Wednesday 11 September 1996
Freedom Party of Ontario
Mr Lloyd Walker
Mr Robert Metz
London-Middlesex Taxpayers' Coalition
Mr Jim Montag
Mr John Hogg
Mr Greg Vezina
Mr Duff Conacher
Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens
M. Roger Régimbal
M. Guy Matte
Citizens for Fair Taxes
Mr Frank Spink
Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), Ontario Regional Committee
Ms Anna DiCarlo
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 Johnson
Mr MarcelBeaubien (Lambton PC) for Mr Stewart
Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC) for Mr O'Toole
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND) for Mr Cooke
Also taking part /Autres participants et participantes:
Mr FrankKlees (York-Mackenzie PC)
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 1034 in room 151.
REFERENDA FREEDOM PARTY OF ONTARIO
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): We are today continuing our discussions in our public hearings on the issue of referendums. We have with us this morning as our first presenters representatives from the Freedom Party of Ontario, Robert Metz and Lloyd Walker.
Mr Lloyd Walker: Thank you. I'm Lloyd Walker. I'm the manager of special projects for Freedom Party. I'll be starting our presentation. This is Robert Metz, the party president.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. To start with, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on the use of referenda in Ontario. I was quite pleased when I saw that the government had decided to open discussion on the subject. Make no mistake about it, after reading the Your Ontario, Your Choice document, I firmly believe discussion is needed.
I agree that referenda have the potential to be a great positive force in Ontario today, but like anything that powerful, they also have the potential to be very destructive. We must therefore approach the subject critically and carefully.
Freedom Party believes, as I do, that the government has a defined purpose: to protect individual freedom of choice and not to restrict it. Just as government has a definable role to fulfil, so too does a referendum. It's on that topic I would specifically like to speak.
I found, on reading the discussion paper, that the author has tried very hard to sell the referendum concept while somehow avoiding defining what it is. The section on the referendum alternative gives us a general and commonly used sense of the word, followed by four categories of referenda and the accompanying and different definitions of each. In the end, referenda can mean anything and everything, allowing us to talk about them using the same words, but each of us misunderstanding what the other is talking about.
The salesmanship and lack of definition have resulted in referenda being granted many positive attributes that can only be gained by misusing their power or misunderstanding their meaning. What we must discuss is what a referendum is and, equally important, what a referendum is not. As a result of that, I hope to establish a definition that will help us decide what a referendum is, when it can be used, why it should be used and what it should be used for.
In the discussion paper, referenda are described as a "tool of increased accountability." I can't agree with that. Decisions made by referenda are far more likely to be used as a tool to avoid accountability. The government is absolved of its role of leadership and can rely on the "We only did this because the electorate said to do it; we're not responsible" type of argument. The electorate is always to blame and the government always faultless. Accountability has gone out the window.
Also, the claim is made for improved public participation. While it is possible for a referendum to result in more public participation, if only because people go out and vote more than once in five years, I know of no correlation between referenda and the quality of participation. In fact, the first use of referendum gave us Prohibition, something that was far more than just a mistake; it needlessly curtailed the use of a product that I'll gamble every person in this room has at one time or other used and, I must add, has used peacefully. This exercise in what was termed "direct democracy" also resulted in increased crime as bootlegging became more prevalent. Perhaps Quebec came up with the most original solution to the referendum-caused problem when they simply redefined beer with less than 4% alcohol as a temperance drink.
The implication is also made that referenda will "make government work for" those who feel disfranchised. Given the rarity of referenda, this is highly unlikely. I would, however, look forward to returning and speaking with you on the subject of electoral reform, which has far greater prospects for addressing the concerns of the disfranchised.
The same can be said of Mr Harris's claim that referenda will play a great part in reflecting the will of the people. The best opportunity to do that is, without doubt, on election day. The best means to reach that goal is through election reform. Referenda will have no impact on the disfranchised.
The discussion paper also states that referenda are consistent with reaching the objectives of our government: increased accountability, a reinvigorated economy and re-established credibility of government institutions. I have already stated that I can't understand how it will improve accountability to any marked degree. While I have to celebrate the government's goal of reinvigorating Ontario's economy, I'm at a complete loss when it comes to establishing the relationship between referenda and economic reinvigoration.
Mr Bud Wildman (Algoma): In California there are firms that contract to get signatures, so that would help the economy.
Mr Walker: It would be a wonderful thing if you're in the publishing or advertising business, but as far as the general economy is concerned, no.
I also wonder what the government has in mind for referenda when it states that they will help meet the goal of re-establishing credibility of government institutions. How something used as infrequently as referenda could do that is a puzzle to me. Perhaps the idea that the government is listening to the results of a referendum somehow adds legitimacy and credibility to that government. I have serious doubts. Credibility will not result from referenda; credibility comes from integrity and honesty, begin up front with the electorate, stating what you intend to do and then doing it. In short, it comes from sticking to your principles.
Further possibilities are voiced in the discussion paper. Somehow we are to believe that referenda will reduce the impact of special-interest groups. Referenda have nothing to do with reducing their power. That can only be done by the deliberate decision not to listen to them or not to give their positions any more credence than the position voiced by one individual in a letter to his or her own MPP. In fact, special-interest groups, if referenda are not carefully defined, will actually gain power, as they have the ear of the media and would thus be in a position to have greater influence on the outcome of a referendum.
Given that possibility, it is doubtful that referenda could ever reduce societal frictions or bring about unity. Even the author of the paper relates, "Controversial questions will lead to a high voter turnout." For "controversial," we must really read "emotional." Emotional questions will without fail result in a high turnout. Will they result in unity or reduced friction or somehow make the losers less dedicated or vociferous in their opposition? If that was the case, then Canada as a nation and Quebec as a province would be the very model of harmony and tranquility.
No matter what anyone tries to imply, referenda in and of themselves will not improve the economy, make the disfranchised happy with what they still may see as bad government, somehow reduce the roles of special interest groups or even eliminate the elements of uncertainty attributed to elections in the paper. Referenda are not an answer; they are merely a process or a tool. We must avoid the plight of the man who holds the nail in his hand, who sees every tool as a hammer. We must identify precisely what kind of tool a referendum is.
When the government is faced with a tough question and is seeking an answer, referendum is rarely the right tool for the job. It is the principles a government subscribes to that will provide the answer. If the government is consistent in its approach to all issues, it will likely meet with the approval of the majority that elected it and likely increase that government's credibility at the same time. Yes, I know majorities don't always elect the governments, but that's back to electoral reform, and we'll leave that.
I must applaud the concept of governing that was put forward in the document. It stated, "Individuals should decide their futures," and, "The function of government should be to serve and facilitate those aspirations, not to rule or constrain them." It goes on to provide that "individuals may pursue their own economic and lifestyle goals." That's absolutely right. Those are the principles that I referred to earlier and those are the principles that must provide the answer to most of the questions faced by our government today. But it is these same principles that must answer the questions we have about the use of referenda.
In 1984, when the Freedom Party was founded, our platform read: "The purpose of government is to protect your freedom of choice, not to restrict it." That message has remained constant throughout our history. I've got to say I'm delighted to hear it echoed in the discussion paper's identification of what can make Ontario's government better and more responsible.
But knowing the proper purpose of government, we're now aware of one last and perhaps the most important limitation on referenda: They cannot be a tool used to contradict the purpose of government that we have agreed upon. They cannot be a tool used to rule or constrain the aspirations, activities or lifestyles of individuals. Please note that with this statement I recognize that minority groups are composed of individuals. Referenda are not meant to impose the will of the majority on minorities either.
What purpose is left for referenda? It was stated quite eloquently at the bottom of page 5 of the discussion paper, "Referenda are but one way of putting taxpayers back in control of their government." That statement says a great deal. Sadly and correctly, it implies that we have lost control of our governments and need to regain control. But on the plus side, it says that the taxpayer must be put back in control of their government. I must emphasize that. It doesn't state that taxpayers need to get in control of one another; it states explicitly that taxpayers need to get in control of their government.
It must be emphasized that the statement recognizes that referenda are not a tool to be used by government to control taxpayers; they are just the opposite. That is the sole purpose of a referendum: to allow taxpayers to rule or constrain their government. In addition to that, the principles we discussed tell us that they are not a tool to allow the majority to rule or constrain any minority or individual.
You'll notice I make no great claims for that simple definition -- no goal of economic revitalization, reducing the power of interest groups or even improving public participation. I won't even go so far as to say that it will put the taxpayer back in control of their government. Referenda are too limited in purpose to achieve that goal, but properly defined, they are a step in the right direction.
Referenda simply exist to transfer power in certain specific matters from the government to the taxpayer, and those specific matters I'll leave to Mr Metz. It takes a great deal of courage on the part of any government to willingly give up the power it now holds and turn it over to the electorate. I must salute the initiative, because rarely does a government consciously embark on such a course.
This process has led us to a precise definition of "referenda." A referendum is a tool to be used by the electorate to control or constrain their government, and, I must add, not to control or constrain one another. That definition eliminates many of the risks inherent in referenda. It eliminates the frivolous use of referenda, eliminates their misuse and eliminates the need for many of the questions that were posed at the end of the discussion paper itself. Most importantly, by defining "referenda" and removing the negative aspects from them, we allow them to be the valuable tool we know they are.
I ask you to keep this definition -- a tool to be used by the electorate to control or constrain their government, and only their government -- not at the back of your mind but at the forefront. It is a yardstick for you to use, and use it you must. Please use it to measure the submissions you have already heard, those that you will hear today, the inevitable media and interest group fallout, and also use it to measure the comments of those working with you in these hearings in the subsequent discussions. I'll ask you, just for practice, to use it for the further comments of Mr Metz.
Mr Robert Metz: Given the discussion paper's explicit statement that "today's Ontario government is firmly committed to the referendum and its use," it certainly did not seem necessary for us to present this committee with arguments to encourage the government to adopt referenda; but rather to establish some clear parameters under which we believe referenda would be both practical and principled.
We certainly do agree that there is a place for referenda, a very necessary place, and have in the past explicitly expressed our full support for binding referenda in two specific fundamental areas of political concern: constitutional amendment and issues of taxation.
During the 1995 Ontario provincial election, Freedom Party's platform included the advocacy of a taxpayer protection act which incorporated maximum tax limits, a flat rate tax system, balanced budget legislation and a binding referendum on tax increases.
In 1992, Freedom Party regional vice-president William Frampton addressed the special joint committee on the process for amending the Constitution of Canada and proposed that in addition to the approval of three quarters of Canada's provincial governments, any constitutional amendments be subject to a referendum procedure in order to give the people of Canada the final verdict on constitutional change.
However, he cautioned: "Safeguards must be in place to ensure that amendments enjoy the support of the great majority of Canadian citizens. It must not be possible for a minority or even a bare majority to impose them upon the entire country. It is quite possible for a minority of adult Canadians to be a majority of those voting. For this reason, the criteria for ratification should be based on the number of citizens eligible to cast ballots."
This is a principle we continue to apply to our support of referenda, namely, that the number of eligible voters be the basis of any threshold requirement to legitimize any referendum result.
You have already heard that Freedom Party believes that the purpose of government is to protect individual freedom of choice and not to restrict it. I stress this point because it is against this standard that all Freedom Party policies are tested. Where any policy may potentially violate individual freedom of choice, our party constitution demands that we must, as a matter of principle, reject such a policy.
Therefore, in considering referenda, our prime directive demands that we ensure that any kind of referenda we would support does not and potentially cannot have an outcome that would in any way directly violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of any individuals in our society.
As a consequence, Freedom Party would not, for example, entertain any referenda with respect to issues like conscription, abortion, rent control, Sunday shopping laws, prohibition or censorship, among an endless list of possible issues that could be put to referenda.
We believe that referenda are applicable to two fundamental areas only: constitutional amendment and tax increases. While this may make it appear that our endorsement of referenda is severely restricted and might make referenda inconsequential, bear in mind that taxation issues may encompass a great many possibilities.
For example, right now in London, Ontario, where we are headquartered, the municipal government there has already committed itself to making a bid to host the 2001 Canada Summer Games at a cost somewhere between $2 million and $9 million to the taxpayers of the city. The city is conducting its own informal "referendum" by asking citizens to sign a petition supporting the games. But the petition does not mention the potential cost and has not been directed towards those responsible for the costs, the affected taxpayers themselves.
Among other places, this Canada Games petition has been circulated to students in high schools, who of course have no reason not to sign it as they would not be directly responsible for the costs associated with the proposal.
Mr Wildman: They are citizens.
Mr Metz: Yes, they are, but they are not directly responsible for the cost.
Moreover, the city is conducting its poll only after it has already committed itself to the bid process, and is merely attempting to use the results of that petition as justification for its action. Rejecting the use of a referendum to address the issue, a London councillor only yesterday publicly stated, "If we had to go to the public on every issue, nothing would get done."
My point in mentioning all of this is to illustrate both how referenda might be seriously abused and how some politicians may view a referendum as a serious obstacle to their objectives, and therefore may use any means at their disposal to avoid a referendum altogether or to affect the manner in which a referendum is conducted.
A legitimate referendum procedure designed to objectively measure the consent of taxpayers who would be footing the cost of the Canada Games in London would be (a) to direct it only to those taxpayers who would have to bear the cost; (b) to conduct the referendum before any commitments have been made; and (c) to word the question in a manner that expresses the taxation aspect of the issue because this is the only direct manner in which the citizen is affected.
This brings us to the potential wording of referendum questions. Framing the question is all-important. Consider, for example, a hypothetical generic proposal, "The government should not go ahead with an increase in taxes." Under this wording, the rejection of the tax increase would have to be a Yes vote, whereas a No would imply that the government could go ahead with its tax increase. This is both confusing and manipulative.
