addressed in your government's discussion paper. I think they need to be looked at very carefully if Ontario is going to have a workable referendum law.
Mr Wildman: I enjoyed your commentary during BC election night. I watched it from here in Ontario.
Frankly I am interested in the idea of recall, and I agree with you that there needs to be a workable threshold. But it would seem to me that you would have to have some limit on the number of petitions during a member's term.
Mr Mitchell: Yes.
Mr Wildman: I know of one state representative in the Midwest who spent almost all of his term fighting petitions instead of doing anything else. He was successful in every case, I understand, but that was what he spent nearly all of his time doing. That wouldn't be very profitable for him or for his constituents, I would think.
My one question, though, is in regard to my discussion with Mr White about his observation that in Switzerland somewhere between 15% and 18% of the electorate actually participates in referenda, and they tend to have them every week, almost, in Switzerland. We're talking about a very small country with a small population. I am concerned about that low turnout, because one of the arguments for direct democracy is that we have low turnouts in general elections because of the cynicism of voters about having real say. This gives them real say, so they should be enthusiastically involved. If there is only 18% of the people voting in referenda in Switzerland, then we've got the same problem. What's your view on that?
Mr Mitchell: You've raised a very important question which has caused me some deep concern as well. I referred to the Californian example, which I would add to the situation in Switzerland, where the ballot itself is so complex and so intimidating that I think it alone has become a factor in voter turnout in the United States, which is much, much lower than in our own country, of course. We have this ironic situation where if direct democracy is implemented incorrectly, it can actually serve to defeat the purpose of bringing the electorate into the process, which is something you want to think about carefully, because you want it ideally to have the opposite effect.
First of all, when it comes to recall, to go back to your initial point, the British Columbia legislation provides for only one recall petition per term for any elected representative. No sitting provincial representative can face more than one recall petition per term of office. Of course, if the required signatures are obtained, the incumbent member can run. If he or she is re-elected, he or she will not face another recall petition during the life of that Parliament.
Having said that, the number of signatures required to recall an MLA is a controversial area. In British Columbia, we simply said it's 50% plus one of eligible voters in the previous election. Now, that raises a few logistical problems. You have to use the previous voters' list. If you have a constantly updated voters' list, that's hard to determine. Secondly, 50% of eligible voters is an extraordinary number. Other models have been proposed. For instance, in a period of multiparty politics, it's very rare for most elected representatives to receive more than 50% of the vote. It doesn't happen often where you have several parties running. Should it be appropriate that to recall an MLA it would be sufficient to have the number of voters sign on to a petition who elected that member -- let's say 35%? Would that be sufficient to sign up a petition? Even then it's a very difficult process to imagine that number of individual citizens in one constituency signing a petition, especially within 60 days.
So in British Columbia, really the process cannot and will not work. I think it's dangerous, because we're toying with people, saying that we have a process, dangling it front of them, and yet the process cannot work. It's designed to fail. I think that actually cheats the public and encourages cynicism.
In terms of voter turnout, a referendum law such as one that you may be considering in Ontario should actually serve, I think, to increase voters' involvement, to increase the involvement of ordinary citizens in the political process, something that might reverse the trend we're seeing in Canadian politics today. That's the hope and that's the challenge for your committee.
The Chair: Thank you once again, Mr Mitchell, for your advice. We really do appreciate the sincere effort you put forward today.
I'm now going to recess the committee until 2:30. We'll resume again in room 151.
The committee recessed from 1413 to 1431.
DIRECT DEMOCRACY GROUP
The Chair: We will now resume our hearings. Our next group today is the Direct Democracy Group, Mr Ernst Kneisel and William Wills. Gentlemen, we've got half an hour set aside for your presentation. We look forward to hearing what you have to say. If you'd like to introduce yourselves for the purposes of Hansard, we can start.
Mr William S. Wills: Mr Chairman and members of the committee, my name is William S. Wills, and my colleague is Ernst Kneisel. While we'd like to just talk about this thing at this point, we feel our time is very limited and therefore we're just going to read our presentation to you.
The members in our group welcome the government's commitment to expand direct democracy in Ontario, as outlined in the consultation paper. Referendums are certainly one way to bring about legislative action based on the will of the people. In this connection, however, we have some suggestions.
First, a little background about our Direct Democracy Group. We have 15 active participants, both men and women, who reside in the Quinte region. Most have careers in the community representing a variety of fields, for example, the telecommunications industry, local network providers, a telephone long-distance company, an industrial development company, a former news writer, a film and video company, a member of the local arts council, a graphic communications specialist, a consulting economist, a veterinarian, a business school teacher, a computer systems analyst and an environmental specialist.
The concept of democracy is summed up in the roots of the Greek word "themocratia" -- I got that pronunciation from a good Greek friend of mine -- or, loosely speaking, "people power." If Canadians seek real people power, we believe there are two fundamental requirements to make it effective: Citizens must be better informed on public issues, and they must have the means to effectively communicate this fact to governments.
Citizen discussion and debate on any proposed provincial referendum question, however, we believe can only be realistically done at the community level. The community is the place where we all live, where all government policies are experienced and where we, as citizens, must act if we are going to do anything about the burdens governments thrust upon us, sometimes without our permission.
How then can we start to change the system in our communities throughout the province? We have suggested the name "community forum" for a kind of citizens' forum where any issue with sufficient public interest could be presented. It would also be a place where public issues could be discussed and debated. Qualified speakers could educate, and members of Parliament could express their views, answer questions and be challenged on their positions. For this kind of forum, we propose the latest communication technology, including radio, telephone, television and online computer networks to provide maximum opportunity for public participation.
The two provincial ridings in the Quinte region had 98,674 electors in the 1995 provincial elections. We see the community forum being activated by a petition of, say, 3%, or 29,060 names.
An electronic petition, for example, could be achieved by use of private and public computer terminals. The petitioners would have to provide some assurance of funding to meet the costs of the forum, which would involve a public auditorium, advertising costs and acceptable speakers on the particular issue chosen. Arrangement would also have to be made for live TV, radio and telephone communications to the auditorium for call-in questions. There would be opportunities for questions from the floor or by telephone as forum proceedings would be broadcast live to the entire community audience.
I'll just ask Mr Kneisel, my colleague, to carry on.
Mr Ernst Kneisel: A constraint on any live meeting, whether it's televised or not, is the limited amount of time available for actual discussion and debate. Ideas and solutions are often not heard due to the reticence of many people to come forward during a meeting. Current statistics suggest over 30,000 households in the Quinte region have computers. For those members of the community with access to a computer, online communication offers a solution to this problem of missing out on things.
Subsequent to a live community forum meeting, a time frame would be established, say a week, for continued discussion and debate. At this point the topic or issue discussed would have received substantial media coverage. Citizens with computers unable to attend the live meeting or to view it on TV would be able to obtain transcripts through their computer online service. During the allotted time frame for discussion, an area of the online service would be set aside for participants to use message-based conferencing for discussion and debate. Online participants could also contact live meeting speakers by electronic mail to submit questions. At the end of the allotted discussion period, the message-based conference area would be closed.
Finally, if required, the televote, or people's plebiscite, would be conducted by telephone. This would be a government decision in the way they set up the referendums. To accomplish this, a citizen would need a personal identification number, a PIN, to permit voting by touch-tone phone. PINs, similar to a bank client card number, would be issued to each qualified voter. An alternative to the televote therefore might be an Internet Web site, which the local network providers say is quite feasible even for secret votes and the avoidance of second votes.
All this would provide, first, a public forum for all voters and taxpayers in the region, and second, the technology to record the votes and maintain a database from electoral lists.
Unfortunately, we don't have the time here to give you our opinions on all the questions posed in your consultation paper. One of your major concerns, however, is cost, so why not provide an opportunity for citizens in their own ridings to become better informed and to express their views on issues in the form of a local plebiscite? If the same issue was debated in a number of ridings in the province and the plebiscite results reached the required referendum threshold, the government would have to hold a referendum on that issue -- that is, if they so rule. I realize that's still up in the air. The ridings would be a testing ground and qualification area for a referendum. Like Mr Patrick Boyer, we believe in the intelligence of the average citizen, particularly the ones who take the time and trouble to become better informed and to vote.
The cost of a referendum can be kept low if citizens are required to make a real effort to achieve a referendum. Citizens can be better informed if they can discuss possible referendum questions within their own communities. We believe this can be accomplished by the foregoing description of community forums and by requiring all costs for such forums to be borne by a locally approved citizen organization and all participating citizens.
Respectfully submitted, Bill Wills and Ernst Kneisel.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We're going to have questions now, and I will turn to the government caucus to lead off.
Mr Hastings: Mr Kneisel, you talk about plebiscites being used in certain ridings as a testing ground before any government would conduct a referendum.
Mr Kneisel: That was the whole idea. It was a preparatory thing. The idea was, effectively, to kick the question around and see how much interest there is, and then you would get actual private votes by telephone. So frequently these referendums, as we know from California and other places, once they get loose, there are all kinds of fatheads out there ready to start a referendum on something that they have a narrow interest in. We want to overcome that.
Mr Hastings: Other deputants have suggested the use of certain threshold majorities, percentages etc, and test times.
Mr Kneisel: If that involves getting written signatures, I don't think it's nearly as effective as getting telephone-in votes via a PIN.
Mr Hastings: Okay. What sort of criteria would you use to ascertain what ridings would be used as a testing ground for these questions, whatever they are? Would you also foresee, then, that some of these issues would have a regionalized orientation only? This question has come up from the members of the committee with respect to whether there ought to be some issues dealt with on a more regional or local basis rather than looking at each referendum issue as being provincial, a province-wide basis only.
Mr Kneisel: Bill was whispering an answer to me. I think he wants to speak to it.
Mr Wills: We have visualized this as a private citizens' organization with government approval for every riding or community riding, if you want to call it that, because I think every riding needs a forum where people can express their views on various subjects and issues and can even express their views in the form of a vote, whether it be by a televote using this teledemocracy system of MT&T or whether it be through the computer terminals, which some of our computer experts down there and online companies, network providers, tell us can be done. There may be some things that you wouldn't have a vote on, but there would certainly be some that you would want a vote on. But we see this as taking place on an ongoing basis in the communities all the time, for many reasons
Mr Kneisel: It would be like setting up 50 Rotary Clubs or something of the sort, one in each community. It would be this whole direct democracy procedure.
Mr Hastings: This committee just had an experience with teleconferencing. We just heard from Mr Mitchell from British Columbia and Ted White, the Reform MP, who has a bill before the House. He mentioned in his presentation, or in answers to some questions, that the city of Belleville has just had a televote on some issue. He wasn't clear as to what the issue was. He did say, though, that the mayor was very proud to stand up within minutes after the conclusion of the vote and announce that a certain number of people voted a certain way. Can you fill us in as to what this project was, or is that a myth that has evolved?
Mr Kneisel: I was with the mayor last night and he certainly didn't mention it to me, and I hadn't read anything in the newspaper on that.
Mr Hastings: Okay. It could have been earlier this year. I haven't seen anything in the papers about it.
Mr Wills: It's a new one on us, and we've been in touch with the mayor on this idea.
Mr Hastings: But Mr White of White Rock, Surrey and whatever else is in the name of his riding did specifically mention that the city of Belleville, he thought, had carried out some type of televote on an issue.
Mr Kneisel: I wish we had.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much for clarifying that.
Mr Wildman: Obviously it's a little grey.
Mr Clement: Just on the Web site idea, I visited some of the electronic town halls that have been set up on the Web sites. It's instantaneous and entertaining, but at the same time it's almost like instant opinion. I think we want to get considered opinion as much as we can. People can make instant decisions -- they do it all the time -- but I think we want to at least provide the framework so that people who want to seriously review an issue have an opportunity to do so. How would you use the Internet and computers to at least allow for the possibility for people to seriously discuss and seriously research an issue before they cast a vote?
Mr Wills: We maybe didn't explain it too much in here, but we have attached a document called the Community Forum Proposal, which you will receive. It goes into some detail there. The whole idea is that if you have a community forum and you have sufficient petition to call one, and this would be a private citizens' group that would be non-partisan that would organize these things, when you decide to go ahead with a community forum and you've got everyone supporting it, they're prepared to reserve so many seats in the auditorium and are prepared to do a certain amount of advertising and we have the speakers lined up, that kind of thing, then you have a meeting with the speakers and the issue is discussed and debated: questions from the floor, questions phoned in; hopefully we can get it on live TV. We've had some good responses from some of the cable companies in the general area there. So we'd have it on live TV. As I mentioned, it could also be on the radio as well, live radio. These are things we all hope to have.