It is our view that all questions should be stated simply, geared to a binary Yes or No response, and with the Yes vote representing the option that initiates the action that would be pursued by the referendum.
Additionally, just as we believe all referenda should be a statutory requirement, we also believe the wording of questions should be prescribed in statute law. This will ensure that agreement has been reached on the wording of any questions well in advance of interests lining up on each side of an issue in the hopes of affecting the framing of the question.
The government's discussion paper raises the issue of how an issue might be promoted or debated during a referendum period. Questions relating to campaign spending or advertising and the necessity of rules governing such activity are raised on page 42 of that document.
Freedom Party opposes any bans, controls or regulation of advocacy groups or advertising, including political parties. However justified, these measures all effectively amount to a restriction of freedom of speech, the fundamental freedom upon which any free election depends.
Already there is too much regulation and control of the political process in Ontario. For example, the Commission on Elections Finances, which regulates the finances of officially registered political parties in Ontario, effectively uses this regulation as a means to control the activity of political parties and to place independent candidates on an unequal playing field with the registered parties. Our own experience with the elections finances commission is not reassuring, if one is entertaining the possibility of this, or a similar commission, regulating referenda.
The executive director of the finances commission plainly informed me at a meeting last year with the alternative parties that Freedom Party would not be allowed, for example, to issue official tax receipts for any contributions we might raise to facilitate our ongoing information campaign to disempower Ontario's Human Rights Commission, but that we would be permitted to issue official tax receipts if we wanted to raise money to campaign for gender equality in the Legislature. Unfortunately, we find the latter offensive and would never violate our party principles to pursue such an undignified egalitarian objective. However, this places us at a distinct disadvantage with respect to our political competitors who can offer tax credits to support their issues but we are not permitted to do the same.
This does not speak well of our democratic process. If this is the type of regulation and control to which referenda might be subject, then all is lost and the question of whether we have referenda or not becomes irrelevant because we will still end up with the same kind ofgovernment.
You will note that we have not endorsed government- or citizen-initiated referenda. That is because we believe there is still room for the traditional election process and for representative democracy. To that end, we have proposed the single transferable vote as the ideal means with which to achieve genuine proportionate public representation through elected officials. I would be happy to forward our proposal to anyone who is interested.
We believe that issue initiatives should be undertaken by politicians, by political parties or by citizens who should have every right to become candidates for election through the traditional political process. Unfortunately, independent candidates are severely handicapped and intimidated by election financing regulations, which only work to further entrench the party system and to create a disproportionate system of representation.
It is in many ways a tragedy that we have come to the point of having to resort to referenda as a means of controlling our governments. I would dispute the discussion paper's suggestion that, "The authors of the British North America Act could not have foreseen a nation-state as expansive as the one that exists today," or the "power wielded by interest groups." My understanding of history tells me that oppressive government and power-wielding interest groups were exactly what travellers to the new world were trying to escape from in the old world. Interest groups, in and of themselves, are not an issue. The relevant issue is the politicians who bow to interest groups, and the governments that finance interest groups. Government is always the issue.
Whether referenda can directly or indirectly affect these concerns remains to be seen. Democratic processes have often been a source of oppression and that is why we have emphasized our cautions to the referendum process at this hearing today. Nevertheless, we fully endorse referenda subject to the provisions we have outlined in our presentation.
We also applaud this government's courage in addressing this issue and for preparing a discussion paper that seems to have touched upon a remarkably wide range of alternatives and very relevant considerations, whether or not one is in agreement with any of the particulars.
We have concluded our response to the government's discussion paper with specific responses to each of the 21 questions posed on pages 41 to 44. I invite you to peruse these at your convenience, and take this opportunity to thank you for hearing us out and for this occasion to present you with our viewpoints.
The Chair: We have time for one brief question from each caucus, and I'll start with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Rick Bartolucci (Sudbury): Thank you for your presentation. You're suggesting that referenda only be held for constitutional issues and those issues which increase taxes, or propose tax increases. Is that correct?
Mr Metz: Correct.
Mr Bartolucci: And you propose that at both the municipal and the provincial or federal levels.
Mr Metz: Sure.
Mr Bartolucci: You say in your presentation that it should be only directed to those taxpayers who have to bear the cost or that it has some impact upon. How then could you possibly conduct a referendum for the $2 user fee for senior citizens? How would you construct it so that it's a valid referendum?
Mr Metz: A user fee is not a tax, despite many assertions --
Mr Wildman: The Premier says it is.
Mr Metz: He may say so, but it's not. A tax is a non-user fee, so that's the only difference. We do believe in user fees. A user fee would not be anything that would ever be subject to a referendum. It's like putting what the price of groceries should be to a referendum, or putting what the price of a car should be, or medicine, or anything. These are economic issues, separate from government.
Mr Bartolucci: If we look back on page 4 of your presentation, if you suggest that a user fee is not a tax, are you not in fact denying citizens the ability to rule or constrain their government? If a government increases the user fee for an individual, that individual may define that as a tax.
Mr Metz: No, the user fee is only paid if the person uses the service, whereas under taxation the person still pays even if he doesn't use the service. Or to look at it from the other point of view, the taxpayer is forced to pay for a service someone else is using and he is not. That's imposing upon him.
The Chair: I've got to turn now to the New Democrats.
Mr Wildman: I found your presentation to be interesting. Your comment about interest groups I think was correct in that some historians would argue that the CPR was built in Canada because of monied interest groups in Montreal, largely. So interest groups are hardly new in our political process. I think the CPR was a good thing but it also benefitted those interest groups a great deal, particularly the banks.
Mr Marcel Beaubien (Lambton): We had more then.
Mr Wildman: Yes, we did. Those banks have used a lot of that revenue to concentrate political power throughout our history -- political and economic power.
I'm a little bit concerned, though, about your views about citizenship in this country.
Mr Metz: Which views are those?
Mr Wildman: Well, your view seems to be that referenda should be used on constitutional issues, which I agree with. Obviously, the fundamental law of the country affects all citizens, so therefore all citizens should have a say.
Mr Metz: Right.
Mr Wildman: But then you say on taxes that it should be directed at those who are directly affected, and by that you mean, I think, people who pay the taxes.
Mr Metz: Correct.
Mr Wildman: But surely taxation policy affects everyone, not just those who pay the taxes.
Mr Metz: It may affect everyone indirectly. Any good or service you buy, even if the tax is not shown in the price of it, will include some taxes and indirectly affects the purchaser of that product. If we start being fuzzy with our lines at where a responsibility or a tax is actually being paid, we'll have an endless argument over who should be responsible for what.
Mr Wildman: I think we all should be.
Mr Metz: Well, you see, we believe in individual responsibility, not in collective responsibility.
Mr Wildman: I believe in both.
Mr Metz: We feel the latter is a contradiction of the first and results in no responsibility at all.
Mr Wildman: It seems to me if we decide not to collect taxes, that may have impacts that affect everyone.
Mr Metz: Certainly it would.
Mr Wildman: Okay. So if we decide not to collect the tax and therefore we can't build a road, and not just those taxpayers but others will be therefore affected, or not to build a school and so on --
Mr Metz: Again, roads should be paid for through what we might call user fees, although they might still be called taxes. There's nothing wrong with charging a road user fee through the pump where you get your gas -- it could be a tax -- or through licensing, but it shouldn't be charged to people who aren't directly using that service. The cost will be borne --
Mr Wildman: By society.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Wildman. I've got to turn now to the government caucus.
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): Mr Metz, Mr Walker, I'd like to thank you for articulating a very well-thought-out, philosophically focused, consistent type of presentation in terms of applying your principles to this item. It's probably one of the best in that respect.
I'd like to get your thinking on how citizen-initiated referenda could be applied to your narrow focus of taxation issues. For example, do you see ever the possibility that a citizen-initiated referendum could come about where they want to designate a tax for a specific purpose? I think that has occurred actually in Rossland, BC, in their type of referenda-focussed approach to local government.
Mr Metz: I've never heard of anyone wanting to pay another tax. If that case exists it certainly would be an unique circumstance. The kind of proposal you're thinking of, I can't think of any circumstance where I'd want to go out of my way and propose a tax.
Mr Hastings: What about in the set of circumstances where a municipal government council -- where you have local referenda as a general operating principle in that governmental culture -- failed, let's say, on at least two occasions to get a money bylaw through for sewage treatment in an expansion of their community? I haven't fleshed out all the circumstances, but now you have consequences arising from that failure. Some citizens may see the necessity of protecting public health or what have you and would have the capacity to initiate a referendum on that specific issue to deal with raising enough money for sewage treatment for the expansion of that community.
Mr Walker: I'd have to address that by saying it raises another concern in that it makes it very difficult, because where do you draw the line as to where a citizen-initiated referendum can come from? It could be called on anything. The concern is, you bring up a very serious issue that those people should obviously be going to their council and quite seriously at the next election should be removing some of those people from council. But I don't know that you can leave it open to have referenda initiated by the citizenship on any particular topic, even something as gross as if an MP is elected on, let's call it the redneck ticket, they're in office, they learn something and they change. Have they betrayed their constituents? The change may be for the better. I don't know how you can have citizen-initiated referenda or recall that will address that issue.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Metz and Mr Walker, for your presentation. We certainly appreciate your input and thank you for coming in today.
LONDON-MIDDLESEX TAXPAYERS' COALITION
The Chair: Our next witness today is Mr Jim Montag for the London-Middlesex Taxpayers' Coalition.
Mr Jim Montag: Is that "witness" or "presenter"?
The Chair: You're not sworn in. You're a presenter.
Mr Montag: Good morning. I thank you all for the opportunity to be here. I'm with the London-Middlesex Taxpayers' Coalition.
I'm going to make a number of comments about government in Ontario and Canada. None of these comments is directed to our present Ontario government.
Before the last provincial election, Premier Harris promised to bring in a taxpayer protection act. Not only is he doing so, but he has expanded the concept to include referenda, initiative and recall. This is indeed a most refreshing change from the governments that we have become accustomed to in Canada and Ontario for many years. We not only have a party in power that keeps its election promises, but also shows an interest in listening to the people. Our presence here today is further proof of the sincerity of this government.
I have always admired the United States of America's concept of democracy: government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Somehow we in Canada have lost the democratic principles necessary and essential for a fair, good and honest government.
Our elected MPs and preceding MPPs do not listen to their constituents, they listen to their leader. They do not vote for their constituents, they vote the party line. They do not speak for their constituents, the speak only to defend their party's position. They do not represent their constituents, they represent their party only. Once elected, any resemblance to democracy in their actions disappears.
We are dangerously treading a path towards oppressive dictatorship. If the present trend continues, the ultimate and only result will be the destruction of our country.
In a debate a few years ago, an elected politician said that referenda was mob rule. I think he very much regretted his foolish remark after hearing my response.
Many of the MPs, MPPs and other elected politicians that I have spoken to in the past do not have any understanding or appreciation of even the most basic tenets of democracy. These are usually very well-educated people with many and various university degrees to their credit. How they could possibly have missed this knowledge is beyond my comprehension.
Not being the beneficiary of this level of education has not prevented me from knowing, understanding and admiring true democracy. I always thought the lack of a university education was a deficit, but now I'm finding that the lack could be a benefit. I have not been led down any false paths and have not been blinded to the truth.
Maybe we should follow the examples of our community colleges and universities for improperly and undereducated new students and demand remedial courses in democracy and democratic principles for all newly elected members of government.
To me it appears that any resemblance to democracy shown by past governments was purely accidental. At long last we have a government here in Ontario that is heading in the proper direction.
I fully support the concepts of referenda, initiative and recall. There is only one form of referenda, and that is binding referenda. Anything else is a plebiscite. By initiative, I mean all aspects of initiative: government-sponsored initiatives, opposition-sponsored initiatives and private-citizen-sponsored initiatives. The concept of recall is basic, and I will not elaborate.
The referendum mechanism is not an abrogation of the government's responsibility to govern, but rather an opportunity to govern more responsibly. Presently, due to the apathy of most people, the only voices the government hears are those of special interest groups, and only after an unpopular decision do the elected representatives hear from the citizens.
Referenda will not only permit the ordinary citizen to be heard, but will instill a sense of pride in being part of the decision-making process, will dispel general apathy and make people much more aware of and appreciative of their system of government.
Where referenda, initiative and recall are part of the governing process, the citizens feel so strongly about it that no one would dare try to take it away or weaken it. Switzerland, with 400 years of referenda, initiative and recall, despite having three official languages along with three different cultures and being one of the most heavily armed populations in the world, has the enviable record of living at peace with themselves and the rest of the world. Surely their system of referenda, initiative and recall-dominated governance must be credited for their record of peaceful coexistence and solidarity.
How many of you know of a Swiss national who has emigrated to Canada? I have not heard of any. With their system of government, I can readily understand why none of their citizens would want to leave. Switzerland is not a member of the United Nations; however, many of the UN-sponsored peace initiatives are held in Geneva. Obviously other countries have a great deal of respect for the Swiss and their government.
Eight out of 10 provinces have some form of referenda, initiative and recall. We are long overdue for a similar system in Ontario and in Canada.
There are many slightly different versions of referenda, initiative and recall and many problems to be overcome before installation into government of these systems. This should only be handled by a constituent assembly, an assembly of ordinary, non-elected citizens from all walks of life. A constituent assembly would be the only truly democratic method of arriving at the implementation of such a system of governance.
Referenda should be allowed on an unrestricted range of public issues. A referendum majority should consist of 50% of the voters plus one. Referenda should be held in conjunction with all federal, provincial and municipal elections. Cost should not be an issue for referenda necessary between elections but should be kept at a minimum, using any method allowing easy participation by all citizens.