After that, the vote would not be taken for a week or 10 days if this was something that called for a vote, and during that period there would be an online conference set up, available to anyone either through public terminals, computer terminals, or through their own computer at home, and modems. As Ernst mentioned, there are supposed to be about 30,000 in the Quinte region. They don't all have modems, but gradually it's getting greater all the time, as you know. These people could call in by e-mail, and this would be an open line, so the calls that go in would be seen by everyone on this particular conference, and they would go in to the speakers that had spoken at the auditorium. The question would be seen by everyone involved in this. The answers that come back from the various speakers would be seen by everyone involved, and this would go on for a week.
The Chair: Thank you very much. It's now the turn of the Liberal caucus to ask a question.
Mr Bartolucci: Thank you, gentlemen, for your presentation. We've heard for the last day and a half so many varying opinions about what should constitute an item for a referendum. You quoted Mr Boyer earlier, Mr Wills. Mr Boyer says that it should be anything transcending provincial importance; the issue should be extremely serious. Are you suggesting in your presentation that the item or topic for a referendum be any topic at all?
Mr Wills: No. There's a lot to this. It's hard to put across in just a few words. We're not really talking about any official referendum at that level, at the community level, though it could be if the issue has been discussed and debated over, say, several months; maybe they've had more than one meeting on this particular issue. Of course, it will only come up if there are sufficient petitioners to get it and the money is available to get it. If at some point -- say it is a local area situation -- a referendum should be held, the government can then go ahead and execute that referendum in that area; they've seen the evidence that there's a need for it.
If it's something beyond that involving the whole province, say, then that same issue could be passed from one community riding to another and could be debated in all these different ridings, and when they reach that threshold, whatever it might be that the government requires in names, these petitions that come in on that same issue, then the government will say, "Well, look, we've got enough right there." You'd have to work out a system of doing it. We haven't gone into all those details.
The other side of it is that in the communities, people want to talk about a lot of things but they feel apathetic because there's no way of doing it, and they say, "Well, nothing ever comes of it anyway." We want to try to provide that vehicle.
Mr Kneisel: I have a partial answer to that, though, in that little paper of mine. I say: "The basic criterion for determining the value of the electorate's opinions must be their competence to judge individual issues. Thus issues such as fiscal and monetary policy, energy policy, trade policy, external relations, defence, and a broad range of other matters may be judged beyond its competence. However many social and moral matters clearly fall within it.
"Under this latter heading one might include such issues as capital punishment, young offenders' immunity from the law, abortion, immigration policy (the question of `who' rather than `how many'), official language status of French and anglophone areas, basic civil rights" and so on, multicultural expenditures.
I think there are areas of real incompetence on the part of the public that they are not qualified to consider. I'm sorry if I interrupted you.
Mr Bartolucci: Not at all. In fact, you provided some more clarification. Thank you. If we could just deal solely with the provincial issue at this point in time, do you consider some issues to be a mandatory requirement for a referendum? Are there some issues that should automatically be held as a referendum?
Mr Kneisel: I don't feel that way. I think people should want it. They should be aware of the need for it rather than say, "Think about this," throw it on their plates and say, "Come on, respond to this." I don't think you'd get much action; it's simply not feasible.
Mr Bartolucci: You mentioned the threshold of 3%. Were you talking of 3% at a municipal level as opposed to a provincial level or would you use 3% at a provincial level as well?
Mr Wills: I was looking at it not just from the standpoint of a provincial referendum but from the local area. We've got about 98,000, as I mentioned, in the last provincial election. I thought if we had this non-partisan organization set up, how many names would we want on a list to justify going ahead? Of course they've got to provide certain things as well, funding and that sort of thing, so it struck us around 3% but that's flexible; it's a suggested figure. Out in BC isn't it 5%? I think down in California it's 5% and in Saskatchewan it's 10% -- referendums.
Mr Bartolucci: It varies depending on the country, certainly. Should there be a limit to the amount of money that both sides of an argument can spend in promoting their side?
Mr Kneisel: That's a very tough one. It's hard enough to control what goes into political coffers, much less this fringe kind of policymaking that we're talking about here. I think it would be very easy for any determined interest groups to hide a great deal of what they might put into such a thing. One could pass a law and say, "You mustn't do it or you must declare what you've put in," and then prosecute people and see if you could finally get them all to be honest.
Mr Wildman: Thank you for your presentation. I'm a little concerned about a couple of things you said. I'll preface it by saying that I believe on fundamental questions, such as the fundamental law of our country, the Constitution, we should have referenda. But in terms of what you just said about interest groups becoming involved and spending a lot of money, one justification for so-called direct democracy is to get away from special-interest groups. We've also heard that in California now, where they allow the purchase of signatures, there are firms that actually specialize in getting enough signatures. It seems to me that special-interest groups, so called, will adapt to whatever situations and deal with them in whichever way they can.
We heard in testimony from British Columbia, from the MP who has legislation pending before the House of Commons, that between 15% and 18% of the population of Switzerland participates in referenda, which certainly calls into question the whole argument that we have low voter turnouts in general election campaigns because of public cynicism and that the way to get people involved is to have referenda. There are even smaller numbers participating in the country that has more referenda than anywhere, other than perhaps California.
Having said all that, I'm very worried about the list you gave out as your proposed list. If we believe in democracy, surely the essence of parliamentary democracy is rule by amateurs, and most governments prove that.
We call on the experts to get expert views and opinions and ideas and policy and implementation, but ordinary people are elected by ordinary people to make decisions for all of us. That's the basis of our system. Then they put themselves before the electorate again to be judged on the basis of what they have or have not done.
If you say there are certain areas of policy that the public is ignorant about and therefore should not be subject to this kind of direct democracy, then I think you don't just call that into question, you call into question the whole idea of parliamentary democracy, because in an election campaign people supposedly make decisions not just on leadership and personalities but also on policy questions related to energy, for instance, defence, all sorts of things.
Mr Kneisel: They have access to all the experts, of course.
Mr Wildman: No. I'm talking about the ordinary populace, when you cast your ballot. It seems to me that you used as one example an area that might be subject to a forum or a referendum: immigration, for instance, and I'm not sure if you said "not how many, but who." I find that very alarming. Surely particularly in North America, where we're all immigrants except for the aboriginal people, our whole society is strengthened by immigration, and to then make who should be allowed in subject to a matter of public debate, I find that quite alarming and I'd like you to clarify it.
Mr Kneisel: I guess what Bill wants to say is that that is my personal opinion. I wrote an article on it.
Mr Wildman: I'm not attacking you.
Mr Wills: This is our presentation. It really has nothing to do with that, sir. You asked us our opinion; it's a personal opinion.
Mr Kneisel: I feel that way, personally.
Mr Wills: I have a different opinion than my colleague on that, but this is our presentation here.
Mr Wildman: It seems to me that we must have confidence in the electorate, whether we're doing it by referenda or by normal general elections.
Mr Wills: I agree.
Mr Wildman: There is one political scientist who said in a democracy the majority has the right to be wrong.
Mr Wills: I agree on that too.
Mr Wildman: The problem with most authoritarian states in the world is that you have a minority that thinks it's right and doesn't believe the majority has the right to have a different opinion. If the majority could be "wrong," are there matters that should not be open to public debate and along the lines that you outlined?
Mr Kneisel: I mentioned the one, for example, where a government is in deep debt, its bonds are in serious danger of not being accepted by the investing world, and a referendum is worked up against any program cuts. That would be a case of the tyranny of the majority and it would be really bad if that passed and a government were not able to make itself solvent again.
Mr Wildman: I see. I live near Michigan, and they have a referendum law in Michigan. Last year in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, which is the neighbouring city to the area where I live, they had to close the schools in May because they ran out of money. The reason they ran out of money was that they had a referendum on whether to raise the taxes required to keep the schools open to the normal closure date at the end of June, and surprisingly the taxpayers voted against a tax increase, so they closed the schools. Do you think this sort of thing might happen in Ontario if we had referenda on tax increases? How would we resolve this in order to ensure that our children get the kind of education that all of us desire them to have?
Mr Kneisel: That's why I like to exclude the taxation process from referenda.
Mr Wildman: Oh, because the Premier of this province has specifically said that matter should be subject to a referendum.
Mr Kneisel: I think he's on dangerous ground, that's all. It could backfire on him.
The Chair: That you very much for your presentation. We appreciate your advice and your input.
Mr Kneisel: It's been a pleasure.
The Chair: There are two things I'd like to bring to committee members' attention. Placed in front of you are a document called Canadian Referendum Compendium, September 1995, that has been prepared by Warren Bailie, chief election officer; and a briefing note on the constitutional amendment concerning denominational schools in Newfoundland, and the constitutional framework of Ontario education. Those have been prepared for all committee members by the Premier's office.
One other thing I'd like to inform committee members at this time to add to their personal schedules: We're going to try and start, on Thursday morning, at 9:30. We have another witness who has, since we last prepared this, indicated an interest. It's the mayor of Sault Ste Marie.
The Chair: We have next Darin Barney of the University of Toronto. Welcome to the committee. You have half an hour to present your brief to us.
Mr Darin Barney: I'm a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Toronto. I specialize in democratic theory and technology, which has led me to have a look at the democratic aspects of referenda and initiatives, especially to the extent that they've been mediated by technology much in the way that the gentleman who preceded suggested.
I see that member of Parliament Ted White spoke to you this morning. I have published a few studies on the electronic town hall and referenda that the Reform Party undertook in 1994 and 1995. It doesn't surprise me that Mr White was a bit foggy on whether or not there was a real process happening in Belleville. His enthusiasm for direct democracy, in my experience, often leads him to make claims about it that are not always able to be substantiated.
Mr Wildman: There is a lot of fog in Vancouver.
Mr Barney: That's true, yes. Actually, I come from Vancouver, so you're right.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said: "Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government is not" suitable "for men." That's a curious observation, especially given that it comes from one of the most eloquent advocates of democracy the world has ever known, but I think we should read in a statement like that not a low estimate of the capacity of people to govern themselves, but an indication of the high esteem in which this great thinker held this, the greatest of all ideas. It's not that Rousseau thought people were incapable; it's that he understood that democracy was a very complex proposition.
I raise the spectre of Rousseau because, as a student of both democratic theory and the practice of direct democracy in North America, I believe he provides an interesting contrast to those who believe that democracy is nothing more than the sum of free market and the periodic opportunity to vote. It's possible that in advocating the increased use of referenda and initiatives in Ontario, the current government is expressing its faith in the capacity of individual people to govern themselves, but I think it is also possible that their commitment to these devices might indicate an extremely low regard for the integrity of genuinely democratic politics, and perhaps even a fear of those politics.
The tradition of democratic theory is full of arguments about definitions, and I'm not going to get into them here, but for today I'd like to propose as a definition of "democracy" the following: A political arrangement can be called democratic if it provides for the equal ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions that most closely affect their lives as individuals in a community.
My experience in researching the use of the instruments of direct democracy suggests that they can be used in three different ways relative to this definition: They can be used in ways that are undemocratic, they can be used in ways that are anti-democratic, and they can be used in ways that are simply democratic. What I would like to do today is to briefly outline the attributes of these three approaches to direct democracy so that they might inform your consideration of the direction it might take in Ontario.
If you look at the last three pages of my submission, you will see three checklists that I've provided which I think might be useful in terms of evaluating the eventual design and implementation of direct democracy in Ontario. If I have time after doing this, I might briefly indicate some aspects of the government's preliminary paper, or I might highlight some aspects that suggest to me what direction the present proposal might take.
To begin with undemocratic direct democracy, I guess we would say that an exercise in direct democracy can be considered undemocratic if it fails to satisfy the conditions of that definition that I have proposed, that is, if it fails to provide for the equal ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions which most closely affect their lives as individuals in a community.
The first condition, you will notice, is the equal ability to participate, not simply the equal opportunity to do so, and this difference is an important one. Equal opportunity simply means that there are to be no formal or legal barriers to participation, no laws saying that this or that person can't participate because of the colour of their skin or their gender, for example. But the absence of those kinds of barriers is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the equal ability to participate. People who are not barred by law may nevertheless be unable to participate equally for other reasons, and a decision-making process that fails to take these other factors into account, or which doesn't attempt to ameliorate them is, by definition, undemocratic.
There are a couple of examples listed in my brief that might make that clearer, which suggests that despite legal equivalence as voters, people that have a differential facility with the issues under consideration cannot participate equally with one another and that therefore a system which does not make provision for rendering those people as close to equally facilitated with the issues at hand as possible is not democratic.
Secondly, often there can be an inequality of ability to participate on the basis of money. A system in which legally equal voters are rendered unequal participants in decision-making by virtue of different levels of access to financial resources is an undemocratic system. It's undemocratic because it translates a relative lack of financial means into an unequal ability to participate. Modern democracies have rejected this ever since they abolished property qualifications for voting, but as we've heard from Mr Wildman, it can be a problem in referenda and initiative. In California, a sophisticated industry has arisen around referenda and initiative that has reached a point where success in one of these endeavours is almost impossible without employing one of these services. One learned observer in the United States has said, "Money is, other things being equal, the single most important factor determining direct legislation outcomes."
What this means is that individuals or groups that lack substantial financial means are unable to participate as equals in the decision-making process, and a direct democracy program which fails to address this would be considered undemocratic.
The second condition of our definition or of the definition I propose suggests that not only must people enjoy an equal ability to participate, but that their participation must be meaningful.
There are a number of ways in which meaning can be brought to the political life of the everyday citizen, and the instruments of direct democracy should be considered democratic only if they contribute to this process. Meaning can generally be realized through impact. That is to say, participation is meaningful if it induces discernible results that can be connected to it. Impact can be then external or internal. External impact means that the effect on policy outcomes has to be clear and decisive.
Internal impact is realized through what we might call the edification or betterment of the citizen herself, as a result of having participated. If a citizen who has participated in a direct democracy exercise emerges from it with no better understanding of the issues involved, no greater appreciation of the perspectives of those whose views differed from hers, no heightened sense of attachment to her community, no heightened sense of responsibility to her community, and without her sense of citizenship having been enhanced as a result of the exercise, then that exercise has failed to meet the test of democracy I've set out.
The third element of our definition of democracy requires that the equal ability to participate meaningfully has to be applied to decisions which most closely affect people's lives as individuals in communities. There are a couple of things I'd like to emphasize in this regard. The first is that this requirement implies that only citizens themselves can determine what the issues affecting them most closely are. This means that in a direct democracy exercise that is democratic, citizens must be given priority at every stage: agenda setting, issue selection, option construction, timing and scheduling. Otherwise, that exercise should be considered undemocratic.
Secondly, I'd like to point out that the designation of citizens as individuals in communities means that, in order to qualify as democratic, decision-making has to attend to the priorities of the entire community affected by it and not simply to those of a majority or a minority of individuals within it. In practical terms, this means that the decision-making process should provide for a robust encounter between a plurality of viewpoints on any given issue in order that the interests of individuals might be moderated by those of their fellows. It means that a broader range of issues might properly be brought under the rubric of direct decision-making than is customarily the case.
A decision-making design which privileges private interests over those of the collective interest is undemocratic, because it fails to recognize those community interests which defy individual expression. For example, in a democratic system of direct legislation, issues which affect individuals as members of a community, such as the elimination of social services, would receive consideration at a level comparable to those issues which affect them as individuals privately, such as taxation. To suggest otherwise would simply be undemocratic.
I'd like to move on to anti-democratic direct democracy. An exercise in direct democracy should be considered anti-democratic if it actively subverts the conditions outlined in my definition of democracy; that is, not merely if it fails to meet those conditions in the ways I have outlined, but rather if, in design or outcome, it specifically undermines them. So an anti-democratic program is one which is designed to circumvent the equal ability of citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions which most closely affect them as individuals in communities, and it does so by substituting an undemocratic form of participation for existing modes of democratic participation.
Public institutions like legislatures and their committees, city councils, school boards, political parties, trade unions, interest groups, are far from perfect as democratic entities. They do, however, provide far better sites for meaningful participation and for the moderation of individual by community interests than do referenda or initiatives that do not attain the standards of democracy outlined above. This is particularly true in the case of social movements, that appear to appreciate the value of inclusivity, accommodation, communication, education and deliberation to a far greater degree than many traditional political institutions.
A direct democracy program that's designed to do an end run around mediating institutions such as these by appealing directly to the people through an undemocratic process will serve more to close down the space of public, collective decision-making than it will to open this space up. It's in instigating this kind of closure that direct democracy becomes specifically anti-democratic.
If an intent to replace existing public institutions of collective mediation with a poor facsimile of genuine participation is discernible in the design of such a program -- that is, if it's simply an attempt to transform public, collective, political decision-making into an isolated, individual, private transaction -- then it should be identified as anti-democratic.
So then, what does democratic direct democracy look like? Well, a program of direct democracy can be called democratic if it encourages and facilitates the equal ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully in the decisions which most closely affect them as individuals in communities.
The important thing to note here is that it's not enough for a program of direct democracy to simply avoid violating the conditions expressed in my definition. A system of direct democracy does not qualify as fully democratic simply because it's not undemocratic and not anti-democratic. To qualify as democratic, it must actively encourage and facilitate the ongoing satisfaction of the conditions I have specified.
For example, a democratic design for a program of direct democracy would ensure that people were equally able to participate in terms of both facility with the issues and financial means. This could be accomplished by making strong provision for ongoing educational activity, access to resources like expertise, and by requiring that all referenda be publicly financed, that initiative and referenda campaigns be subject to strict spending limits, that a fairness requirement be imposed on media coverage of these events, and that campaign spending be limited to registered umbrella organizations representing various positions on the issue.
A democratic design would also ensure that their participation was meaningful by connecting democratic decisions in a direct and evident way to policy outcomes. To this end, it would also configure the decision-making process in such a way that it enhanced individuals' awareness of their communities, elevated their sense of civic responsibility, and sensitized them to the breadth of viewpoints and issues facing them as members of a collective citizenry. It would be a process whereby private interests both informed and were moderated by the public interest.
Also, a truly democratic system of direct democracy would ensure that the issues placed before the community, as well as the manner of their presentation and dispensation, were determined by that community itself. It means that a broad range of issues would be open to the process of democratic consideration in which the private interests of individuals again would both inform and be moderated by the public interests of the communities of which they are members.
Finally, in order to be properly democratic, a program of direct democracy would have to be oriented towards an expansion, and not a contraction, of the public sphere of collective decision-making. It would replace existing institutions of political mediation only if it could surpass them in satisfying and nurturing the conditions of democracy. In short, a truly democratic practice of direct democracy would combat closure of the public sphere by contributing to an endless opening of it.
To wrap up before we get to your questions, I'd just like to say that the question before us then is whether referenda and initiatives can be configured to accomplish this goal. My conclusion, after considerable study, is that they cannot, at least not by themselves. The only way in which these particular instruments can contribute to a genuine democratic political arrangement is if they are but one part of a long and continuing process of highly participatory public deliberation. The value of democracy, as I have outlined it here, comes less from its use as a decision-making instrument and more from the enriching effect it can have on the public life we share as citizens.
Referenda and initiatives on their own are little more than a means of registering fixed, private preferences. What is needed are democratic forums and structures which facilitate the ongoing deliberation of public priorities through dialogue between citizens. A democratic process is not one where an isolated individual simply asserts his previously established private interest against his fellows. Instead, it's a process through which an expression of the public interest is formed through the consideration of differing viewpoints between citizens. This is when direct democracy becomes democratic, when citizens get together as equals to participate meaningfully in the decisions which affect them. There's little to suggest that referenda and initiative, employed in isolation from institutionalized deliberative practices, have much to offer the pursuit of this goal. For the most part, they seem more apt to thwart it. To suggest otherwise, I submit, would be to accept an impoverished idea of what it is that constitutes democracy. I'd appreciate your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Barney. I'm going to turn to the Liberal caucus first for questions.
Mr Bartolucci: Thank you very much for a very interesting presentation, almost a lecture. It brought me back to my university years in Lloyd Wagner's political science class on referendums. You've read the paper, obviously, "Your Ontario, Your Choice." If you had to categorize where this paper is right now, what is it, undemocratic, anti-democratic or democratic, and why?
Mr Barney: It's probably no secret that I would categorize the paper that's before us today as anti-democratic, and I'll give you three reasons I think so. One is that one of the criteria for an anti-democratic direct democracy exercise is that it seeks to marginalize existing democratic institutions. It's clear that this proposal does that. Throughout the proposal there are references to attempts to get around the Legislature, get around political parties and, most specifically, get around undefined special interests.
Now, the question of special interests is an interesting one. It's one that is always brought up in relation to direct democracy initiatives. We should remember that why special interests are identified as something to be gotten around is because it's in those institutions' social movements -- remember when we hear "special interests" talked about in a document like this, we're talking about women's groups, multicultural groups, anti-poverty organizations, gays and lesbians, students, public sector workers. It's in those arenas that a vibrant sense of the public is nurtured, and where you have a vibrant sense of what the public sphere is, you have demands being made on the state for protection and enhancement of that sphere. That's something that the current government is resolutely opposed to, so getting around special interests means getting around those demands that foist what are thought to be unreasonable burdens of taxation on the public in order to support a vibrant public spirit. By trying to do an end run around those institutions, this design is undemocratic.
Secondly, I would say that this design is anti-democratic because it reduces citizens to taxpayers. The word "taxpayers" appears in this report far more often than does the word "citizens" and it's clear that taxation is one of the key issues that this instrument is designed to be applied to. To the extent that the consideration of taxation reduction in isolation of a serious consideration of the social repercussions of that kind of retraction looks like what's going to happen here, it's anti-democratic because it's an attack on the public sphere once again.
The third reason is related to the first one. I've probably said enough in answer to your question. I would say it's anti-democratic.
Mr Wildman: I must say I found your presentation interesting and stimulating. I won't say, though, that it reminded me of lectures from Eugene Forsey that I participated in.
Mr Barney: That would be a compliment.
Mr Wildman: I didn't mean that as anything. Could I say, though, to play the devil's advocate, that there are those political thinkers who would argue that all governments per se are democratic in that they could not exist at least without the acquiescence of its citizenry. They may in fact be anti-democratic governments, but the fact that they are governments means that they at least have the acquiescence of the citizens.
Mr Barney: Right.
Mr Wildman: Having said that, it seems to me that what you're talking about is a mediation between individual rights and collective rights and needs in a community where you've said that in order for it to be democratic, not only would it have to deal with taxation issues, it would also have to deal on the other side with expenditure cuts and program cuts, since they are related, obviously. If you had a system set up that was not government-initiated but citizen-initiated, it is then your view that there must be expenditure limits and funding resources available to both sides to make it democratic.
Mr Barney: Yes. To the extent that I identify it as one of the chief criteria of a direct democracy program, being undemocratic is a differential degree of access to resources, be they financial or informational or expertise-oriented. In order for that kind of exercise to be democratic, there would have to be things like a checklist A: spending limits, fairness doctrine for coverage, some kind of public provision of access to resources and that kind of thing. I think that's crucial.
Mr Wildman: How do you deal with the view which is expressed in the discussion paper that somehow the mediating institutions, as you call them, or legislatures, the debating fora that we have in our parliamentary democracy, have been subverted by special interests, that lobbyists have used influence to somehow stymie the wishes of the general public? That statement itself is a questioning of our very democracy, is it not?
Mr Barney: That's true. I know I only have a couple of minutes left, so I'll try to be brief. What I would say at the outset is that I completely agree with the diagnosis that democratic political institutions as they exist in this country are far from perfect as democratic institutions and have a long way to go.
Mr Wildman: Churchill said it's the worst kind of government, except for all the others.
Mr Barney: Certainly, yes. I would be the first to affirm that. What I am against is replacing those institutions, flawed as they may be, with a process that is even more flawed in terms of its democratic potential. That's what I am opposed to. I have an extremely high degree of faith in the wisdom of the people and in their ability to handle complex issues if they are given an opportunity to do so in the ways that I have sketched here as being democratic. I do not think that people's very real sense of alienation from democratic institutions in this country should be enlisted in a project that is fundamentally undemocratic, which I believe this one to be, at least from the current indication.
Mr Wildman: I'm out of time, but I really would like your comment on the fact that apparently in Switzerland only 15% to 18% of the people actually participate in referendums.
Mr Barney: It's true. Studies have shown that despite the availability of referenda and initiatives in Switzerland, there is as high or higher a degree of voter alienation and disengagement from the political system there as there is in the United States.