Initiative signature requirements should be somewhere between 5% and 10% of government members, opposition members or citizens sponsoring the initiative; not under 5% to prevent frivolity and not over 10% to present undue difficulty. This would effectively suppress and stifle the present disproportionate influence of special interest groups and their special considerations.
Many times I have referred to special interest groups, of which the London-Middlesex Taxpayers' Coalition is one. But unlike other true special interest groups, who never go away and whose demands are relentless, our group will expire and fade away with the advent of truly educated politicians within our political system, where the words "integrity," "principle" and "honesty" are clearly understood and practised and will result in a truly democratic society.
In closing this presentation, I would like to reaffirm my wholehearted support of Mr Harris and his party for their efforts in this direction.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Montag. We have a little more time for questions in this round, and I'll start with the New Democrats.
Mr Wildman: You point to Switzerland. We had a presentation by a Reform member of Parliament from North Vancouver, Mr White, yesterday. He was a proponent of referenda who informed us that in Switzerland the turnout for the referenda, which they hold very often, averages around 15% to 18% of the electorate. That indicates that not too many people in Switzerland actually take part.
One of the arguments that is put forward in favour of referenda as a form of direct democracy is that we have low turnouts for our general elections because people are cynical and feel that they don't really have any control of government and it doesn't really make any difference how they vote. So they don't turn out. Yet we have turnouts of between 64% and 70% in most general elections. I don't know what the turnouts are in general elections in Switzerland, I'm sorry. I'm going on the information Mr White gave us, but he said it was only about 15% to 18% who participated in referenda. That would indicate an even greater level of cynicism, wouldn't it?
Mr Montag: To me, that would indicate a greater level of happiness with their present government, a greater level of confidence in the present government.
Mr Wildman: It would also indicate that there isn't much of a demand for referenda there.
Mr Montag: I think there's quite a demand in Switzerland.
Mr Wildman: Only 15% are participating.
Mr Montag: In California they have had as many as 107 referendum questions on the ballot and they get a very high turnout there.
Mr Wildman: They're usually related to their elections. It's added to the ballot. Fewer people vote on the referendum questions than vote for the candidates at the top of their ballot.
Mr Montag: But their questions usually relate to taxpayer issues out there.
Mr Wildman: I understand also you said, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you thought that any move to institute such a form of governance should be done by a constituent assembly. Therefore, you don't support this process.
Mr Montag: I would like to keep all political parties out of a process like this. This is something that affects all of the citizens of this country, and this is what should be decided by plain, ordinary people in this country.
Mr Wildman: I understand. You said that it should be a constituent assembly. I understand your position. Therefore, you can't be in favour of this process since it is not a constituent assembly.
Mr Montag: In a way, I am in favour of this process. That's why I'm here today.
Mr Wildman: That's why I'm asking you, because it seems contradictory.
Mr Montag: Sometimes there may appear to be a paradox in some statements that a person can make, but I think you can understand too that you can't really be 100% always in one direction and not in favour of something else.
Mr Wildman: So things are not always yes or no. Sometimes they're more complex.
Mr Montag: Yes, and I point that out in here.
Mr Wildman: That's one of the problems with a referendum question, isn't it?
Mr Montag: It can be very complex, yes.
Mr Wildman: And you only can answer yes or no.
Mr Montag: No. The referendum process can be very complex, but I believe referendum votes should be very simple, yes or no. No maybes allowed in here; either you agree with it or you disagree with it.
Mr Wildman: Even if it may be complex and there may be some things you agree with and some you disagree with.
Mr Montag: Well, that would be two questions.
Mr Wildman: I see.
Mr Montag: You could have two separate votes.
Mr Wildman: You'd put it down into separate votes. So you could have a long list of questions in a referendum.
Mr Montag: California had 107, I believe, in the second-last election.
Mr Wildman: You would consider that to be a good thing.
Mr Montag: I would consider that better than what we have here. It might not be perfect there. I don't think any --
Mr Wildman: I don't think any form of government is perfect.
Mr Montag: It's never perfect anywhere. You just try to do the best you can.
Mr Wildman: Winston Churchill once said representative parliamentary democracy is the worst form of government there is, except for all the others.
Mr Montag: Yes, I've read that. That was a good comment.
Mr Wildman: Referenda would be one of the others.
Mr Montag: No. I think referenda would be part of a democratic government.
Mr Wildman: He was talking about parliamentary democracy. of which referenda is not normally a part, historically. It can be.
Mr Montag: It can be here because an opposition party could initiate a referendum, or the government itself could initiate a referendum. You're not necessarily, in the referendum process, eliminating the government from it, not at all. They could be very much a part of it and they could initiate it, and the opposition could initiate a referendum. This would be very good, because the party in power never is always right all the time.
Mr Wildman: Obviously, and neither is the opposition. It was suggested by some other presenters that we should only have referenda on specific types of questions, one on constitutional issues and many others have also said on taxation increases. Some have said we should have them on anything, but many have said we should only have them on those two kinds of questions. Your view would be that we could have referendum questions on anything that any citizen wished to initiate if he or she could get the required number of signatures.
Mr Montag: I would favour a very broad range of permissible questions, but not a question that would take away any right or freedom of any group or individual or anybody. There would have to be limitations on some of these questions. You couldn't say, all of a sudden, we're going to discriminate against this class of people. No, no.
Mr Wildman: If there were a referendum on tax increases -- the Premier, prior to being elected Premier, made a pledge that there would not be any tax increases unless there were referenda -- is it your view that only the taxpayers paying those taxes should be able to vote in a referendum, or should all citizens be able to vote?
Mr Montag: All eligible citizens, all people of proper age, yes, just like a general election. You use your general election roll and that's who votes.
Mr Wildman: So you would disagree with the presenters previous to this.
Mr Montag: In some respects I do disagree with them.
Mr Beaubien: Good morning, Mr Montag. On page 3 of your presentation you mention that referenda will not only permit the ordinary citizen to be heard but it will give him a sense of pride in being part of the decision-making process. Would I be correct in assuming that you believe in individual rights?
Mr Montag: Yes.
Mr Beaubien: The previous presenters believe that they advocate the repealing of Bill 79, which is the employment equity law, Bill 40, the labour legislation, and Bill 8, which is the French services act. If that was your position, and I'm making an assumption here -- but let's say this question were to be posed to the taxpayers of the province of Ontario. I have two questions. Question one would be, who would word and how would you word the ballot question and, two, who should have the final say on how that question is posed to the taxpayers?
Mr Montag: That is one of the problems, the final question. That would have to be well thought out. It couldn't be the party in power. It may have to be a committee like this of all parties that would pose the final wording of the question. We have seen in Quebec where the wording can be very confusing, and I would not like to see that in any referendum process. So I think there would have to be a multiparty committee similar to this committee here to set the final wording.
I didn't quite understand your first one.
Mr Beaubien: How would you word the question?
Mr Montag: I would like to see them word it very simply to be very clearly understood. Why complicate things with a lot of language that people don't understand or a lot of innuendo they are not aware of? Just make it very simple. You know, the old army policy: Keep it simple.
Mr Dave Boushy (Sarnia): I'm not sure I disagree. I think I more likely agree with most of what you said. You expressed an opinion that a referendum should be binding on the government.
Mr Montag: All referenda are binding. Anything that is not binding is not a referendum.
Mr Boushy: As you know, public opinion changes on any issue. If an issue is voted in by a Yes vote this year, and two years down the road the government of the day realizes that public opinion has turned around, do you still feel that it should enact legislation, although public opinion is against it?
Mr Montag: I don't think things can change that quickly, but I certainly agree with you --
Mr Boushy: We have changed government almost every four years for the last 10, 15 years.
Mr Montag: I certainly with you that things will change, and what you must do is have another referendum if the situation has changed. The government should be of the people, by the people, for the people. If you see the majority of the people out there want one thing and then five years later they want something else, they should have the right to have that. If that calls for another referendum ballot, they should have that right to have that ballot. I agree, people do change, and it might sound confusing sometimes.
Mr Boushy: So are you in favour of having a referendum on one single issue almost every year?
Mr Montag: No, not on one single issue almost every year. What issue would you be suggesting?
Mr Boushy: That's a general question.
Mr Montag: Mainly your referendums will be held at election time. You can have many questions on the ballot, both federal, provincial and municipal. Then only if there was a real need that was a very pressing thing, you would have another referendum in between elections, a major tax increase or something like that. But there are many things that are not really major questions. Like California, with 107 questions down there, you could take 90 of them and they were not important or critical at all, but some of them were. You would have to have a balance there, and if you decided to have one in between elections, you would have one in between elections.
But I don't think people would change that quickly. Governments might, and government opinion certainly would change with a different party in power, but the people are the same.
Mr Hastings: Mr Montag, would you favour a specific piece of legislation framing the referenda issues, questions, thresholds, principles, types of issues, called something like an Ontario referenda and initiatives act? It could have a different name. A specific piece of legislation that would set out the ball game rules for all intents and purposes so we'd know where we were going?
Mr Montag: Yes, I very much would be in favour of that. I think that's almost mandatory to have that.
Mr Bartolucci: Thank you, Mr Montag, for your presentation. Just a couple of questions, and I say this being friendly; I don't want to be argumentative. "Referenda should be allowed on an unrestricted range of public issues." This is what you said. Yet in answer to Mr Boushy, you said that shouldn't be the case. What is it? Should it be on a broad range of public issues or not?
Mr Montag: A very broad range, and you might say unrestricted, keeping in mind the rights, the freedoms of people. You cannot have a referendum to discriminate against somebody or anything like that. I did not mean to say it should be that unrestricted. It must be within the law. The question must be legal and lawful.
Mr Bartolucci: Should they be only restricted then to constitutional issues?
Mr Montag: Oh, no. No, I believe there should be a broad range of subjects: constitutional, taxation and --
Mr Bartolucci: All issues of taxation should be the subject of a referendum?
Mr Montag: Any major tax increases should be subject to a referendum. I wouldn't want to see a referendum vote if you're going to increase the gasoline tax by a cent a litre to provide a highway across Ontario. That's not a question that I think should be on a referendum ballot, but if you want a 5% income tax increase, I certainly think that should be there.
Mr Bartolucci: You know that the government instituted the Health Services Restructuring Commission. It affects health care throughout the province of Ontario. I would think that's a major public issue.
Mr Montag: Yes.
Mr Bartolucci: Would you suggest then before that restructuring commission took place that there be a public referendum?
Mr Montag: On health care services? Yes. I would very much like to see that.
Mr Bartolucci: On the implementation of a Health Services Restructuring Commission, because it's going to affect health care services?
Mr Montag: Yes.
Mr Bartolucci: Before Mike Harris was elected, he suggested and he stated publicly -- and I know that you're involved with the taxpayers' coalition, so obviously you agree with much of what Mr Harris said -- that any user fee was a tax increase. Do you still agree with him?
Mr Montag: Basically a user fee is a tax increase, and personally, I'm in favour of user fees.
Mr Bartolucci: You have every right to be in favour of them, as someone who opposes them has every right, because that's our democracy. But let's carry through your rationale, because it is important to this presentation. If it is a broad public issue, then you're suggesting that too should be a part of a referendum.
Mr Montag: Yes, it should. With user fees that would be a very important question on the medical issue: "Are you in favour of this or not?" I would be in favour of user fees, but if 50% plus one people said, "No, we're not in favour of that," I would very much go along with their decision and respect their decision.
Mr Bartolucci: You know that Mike Harris is not suggesting that in this discussion paper.
Mr Montag: A user fee?
Mr Bartolucci: No, that we go to the public for those issues in the form of a referendum.
Mr Montag: No, that hasn't been specifically mentioned, but this is the type of thing that should be subject to a referendum. The medical question here is very complex, and we have a serious problem in Ontario funding this. Something has to be done in the very near future. I think a question like that is very important because it's very much related to taxation. They should ask people: "What do you want? What type of health care do you want? Do you want a two-tier system? Do you want a one-tier system? Do you want to continue with this system of total universality, no user fee?" With the thing that just came in recently, I'm subject to user fees, the $100 on that and everything; I have no complaint with that at all.
Mr Bartolucci: Others do, obviously.
Mr Montag: Yes.
Mr Bartolucci: You're suggesting that before the government did that, they should have gone to the people in the form of a referendum?
Mr Montag: Yes. I think that would have been a good question to have on a referendum ballot.
Mr Bartolucci: Just for your information, because I think it is important, Mr Bailie, the chief elections officer, indicated that for every referendum, if it's held individually, it's a $40-million price tag. That's his statement. Do you agree that for every referendum at a cost of $40 million, it's worthwhile?
Mr Montag: Forty million dollars would be an individual question by itself. I believe we should have many referendums, but in an economically effective manner, like putting them on to an election ballot or having two or three or four questions in between an election -- any method that is economically feasible that provides participation by all of the citizens. You don't make it difficult for somebody in a remote area of the country to get to a polling booth. They have the same right to vote as we do. Whichever method, whether it's electronic or whatever, that is a reliable system and can be implemented, I would agree with that.
I don't like to put a cost on referendums or freedom, but $40 million is a very small cost if you're going to have a country break up or if things go bad. The cost is going to be much worse then. Or if the country goes bankrupt or world bankers say, "Sorry, no more money, you guys are broke up there in Canada," that would be a much more severe cost.
Mr Bartolucci: I don't think anyone would argue with that, with the exception that if you allow for an unrestricted range of broad public issues, can you not see how a particular group, a very powerful group or a particular government, not necessarily this government or any government -- that it could be misused? Do you not see that there is that opportunity?
Mr Montag: If it's drafted properly, I don't see much of a possibility for misuse. After all, Switzerland has had this for 400 years and they have been a very solid, stable country for 400 years. That's a lot more than we can say for our own country here.