Mr Beaubien: Mr Barney, on page 6 of your presentation you mention at the bottom, "This is when direct democracy becomes democratic -- when citizens get together as equals to participate meaningfully in the decisions which most closely affect their lives as individuals in communities." What's your feeling on the democratic system we have today?
Mr Barney: As I expressed to Mr Wildman, I think the democratic system we have today is seriously flawed and does not meet the definition of democracy that I proposed. However, what I also suggest is that a direct democracy project modelled on the lines suggested in the government's consultation paper would be worse than current democratic institutions, and that is unacceptable, and that's why I would recommend against it.
Mr Beaubien: Earlier on in your presentation, you mention about sometimes the majority making the wrong decision. Did you suggest that if they do make the wrong decision in a democratic process, you feel sometimes it's not democratic, from your point of view?
Mr Barney: No, I don't think I suggested that at all. You might be able to point out what you're referring to. But I would agree that in a democratic process sometimes the majority makes a mistake. I believe that's just a cost of democratic politics that we have to bear, and it's a cost that won't be odious if the system is sufficiently democratic to allow for the ongoing and continual scrutiny, change, elaboration of those decisions. People learn from their mistakes. In a truly democratic system they learn and reorient themselves accordingly.
Mr Clement: Do you believe that the government is under too much influence by media and political élites currently?
Mr Barney: Do I believe that the government is under too much influence by media and political élites currently?
Mr Clement: That's what I just said.
Mr Barney: I would not identify the media as a bogeyman in the way your government and other political parties in the country have identified the media. I would suggest that the government is under the influence of an élite, but it's also not the élite that you identify. It's not the special-interest groups that include people like environmentalists, gays, lesbians and students.
Mr Clement: We know it's not your élite --
Mr Barney: It's rather the major financial institutions that exist in this country and in others.
Mr Clement: Corporate élite.
Mr Barney: Yes.
Mr Clement: Given that understanding of how you think our government works, why wouldn't you want at least an opportunity for alternative élites or alternative groupings to have their possibility of driving the agenda rather than us?
Mr Barney: I would want that. I just don't think your proposal facilitates that.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. We appreciate it.
TAX EQUITY ALLIANCE
The Chair: The next group we have on our agenda is the Tax Equity Alliance. Welcome.
Mr William Clark: My name is William Clark and I'm the chair of the Tax Equity Alliance.
Ms Carol Burtin-Fripp: My name is Carol Burtin-Fripp. I'm the vice-chair of the same organization.
Mr Clark: On the document we have given you, the cover basically states who Tax Equity Alliance is. It's a recently formed group that's an umbrella organization largely formed from the executives of other ratepayer organizations. It is a one-issue PAC, I guess, if you want to call us that. I heard what went on before. We are dealing with the issue of taxation in the province; however, we feel that the matter of democracy and referenda play into that agenda and my remarks this afternoon will be structured to that end.
I've titled our presentation today Direct Democracy: An Athenian Dream for Ontario. Let me take you forward into the first decade of the 21st century. Let's assume direct democracy has come to Ontario and grown and matured for several years. It's 10 am on a Tuesday. We work a three-day week and start at 11 am. You're welcomed at your interactive work station by an on-screen message and a government announcer who says: "Good morning, and now for today's referenda. For each menu choice press 1 if you agree, press 2 if you disagree. If you wish to recall your member, press 3. On voter thresholds in excess of 80%, your member is wired for instant self-destruct. Get ready. We'll be right back following the by-election results from Friday's recall vote. But now, a brief message from the chief referendum officer regarding the rules for next week's `Best Question Prize,' an all-expenses paid trip to Queen's Park, where you'll be the personal guest of the Speaker."
Well, clearly there are limits.
Let's now take a jump back in time to fifth-century Athens, when radical democracy really did exist, if ever so briefly, including recall. It's a dream we never lost. The paradox is that it flourished only under the benign dictatorship of Pericles. The Athenian form of recall was a referendum where the people assembled by tribes in the market square for the annual casting of the ostrakons. These were nothing more than potsherds on which the name of the least favourite person was scratched. If it was decided by vote that an ostracism should be held, then the potsherds were cast. The guy with the most votes lost. Now that's a neat concept, a kind of fifth-century negative marketing option. The scratcher threshold was 6,000 votes. As for Pericles, he died of the plague and that signalled the end for radical democracy in Athens, but we never lost the dream.
I'd like to focus on the dream of radical democracy. I'd like to see it become a reality in Ontario. If one is mindful of history and deeply respectful of the contemporary mantra that accepts Murphy as a truthsayer and O'Toole's law, which states that Murphy was an optimist, as benchmarks for pragmatic decision-making, then we have a chance.
Now it's time to take the direct democracy dream and make it so it won't "get broke." We don't want to have to fix it. We want it to be flexible and fireproof and possess integrity and be long-lasting. That's a challenge.
There are two concepts I wish to introduce. One is subjective, the other objective. Look at them as foundation elements in the direct democracy equation. The first says that power, once given, is not lightly surrendered, so we'd better get it right the first time, or boy, are we in for trouble. The second recognizes that the political power matrix we have evolved since Roman times stands on the premise that power equals legislative or mandated authority, plus influence. The Romans called it auctoritas and dignitas. If employed judiciously, an elegant equilibrium exists. It is only when the balance is severely disturbed that we experience the extremes of anarchy at one end and despotism on the other. More often than not, we exist somewhere in between. There are no egalitarian societies. The ideal states that we come as close as we can. For us in Ontario, that's always the next election.
By going boldly, we need to preserve our precious quintessential democratic equilibrium. Otherwise it's turn on those TV sets and get ready to vote. Or, in the alternative, we will have created a hollow exercise in a crass attempt to mimic genuine participatory democracy. That's a lot like drinking stale beer. There are risks, but this one's worth taking. What then of surrendering power and still maintaining social and political equilibrium? That is the art of the art.
As I reviewed the direct democracy document put out by the Harris government, two things were immediately evident. First, the initiative is well-timed politically. Second, the document is thoughtful and well constructed. It is, however, more like a classic Chinese tangram than a jigsaw puzzle disassembled on the table. With the tangram, there are many ways to put it together, rather than one. The key would seem to be flexibility. This, however, suggests an elaborate set of parameters. It is the control measures rather than the will to do it that will make or break the referendum initiative.
The ability test: One is reminded of the six Ps of political survival: Proper prior planning prevents pitiful performance. If we are to succeed with any direct democracy initiative, we absolutely need to subject the process to an ability test. I wish to present you with six principles which should govern referenda in a general sense. They should be fundamental to any referendum policy you legislate. The question, the process, the administration and the organizational structure must meet all -- not just some -- of the conditions. They are: accountability, affordability, compatibility, credibility, manageability and feasibility. Like the Chinese puzzle, they are closely interrelated, fit together in many ways and, consequently, are interdependent.
Let's take them one at a time. You can put them in any linear order that finite possibility and logic will permit. A circle may seem more rational, but a sphere more logical. Perhaps, since this is politics, a parallel universe is suggested. Reality, however, rules and we have to stick with the real world for now, anyway.
Feasibility: This is the sanity check. Flexible parameters are critical. The process must be able to accommodate both conservative and radical concepts, while at the same time having the capability to winnow out proposals that are frivolous, socially inappropriate, legally impossible or outrageously complex. For example, it would seem a referendum which said you can have the freedom to smoke anywhere as long as you don't exhale is, if for no other reason, flawed from the aspect of enforcement.
Manageability: Any process in direct democracy must have rules that make it simple and efficient to administer and deliver. This may suggest interactive media rather than the ballot box. Above all, it must be comprehensive to the politically challenged -- and that's most of us. Look at the propensity of government bureaucrats to complicate things beyond all reason. This needs to be said. Just look at our property and income tax systems. If war is too important to be left to the generals, democracy is too important to be left to the bureaucrats. We need citizen input and validation at several stages in the process, not just the here and now.
Affordability: This refers to the form and structure of the administrative and delivery systems. Frequency, structure and technology are key elements. We simply cannot afford $100-million one-shot efforts. Clearly, creative solutions short of sponsorship are in order. "This referendum is brought to you by..." won't fly.
With respect to the referendum process, accountability refers to the concept of being accountable to rather than accounting for this or that. Who is responsible to whom and for what poses an interesting question. Surely pride of place must go to the electorate. The dynamics which exist among and between the various stakeholders seem to suggest a more complex set of reciprocal, and consequently interdependent, relationships. These include the proposers, managers, legislators and bureaucrats who are supposed to deliver the proposal.
The electorate, for their part, belong at the centre of the sphere as either spectators, participants, beneficiaries or victims, depending on the nature and stage of the process and subjective perception.
In the context of referenda, "compatibility" refers to the concept of "compatible with" -- for example, jurisdictional matters and statutes, the Constitution, the laws of the land, widely accepted social custom and so on.
In respect of the law, what's in and what's out is relatively straightforward. In the matter of social custom it's often a dicey and highly subjective matter. Can we rule out the radical? We would do well to remember that what was deemed unacceptable in the 1960s is institutionalized practice today. It's the kids from Woodstock who are carrying the briefcases and sitting in the Legislature today.
Credibility: This is critical and deals with the integrity of the referendum process in the full context of both concept and execution. This is where the threshold safeguards and limits suggested so well in the government paper need to be blended into the matrix.
We should be guided by the fact that belief is easy to establish but also hard to sustain. We all want to be optimists at heart, but once doubt and suspicion creep in, short of a miracle, the process is doomed. That is why in this country we don't elect governments; we vote them out of office. Just ask David, Bob and Brian.
The world turned upside down: Since the Harris government is committed to the concept of direct democracy, one is bound to ask: What are the limits? Who's in and who's out? What's in and what's out? What are the criteria for acceptance? Is the response fixed or graduated? Who gets to ask the question and who gets to vote on it? When the drafters of the legislation produce their final effort, will it pass the ability test?
It is my submission that unless the referendum process is open to individual citizens or citizen groups, it will be deemed a failure. Having said that, limitations and fireproofing are recognized as important considerations. How do we protect the process from lobby groups? What controls do we put on campaign funding? How do we make sure that politicians are contributors to the process but do not control it? Can business and corporations play into the process either directly or through surrogates? Do we deal with referenda in a graduated way or in an all-or-nothing, pig-and-the-python scenario? Let me provide you with an example.
If a genuinely open referendum process was in place today, would the Harris government place the question of property tax reform before the electorate? What form would the question take? Could a counterreferendum be launched? Would the public accept the concept of MVA or AVA in the face of near-universal homeowner dissatisfaction and protest? It's an interesting dilemma.
How much of the Harris Common Sense Revolution would be placed before the electorate? Would Mr Harris consider his government bound by the result? When one views the Legislative behaviour of the present government regarding property tax reform and other issues, one is faced with a stunning paradox. The doors are locked, the phones are off the hook, letters go unanswered, the cabinet has decided and that's all, folks.
Bill 26 comes to mind. How on earth would that have passed a referendum? That was really the pig and the python. If and when Mike Harris introduces a genuine referendum bill granting direct democracy, will he ever have to adjust his way of doing business.
If the property tax question was put to the public in any way other than, "Are you for or against property tax reform -- yes or no?" the issue would undoubtedly fail by an overwhelming majority.
The civil service -- never first but last: I would like to touch briefly on the civil service. How do we keep them from thrusting their agenda on municipal and provincial legislators, or attempting to massage the political process from within? Let's accept the political reality: Given a real or presumed interest, interference should be recognized as a natural consequence of any political initiative. It is therefore essential that the referendum process be protected by making its administration independent of the Legislature and remote from the civil service. The Ombudsman's office could serve as an example; that's the integrity factor playing in. It was Pogo who said, "I have seen the enemy and he is us."
Sanity through sequence: The sequence in any referendum process should follow a clearly defined order that begins with the proposer and ends with the implementing body. That's the civil service. It seems that all too often the political world gets turned upside down. Incidentally, The World Turned Upside Down is a tune the British flute and drum bands played when they stacked their arms and surrendered at Yorktown to end the American Revolution.
Should there be referenda? Yes. We applaud Mike Harris for his direct democracy initiative. Do we need to pay attention to the six Ps of political planning? Yes, we do. Should the process be genuinely open? Yes, it should, and to everyone and any rational question. We should, however, be mindful that before we push the throttle wide open we should check to ensure that the controls have been tested and are working. Then we should adjust the speed in a series of carefully evaluated incremental test runs.
As with all things there are risks. Let's go for it. Pericles and all of Athens would be proud.
Mr Wildman: I apologize; I had to take a call from the government House leader so I wasn't able to be here for the whole presentation.
Obviously, you're in favour of moving towards a system which would allow for direct citizen participation. The Premier, when he was running for election, indicated that he believed that tax increases should be subject to referenda. You mentioned some questions about tax reform. I would suspect that if you had a question saying "Are you in favour of tax reform?" many people would vote yes. It's when you get to the type of tax reform that you end up probably with a no. Do you think tax increases of whatever type, whether property tax, sales tax, income tax, should be subject to referenda?
Ms Burtin-Fripp: I think tax reform certainly should. Tax increases are often a function of more than one level of government.
Mr Wildman: Let's take something purely within provincial jurisdiction like the provincial sales tax; not a question of harmonization with the GST or anything like that, but just if there were a suggestion that it should be raised by 1%. Should that be subject to a referendum in order to be approved?
Mr Clark: Let me take a little whack at this. I'll strip off my political colours, by the way. I am a Tory. I've been one my entire life. I was one of Mr Leslie Frost's pallbearers. I thought it was fair to tell you what my political stripe was, although I tell you it's fading.
Mr Wildman: One of Leslie Frost's nephews lives in my riding. He's a Tory and he actually votes for me once in a while.
Mr Clark: Everybody has their hangups. Anyway, I guess at the last election -- it's not my organization, but Mr Paul Pagnuelo of the Ontario Taxpayers Federation -- I believe, every Tory candidate saw him --
Mr Wildman: He appeared before the committee.
Mr Clark: That's right. Anyway, the penny's going to drop on that one. Should there be a referendum on tax matters? In the paper it says, "Yes, I agree that there should be." May I qualify that with one thing? You can't allow the system to be totally paralyzed and the legislators to be in some unreasonable position where there's got to be a referendum every time anybody turns around. That's not where I'm coming from.
Mr Wildman: I understand that. Two things I'd like to raise with you: I mentioned to one of the other presenters that I come from an area that is very close to northern Michigan. Michigan of course, as you know, has referendum legislation. Last year they had to close the schools in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, in May because the local school authority had run out of money. They did have a special vote about raising a special levy in order to allow them to have the school year continue until the normal closing time at the end of June. Surprise, surprise. The voters said no, they didn't want to pay more taxes, so they closed the schools.
Do you think questions of that sort should be always subject to referenda, or would we run into difficulty? It must be very difficult to persuade voters that they should pay more when they think they're already paying too much.
Mr Clark: Within my own executive there's a sort of polarity of opinion. One individual, a former MP, says, "I don't want anything to do with referenda, but if they're going to do it, I'd like it to be as soft as possible." On the other end we have Mr Pagnuelo, who is an enthusiast. I try to come down with a middle position. I'll answer your question very directly. Should the Legislature abandon its authority and its responsibility to act in situations like that? The answer is no.
Mr Wildman: The other side of the coin related to the raising of revenue is the expenditure of resources. Would you think it would be reasonable that if you were to have questions of raising of taxes subject to referenda, questions related to the cutting of public services should also be subject to referenda?
Mr Clark: When I was writing this speech, I tried to edit it down fairly heavily. There was a section where I dealt with that, the business of cutting down the hospitals and so on. That's why it was important I tell you my political stripe. Do I support Mike Harris and his reforms? Yes. Do I think that's necessary? Do the legislators have to act? I submit to you that if every single last thing of cutting down the bureaucracy, for example, was put out for a referendum, the system would shortly become paralysed. That's why I talked about parameters.
When I read the government document, I found that it suggested form but not structure. What I tried to do here was to hint at structure without telling the legislators how to do it. That's not my place.
Ms Burtin-Fripp: I think there are quite a number of areas which don't lend themselves to the referendum. Obviously certain moral issues, things that are related to religious points of view, do not, and there are certain things which we would not have today, civil rights and so forth, if they had been put to a vote. The role of the minority is also important, and past values have changed in the present.
I think, vis-à-vis your question about cost and effect, that in any referendum, if there's a question about a particular measure, the effects of that measure should be made known or at least should be laid out as potential so that people cannot make a simple decision and find that the effect of that simple decision is much more complex than they had thought.
Mr Wildman: I would think if you were having a vote on whether to close the local hospital alone, you would never close the hospital.
Mr Clark: Let me give you a little more insight. When I wrote this thing yesterday, I realized it was going down to 3:30, blood-sugar-low time, and I did go and read back into history. I didn't do the Athenian thing off the top of my head. I don't know if you see Mike Harris as Pericles or not, but interestingly enough, radical democracy flourished only under benign dictatorship. There are paradoxes all over this thing. You've got to be really careful --
Mr Wildman: The slaves didn't have a vote in Athens.
Mr Clark: The helots were in fact in Sparta, which is why they never progressed culturally. They spent too much time suppressing the helots, whereas the Athenians had a little freer society and prospered.
Mr Clement: I thank you for your comments. Just as Pericles from time to time admitted to some mistakes, such as the Peloponnesian war, I'd like just like to put on the record that obviously our government -- I think our Premier admitted that if he had to do things over again on Bill 26, for instance, he would have done it in a different way. So we're still learning as we're going. We're as human as everybody else, so mistakes in thrust and in direction do occur, which brings us back to the referendum in a kind of way.
I'm not trying to play true confessions here, but when I was involved in Bill 26, I was trying to keep a gauge of my constituents and how they felt about the omnibus bill and what sort of reaction they were giving to me. I will admit that I found it very difficult to gauge accurately what people were thinking, because I had lots of letters and lots of phone calls, but when I did my door-knocking it was less of an issue and I had people saying: "Full speed ahead. You've got to do the tough things now or we'll never see the light of day again." So it became very difficult for me to exercise informed judgement. If my sole criterion of my vote was how my constituents were thinking, it was very difficult to gauge in that very complex issue what that view was.
To turn it back to referendums, if we had a citizens' initiative approach, if a government took a wrong step, which many argue Bill 26 was, at least in the process in which it was done -- and the Premier has admitted he would do things slightly differently if he was allowed the opportunity to recast history. If there is a misstep by government, do you agree that a citizens' initiative is one method whereby if there are enough Ontarians who feel there has been a serious misstep in terms of public policy, they can correct that misstep?
Mr Clark: Are you talking about a recall of the entire government?
Mr Clement: No, I'm not. I'm talking about if there was a citizens' initiative saying: "We don't like Bill 26. We want to see another creative way of dealing with the issues encompassed in Bill 26, but we don't like Bill 26. Please repeal it."
Mr Clark: I realize certain realities exist. After your conscience search, you went and did what the party whip told you anyway. The party was going to vote that way, and they did, and I don't want to climb into the confessional with Mike Harris as to whether it was right or wrong to do this. It's law now, and that's that.
During a process of debate -- and there wasn't much allowed then -- should there be the opportunity for citizens' referenda to be raised? The answer from the document here was clearly yes, but I equivocated a bit and said, "For goodness' sake, the control measures have to be there." This thing is not totally thought out, and I've put a little note at the bottom that there needs to be more input, more consultation and more thought than sort of, well, you're taking the temperature of this thing right now. I think you have to do a little bit more with the patient than that.
A great deal has to be done to get this thing so that it's workable, and I'm saying start in a way where we would go slowly. Should we have citizen input on major issues? Yes. But not every time you don't like something, you rush forward. Heavens, that would disrupt the legislative process and bring it to a standstill. That's where you tighten down the parameters, especially initially. Let's go back to the fact that power, once given, is not lightly surrendered. Just try and take it away if you give too much. Better to do it incrementally.
Mr Clement: Our government is committed to referendum legislation.
Mr Clark: I know that.
Mr Clement: That was part of our campaign and we feel certainly an obligation to go forward as a result of the election. But if we had the appropriate thresholds, then, which is to say it's not at the drop of a hat but that a certain number of citizens within a certain period of time have to sign a petition -- it has to be electors, it can't be non-eligible persons. We've heard some talk over the last day or so about it being such that it has to be within a certain percentage of the constituency so that it's not isolated in Caledon or Mississauga or what have you. With those sorts of parameters, as you call them, would you feel more comfortable with it?
Mr Clark: I come from the country and I'd like to leave this little aphorism on the table. You don't want to be crying after the cow's left the barn. What you want to do is do something before. So if there should be any questioning of a process, it should perhaps be before you enter it or as almost a fourth reading or whatever you want. I wouldn't do it after the legislation was out there and try to roll it back.
Mr Clement: I'm not following you in terms of your example.
Mr Clark: I'm talking about sequencing something. In a particular piece of legislation that it might appear was odious, Bill 26 for example, or that should have been packaged out in any event, where Mr Harris apparently says he would have done it differently, had the electorate been consulted in some form of referendum at that time -- it would have been better to do it before rather than after is what I'm saying.
Mr Phillips: I appreciate the presentation. What I'm increasingly finding is that many people seem to be in favour of the principle of a referendum, but the devil is in the detail. As soon as a group finds that if we implement their ideas, it leads to this -- for example, we've heard groups who are very interested in making sure that they can hold a referendum without too much impediment in holding it, only to find that therefore on a whole bunch of other issues a referendum can be held. Suddenly I think we find cold feet.
I'm trying to get from your organization just some direction of how you would like to see the legislation framed. Also, we've now heard from several groups that -- well, the government is very worried about well-heeled special-interest groups hijacking government. They've never identified who these well-heeled groups are who will hijack government.
Mr Clark: Their contributors.
Mr Phillips: I don't know who they are. But the referendum is designed to get at those scoundrels who have hijacked government. In practical terms, if the government were to proceed with referendum legislation, should it contain spending controls on the sides involved in the referendum, should there be some thresholds that people must meet in terms of numbers requesting a referendum, and should there be any criteria around what issues referendums could be held on?
I thought you raised some good points, frankly, on perhaps the areas where referendums shouldn't be held. Do you have any advice for the committee on that?
Mr Clark: The document suggested that, yes, we do it; the people should have input. Other agencies should be able, I suppose, to raise referenda. Interestingly enough, can the corporation and the PACs play in through surrogates or whatever? There's a truism in politics: Ain't never a corporation cast a vote. But you can massage the process in other ways. When you look at the margins in an election, you're going to run one. I've spent a lot of my life electing politicians, not sitting here doing this. One's acutely aware of the margins.
Should there be that kind of input? It's going to be a sham if they don't. Clearly the public will consider themselves ripped off. So now we're down to a matter of degree, and I said go ahead incrementally. Should there be limits? "Incrementally" presumes limits. In the finance section, in that little sanity check that we gave it, within those criteria, yes, there absolutely have to be limits; otherwise some PAC would come in and spend millions. On the other end, you've got the extreme in Quebec where they sort of say all the funding's got to go through a particular way, in a form, but that's not a bad idea.
But go slow. This thing's going to happen. The Harris government is going to do this. I know it. I support them, but the message is to do it with some sanity checks on it. Do it with parameters, but make it an open process and don't, for goodness' sake, turn around and do something where it's an absolute transparent scam. Because I'm telling you guys, the Tory government is walking, on taxation alone, down a razor blade. We can't get that message through to Mike Harris. It's one of the reasons I came here today. There's a classic referendum issue.
I'm out there in the boonies checking with people. I defeated market value, referendum, with a little hit team last year. We put holes in it. And by the way, we caught the civil service up to their eyeballs in involvement. We got their internal memoranda traffic.
Mr Phillips: Would you regard this property tax as the first referendum issue that you would see the government using as its first test case?
Mr Clark: It's the hobbyhorse I ride, but the answer is, not necessarily, if I divorce myself from my own issue. But the legislation is coming up now, so the calendar might dictate the priority rather than the issue itself.
Mr Phillips: Would that be an example of an issue that should be taken to a referendum?
Mr Clark: What I'm afraid of is that by the time the Harris government gets to passing the referendum legislation, all the juicy things that should have gone out will be gone. Then we'll be crying after the cow's left the barn.
Mr Phillips: My question was, is that the sort of issue you would see taking to a referendum?
Mr Clark: Absolutely, without question.
Ms Burton-Fripp: If I may, one of the things that concerns us is who decides on which issue, what are the criteria for deciding which issues should be dealt with? How many are there? Would there be a maximum in any calendar year? Who decides on the wording? As we all know from public opinion polls, depending on how you ask your question, you can determine a fair amount of the result. How often could there be counter-referenda? If I don't like the result of today's vote, does that mean I wait six months and try again to undo it? These are the kinds of chaotic things that can come out of perfectly good intentions.