Mr Bartolucci: A final question: Should there be a restricted amount of money that proponents of whatever side be allowed to spend during the referendum, and should the amount of money they spend be made public to the general taxpayers of the province?
Mr Montag: If it's their own money they're spending, I would not see a need for any restriction but I would say there should be an accountability.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation, Mr Montag. We appreciate your input.
The Chair: Our next presentation this morning is Mr John Hogg, the Oakville Citizens' Committee on Property Tax Reform. Welcome, Mr Hogg, to the standing committee on the Legislative Assembly. You have about half an hour for your presentation. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Mr John Hogg: Good morning, Mr Chairman, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. My name is John Hogg. I'm co-chair of the Oakville Citizens' Committee on Property Tax Reform. As our committee has not met over the summer and has not yet discussed this issue, I'll confine my remarks to my own opinion and not those of the Oakville Citizens' Committee on Property Tax Reform.
Thank you for allowing me to offer my opinion on this important issue. Referenda are important and should be used to truly involve the public in the decision-making process of governments.
The paper Your Ontario, Your Choice deals with many specific aspects beyond my areas of expertise. However, the general concept of having referenda is to bring the government back to the people. A referendum program needs to be perceived as involving the public in the decision-making process, be easy to accomplish and cost as little as possible.
The number one hurdle facing success of such a program is apathy. Most people just don't have the time required to understand the government's process, and when many votes are cast, they are done so with little understanding of the ramifications. This is not to say that a referendum program should not be pursued -- just the opposite. It must overcome the major hurdle of a passive society. Make this exercise in participatory government enjoyable. Make it something people want to do.
In Your Ontario, Your Choice it is noted that between 1950 and 1992 there were 95 referenda in North Dakota and only three in Wyoming, suggesting that the threshold amounts of 2% for North Dakota and 15% for Wyoming might be the reason for the difference. Having only this information, I humbly suggest that Wyoming failed, not North Dakota. North Dakota's 25 referenda over 42 years are merely two per year and three in leap years. Surely we can come up with a program where two referenda per year are not an onerous task, especially if done using telephones.
On the issue of who should decide whether a referendum be held, I am of the mind that a committee of citizens and MPPs could be charged with this responsibility. The committee could work with non-voting, on the committee, civil servants to ensure legitimacy of the question etc.
It has been my experience that the more you involve the government in something, the more complicated it becomes. I point your attention to a matter near and dear to my heart: property tax reform. As you all know, there is great debate going on about MVA, AVA, UA, UVA and so many other systems that are available, and which system is better. To that end, the assistant Deputy Minister of Finance wrote in an newsletter, the Grapevine, on May 16 comparing the two systems. A quick review by someone who knows the nuances between MVA and AVA will illustrate who's really running the process: It's the bureaucrats. Please try to keep them out, as much as possible, of the referendum program.
Just to illustrate this point further, yesterday my partner and I paid the Ministry of Finance $63.25 for seven pages of information we needed to appeal a client's assessment. No wonder people feel disfranchised from the process. I don't expect to get the information for nothing, but it was he and I who ended up paying for incompetence.
Having referenda in conjunction with elections may not be advisable because of the confusion that might entail, although there might be significant savings if a traditional ballot is utilized. I believe elections are onerous, and a referendum program need not be. Having them placed on a tax return would not be advisable either because negative votes would likely prevail. Let me assure you that I'm not in a good mood on April 30. Perhaps holding a referendum on the week leading up to July 1 might not be a bad idea. Let's also use technology to its widest and most accessible means.
Voter eligibility was also an issue. The eligibility for municipal elections is facilitated through the Ministry of Finance's Oasys, Ontario assessment system, database. It contains almost 120 fields of information. I am sure, with the property assessment issue under rejuvenation, that adding one logical field to this database indicating eligibility would not be difficult, thereby substantially reducing that cost.
If fund-raising is going to be a factor in referenda, don't allow contributions to be tax deductible. That is one of the problems we now have with political contributions. It ends up allowing political parties to actually dip into public coffers, not something I find very tasteful.
The current government has undertaken, without the mandate, the implementation of actual value assessment, an assessment system with the promise of increased bureaucratic cost and erratic, volatile evaluations. Compared with other systems used around the world, it would appear to be something against the wishes of many. What better issue to use as the first referendum? Page 4 of Your Ontario, Your Choice states, "[F]or many years Mike Harris has said that certain questions of public policy -- such as those related to constitutional amendments, the expansion of casino gambling in the province, and new provincial taxes -- are so fundamental that they should be decided using referenda." I agree with this and I need not remind you that the new municipal or property taxes proposed are actually provincial taxes, a massive, unmandated change which to date has only received cabinet approval.
In conclusion, you have a great opportunity ahead of you which has the potential to bring the government back to the people, which will not be easy but which, if seized with the good intentions of referenda in mind, can only lead to a better democratic system, a system we all cherish.
Mr Hastings: Mr Hogg, thanks for your presentation. I'd like to focus on how you would handle the issue of property tax reform in a referendum question. Would you see the question posed as a negative question or a positive question? I take it, from your remarks, that you're not in favour of either market value assessment or actual value assessment. If that's so, what kind of method of assessment reform would you see posited in the question in order to achieve the broad-based public policy goals of equity, fairness, uniformity, consistency, that sort of stuff?
Mr Hogg: That's a tough question to ask and to have answered in a referendum. However, I would not see it as a negative; I would try to turn it into a positive, possibly something to the extent of, "Are you in favour of value-based assessment systems, which require constant updating and constant review and constant inspection processes, or are you in favour of a size-based system, one which in reality, once completed, doesn't have to be done on a continuous basis?"
Mr Hastings: You see that actual value assessment has a value-based component.
Mr Hogg: There's absolutely no question; "actual value" is right in the name.
Mr Hastings: Do I take it then that you're not totally turned off by actual value assessment as a methodology?
Mr Hogg: No, that's incorrect. I am totally turned off by it.
Mr Hastings: I guess I'm getting off question, then. Some people have come to us and suggested that the phraseology of a question, the way of handling a question, is to simply phrase it such as, "Do you support," and actually name the bill number, the title of the bill etc, if it's linked to taxation issues or to constitutional issues, so that it's very clearly, narrowly focused on that subject matter and not the number of kitchen sinks we had in the 1992 constitutional question that was posed in that federal referendum.
Mr Hogg: The problem with that in my view would be that there are a number of issues that -- I'm going back to the Quebec issue. Maybe I shouldn't, but I will anyway. That was that type of question, where it then requires the voter to go out and spend the better part of a day reading some bill and trying to understand the legalese behind it and trying to actually take the time and the energy to find out what the actual bill is. If you could avoid that, that would be a better process, in my opinion, because most people just won't take the time.
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): I'm starting to conclude, and I'd like your response to this, that there has to be some solemnity involved in a referendum in the sense that it has to be treated as a serious decision that has to be made by the citizen. The citizen has an obligation. Not every citizen treats this obligation seriously, but at least there should be an implied obligation to educate oneself, just as one should try to educate oneself prior to a general election.
Mr Hogg: Exactly.
Mr Clement: And the solemnity of the occasion should be via not just a kind of public opinion -- we don't want to get into a public opinion survey kind of approach to this; we want it to be treated seriously. Part of what we're hearing from people at this committee is you don't have a referendum at the drop of a hat; you don't have a referendum every day as part of answering your voice mail messages. It is a solemn occasion. Am I barking up the right tree here?
Mr Hogg: Yes.
Mr Clement: So that's how you see it as well.
Mr Hogg: Yes, but I don't think it should be reserved as during elections or once every five years or something of that nature. Not today, not with the technology that's available. I don't think that's necessary.
Mr Clement: We can use technology, but it should still be seen as a serious enterprise rather than, "What's your horoscope and how do you feel about this?"
Mr Hogg: Indeed.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): I just wanted to know, would you limit the issues under a referendum? In other words, would you establish parameters? Would you say, "Okay, we'll have referendums only on the Constitution, only on taxes," or would you open the gate to everything?
Mr Hogg: I saw that question. I think it was the first question of the replies in the report. I would rather see it restricted than the other way around, like "not on certain matters" rather than "only on these matters."
Mr Morin: Who would pay for the referendums and who would administer the referendums?
Mr Hogg: The cost I heard just a moment ago was $40 million for each referendum. I would suggest that this cost, with the use of technology and as things progress, could be substantially reduced.
Mr Wildman: They said down to $28 million; it could be a bit lower than $28 million.
Mr Morin: Who would pay for it, the government? Or would it be interest groups; for instance, if it's a question of tax, the Canadian tax coalition or the Canadian tax association? Would it be them who would pay for it?
Mr Hogg: The end beneficiary of this would be the people, so I would presume, in my opinion --
Mr Morin: The government.
Mr Hogg: The government would have to do it, but it could not be something of a light matter.
Mr Morin: I think my colleague Mr Hastings raised a question: Who would prepare the question? Who would decide that it is the right question to be asked, that there is no problem to understand what the issue is? And how would you inform the people about the issue?
Mr Hogg: That again was one of the questions in the paper. I made some notes beside that. I thought a committee of MPPs and citizens could be composed and then, utilizing the services of the civil servants, we could make sure the questions are properly posed and they would go to the people from that point.
Mr Morin: I think it was Mr Beaubien also who mentioned that it's the type of issue really that sometimes transcends politics. Would you see the question prepared by the three parties? Let's take this committee. If a vote was to be taken, the Conservatives would win; they have the majority. How would you arrange it, how could it be discussed, without politics being involved? Do you understand what I'm saying? How would you arrange it in such a way that the three parties get together? We have to establish a system that is not only beneficial for today, but 50 years from now. Governments are never there on a permanent basis. They change. So it's got to be prepared in such a way that it is not used as a political tool. That's the issue, that is the problem, that is the concern that I have.
Mr Hogg: We out in Halton, back in 1993, I believe it was, started the Halton Citizens' Committee on Property Tax Reform -- not the Oakville citizens' committee -- and that was comprised of three citizens from each of the four municipalities in the region and one councillor from each of the municipalities, without a vote. The councillors did not have a vote; it was only the citizens who were able to vote on resolutions out of the committee. So possibly that could be a way to do it. I might add that you would have no need to hire consultants. I'm sure there are a number of people who would like to belong to a committee such as that, so it would be on a volunteer basis.
Mr Bartolucci: Just a short question. There is no right or wrong answer to this, John; I want to assure you of that. After sitting here for three days, there's such a divergence in thinking about what should be on a referendum etc. In your estimation, what should the threshold be?
Mr Hogg: I've been involved in collecting names on a petition, and that is not an easy task. It requires a lot of hard work or else a very highly motivated executive-type committee that can designate work to other volunteers.
As I mentioned in my presentation, either North Dakota or Wyoming had 2%, one had 15%, and one utilized the system much more than the other. I don't think 2% is unreasonable. We've been able to do that on petitions. It does require a lot of work, so each of the initiating groups would have to do a lot of work just to get the 2%. They'd have to be very motivated to get that completed.
Mr Bartolucci: Do you feel this 2% should be reflective of the geographical locations within the province? Is it important that on any issue, people from northern Ontario have an opportunity to sign the petition, or should it be localized? If it's a southern Ontario "initiative," should it be localized to southern Ontario?
Mr Hogg: Maybe that's where we should get some guidance from the Who Does What committee, because if it becomes an issue that is localized, then possibly it should go to the municipal government. Those are the people who should have the ability to change the system if it's a local issue. If it's a province-wide system, then obviously it would require provincial sanction from right across the province, no matter where you live. I go back to my own dear subject of property tax reform and I look at what's happening in the GTA because of the Golden task force and its recommendations, and then I try to relate to how that's going to affect some moose pasture up in wherever. That's a difficult system to say one system fits all. It's not one system fits all.
Mr Bartolucci: I'm sure you were talking about the moose pastures in Oakville as opposed to the moose pastures in Thessalon.
Mr Hogg: Indeed I am.
Mr Bartolucci: Yeah, right.
Mr Wildman: Thank you. I represent an area that has a lot of moose pastures, so I would like to pursue this, along with the question Mr Hastings raised.
Mr Bartolucci raises a very interesting point. He and I come from part of the province that covers, if you talk about the whole of northern Ontario, 80% of the land mass of this province and only has about 9% of the population. We have a very large percentage of the resources of this province in our part of the province. There is a feeling among some of us when we look at this issue -- we become even more worried than we often or perhaps always are about the fact that those of us who live in northern Ontario might be swamped by opinion in southern Ontario with which we might not necessarily agree. One of the characteristics of democratic government is majority rule. Another is protection of the rights of the minority.
I'll use an example. I won't talk about moose; I'll talk about bear. In British Columbia there's an attempt under their legislation right now by an organization that is opposed to bear hunting. I would posit the view that the group is probably an urban group. I don't know that; I'm just guessing. One of the things they have to do in British Columbia is get the percentage -- it's a high percentage -- from each riding in the province, not just the total number. So they couldn't get almost all of them from Burnaby and Vancouver; they have to go into the interior and into the north and up along the coast, I guess. They have to, because they have to get into every constituency.
Obviously I think the people in Vancouver do have a right to have a say about whether or not there should be bear hunting, but I also think that such a decision is probably going to affect more directly the people who live in the more rural and northern parts of that province, since that's where the bears are. So it seems to me that if you're going to have a situation that requires a certain threshold percentage of the population or the electorate to initiate a petition, there must be some provision to ensure that rural areas and northern areas must also be canvassed and have names, signatures, before the process can proceed, or inevitably Metropolitan Toronto and Ottawa-Carleton, for instance, would dominate.
Mr Hogg: I guess the question becomes, who is issuing the licence for the bear hunting in BC? Is it the province of BC or is it the municipality or the county?
Mr Wildman: The province.
Mr Hogg: It's the province. Should they be?
Mr Wildman: I think that does not answer my question.
Mr Hogg: I think it does, because that issue in the referendum then becomes a localized issue of bear-hunting in northern BC.
Mr Wildman: But conversely, you're denying the people in Vancouver and Burnaby the right to express an opinion on what is a provincial matter. It's not just a local matter; it's both. It's provincial and local.
Mr Hogg: That's true, but it's more of a local issue. It's going to impact the people in the rural areas more than it would in the urban areas, and obviously the wildlife and the natural resources are of concern to all of us, not just those in the rural areas. That's a difficult question to answer.
Mr Wildman: I think the same applies when you look at questions related to taxes. Obviously, taxes affect taxpayers. But also tax policy affects all citizens, even if they don't pay taxes, because what happens in terms of how much revenue and how it's expended affects everybody.
Mr Hogg: That's right.
Mr Wildman: You indicated that you felt new taxes should be subject to referenda, and you welcomed the fact, I think, that the Premier has indicated that.
Mr Hogg: Yes.
Mr Wildman: When you say "new taxes," by that do you mean increases in taxation that we already have or new types of taxes?
Mr Hogg: I certainly think new types of taxes. If you go from a system of market value assessment to AVA, it certainly needs to be a referendum issue. There's no question about that.
Mr Wildman: But you wouldn't then include increases to provincial income taxes or sales taxes?
Mr Hogg: I think it depends what those increases are doing and how they're being addressed. If it's to assume more debt without a plan for repayment within a very short period of time, then I would certainly --
Mr Wildman: Perhaps if you don't raise the taxes, you will assume more debt.
Mr Hogg: Then if you don't raise the taxes, you will assume more debt and that will cause a problem, yes, and I think that has to be addressed as well.
Mr Wildman: Would you consider user fees to be taxes?
Mr Hogg: Of course I would.
Mr Wildman: So new user fees such as the fee for drugs for the elderly should be subject to referendum?
Mr Hogg: I believe that would be an issue that should have gone to referendum, yes.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Hogg.
That concludes our hearings for this morning, and we will now recess the committee until 3 o'clock. There have been a couple of cancellations to your schedule, so at 3 o'clock we resume in this room.
Tomorrow, though, we have an earlier start than we had initially scheduled. We're going to be starting at 9:30 in the morning and then again at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, due to two additional witnesses that have now been confirmed.
The committee recessed from 1202 to 1503.
The Vice-Chair (Mr John Hastings): I'd like to bring the session of the Legislative Assembly committee to order. We have a number of important people who want to make their views known on the referenda consultation paper. The first deputant up is Mr Greg Vezina. Welcome, sir. Thank you for the book.
Mr Greg Vezina: Good afternoon, Mr Chairman, committee members, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to very briefly read my submission. I'll go fast and then I'd like, quite frankly, to take questions. I really strongly recommend that you thumb through a couple of chapters in this book which you might find rather interesting.
As part of our submission -- both me and my co-author, John Deverell -- we've provided the committee with this book. We wrote it in 1993 as a guide to voter action. If you'll turn it over, you'll notice there's a quote on the back from a guy named Mike Harris, who at the time was leader of the Conservative Party, the third party.
Mr Chris Stockwell (Etobicoke West): I knew him then.
Mr Vezina: Some of you people may know him. His quote was, "Essential reading for anyone who believes that governments no longer serve those the people who elect them." In chapters 1 and 2, we were quite critical of the political culture we've developed in Canada where politicians, by and large, don't keep promises. So this book was written before the man named Harris actually formed a government. He sort of laid waste to our theory that politicians don't keep promises; however, he's one of a select few.
I talked to my publisher today, and the publisher and we as authors have granted the committee the right to republish this book in whole or in part or in any form you wish. It really wasn't on the reading list. That's fine, that happens, but it's one of the only books that's been written by a Canadian about our system besides Patrick Boyer's works.
We support both referendum and plebiscite, and we say it depends on the circumstances and the thresholds. We support the idea that both governments and citizens can initiate them. We do not support recall in any form because we believe that recall will be used by political parties to try and bring down governments and not to keep members accountable.
A good example of that would be that if we had that legislation federally, the Reform Party would have spent the last three years trying to find two BQ members to knock off for no reason other than so they could become the official opposition. We don't think a political system that replaces an MP who in many ways is not accountable to anybody but the party whip with another one who's not accountable to anyone but the party whip is worth even considering. I'd be interested in taking questions on that.
We dealt extensively in the book with the constitutional and the legal implications, including minority rights, which in the index you'll find took one half-paragraph. You'll find our conclusions on protecting minorities rather interesting.
We also dealt with the issue of delegation of power and the constitutional issues that other authors and presenters are more concerned about than we are because we don't believe that any court in this land will deny the citizens the right to make laws and govern themselves. The Canadian Constitution, unlike the American Constitution, has a "notwithstanding" clause. In the American Constitution the rights are clear and if you violate them you're out. In Canada, you can violate all the rights you want as long as it's prescribed by law and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. We don't think any judge would prevent the people from making laws and call that undemonstrably justified.
We propose in our book a regime where you have initial sponsors to a petition or a referendum. There's a possibility of withdrawing it because we have some concerns, as other members of this committee will and members of the public, about the abuse of the process. We do not foresee a regime, such as in Switzerland, where the public has 90 days to initiate a review or a recall of everything that's done by government. At some point, as long as we remain a representative democracy -- and I have some problems with that. I consider it a little bit of an oxymoron, like "military intelligence." But as long as we have that system, then that system in some sense should function until it ceases to function, at which point we believe the people should have the hammer.
We believe the threshold should be very low, but not so low that it's abused. On the other hand, the 10% or 15% threshold is a joke. That threshold has never been successfully used in a jurisdiction where it's been implemented in its first 20 years. In fact, there is an initiative in British Columbia right now, started by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, to try and get the hunting of bears prevented. You'll see that we have some comments about referenda such as that, because the interest of someone who lives in the mountains in BC might be different from someone who lives in Victoria or on Vancouver Island. We also think that any referenda or initiative must be tapered somewhat by the interests of regions.
To a lot of people, the answer to that is to make it a 10% threshold in every riding, which means you have to go to Baffin Island in 90 days in the middle of winter to get enough signatures. It'll never happen, so we think a threshold that has a mandatory requirement in every riding guarantees failure.
I would also draw the committee's attention to the fact of what has happened to most governments that have introduced this type of legislation with strong thresholds. In British Columbia, the government was defeated soundly and the recall and the referenda were adopted at 85%. You pretend to the people to give them power at your peril, but they'll accept it and then they'll defeat you for it. That's a historical fact in this country.
We believe in regional initiatives. We also understand that with the increased use of block funding, where the federal government's going to block-fund to the provinces and then the provinces will block-fund to the municipalities, in a large sense -- and really I think that's what this initiative is all about, this discussion paper -- people perhaps should decide how to govern themselves and how to use the resources they get from their government. Let them decide whether they want to build a swimming pool or a library, as long as the minimum standards are met. We think people who are affected by decisions should be directly involved in making those decisions, obviously subject to civil rights and the charter etc.
We support the two-committees model adopted in federal legislation because there must be some -- maybe "controls" isn't the right word -- safeguards in the process. We would require broadcasters to provide time to proponents of each side, again as in the case of the federal legislation, to ensure that special interests do not have an unfair advantage. That's where you will get the most criticism of this type of legislation: that special interests abuse it. In fact, in our book our research found that only 25% of the initiatives launched by special interests succeed, but 75% of those they opposed fail.
Mr Wildman: Really?
Mr Vezina: Yes. You'll see that. It's interesting. If you look at our chapter on this, we think we've come up with some reasonable compromises.
We also propose an interesting requirement -- and I might not have said it in here the way I mean it, so let me try and say what I meant. We propose a requirement that whenever paid time is sold, an allocation equal to 50% of whatever amount is sold is given to the other side. The reason for that is to make sure that money doesn't win or that broadcasters or newspaper publishers are the only winners in the referendum process or the political process. It's no secret that even the great bastion of freedom, the United States, which is now without legislation, got the major networks to give half-hour blocks to the political parties because even the Americans realize that money has totally corrupted the political process down there.
Our Supreme Court has confirmed the validity of our legislation that puts limits -- spending limits, time limits etc -- and we support that, but we also support an initiative where advocacy belongs to both sides. You'll notice that even in the great United States the US Supreme Court found that the fairness doctrine on broadcasters, that made them provide time to opposing views on matters of public concern, was constitutional. The fact that Ronald Reagan and George Bush got together with a few broadcasters and punted the legislation is a different issue, but it was constitutional.
We strongly support the creation of a permanent voters list with a guarantee of confidentiality and we think it should be a joint project between federal, provincial and municipal governments. We also think there should be severe penalties for abusing it, as there are with abusing the voters list in federal elections, including prison. To be honest, if you rely on the ethics of the Canadian Direct Marketing Association to protect the consumers' privacy, I think you might have a bit of a problem with that. Not that they're unkind people, but it's their business to sell and trade information, and I don't think that point of view should make the rules. I think the public interest should prevail.
We strongly support equality and the notion of one person, one vote. You will hear criticism that "There are five million people in the GTA, and half the population of the province in southern and central Ontario, and why should their opinion overrule the rest of the province?" However, in a democracy, as long as you don't have the tyranny of the majority, which we deal with in the book, the people govern, the majority rules.
I'm going to make a comment about the Ontario Commission on Election Finances. Actually, Warren Bailie is here. He corrected me on a point, and I thank you for that, Warren. We do not support the Commission on Election Finances being involved in the procedures of this under its present mandate, structure or accountability, because this commission is biased from its very inception and constituents all the way up. Only parties in the Legislature appoint members of the commission. A clear majority, 66% of the members of the commission, are political appointees. No representatives from any other registered party are allowed either to appear, to listen in or to be involved in any of the process. The committee makes all of its decisions in camera, in private, with absolutely no public scrutiny or accountability. It is the only election commission in the free world besides Russia that operates that way.
Mr Stockwell: Thanks for pointing that out.
Mr Vezina: It's a wonderful little process that takes care of your own. We think we should take care of the public interest first and then we'll worry about taking care of our own.
Up until Premier Harris went into office, the bencher of the law society, who the law said had to be appointed, had not been on that commission for over four years. Since the law said the bencher from the law society had to be on the commission, this government decided to obey the law and put him there. But Mr Bailie can confirm that no representative has been there. Besides the chief electoral officer and the executive director of the commission, there are no other persons on the commission who are not political appointees. We think maybe you should put some public appointees in there, not political party appointees. But there will be some disagreement on that.
We will support -- and in fact there are things in the works right now that have been in the works for several years on this area -- any challenge, legal, constitutional or otherwise, to the commission being involved under its present structure, because it's not open, it's not transparent and it's not democratic.
We also support something else that the Premier supported, and that's the use of political tax credits for the referendum process. It's interesting that in federal referenda what people did was contribute to the parties, got a tax credit, and then the parties gave money to the Yes and No committees. It wasn't an open and transparent exercise. We think if a political tax credit exists for political parties and we implement referendum legislation, then it should be used to be able to support the Yes and the No committees.
What we don't support is the thing that the Premier himself introduced in a private member's bill in 1989, that political tax credits are only payable against people who have tax otherwise payable, unlike in the Municipal Act, where if you're not a property owner and you contribute $100, you get your $75 back; if you're a property owner, you get it off your tax. But under our provincial legislation and the federal legislation, if you are a business or you are taxable and you contribute $100 to a party, you get your $75, but if you're 78% of women, 90% of the disabled, virtually 100% of the poor, you do not get a tax credit.
If we had a law in this province that said that only white males get welfare, it would be unconstitutional. What we did instead was pass a law that says that only rich white males get tax credits for political contributions. We were very careful in this province not to phrase it that way, but the Premier himself introduced a private member's bill in 1989 admonishing the absolute unfairness of the process. Unfortunately, he hasn't yet introduced amending legislation.
We are aware of two cases before the federal tax court over this issue right now, and quite frankly, if there aren't amendments to the legislation introduced by the politicians, we expect the court in its ruling, which is on reserve right now, to write the legislation for you.
We also, quite frankly, are aware of a challenge that's gone to the United Nations human rights committee over a number of these issues. I know the mandate of this committee is not to look at political fairness, but if you're going to look at referenda law and some changes to be more democratic and true, then maybe we've got to make sure that some of the other rules are looked at too.
So there's stuff before the UN on this. There's stuff before the federal courts of Canada. There have already been a number of decisions in some of these areas where legislation has been ruled unconstitutional, for example, third-party advertising restrictions in the case of national citizens' coalitions during elections, which you would have to consider with any bill limiting the spending of third-party groups during a referendum.
The 15% subsidy rule, requiring you to get 15% of the vote in any riding to get a subsidy, has been ruled unconstitutional. Although none of the parties in the Legislature have really faced that in the last couple of decades -- a large number of your candidates get the subsidy -- a number of the federal NDP candidates and actually over half of the federal Conservative candidates in the last federal election got a real education. The federal Conservative Party lost $6 million in funding on rules that they rigged, and I do believe in God.
We, I, Mr Deverell and those of us that call ourselves small-d democrats, who are more democrats than we are partisans, will continue to fight for fairness in the electoral system, in the political system and in the governance of this province and this country.
I would be pleased to answer your questions. I'd be pleased to engage in a research project. I'd be pleased to do whatever you ask me to do to help you advance this process. Quite frankly, I must say I admire this government and this committee for this initiative. Well done.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Vezina. If there are questions, we'll start with the Liberal caucus.