We'd like to say that you should be raising as many questions about the process as possible. Do a kind of devil's advocacy of everything: How can it be misused? If it can go wrong, somewhere along the way it will go wrong and it won't benefit anybody and may polarize the province in very dangerous ways.
The Chair: I'm afraid I have to conclude this at this time, but I want to thank you very much, Mr Clark and Ms Burton-Fripp, for coming in and making this presentation. We certainly appreciate your advice and we'll take it under advisement.
Ms Burton-Fripp: Thank you.
TAXPAYERS COALITION OF CALEDON
The Chair: The next group we have scheduled is the Taxpayers Coalition of Caledon, represented here today by Mr Don Crawford. Welcome.
Mr Don Crawford: Mr Chairman, members of the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly, I am honoured to have the opportunity to take part in the democratic consultation process by making this brief presentation to you today. I am sad to say to you that I will not be speaking for 30 minutes; my limit is probably five to 10. If the questions are brief, maybe we can discuss the outcome of tonight's hockey game.
My name is Don Crawford. I am chairman of the Taxpayers Coalition of Caledon. Our objective is to freeze or lower taxes and control spending at all levels of government. Our group is part of the larger Taxpayers Coalition of Peel and associated with the Ontario and Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Taxation is our concern, our only concern, and for the most part my presentation will be confined to that issue. I will, however, attempt to address some of the other concerns outlined in Your Ontario, Your Choice: A Preliminary Look at the Referendum Alternative.
Our organization supports the implementation of referendum legislation to deal with tax-related items. We believe there is a commitment by this government to bring forward such legislation.
On May 30, 1995, Mike Harris signed the taxpayers' protection pledge, as did all but one of the PC candidates, and some other party candidates contesting that election signed it. This signed pledge was a commitment to support the immediate passage of taxpayers' protection legislation that would, among other things, make any increase in existing taxes or any new taxes subject to approval by the voters of Ontario in a binding referendum.
The proposed referendum legislation should do just that, and we would support that initiative, thus fulfilling yet another election promise made by this government. We would ask that you get on with the legislation, as promised.
Our coalition would further petition you to put the necessary legislation in place that would amend the Municipal Act and make it mandatory for municipalities, regions and school boards to follow the same referendum procedure related to increases in property taxes.
Taxpayers in this province are frustrated by the ever-increasing spiral of taxes, fuelled by out-of-control spending and sometimes unaccountable spending by all levels of government. Given the opportunity to control tax increases by way of binding referendum will go a long way to restoring the confidence of Ontarians in the system.
This government has demonstrated that the way to increase revenues is not by increasing taxes but by creating jobs, creating an environment for business to thrive, to improve our soft economy and fuel a recovery that will carry us well into the 21st century. We applaud the government for that.
We believe a fundamental key to taxation referenda is the expansion to the municipal level. Under the present Municipal Act local governments have wide, sweeping powers of taxation, usurious penalties and draconian rights of seizure and sale of assets. We have seen small businesses shut down in our community by bailiffs seizing their assets, summarily selling off portions of those assets on behalf of the city to collect overdue business taxes. In so doing, they are exercising the very wide-reaching powers of the Municipal Act, which gives municipalities imposition and collection rights unparalleled by any other creditor or level of government.
A wise person once wrote that the only thing worse than taxation without representation is taxation with representation. Sir Richard Cartwright, a Canadian finance minister, wrote in 1878: "All taxation is a loss per se. It is the sacred duty of the government to take only whatever is necessary for the proper discharge of public service, and taxation in any other mode is simply, in one shape or another, legalized robbery."
I have read the consultation paper Your Ontario, Your Choice, and it has stimulated our thoughts on expanded referenda. I would share some of those thoughts with you.
Referendum legislation on tax issues and constitutional changes are issues that affect the province as a whole and should, we believe, be the foundation of any referendum legislation.
In arriving at what would constitute an issue for a referendum, one must be able to keep a balance between a participatory system of government and the duly elected representatives' obligations to govern and make decisions. A referendum cannot become a monthly soap opera which would in time lose its impact for those important decisions, nor should a referendum be used by any elected government to abdicate its responsibility to govern.
Changes to the education system or privatization of LCBO or Ontario Hydro are examples of possible referenda. How will the unorganized and unfunded general public be informed of both sides of these issues and not swayed by a deluge of telephone, television, radio and newspaper advertising paid for by well-organized, well-financed groups that are determined to get their message across and are prepared to spend thousands, even millions of dollars on professional ad campaigns to protect their vested interests?
A referendum is a costly exercise. As taxpayers we're interested in reducing the cost of government, not increasing it, and believe that referenda should be limited to those major issues that affect all people in Ontario.
If the initiative process is part of any referendum legislation, the percentage requirement to implement the process should be established at a level to prevent frivolous use of the referendum process for very narrow issues that should properly be dealt with by the government in its normal course of governance.
It is interesting to note that even though referendum legislation exists federally, only three times in our country's history has this process been used. It is further interesting to note that referendum legislation exists federally and in eight provinces, two territories and countless states in the United States. Surely it's time the citizens of Ontario are provided with this fundamental democratic right.
Recall is addressed in your consultation paper, and we would agree that people in Ontario should have the right to recall if their MPP is not performing at a level acceptable to the voters of a particular riding.
Simply put, we believe a referendum should be mandatory for the imposition of a tax increase or a new tax. If wider referendum legislation is passed, there should be a limit on the number of referenda allowed within a specified period.
We have some reservations about the use of electronic voting or mail-in voting as an option to traditional polling methods. These concerns would relate solely to the greater opportunity of abuses or rigging that could be available with those methods of voting.
In summary, we support the implementation of a binding referendum for tax increases. We can see merit in a greater use of the referendum opportunity for important issues if the inherent pitfalls of such legislation are addressed.
Your task is not an easy one, and we wish you the best of luck in your deliberations. I'm prepared to answer any questions.
Mr Clement: Thank you, Mr Crawford, for taking the time to be a part of our committee process. As a person who has a business in Brampton I take your views seriously.
I know you had originally focused in on the taxpayers' pledge, but from what your presentation indicated, you eventually looked at the wider issue of referendums as a result of the discussion paper and some comments that it made.
I've been asking this frequently and I just wanted to get a sense from you: What sort of thresholds do you think are important to strike the proper balance between the access to this democratic process with the threat of constant referendums leading to paralysis of the decision-making process in Ontario? What are you looking for?
Mr Crawford: I think the question you've asked me is a real problem, from what I've read in the paper: How do you determine that? How do you keep the government from being bogged down by frivolous or narrow referenda? It's a very difficult thing. Somehow something has to be established as criteria. Certainly I don't have an answer for that. I wish I did have, but I don't, and I can see it as a major problem in the whole legislation.
We in the taxpayers' coalition movement hope that the mandatory requirement for referenda on tax increases doesn't get lost in the shuffle of all these other problems related to other types of referenda.
Mr Clement: I can assure you in that regard, because the discussion paper reiterates what historically has already been on the public record, namely, that Mike Harris, prior to becoming Premier, felt that constitutional amendments should definitely be subject to referendums in Ontario; and secondly reiterates what the party and the Premier said during the campaign, namely, that tax increases and the casino issue should be brought to the people.
I want to turn, if I have time, Mr Chairman, to one issue you raised, and I don't know whether it has been raised in this particular way yet in our process here: the role of referendums at the municipal level. Through the Municipal Act and the Municipal Elections Act the government of Ontario and the Legislature of Ontario have a great deal to say about municipal processes. I gather, from what you're saying, that you would like to see us, as part of this review, to also put some constraints or, I suppose to put it in the opposite way, allow for the opportunity of citizens to initiate a citizens' initiative referendum at the municipal level on tax increases as well. Is that what you're looking for?
Mr Crawford: That's correct. Yes.
Mr Clement: Could you just expand a little bit on why you think that's needed?
Mr Crawford: One major problem that seems to be happening right now with the restraints that the government has put on funding to municipalities is that municipalities are under a lot of pressure to increase taxes to property taxpayers. If at the end of the day taxpayers in Ontario are worse off or no better off than they were at the beginning of the day because of the downloading and increase in tax at that level, which is somewhat uncontrolled in a lot of cases, I think the whole battle has been lost.
In other words, there's no point in us saving $300 in our provincial income tax only to have to spend $800 on increased property taxes, in after-tax dollars, by the way. I think this government has to address that because it's a major problem that exists out there in Ontario and can only be addressed, I believe, by the provincial government. Local governments don't seem to want to take the initiative to reduce their sizes, let alone take something into effect about a referendum for taxation.
Mr Clement: Let me ask this, because if I don't, I know Mr Wildman will: If we are looking at tax increase referendums, are you prepared to say that if an initiative were in place to review service cuts, that also should be on the agenda?
Mr Crawford: I would think that service cuts probably would end up being on the agenda somewhere down the line because that probably has to happen.
Mr Wildman: For referenda?
Mr Crawford: For referenda. But there are things going on that are just simply unexplainable in property tax increases by boards and regions and municipalities, so we don't believe they're at a point where reduction of services is a problem for them. If they can find enough money to spend $60,000 or $80,000 on a study to see how well they're doing in the public's eye, then they sure can find enough money to keep the wading pools open. We don't see yet that we're at that position, as we see it, anyway.
Mr Phillips: I'm acutely aware of the taxpayers' protection pledge, because I think it did get the government a lot of votes. I refused to sign it because I didn't believe it.
We've been told today that even though this is a discussion paper on referendum, that it will lead to legislation on referendum, that it is the whole debate we're going to have on referendum, the taxpayers' protection pledge on referendum is going to be dealt with separately. I gather that commitment to the taxpayers of a referendum on any increase in taxes won't be part of this legislation; you can expect that some other time.
Mr Clement: Who told you that?
Mr Phillips: I think Hansard earlier today would show that when I said to the taxpayers' federation, "Are you surprised that the government paper doesn't include that?" they said, "It is our anticipation the government will deal with it separately," If that is incorrect, you correct the record. Is it the intention of the government to incorporate the taxpayers' pledge in the referendum? Will that be part of this legislation?
Mr Clement: We are seeking input on that. That's why it's part of the discussion paper.
Mr Phillips: No, but I think earlier you said you'll deal with that later. That was what we were told earlier this afternoon, that they would deal with it later. Does that come as a surprise to you and would the taxpayers' federation be surprised if it were dealt with separately?
Mr Crawford: I think the surprise to us would be that it was dealt with as part of this legislation and it dragged on for a long period of time. That would be bothersome to us. We believe the commitment that was made in that pledge was to -- I have mine in front of me and I think it says something about "quickly" or "expeditiously" or "immediately" to bring forward that legislation.
Mr Phillips: Immediate passage.
Mr Crawford: I don't think we would have a problem if it was not part of the referendum legislation if that requirement was brought into law, if legislation was passed to make that an enforceable situation.
It would be tidy to have it as part and parcel of the referendum legislation, but if it's not possible and it's dealt with separately, that would not be a problem for us. It would be a problem for us if it wasn't dealt with.
Mr Bartolucci: Mr Crawford, you've clearly indicated that any new tax or any increase in tax should be the subject of a referendum. What other extremely important issues do you see being the subject of a referendum in Ontario?
Mr Crawford: The only one at the present time that I can think of is some constitutional change or something that would affect Ontario's position vis-à-vis the country federally, the Quebec referendum problem or something like that. I could see that that immediately would be something that may want to be put to a referendum.
Mr Bartolucci: So constitutional change or tax increases only.
Mr Crawford: I can't think of too many others that should be at this point in time. I'm not suggesting there are not, but none come to my mind.
Mr Bartolucci: Did you agree with Mike Harris before he was the Premier when he said a user fee is a tax?
Mr Crawford: Yes, I agree with that.
Mr Bartolucci: So all new user fees then should be the subject of referendums?
Mr Crawford: If one follows the premise that a user fee is a tax. I believe in my own mind that they are, because a municipality can freeze taxes and increase the user fees by 12% or 13%. Therefore, if they're required to have a referendum for a tax increase, then I believe in the package of their budget they should be required to have that same referendum.
Mr Bartolucci: I agree with you 100%, by the way.
Mr Crawford: I believe they should.
Mr Wildman: I'm glad Mr Bartolucci asked you that question, because I was going to ask it. I agree with him and with you.