Mr Bartolucci: Thanks very much, Mr Vezina. A few questions, and honestly they're questions that have been repetitive all week. I guess we're just asking for opinions here. Is there a best time to hold a referendum? Should it be held in conjunction with a provincial election or a municipal election or should it not be held? What type of format should the referendum take? What issues should it deal with? Five questions that have been pretty commonly asked by all committee members; maybe you can share your insights on that.
Mr Vezina: Okay. We, in our book, proposed some type of regime for annual referendums. I am aware of the predisposition to do them concurrent with municipal elections -- I think that's workable -- or concurrent with a federal election. I do not support them being done concurrently with a provincial election. I don't want to sound smart here, but just ask your friends in BC what happens when you try to do something like this in a provincial election. The referendum wins and the government is gone. If you're going to have a referendum, have a referendum; don't confuse a provincial referendum and a provincial election.
Mr Wildman: Then why federal?
Mr Vezina: Because the issues are different, the delegation of power. You can't have a provincial referendum on a federal issue, but you could hold it at the same time as a federal election.
Mr Stockwell: Mr Wildman is way out of order, by the way.
Mr Wildman: It was a supplementary.
Mr Vezina: Am I ever glad I didn't win my seat, boy.
Mr Stockwell: You think you're glad.
Mr Vezina: Yes, I know, you guys were really glad. I'd be in cabinet with you, Stockwell.
Anyway, the bottom line is that we think four years or three years is too long to go. There are major issues that should be resolved in less time than that, and they won't be. What issues? Anything within the constitutional power or jurisdiction of the provinces, but filtered, protected, saved against violating the charter, taking away rights of minorities etc. If the public wants to initiate balanced-budget legislation, let them. Quite frankly, and there are a lot of people who won't like to hear this, if the public wants to decide whether to have hospitals or separate school funding, let them. That's what we believe.
Was there anything else that you asked me that I didn't answer?
Mr Bartolucci: No, you answered it quite well, thanks. You made the statement that advocacy belongs to both sides. I agree 100%. Should that advocacy be equal when it comes to financial assistance?
Mr Vezina: No.
Mr Bartolucci: No?
Mr Vezina: No. We live in a society where sometimes when you work hard and make a few bucks, you're allowed to win. I don't think we should then say, "You lose." We went with the half-measure philosophy: If I want to go out and get 1,000 people or 10,000 people to contribute to the cause I want to support and propagate my idea, I shouldn't have to raise just as much money automatically for the other side. But on the other hand, I don't have a problem with an obligation for the opposing point of view to be partially financed out of my largess, particularly if you allow me to use the political tax credit system, which is the public's money. So then you have even, I would believe, a legal and constitutional obligation to make sure the other side is heard.
Now, broadcasters -- and I'll just take a sec -- will complain that, "We don't want to give away air time; we want to sell time to the Canadian Nuclear Association, and we don't want to sell any time to the tree huggers." Under the broadcast act, they're totally entitled to do that; the CBC is famous for that, sells all kinds of commercials to the lumber companies, but if you want to say, "Don't chop trees," man, you've got to blow up a building to get in the place. So there's a check and balance.
With respect to a referendum, those rules shouldn't apply. I would support -- Dougie Bassett, listen to this -- a regime that paid broadcasters maybe the cost, not a profit but the cost, of that supplemental time. Don't let them make money on it -- because I believe in free enterprise still, this week -- but don't take the money out of the broadcaster's pocket either. Broadcasters have an obligation to act in the public interest, but they don't have an obligation to go bankrupt because of a referendum.
Mr Bartolucci: One final question: Should there be such a thing as mandatory referendums, and how would you define a mandatory referendum? I still haven't been able, after three days, to clearly define what is meant by a mandatory referendum.
Mr Vezina: Quite frankly, I've written a book on this, and I don't know what you're talking about. The only mandatory referendum, to me, is one that's initiated by the people, okay? A government referendum is not mandatory. Governments change. So a mandatory referendum is something that has sufficient signatures. You'll notice in our model we suggest that you don't go get all your signatures first; you go get 200 sponsors for the bill. Then it goes to the Attorney General. Then, if the government of the day introduces legislation close enough or buys off or pieces off or compromises 100 of the original signatories, the referendum is gone for a year, or for the term, so that politicians -- and politicians will be surprised I'll say this -- have the right at the end of the day to be brokerage politicians, to broker a compromise, to broker a deal. So the only mandatory one is where it's been approved, it's got its original 200 sponsors, it goes and gets its 3%, 4% or 5%; that's mandatory, and no politician can change it.
With respect to the constitutionality, the bill, the legislation, will require the Legislature, if an affirmative resolution is passed, to introduce the legislation and will require the Lieutenant Governor to give it royal assent. If they fail to do so, the House would be prorogued, the Lieutenant Governor is gone and we get an election. That's the way to get around the constitutionality boys, because no government is going to give up office, ignore the people and go to a vote and go to an election on the issue that, "We're not doing what the people voted on in a referendum."
Mr Bartolucci: Thank you very much for your insights; I appreciate it.
Mr Wildman: I've never had the pleasure of meeting you, but I know John Deverell so I'll be interested in reading your book.
I want to ask a couple of questions that your comments raise in my mind. One of the arguments that has been posited in favour of referenda as a tool for democracy is that it is a form of direct democracy, it brings power back to the people. In the discussion paper presented, it is suggested by the Premier, or his office, whoever wrote the paper, that special interest groups -- and I'm paraphrasing here; I'm not using the exact words -- have somehow subverted the democratic system by influence or lobbying and getting their points of view put forward and made into policy and into legislation.
You said in your presentation, if I heard you correctly, that there must be safeguards in a referendum law to prevent "special interest groups" from doing exactly that to direct democracy.
Mr Vezina: Absolutely.
Mr Wildman: We've had some testimony before the committee about California, where referenda are used quite often, that there are actual firms there --
Mr Vezina: Yes, they're signature companies.
Mr Wildman: -- that for $1 a signature will get you the number of signatures you require and ensure that they are valid, that the people are voters and that they live in the areas where they're supposed to and so on. In a sense, then, all that says to me -- and I guess you're speaking to that -- is that "special interest groups" will adapt to whatever the regime is and will ensure that they get their position put forward in whichever way they can. You indicated that 75% of the questions they oppose they've been able to stop --
Mr Vezina: Or win, yes.
Mr Wildman: -- whereas only 25% of the ones in which they were proponents they were able to win.
I have one other question after this, but this I think is crucial. It's been suggested that the way we avoid this is by having a regulation as part of the referendum law that prevents the purchase of signatures. In other words, all of the work would have to be done by volunteers and we would not be able to have professional organizers become involved, as they are obviously involved for political parties in election campaigns. How do you respond to that?
Mr Vezina: Sorry, but I disagree. I think you can handle this by process. I wish we had more time, but in the book we dealt with this extensively. If it is transparent, if the referendum commissioner has to publish the names of all the organizations that are spending money and getting signatures, what you do is you make the process so transparent, so open and public, that you don't have the back door, background abuses. It's not as easy to do it in the system we designed.
The other thing you're allowed to do under the system we designed is if the Canadian nuclear industry has a bill they want to get passed or something they want to defeat, we would allow another group to initiate a similar referendum on maybe a similar subject matter --
Mr Wildman: A counterquestion.
Mr Vezina: -- a counterquestion, and if that question prevails in terms of percentage of the popular vote, the lobbyist lost it anyway.
Mr Wildman: I want to assure you that I'm attempting to look at this from both sides.
Mr Vezina: It's hard to do, by the way.
Mr Wildman: There are times when even in partisan politics we can do that. Obviously, what defines democracy is majority rule, but what also defines democracy is protection of the minority.
Mr Vezina: Absolutely.
Mr Wildman: There has been the suggestion that the protection for minorities in our system is in the fact that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is entrenched in the Constitution.
Mr Vezina: That's it.
Mr Wildman: It was suggested by representatives of the Catholic teachers yesterday -- they acknowledged that was the case, but it was suggested by them that while they might be able to have the courts test a matter and declare it ultra vires if it went against the charter, the very process of the campaign around a referendum would be divisive and detrimental to the interests of the minority, and that rectifying the situation subsequently in the courts would deal with the legal matter but there would be societal ramifications which would be unfortunate and wrong just by having a campaign against whatever it might be, whether francophone rights or Catholic schools or whatever.
Mr Vezina: We tried again to deal with that by saying that before a referendum is approved, it has to go to the Attorney General and has to be vetted before the fight starts. Any other suggestion would be akin to saying you don't have the right to disagree because it'll make things uncomfortable. I'm sorry, democracy may be messy at times and I'm not real happy with the system we've got at times, but anything else doesn't work. So it may be uncomfortable for certain groups. In fact, let's take a second and deal with separate school funding.
The introduction of separate school funding was not done through the will of the people. You had two political parties in this province that supported it for decades and couldn't get elected. You had one party that opposed it and got re-elected and re-elected and re-elected. It's interesting that after 42 years, within months of changing the policy and changing leaders, that party was defeated. That was a case, to be honest, where the will of the minority there in some sense superseded the will of the majority.
I want to take a second and deal with this, because I'm a Catholic. I left the Catholic system and I campaigned against separate school funding. I left the Conservative Party over it. I put my kids in public school and I have a daughter four and a son five and they're one year apart, but one's born in December and one in January, so my little girl already started school two years after my little boy. In Peel region they cancelled separate school funding; my little girl gets to go to school three full calendar years after her brother who is one year and one day, basically, older. Now you let me vote whether I want separate school funding or junior K. Watch how I'll vote.
I understand that in a democracy using the referendum and letting the people have a say, people are going to say some things that people don't like, but children getting educated as opposed to children getting a religious education, that's a question I think a lot of Ontarians would like to answer.
Mr Wildman: I really ask this with all sincerity and I don't mean to offend anyone, but there is in political theory the view that even the Nazi system was majority rule, that even though you had a minority in charge running things, that minority could not stay in power without at least the acquiescence of the majority. We've seen, when the majority no longer acquiesces, what happens to the Communist system, for instance, when the system collapses because the majority will not support it. You would have there surely the tyranny of a minority party, but at least the acquiescence of a majority in abrogating significant minority rights and that's more than uncomfortable, I would suggest.
Mr Vezina: I would respectfully suggest to the honourable member that it's a moot point, that the Supreme Court is going to decide in the case of Newfoundland and will decide in the case of Quebec that religious schools are gone. The sole defence of this regime was the constitutional argument, and if the constitutional basis of the rights is gone, then we've got a different picture. But I shall say again, as I said in the book, that this is a matter for the Attorney General and the courts to decide before we get to vote on it, before the rhetoric happens. I agree with your point. The purpose of referendums is not to injure or harm people; it's to help people. But sometimes, as the Premier so wantingly has said, tough love has to be done.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): Thank you, Mr Vezina. You've been providing a very energetic presentation today and I want to thank you for the book. It looks like it's quite well-laid-out and I look forward to reading it. I had a chance to look at the very brief section on recall, I've heard your comments on it. I'm quite surprised, given your views on referendums, that you wouldn't be more sympathetic to the issue of recall, particularly since it seems to me that you don't have a lot of sympathy for the prevailing political parties.
It's been argued by other presenters that referendums and recall might weaken the grasp that the party whips have on members. From my perspective and from the perspective of the people who sent me here, anything that would weaken the party hold on the individual member would be welcomed by the public. I know from the results in British Columbia that the idea of recalling a member is very popular among citizens. So I'd like a further explanation from you on why you don't think the method of recall is one we should be pursuing.
Mr Vezina: Because the day that -- and I'm sorry; I don't know you -- Jim Brown got elected, he got elected with, was it 37? What was your percentage of the vote, if I may ask?
Mr Jim Brown (Scarborough West): It was 46%.
Mr Vezina: Oh, Jeez, you're a bad example. Good for you. That much? You see, I ran in Scarborough-Ellesmere, and wow.
Okay. The day a member gets elected at 37% of the vote, he's recalled; 62% of the people didn't vote for him. People who know me know I've been at this game a while. I know what I'd do if I had recall. I'd use it to absolutely ruin and terrorize and grind the party system and the legislative system to a halt. You'd have members coming in and out the door every two weeks. I'd initiate a recall on every single member who didn't get 60% of the vote in his riding, and when a government won a two-seat majority, it would take me 20 minutes to go after two members.
All that recall does is displace. The reason for recall is to make your members accountable, who are, quite frankly and in all honesty, under the British parliamentary system accountable to no one but the leader. The leader in a province, the Premier with a majority, or the federal government with a majority in Canada, has more power than the former general secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. It is absolute power.
There's a quote in here from Brian Mulroney which I'll paraphrase, and this is my point. Brian Mulroney said, and one of the things he said I agreed with, and I'll try to do an André-Philippe Gagnon and speak like Big Brian: "There are only two headlines I ever really liked. The first one said, `Brian Mulroney Wins Big Majority.' The second one said, `Brian Mulroney Wins Another Big Majority.' Because you know what? All the other stuff doesn't matter," like governing and policy and everything else.
If you're going to give people direct democracy, give them a hammer. If you won't do what they want you to do, why should they throw you out to get someone else they might have to throw out to get what they want to do? Let the political system be the political system, but don't put Dalton Camp and campaign as in his elections, and all these American companies that are in business ruining political parties and ruining constituencies, don't put them in business in Canada, recalling members for nothing more than partisan reasons that have nothing to do with the public interest.
You want to play politics, play politics. When you fail, give the people the sledgehammer and then when they try to use it on you, and I said this in the book, find a way to take it away from them. Then if you don't compromise, then let them use it. It's my belief.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Vezina, for your very passionate views on the referenda paper.
The Vice-Chair: We're going to go to our next deputant and we're going to use teleconferencing. The way we're going to do it, members of the committee, is that we're going to have Duff Conacher from Ottawa submitting his views on the referenda consultation paper. He has 30 minutes in which to make his views known and for questions. When we get to the point where you ask a question, please identify yourself. We are now going to Ottawa to hear Mr Duff Conacher. Go ahead, Mr Conacher.
Mr Duff Conacher: Thank you very much for the invitation to testify. I hope you can all hear me fine.
My name is Duff Conacher. I am the co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, which is an Ottawa-based citizen advocacy group. We focus on issues of democratic reform, government and corporate accountability and citizen participation in government in Canada.
I will make brief remarks because I think it will be more useful to engage in a dialogue with you on the paper. My remarks will just talk generally about the work we have done on this issue and general recommendations.
The work we have done is mainly in the form of a paper, which I will submit to the committee, which was published in the University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review in 1991. It's called "Power to the People: Initiative, Referendum, Recall, and the Possibility of Popular Sovereignty in Canada." It sets out 88 recommendations for an initiative, referendum, and recall system in Canada. I obviously won't go through all 88 recommendations right now because I only have 15 minutes, but I will submit this paper along with specific comments aimed at answering the questions that are set out on pages 41 to 43 of the discussion paper that has been released.
Generally, we are pleased to see the discussion paper and the openness in the discussion paper, specifically on some issues which have consistently been raised in many jurisdictions to prevent the implementation of initiative and referenda and recall systems. One of those is that the paper recognizes there is a cost to democracy and that cost can be easily quantified -- as it mentions, the Charlottetown referendum cost $100 million -- whereas the benefits to democratic processes often can't be quantified because they are benefits in terms of the legitimacy of the government, the legitimacy of the government decision-making process and the feeling of enfranchisement by the voters.
These are social benefits you can't often easily put a dollar figure to, but that's why we are pleased to see that the discussion paper recognizes these benefits do exist, even if they can't be quantified in dollar terms.
The paper also recognizes the conflicting roles of MPs and how that underlies any initiative, referendum and recall system and the importance of legitimacy of decision-making. We are happy to see that issue recognized and would also like to raise a related issue, which is the problems with our electoral system which most often result in a government being elected that holds a majority of the seats, even if the governing party has not won a majority of the popular vote.
We would call on the government to also examine our electoral system within the context of looking at initiative and referendum, because there are means that are at work in many jurisdictions which allow the popular vote to be much more directly and accurately reflected in the Legislature, or federally in Parliament, which we feel would go a long way towards helping people feel that their votes count when they cast their ballots at election time and also that their vote is reflected in the Parliament and that the Parliament is therefore more legitimate because it would reflect the diverse views of the voters, as opposed to our current system, which usually ignores the votes of the majority of the populace.
In the section concerning the history of referenda and aspects of referendum laws, there is mention of the British Columbia initiative and referenda system and it is mentioned that no referenda have been initiated in BC. There's a very clear reason for this, which is that the BC system, some would argue, is not even a democratic reform because it requires 10% of voters in every single riding in the province to be signed up on a petition before the petition can be initiated. That has set up a very high barrier or high standard that anyone has to meet to even get a question on the ballot, at which time then all the voters in the province would be able to vote on the initiative.
In moving into the questions on implementation, I think the issues have been identified very well: the scope, the initiation, defining the issues, voter awareness, deciding the outcome, issues of referendum operations and other rules, other parts of referendum operations. This is exactly the same framework I used in my paper in 1991 and ended up trying to deal with all these problems with 88 recommendations, which I believe simply shows -- and the discussion paper shows this as well -- that there are many questions to be answered, many decisions to be made before figuring out exactly how such a system would work.
But the BC model is one example which I think should not be followed if we're talking in the area of initiation. There should not be such a high requirement of 10% of the voters in every single riding in the province having to be signed up on the petition. That is too high a barrier simply because all that you are gaining by having the signatures on the petition in a citizen-initiated referendum is a chance to put a question on the ballot. The real decision-making begins when all the voters in the province have the chance to vote.
To have such a high barrier simply says, in my mind, that the BC government was not really interested in allowing voters to have a say, because only the very largest groups in BC will ever be able to meet that standard of putting a question on the ballot.
In most states in the US -- and the paper I did in 1991 reviewed most of the jurisdictions in the US, as well as Switzerland and Australia and their systems -- there is usually a 10% to 15% requirement in terms of initiative. What I actually set up in that paper is a five-stage process for initiative. I would like to speak mostly about initiatives because I think that's where a lot of issues are raised, as opposed to in the area of a government-initiated referendum or plebiscite.
The first stage in the process was to apply to the board, a board that would be set up independent of the government and would assist people in formulating questions and essentially making sure that the questions fit within the powers of the provincial government, addressing some of the issues raised in the discussion paper about jurisdiction. So there would be an initial check of the question by the board and there could even be a reference to the courts to determine the constitutionality of certain initiatives, but the main role of the board would be to educate people on how to use the process.
The question that had been formulated would then be submitted to the government, and then the government would be given a certain time period to decide whether it would act on this particular issue itself, in which case an initiative would not be necessary at that time. So if something was on the government's agenda, or was potentially on the government's agenda, the government could essentially accept the initiative and then formulate legislative amendments based on the initiative, thereby saving the costs of going through the whole referendum process.
The second stage of the five-stage process that I set up was to have an initial petition which would only require 0.5% of the vote or 10,000 signatures. It would have to come from more than one constituency. This initial petition would qualify the petitioner for public financing to then take the petition to a broader and higher level, which would be the third stage, which is a qualifying petition. Generally, I had different recommendations, depending on what the petition was for. If it was for a plebiscite, then there would be a lower level of signatures required than for a binding referendum. The reason for that is that a plebescite would just be advisory, so it's not going to have as great consequences as a binding referendum would have.
Moving to the fourth stage of the actual campaign, there are many rules that I suggested in the 1991 paper. I'll just list them quickly and then take your questions on them.
One was no government spending. This is to allow for the referendum to be essentially conducted as a citizen process and not allow the government to influence once side or the other. I think there are good reasons for that which have been shown in past referenda in Canada and also in the US.
Public financing: What I favoured in the 1991 paper was the Quebec system of setting up committees which would then represent the Yes and No sides in any referendum. There would be restrictions on donations by individuals, corporations, unions or other organizations to those committees; as well, disclosure of donations before the vote so that people know who has been supporting in terms of financing, in addition to the public financing that would be available, the Yes side versus the No side.
As well, in order to have voter awareness increased, I took the measure which five states in the US use which is to send out a ballot pamphlet that sets out unmediated messages from the Yes and No sides on each referendum question. Some would say, "You're going to end up with people receiving a 200-page document through their door a week before the vote." One of the recommendations I made was actually that there should be a limit on the number of questions that can be on any ballot, because I think there should be a concern about the quality of the decision-making in addition to the quantity of the decisions of those who are involved.
As well, in order to have unmediated time for the Yes and No sides, set aside free broadcasting, radio and television time -- that was part of the recommendations -- as well as a series of public forums. This would all be covered by public financing and a requirement on radio and television broadcasters to provide this time.
If there is a concern that having these Yes and No committees -- and I can see it as a concern, with the Quebec system having a Yes and a No committee that are the only ones allowed to spend in a referendum campaign. I think the reason Quebec did this is that it makes it administratively easier to audit and also hold in check and generally administer the referendum system. But there is an argument saying that anybody should be able to speak out on a referendum question on the Yes or No side.
If that is the case, if that was favoured, I believe that there still should be restrictions on that spending, and the restrictions should be based on the actual popular support of the speaker. For example, if an organization wanted to speak on a particular referendum Yes or No side, it would be restricted to spending a certain amount per member of that organization. That is to prevent one person from spending millions on one side or the other and essentially to tie the amount spent to the actual popular support that any one person or organization has. I think this should also be in place in terms of third-party spending for our election campaigns in Canada.
I would just offer one example to show the reason why I think this should be in place, which is that if just before an election campaign or a referendum campaign I happen to buy a lottery ticket and win $5 million and then decide I want to spend this either supporting or attacking one party or another or supporting or attacking one side of a referendum campaign, I find it quite absurd that in a democracy I would be allowed to spend that $5 million simply because I've been randomly chosen through a lottery.
I know there are lots of debates about whether, if I spent that $5 million, it would have any effect on the outcome. I think there is another whole question which should be asked, which is, what about the quality of the debate? Shouldn't we try to foster as many people speaking as possible but only speaking to the extent that their position has actual popular support? If I am able to spend $5 million just because I've won a lottery, I'm going to be able to drown out a lot of other messages that might be out there in an election and referendum campaign.
So if the committee, as the government continues to explore this issue of referenda and initiative and recall, feels that the Quebec system is too constrained and that third parties should be allowed to speak generally, I would hope only that you would also put in place restrictions on that spending so that the influence of big money is removed from the referendum and initiative system. After all, we believe in the principle of one person, one vote, so why should we allow somebody to spend more than you would feel an average person could afford to spend to have more influence during a campaign if, when it comes down to election day, we only give each person one vote?
Those are generally the stages that I set out in the paper of 1991. As I mentioned, I will submit that to you. It has much more detail and examples from around the world.
There are two thoughts I would like to leave you with. Many people have come up with many problems with initiative-referenda systems. While I don't believe that all these problems are red herrings, I do believe that all of them can be solved and all of them can be addressed. One I did not mention is whether there should be a quorum or a requirement for more than a simple majority, and again it's a problem I think that can be solved. It's just as with any other legislative decision: You make decisions and then you realize that you haven't solved all the problems, but you've tried to solve most of them, and these problems are worth solving in order to have a system of initiative-referenda come into place for all the reasons, mentioned in the introduction of the discussion paper, of legitimacy and the feeling of disfranchisement by voters.
In that same light, I would leave you with this quotation from Michael Stewart, who wrote in 1959 in his book Modern Forms of Government:
"To assert that a group of elected persons is permanently and on main issues wiser than the whole people is to move from democracy towards dictatorship, but to deny them" -- that is, the elected persons -- "at every stage the power of decision on particular laws is to move towards anarchy."
I think Michael Stewart is calling for a balance between elected officials making decisions and the whole people making decisions and that these two can be very complementary and can lead to a more legitimate and better form of government decision-making, and better results at the end, in terms of many different reforms and legislative initiatives that for various reasons -- our electoral system, our party system or just simply the structure of our parliament -- are never addressed or are addressed without due regard to the will of the people.
I will end there. I'm happy to answer any of your questions.
Mr Clement: Thank you very much, Mr Conacher, for your analysis. I think we all look forward to reading your paper and studying it in detail.
I wanted to come back to the financing aspect because that's something about which you spoke passionately and cogently. We have heard some submissions, however, in this committee which have sought to dispel the, I suppose, intuitive conclusion that more money equals more influence. They cite the Charlottetown referendum as a prime example, as well as referendums and other electoral decisions in other countries, including the United States of America, where the losing side had outspent the winning side 10, 20, 40 to 1 with no discernible impact. What would your reply be to those contentions?
Mr Conacher: First of all there are other issues: not only, do you get greater influence, but do you drown out other voices by being able to spend as much as you want? I think we should be concerned about the diversity of voices that are heard during a referendum campaign and try to facilitate as many people being heard, but not to a greater extent than any one person has popular support for their position.
There have been studies going both ways. A study that was conducted showed that in four US states, in 56 of 72 measures held between 1976 and 1982, the high-spending side won.
Mr Clement: Is there a chicken-and-egg issue here? Maybe I'm being naïve, but could it potentially be that the winning side spent the most money because they garnered the most supporters because they were on the right side of the issue? Can that argument be made at all?
Mr Conacher: In most of these cases it's one or two actors on one side or the other that are spending way in excess of their popular support, so it's not based on their donations; it's based on, for example, a corporation spending tens of millions of dollars of its own money to defeat an initiative without any real indication that the populace supports their side, and that's why I say you should try to limit spending. If you're going to allow anybody to spend in a system, limit it according to actual popular support that they have. For example, with an organization, they would be able to spend according to the numbers of their members. If they had 20,000 members, then you could settle them in being allowed to spend $5 per member, so they would be allowed to spend $100,000 but no more.
With corporations you would limit it to their shareholders -- this is individual shareholders, not other corporations that hold shares in them -- who would have to, in the case of a corporation, I feel, express that their corporation should be involved in a particular initiative campaign and that the shareholders are interested in the corporation taking a position on that campaign.
If we believe in the principle of one person, one vote on election day, then why in a campaign finance system would we abandon that principle?
Mr Bartolucci: Thank you very much for your presentation. Could you please tell me how much limiting you would have for referendum possibilities? Would you limit it simply to constitutional issues or those regarding tax increases or would it be broader than that?
Mr Conacher: In my research for the 1991 paper I actually saw no reason to put a limit on what questions can be put to the populace through a referendum system other than there being some problem with the Constitution as it is, either in terms of jurisdiction, that if it was put in, the province of Ontario would not be able to act in this area, or the charter.
That's why the initial stage of the process that I set up was an application to an independent board which would have a staff of lawyers who could provide opinions on initiatives and whether they would be constitutional at the other end; and another stage in the process, that there could be a reference to the courts and the courts could rule, as they do in other areas where the government refers a question to them to rule that would derail the process if it was found, if this measure passed, to be unconstitutional by the courts. It might delay some initiatives from going forward, but I don't see any reason to put a limit on the kinds of questions that can be put to voters through this process.
Mr Bartolucci: My last question is twofold: What percentage would be your threshold, and should that threshold reflect geographical areas throughout the entire province?
Mr Conacher: The threshold that I set was different for each type of initiative or referendum. Various types have been set out very well, I think, in this discussion paper, from a referendum to a plebiscite through to an initiative.