As you indicated, if government is going to downsize -- and to cut expenditures, oftentimes governments at the senior levels, whether it be federal to the province or the province to the municipalities, download services and costs to other levels of government, and this government has done that. This government has said to municipalities that certain things that were done by the provincial government in the past will no longer be done and at the same time has cut transfer payments to the municipalities. So you quite rightly pointed out that municipalities and school boards are tempted, while making some cuts, to also increase property taxes, so you just move from income taxes and sales taxes to property taxes. Certainly some would argue that property taxes are more unfair than income taxes. So you suggested we should also have referenda at the municipal level.
Do you think it is likely that taxpayers, many of whom feel that they're already overtaxed, would actually vote for a tax increase in order to keep the schools open?
Mr Crawford: If that referendum was done today I would say, no, they wouldn't, because they feel very strongly that there is overspending at that level. I think in the future if that overspending changes, I have confidence that they would be able to deal with that problem down the road. But it's very difficult to ask somebody to approve of a tax increase for a school board that announced recently it's going to build a golf course. How can you deal with that? Obviously there are still some problems out there that we have to come to terms with.
Today most taxpayers would probably say, "No, I'm paying enough property taxes." But down the road three or four or five years from now, they may take the alternative approach and say, "Hey, we've cut the thing to the bone, they've done their job, they need an extra 1%." Maybe at that stage we will approve it. Certainly I can see that happening.
Mr Wildman: The question is of course what happens to the education of students in the next three to five years. I have mentioned in this discussion the experience in Sault, Michigan, where the schools closed in May because they couldn't afford to keep them open till the end of June. They had a referendum and people, I'm quite surprised, voted against increasing their taxes.
If a user fee is indeed a tax -- and we have a Premier who has made a pledge that all new tax increases will be subject to a referendum -- the user fees that his government has imposed, say, on provincial parks that weren't there before, as part of the cuts and changes in the way they finance the operation of provincial parks, to follow your argument then, that user fee should be subject to a referendum. Is that right?
Mr Crawford: I'm not familiar with the fee you're talking about, but certainly I would think that should be part of the process.
Mr Wildman: Also you said you didn't think that referendums should be held too often or they would just become sort of like a soap opera, I think you used the term. I agree with you there. That has been somewhat the experience in California, where referenda are used extensively, and we had testimony earlier today that in Switzerland, where referenda are used extensively, only about 15% to 18% of the people actually participate in the voting.
The argument has been used in favour of referenda that the population doesn't get out to vote in general elections enough, that they're cynical and they don't think they really make a difference. So we have turnouts of about -- what? -- 65%, 70% and about 30% aren't participating. In the US, it's about 50%. Yet if you have a situation as in Switzerland where only 15% to 18% of the people are participating in referenda, doesn't that indicate that there's perhaps just as much cynicism in a system where referenda are the norm as there is in a system where we just have general elections?
Mr Crawford: I hear your question. I guess my answer to that would be that it indicates there's a general cynicism of all government everywhere. Whether that government conducts referendum or whether it doesn't, people are just cynical. People say: "What can I do? I can't do anything about it." Canadians especially are of that temperament and I don't know that it indicates whether referenda in this country would cause a 15% turnout. I would have to believe that the people in this country are a little bit more politically astute and interested than to let that happen, but that could happen.
Mr Wildman: Obviously I have no idea whether that would happen. The reason I pointed to Switzerland is because it is one of the oldest democracies we have, 700 years old, and it also is one of the ones that uses referenda more extensively than any other jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, they vote almost every week on a referendum of some sort or another and they have very low turnouts. Not so much as cynicism with government, it appears to be a cynicism with the whole voting process.
The Chair: We still have a little bit more time. Although each caucus has had an opportunity, Mr DeFaria has indicated an interest in asking a question.
Mr DeFaria: Don, I personally would like to congratulate you for the excellent presentation and the excellent work that the Taxpayers Coalition of Peel has done in the past and is doing.
I'd just like to clarify a point. You mentioned on a question in general that user fees could be subject to a referendum. What if the user fee is for a new service or for a service that is used only by a small percentage of the population? Would you still consider that something like that is subject to a referendum?
Mr Crawford: The quick answer is, I guess there are user fees and user fees. If it's a user fee that affects 1,000 people, then obviously it's not something that would, I believe, require referendum. But if it's a user fee that affects the whole municipality or the whole province, then possibly it should be part of a tax or considered an additional tax.
Mr DeFaria: Right. But let's say it's a user fee for a service that is used by a small percentage of people in a municipality, less than 10%, and it's a service that the rest of the population in the municipality don't make use of. Would you think something like that would require a referendum?
Mr Crawford: I wouldn't think so.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Crawford, for participating in our discussion today. We appreciate your input.
ONTARIO ENGLISH CATHOLIC TEACHERS' ASSOCIATION
The Chair: The next group on our agenda and the last group for today is the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. I'd ask you to come forward and we welcome you.
One other thing, to inform the members, we actually have a cancellation tomorrow morning so we won't start our proceedings until 10:30 tomorrow morning.
Ms Marilies Rettig: Just to begin with, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Marilies Rettig and I'm president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. To my immediate left is Claire Ross. He's our general secretary. To his left is Greg Pollock, executive assistant in the area of political action. To my immediate right is Paul Cavalluzzo, our counsel.
I would like to start by thanking you for the opportunity to come and present today. We are here as representatives of and spokespeople for the 35,000 members of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, teachers who work at both the elementary and secondary school levels, as well as occasional teachers of the separate schools in this province. It's appropriate that we are here this afternoon, from two different vantage points, certainly. First and foremost, those who have contributed the most, and most significantly, to the roots of democracy, both in an academic context and the root of democratic thought and process, are academics such as Plato and Socrates, and from an academic vantage point it's very appropriate that we are here as part of the educational community to discuss this issue with you today. But it's also very important, and perhaps more important from the vantage point of the very important role we play at the school level: imparting knowledge to our students, and certainly attitudes and processes to our students, so they become familiar with the democratic process and become citizens who are not only aware of the process but contributing future citizens of this province. That is the premise on which we are here to present to you today.
As we begin the debate we look to the roots of democracy, the fundamental processes and principles which were so eloquently put forward by both Plato and Socrates. Plato's Republic deals specifically with how justice might be embodied in the ideal state. We believe, as OECTA and as spokespeople for teachers of the separate schools of this province, that this is the fundamental issue which must be addressed as this government contemplates the use of the referendum as an instrument in the political decision-making process. As an association of teachers in the separate schools of this province, we wish to express to you this afternoon our grave concern with the question of justice and how decisions related to what is just and what is right for the citizens in this province are to be politically determined.
Within our presentation this afternoon we will examine democracy both conceptually and in practical terms, thereby examining the relationship between the electorate and the government. We will differentiate between direct and representative democracy and the subsequent theories each espouses relative to policy formation. Finally, we will address the characteristics of referendums relative to both direct and representative democracy and the subsequent impact they could have upon the greater good within our society.
Mr Paul Cavalluzzo: The question of referendums raises basic issues of democratic thought and practice. In this brief -- hopefully you'll have the opportunity and time to read it -- we have attempted to compare the basic qualities and values which underlie both the system of government which Marilies refers to as direct democracy and representative democracy. The difference between these two systems or forms of government are critical in two areas which I think are important to the debate in which you will have to engage in terms of what recommendations you come up with. The first criterion is the relationship between the electorate and government representatives. The second is the discourse by which to determine what is in society's best interests.
We'd like to look at those criteria briefly from the first respect, that of direct democracy, which is the system in which referenda or referendums are normally prevalent. The political theorist who is the strongest advocate of direct democracy and referenda was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In his treatise on the social contract -- this was several years before Bob Rae; a couple of hundred years ago -- he talked about political devices such as referendums, initiatives and so on. Rousseau, who is the patron of this form of decision-making, looked upon referenda as being an ideal way of determining what the will of the people was and he looked upon yourselves, political representatives, as being impediments to democracy and upon political parties as being impediments to democracy as well. Mr Rousseau mocked the British parliamentary system.
If you refer to page 7, you'll see a quote we've taken from his book where he says: "The English people," -- he's talking about parliamentary democracy here -- "believes itself to be free. It is greatly mistaken; it is free only during the election of the members of Parliament. Once they are elected, the populace is enslaved: It is nothing. The use the English people makes of that freedom in the brief moments of its liberty certainly warrants their losing it."
The first thing we should be aware of is that the main patron of referendums is someone who had a great deal of distrust of the very system in which you're engaged: the system of parliamentary democracy and certainly the system underlying our own legal system and political system.
The system we have in Canada and Ontario is what you've obviously heard and referred to as representative democracy, where the ultimate authority lies in Parliament. The theory underlying this form of government is that government will be in the best interests of everybody, that decisions will be made by rational discourse, by attempts by the representatives to engage in consensus-making rather than by having votes or plebiscites or polls taken in respect of important public issues. We trust our elected politicians to exercise good judgement. That's what parliamentary sovereignty is all about. With the exception of the United States and Switzerland, all western democracies exercise this form of government, this form of representative democracy.
It's the position of OECTA that the system of representative democracy is premised on the notion that strong, independent-minded representatives will be elected by the people and they will perceive their role as not pursuing local or sectional interests but as participating in the reasonable formulation of policies. Once again, apart from the representative, of course, the political party plays a very important role in a representative democracy, unlike direct democracy which, once again, views parties as being impediments to ultimate democracy.
The second criterion, and I've got to move on quickly in light of the time, is the discourse for determining the common good. If we look at it from the perspective of direct democracy, direct democracy views parties in such a way that it inevitably leads to a weak party system, and what is the common good will be what the majority of voters say is the common good. Representative democracy has a much more complex form of decision-making, which is not only the local interest but the provincial interest; the common good of all those in Ontario will be taken into account before policy decisions are made. The goal of the system is rational discussion, consensus and decision-making, not by poll but by discussion and consensus.
Finally, I'd like to talk briefly about the characteristics of referendums. As you will see in our brief, many commentators have stated that referendums are the antithesis to a system of representative democracy. It's very easy to say that a referendum is a pure form of democracy in the sense that the people speak. As you know from your history in high school, many totalitarian dictators used referendums frequently to implement the policies they already wanted to institute, so the question is far more complex and difficult than just espousing these kinds of simplistic views that referendums by definition are pure democracy.
As I heard earlier in the discussion before ours, referendums have been used elsewhere, but it's important to note where they have been used generally. In Canada at the municipal level, sometimes we'll see the use of referendums for things like liquor laws and retail shopping. On the national level we have seen the use of referendums on three occasions: in 1898 in respect of Prohibition, in 1942 in respect of conscription and in 1992 in respect of the Charlottetown accord.
However, generally speaking, where they are used, as was noted earlier, in Switzerland and in California and some other states in the United States -- you will see on page 16 in our brief that we attempt to show where referenda are used -- there are three main areas in which they are used. First, sometimes they are required by law to amend the Constitution, and that's the situation in Australia. For example, in Australia, as you may be aware, they will be taking a referendum on whether to retain the monarchy. Second, they are used to legitimate government policy. Third, they are used to transfer decision-making responsibility from the elected representative to the electorate for issues on which the government is reluctant to take a stand. In this situation referendums address politically controversial matters which divide political parties and populations at large.
This is one of the main concerns we have with the use of referendums, because we feel that the use of a referendum is a dereliction of public duty. We elect you to make important judgements. These are difficult choices you have to make, and history demonstrates to us that referendums are used to avoid making these difficult choices.
Our system of government is parliamentary democracy. It's a representative democratic system. All commentators to this point in time look upon the use of referendums as being the antithesis to that system.
I leave you with the words of two authors who have studied extensively in this area; this is at paragraph 5.10: "Representative assemblies are far from perfect, but they have several crucial advantages over referendums: Their members meet face to face regularly; they do not immediately or necessarily vote up or down every measure that comes before them; they discuss, refer, study, delay, amend, and give and take. Their decisions only occasionally approach unanimity, but their discussions approach the small group ideal far more closely than the discussions preceding referendums...In referendums, votes are the very essence of the decision process."
Ms Rettig: In moving to the conclusion of our presentation, I'd like to highlight another very grave concern we have in communicating that to you this afternoon: the concern for continued minority rights to exist in the way they exist today. Referendums pose a particular danger to minority groups. Referendums, by definition, determine policy on the basis of what the majority selects in simple mathematical terms. A study was done in Canada by the federal government. They put forward within that study and the context of that study, for that very purpose, that referendums are extremely damaging in this country, for they do not take into account the uniqueness of the different groups that reside within this country and by their very nature pit one group against another group. The mathematics of it show that minority rights, when put to test and put to question, are not upheld.
You look at the United States. As of 1978 there were referendums held in five different states which proposed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. All those referendums lost. In the same time frame, several states held referendums which proposed measures that would allow and encourage discrimination on the basis of race. A number of these referendums succeeded. For example, fair housing referendums were held in which voters voted in favour of passing legislation which would allow property owners full freedom to decide with whom they would contract. The result was that homeowners could refuse to sell their properties to racial minorities without attracting any legal sanction. Similarly, referendums supported measures which would prohibit school desegregation by requiring students to go to schools which were geographically closest to their homes. A referendum in California adopted a constitutional provision which prohibited the construction of low-cost housing without approval of the majority of the community's voters. In 1992 referendums were held in Colorado which adopted propositions that denied equality of rights on the basis of sexual orientation.
In each of these instances it was a majority that determined the continued existence, or lack thereof, of a right that should be espoused to a minority group.
A representative democracy has to look to the greater good of the entire society, of all constituents within that society. Moving to a referendum removes that obligation to do so, and it is our very grave concern, as spokespersons for the teachers of separate schools in this province, that we bring that to your attention and caution your movement in this area.
I speak from the vantage point of a teacher who is aware of the potential current move with respect to secondary school reform, and the thought that based on the responses of 500,000 yes/no forms that go out to parents who are citizens of this province, curricular or program reform may be determined that is not to the benefit of the school system and not to the benefit of students in this province. It is a very grave concern that curricular reform or pedagogical reform, which is all too important as we depart this century and enter the new one, would be contingent upon a mathematical equation, on an individual's perception of what they think is important for secondary schools or program at any level of education, rather than looking to the experts in consultation with other groups in society and determining through their measure what would be best for the students as we enter the new millennium.
Our conclusions are brought forward for you on pages 21 and 22. They highlight and provide a synopsis for you of the concerns that were brought forward by Paul Cavalluzzo and myself, and I wish once again to underscore the very real danger inherent in the use of such a decision-making process. We're more than willing to take any questions you may have.
Mr Bartolucci: I read with interest on page 5 of Your Ontario, Your Choice -- I'm sure you read it as well -- and this is the government speaking: "Our concept of governing arises from a strong belief in individual choice, collective stewardship, and distributed responsibility for the future. In other words, we believe that individuals should decide their futures."
Over the course of the last 14 months, how would you grade the government with regard to teaching, teachers, students and education in Ontario with regard to that statement? As teachers you're probably the only qualified ones here to do it.
Ms Rettig: Thank you for the question. I'd like to impart two things. One is to express to you the concerns we have with teachers in terms of some directions of the government policy and changes that are occurring in the context of elementary and secondary schools across this province. We've underscored it on a number of different occasions and taken every opportunity available to us to express our concerns with respect to an agenda that seems to have only one bottom line: extracting dollars out, not looking to strategies by which we can truly enhance and empower the education system as we know it in Ontario.
I'd also like to address the quote that you just recited from the proposed policies and legislative changes. What is very disturbing is that changes in policy and legislation should be determined by individual choice; that was the heart of the concerns with which I concluded. Policy for this province and for our society should not be determined by tabulating individual responses based on what will be best for the individual. We have to return to the sense of community. Certainly when I look at our schools and what we attempt to do within the context of our schools, it's more important than ever that we espouse within them a strong sense of community so that students will learn how to care for each other and assist each other in the context of a school community and thereby enlarge that to society at large. It's very disturbing to see a government move in the opposite direction, where the sole and central factor is that of individual choice and individual concern.
Mr Bartolucci: You gave an anecdotal evaluation; I'll give a summative one. It's clearly an F in my estimation. Do you think that this legislation, that's going to pass eventually because they have a majority, will enhance that collective stewardship one iota?
Mr Claire Ross: No, I don't think so. When one thinks about the trust that has been given to us in our history, the trust of a parliamentary democracy based upon the kind of qualitative discourse that has been referenced by our lawyer, I have to wonder about the kind of Ontario we're looking to in the future; that is, the kind of Ontario in which we introspectively look within ourselves, push some kind of button or mark a ballot without the kind of dialogue that will bring into play a sense of the needs and the rights of others. We're going to be poorer for it. Once we start marching down the slippery slope of referenda, where is it going to end?
I heard, before I came in here, others suggesting that we would have a referendum for almost everything: provincial, municipal, school boards. Imagine the cost. Imagine the paralysis of our society if suddenly we take from our representatives -- there seems to be a statement emanating from them that we are no longer interested in government and, above all, we want lifted from our shoulders the mantle of accountability. I suggest that in many places in the States they are frozen into a paralysis of inertia resulting from the fact that they have embraced a tool which does not enhance but significantly detracts from the governance process.
Mr Wildman: This may sound unusual coming from me, as someone who has been engaged in partisan politics for a long time, but I do mean it sincerely. I think this is an important question and one that should be dealt with and discussed. I regret, in a sense, that this is coming before us on the basis of a promise made in an election campaign related to tax increases, because it does tend to colour the process. Also, the paper as presented betrays something you were talking about -- Rousseau; it betrays a distrust of the parliamentary system as we know it. It indicates a distrust of politicians, a distrust of political parties and particularly of special-interest groups, that are somehow seen as subverting the will of the people by influencing politicians by whatever means.
In the view of some, perhaps in the view of the governing party, you are a special-interest group that might be accused of attempting to do that -- not in what you're doing today, but in other activities you might engage in.
I must say, though, that if we could deal with this in a philosophic way and look at it dispassionately, there is some balance between the two: Rousseau's distrust of parliamentary democracy and Edmund Burke's complete trust in his own judgement and that the electors of Bristol elected him to make his own judgements. It's a balance in between. Any politician who cares about democracy attempts to strike that balance.
Having said that, one of the major concerns I have about referendum proposals is the protection of minority rights. That's why I think it's important that you have come before us. It has been suggested before the committee that we don't have to worry about that in Canada because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is incorporated in our Constitution, so there could not be any referendum that would be contrary to the Constitution, would be ultra vires, and that even if there were some passed, they would still be subject to court action by the aggrieved minority and the courts could declare some decision that was ultra vires of it to be unconstitutional, and therefore we don't have to worry about that.
How do you, as representatives of a minority education system guaranteed in the Constitution, react to that assertion that we shouldn't be concerned about minority rights because they're protected under the Constitution? I don't mean by that that we shouldn't be concerned about them, but that we shouldn't be concerned about the effect referenda might have on them.
Ms Rettig: Precisely. In the context of the brief presentation I made are the responses and certainly the history that's there for us in light of the decisions that have been made in different states where they've been utilized quite frequently. In each of those instances there were challenges to minority rights, and those challenges put forward were defeated and the subsequent minority right was not realized and not enabled. That same threat, that same thing that happened down in California and various other states in the United States, would be a very real threat here in Canada.
Mr Cavalluzzo: The question you raise is a good one, but there are certain complications to it that I think we should underline in terms of this debate. First of all, even if one can subsequently go to court and have a decision overturned if it infringes upon minority rights guaranteed by the Constitution, one of the problems we see is that before you get there the kind of debate you see in a referendum dealing with minority rights is not the kind of debate one wants to see in Ontario. The choices are stark and the answer is inevitable, because if you're dealing with minority rights and you say to the majority, "What should the answer be, yes or no?" and that's the stark choice we have, the answer is inevitable, but the process of debate is very damaging in terms of the society itself. That's the first problem with saying, "Oh, well, the courts will always right the wrong after the fact."
The second problem I see with that is what I call the narcotic effect of referendums, that once we start using referendums it becomes a slippery slope: We start making all our decisions by way of referendum and in terms of constitutional rights. Then we may start using referenda to change the Constitution itself.
Mr Wildman: Frankly, I think if you are going to change the Constitution, it should be done by referendum.
Mr Cavalluzzo: But in terms of minority rights, that's the problem. I've always used this analogy, and it's a stark one, but I think it's part of the process. For example, after the Civil War if you threw a referendum in Alabama and said, "Should blacks be free and equal, as under the 14th amendment?" obviously the answer is going to be a question of head counts, votes.
Mr Hastings: Thank you very much for your presentation from OECTA. I would like to focus again on pages 16, 17 and 18, on your overarching theme about the application of referenda undermining in some way, shape or form the constitutionally protected rights of minorities in this country. Are you saying, in effect, that if this government instituted a referendum law in and of itself or through amendments to the Election Act, somehow or other the Constitution of 1982, the BNA Act of 1867 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be superseded by our referendum legislation, that all the other groups that have presented this mythology about undermining of minority rights is simply a mythology?
I would also like to know where in goodness' name is the Canadian federal government study that you attribute the conclusions to in 5.13. Is it in footnote 6, Marquis, Referendums in Canada? If it is, it's the political and social affairs division of the research branch. What of? StatsCan? Secretary of State? Which ministry produced this particular study on which you've built your rather simplistic case, in my estimation, about undermining minority rights?
Mr Cavalluzzo: If you would like a copy of that article I can certainly provide it to you, if you'd like to read it.
Mr Hastings: I'd be very happy to get it.
Mr Cavalluzzo: I undertake to provide a copy of it and certainly will do that. But coming back to your question in terms of undermining minority rights and what takes precedence, the Charter of Rights and the Constitution or a referendum bill, I don't think you heard my previous comments. The previous comments were that the Charter of Rights and the Constitution will not take precedence, subject to the exercise of the "notwithstanding" clause. Are you aware of the "notwithstanding" clause which basically permits the Legislature to override minority rights if it's specified?
Mr Hastings: Where has that been exercised in Canada except in the province of Quebec on language rights?
Mr Cavalluzzo: It's been exercised elsewhere, in Saskatchewan.
Mr Hastings: So you believe there is a susceptibility by most legislatures to disregard constitutionally validated minority rights protection legislation.
Mr Wildman: What if you had a referendum calling on the Legislature to --
Mr Hastings: Excuse me. I have the floor, I think.
Mr Cavalluzzo: The second point I raise is that even if you can subsequently validate your minority right in the courts through litigation, the fact is, as I pointed out before, the kind of discourse and debate that occurs prior to the referendum, in my view, is very damaging in terms of the societal interests and the long-term interests of the society.
The third point is that referendums may be used to amend the Constitution itself and that minority rights may be disposed of that way, in terms of changing the Constitution, which is a danger.
Mr Grimmett: I'd just like to say, first of all -- and it may be the only opportunity I get to ever agree with Mr Wildman -- that I agree with him wholeheartedly that we as elected people have to approach this thing both from Rousseau's point of view and also from Burke's point of view, to a certain extent, although I don't think anyone, except me here, in my riding particularly cares about Rousseau or Burke. I think I have to take into account their overwhelming views on these subjects.
Today we had a chance to hear from some people in British Columbia who told us that in 1991 there was a general election provincially and they also had two questions attached which many people thought were designed to help the incumbent government win; in fact, the incumbent government lost that election. But the two questions which asked whether the government should bring in referendums were resoundingly supported by over 80% of the people who voted. I think that is likely to happen if we tried the same exercise in other provinces. I think that is a compelling argument in itself for us to take a close look at using this new or other form of democracy.
I don't think, as a representative of those people, that I can ignore that reality. The people who sent me here want me to, as much as possible, represent them. When you say in your paper that this might actually weaken parties, I think the people back home who sent me here would also like that idea, of weakening political parties, because they see political parties as something which prevents me from properly representing the people I represent. I guess I'd just ask you for a comment on how I'm supposed to act, given my understanding of what the people back home want me to do.
Ms Rettig: Certainly I can't speak for the potential number of people who would respond in your constituency in favour a referendum. All I can say is that as a representative of the separate school teachers of this province, we see some very grave concerns. One of the fundamental concerns we see is a distinct movement away, by you as political leaders and as elected representatives in Queen's Park, from assessing certain issues and certain decisions based on the greater good of each and every member of that constituency, despite what minority group or group they may represent, to assessing that based exclusively and specifically on numbers and numerical results that come in from a referendum.
Those are the kinds of concerns we've brought forward to you. They are concerns that deal with the very essence of democracy, the essence of political decision-making and the essence of the kinds of rights afforded to all citizens, at this point, in this province and across this country. Those are the kinds of rights that we feel are imperative to continue to remain for all citizens of this province and of this country, regardless of what minority group they may be part of.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. We appreciate your input and your advice.
That concludes our hearings for today. I remind committee members that we will resume our hearings tomorrow at 10:30 am. The committee is adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1711.