If it was initiated by petition, generally I was looking at two thresholds, which were 5% to 10% of the vote, depending on the type of initiative, or a number of signatures, 100,000 signatures. This is because I was making general recommendations that would apply to any province, and it would be whichever is less. I was expressing it as 5% to 10% of votes cast in the last election as opposed to registered voters, using voter turnout as the basis, or then having a certain number of signatures, such as 100,000 signatures -- 100,000 would apply more, for example, at the federal level -- to ensure that you wouldn't have an enormously high petition level. This is what is used in Switzerland as well. It's a percentage or a certain number of votes so that the barrier is not too high.
The other part of your question with regard to having more signatures collected from more than one area, the general recommendations that I put in, again taken from various states and other systems, was that the signatures would have to come from 10% of the constituencies in the province and no more than 25% of the signatures could come from any one constituency.
In terms of voting, and I know the concern has been raised in the media by the mayor of Sault Ste Marie about whether you were going to have one region dominate, right now our electoral system doesn't necessarily allow that because we have, generally, representation by population. We have the seats across the provinces which then lead to the government forming a majority in some way or another.
In a lot of the systems, for example in Australia, when it comes to the vote, there is a requirement to have a majority of voters, for example to amend the Constitution, in a majority of the states. Then you get a kind of regional requirement on having a vote.
In putting something on the ballot, I don't think you should require signatures to come from across the province, because it sets too high a barrier, especially in a huge province like Ontario. But when it comes to the vote, maybe there is room for consideration of having some sort of regional balance in the vote and having to have a majority in a certain number of regions of Ontario for something to pass. I hope that's helpful.
Mr Wildman: Yes, thank you, that is helpful. My name is Wildman. I'm from northern Ontario, so I'm interested in your comment on that.
Mr Conacher: I guess I would just say generally that all these problems can be solved, that's what I feel, and none of them amount to enough of a reason to actually reject putting in place such a system.
Mr Wildman: I understand your position. I noted that you've done a lot of work on this, and you mentioned that Switzerland, along with California, is one jurisdiction that uses referenda extensively. We were told by Mr White, who is the Reform MP from North Vancouver and a proponent of referenda, that in Switzerland, on average, only about 15% to 18% of the electorate participates in the referenda.
Since we're told that one reason for moving towards referenda is that we tend to have low turnouts in general elections, that many electors are cynical and feel they don't really have a say, in your studies do you have any explanation of why there are such low turnouts in referenda in Switzerland?
Mr Conacher: In the US they face this in some cases as well simply because some of the questions put to the voters are not the most burning issues.
Mr Wildman: He was talking about averages. He wasn't talking about specific ones. He said on average it was only 15%, which is much lower than the turnout in our general elections. In our general elections the turnout is somewhere in the neighbourhood of between 65% and 70%, on average.
Mr Conacher: Often higher. I actually set, in the 1991 paper, a quorum of 50% that would apply to all votes, but just a simple majority --
Mr Wildman: Sorry, I wasn't asking what you think should be the case. I was asking you, since you are an expert in this area or at least have done significant work in this area, you must be familiar with the situation in Switzerland, as was Mr White. I was wondering if you had any explanation why in a country where this is an integral part of the political system, an attempt to have direct democracy and to give a role to individual electors on important questions, there is such little demand for referenda.
Mr Conacher: Actually, I am unsure. I don't know the Switzerland system as well as I know some of the US states. I'm unsure whether they hold all of their referenda at the same time as they hold elections.
Mr Wildman: They have them once a week almost.
Mr Conacher: I know within the cantons, but I'm not sure at the federal level, and I'm not sure whether Ted White's figure is from their federal referenda. But again, it's a problem that can be solved if you first of all limit the number of questions that can be asked. You can run into voter fatigue, and I think they have run into this in California, where there isn't a limit and sometimes people are facing 80 questions when they step into the ballot box.
Secondly, if you limit the number of questions and technically hold referenda at the same time as a municipal or a provincial election -- a provincial election would be the best, obviously, because then it's the same voter pool, because you run into the problem with municipal elections of some people not ever having municipal elections because they don't live in an organized municipality.
Some would say if you're going to limit it to, say, five questions per ballot and it's only going to be held at provincial election time, "Well, that's not direct democracy enough for me." But I think when you look at the costs and benefits, which are not costs and benefits in terms of dollars but the costs and benefits in terms of having a quality process that really does improve the decision-making and improve the involvement of citizens in the decision-making process, there are a lot of good reasons to limit the number of questions and to only hold them at the time of provincial elections.
Mr Wildman: I think you've answered the question well. Just one other question. If it were determined that referenda would be held in conjunction with provincial elections, as is the situation in California, and you limit the number of questions, don't you still run into the problem of having the election campaign influence the referendum campaign and vice versa? You would have each candidate, I suspect, questioned extensively by the proponents and opponents of the referendum question as to what their position might be on the question and the personalities of the candidates and their position influencing the outcome of the referendum, as one might suggest was one of the many contributing factors in the defeat of the Charlottetown accord, that being the unpopularity of the Mulroney government at the time of the campaign.
Mr Conacher: Yes, I think you would if it was a government-initiated referendum, more so than if it's a citizen-initiated referendum. But I think that only speaks to the point that Michael Stewart made, which is that these two systems can be complementary. I think holding referenda at the time of elections will show how they can be complementary and how people look to their leaders but will also look to other speakers in the referendum campaign, look to potential leaders from the opposition parties who are challenging the government in the election.
It will only help in terms of people paying attention to issues during election campaigns in terms of getting more specific platforms, which is something that is generally being required by voters now from political parties, more specific platforms and more specific promises. This will all complement that because people will look at the referendum question and say, "Well, this is a very specific measure," and then compare it to the promises of political parties and say: "Those are kind of vague by comparison. Maybe I should be paying a bit more attention to what specifically this party is talking about doing if they get elected."
So I think we will end up being complementary. If it is the case that sometimes particular personalities will have an effect on a referendum question based on what side they take, I don't think that would be prevented if you held a referendum outside of an election campaign. Political party leaders would still be questioned on their stand because they are in that role as leaders of political parties.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Conacher, for your participation in today's committee proceedings, and we look forward to getting your written submission.
Mr Conacher: Thank you very much, and I hope you will extend this. I'm a bit unsure about where the process goes from here, but I hope it does extend to a more specific paper, with recommendations, and another round of hearings and that the process is kept open throughout, as is only fitting for a process of consultation on a mechanism for increasing citizen participation in government decision-making.
The Vice-Chair: This is only chapter one. Thank you very much, Mr Conacher. We're going to delink now and have the next group to the table.
Mr Stockwell: Listen, how we do know that's Duff Conacher and not somebody impersonating Duff Conacher?
The Vice-Chair: I actually was in Ottawa two weeks ago to have the voice certified. I have a voiceprint, Mr Stockwell.
Mr Stockwell: You've got a voiceprint on that.
The Vice-Chair: Yes, we have.
ASSOCIATION DES ENSEIGNANTES ET DES ENSEIGNANTS FRANCO-ONTARIENS
Le Vice-Président : Bienvenue au directeur général et au président de l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens. You have half an hour in which to present your views. You can take up the full thing or have some questions that members of the committee may want to present in that half-hour.
M. Roger Régimbal : Merci. Je vous présente M. Guy Matte, le directeur général de l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants, et moi-même, je suis Roger Régimbal, son président.
AEFO remercie le comité de l'Assemblée législative de lui donner l'occasion de présenter quelques réflexions pendant ces consultations sur les référendums. L'AEFO représente les quelque 7000 enseignantes et enseignants qui oeuvrent dans les écoles de langue française en Ontario.
L'AEFO croit que les législateurs doivent assumer leurs responsabilités et leur obligation de gouverner et d'encadrer l'appareil exécutif. Nous ne croyons pas que des référendums, sauf peut-être dans des circonstances extraordinaires, devraient être tenus. La tenue de nombreux référendums n'augmente pas, à notre avis, la responsabilisation de la citoyenne et du citoyen ; elle amoindrit le rôle du législateur.
Cependant, si le gouvernement actuel insiste quand même pour abroger les responsabilités de l'Assemblée législative, l'AEFO désire faire connaître son point de vue sur un éventuel projet de loi.
Plus une formule est utilisée, plus elle perd de sa valeur. Il convient de limiter les référendums à des questions ou des sujets particuliers de politique publique. Il convient de les interdire sur des sujets qui iraient à l'encontre de la constitution canadienne, de la Charte des droits et libertés et de la Charte des droits de la personne de l'Ontario. De plus, le gouvernement ne doit pas permettre qu'on se serve des référendums pour limiter ou réduire les droits de la minorité.
Aucun référendum ne devrait engager l'Assemblée législative. La législature doit conserver la primauté de la loi et déterminer quand et sur quel sujet se tiendront les référendums organisés par la province. Aucun projet de loi ne devrait contenir une disposition qui ferait que seul un référendum pourrait abroger ladite loi.
Il nous paraît évident que si le gouvernement actuel propose un projet de loi sur les référendums, ce projet contiendra des dispositions permettant aux citoyennes et aux citoyens de présenter leurs propres initiatives à une consultation populaire. Une telle proposition doit se faire dans un cadre rigide pour empêcher les initiatives qui banaliseraient le processus en multipliant les questions soumises.
Une pétition d'au moins 10 % des électrices et des électeurs devrait être requise pour soumettre une question à la population sans passer par l'assentiment de l'Assemblée législative. Cette pétition devrait être colligée dans un maximum de 90 jours. Finalement, il vaudrait mieux que l'Assemblée législative conserve la responsabilité de soumettre les questions à la population et d'en développer le libellé.
Le résultat du vote référendaire de toute question soumise par un groupe de citoyennes et de citoyens ne devrait pas avoir force exécutoire, ni engager le gouvernement ou l'Assemblée législative. Tout au plus, ce résultat exprimera-t-il d'une autre façon le point de vue de la population sur un sujet d'intérêt. Un sondage scientifique aurait pu donner le même résultat, sauf que le débat référendaire pourrait avoir permis un débat public intéressant.
Nous croyons que pour éviter les coûts substantiels, les référendums, s'il faut les faire, devraient se tenir au même moment que les élections provinciales. Un nombre limité de questions pourrait être présenté : 10, 20 ou 30 questions en même temps risqueraient d'embrouiller le processus, d'empêcher un véritable débat public et de noyer les questions importantes parmi le grand nombre de questions soumises.
Si le gouvernement tient à soumettre une question à la population sur un sujet donné, il devrait le faire tôt dans le processus de développement du projet de loi ou de l'initiative. Toute proposition présentée devrait recevoir une majorité de 50 % plus un de tous les électeurs potentiels pour déclarer que les résultats sont déterminants. Le résultat du référendum permettrait à l'Assemblée législative de trouver les compromis requis pour adopter un projet de loi important.
Finalement, les citoyennes et citoyens et le gouvernement devraient pouvoir en appeler au système judiciaire s'ils croient que les questions soumises vont à l'encontre de la constitution canadienne, de la Charte des droits et libertés ou de la Charte des droits de la personne de l'Ontario.
L'AEFO remercie le comité de l'Assemblée législative de lui avoir donné la possibilité de soumettre son point de vue.
Mr Wildman: I want to thank you for your presentation. You're basically saying that you would prefer plebiscites to referenda. Is that a fair comment on my part?
M. Régimbal : Un plébiscite comparé à un référendum, le coût est quand même là. Comme je l'ai dit quelque part, un sondage scientifique aurait exactement la même envergure qu'un plébiscite.
Mr Wildman: If there were a system set up that would make referenda results binding on the government -- I know that you've said you don't think they should be, but if they were -- are you concerned that it might be possible that despite the fact that the government has said there should not be any questions put which would be ultra vires, which would violate the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there might be some groups on occasion who would be tempted to move to have a referendum calling upon the government to use the "notwithstanding" clause?
M. Guy Matte : C'est une excellente question. Il est certain que lorsque nous parlons de référendums, il est toujours dangereux d'y avoir des initiatives qui pourraient diminuer ou réduire les droits d'une minorité tels que reconnus par une constitution. Surtout dans la Charte des droits et libertés, lorsqu'il y a une clause «nonobstant», il pourrait toujours être tentant, je crois, pour certains groupes de tenter de s'en servir ou d'influencer le gouvernement pour s'en servir.
C'est pour ça que nous disons dans notre document que s'il doit y avoir des référendums sur un projet de loi ou pour qu'il y ait un projet de loi, cela doit se faire assez tôt dans le processus de façon à permettre aux partis politiques d'établir la quantité de négociations qui sera nécessaire pour trouver un projet de loi qui sera quand même rassurant au niveau constitutionnel et pourra répondre à la volonté de la majorité.
Cependant, comme nous le disons là-dedans, il devrait être exclu du projet de loi de l'Ontario, s'il faut aller dans cette direction-là, que l'on puisse présenter à la population des référendums qui toucheraient la constitution, la Charte des droits et libertés, la Charte des droits de la personne de l'Ontario et les droits des minorités. Ce serait inquiétant. Vous avez raison.
Mr Wildman: Basically what you're saying is that it should not be possible to have a referendum requesting the government to use the "notwithstanding" clause.
M. Matte : Oui.
Mr Wildman: We had a presentation made by your sister federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association in which they acknowledged that the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution is significant, I think, and they also acknowledged that if a question were passed that a minority felt abrogated constitutional rights, they would have recourse to the courts after the fact and that the courts could in fact declare ultra vires if it was injurious to the minority and to the Constitution. But they also stated that there are some questions that even if they can be rectified subsequently, would be injurious to the minority just in having the campaign and would be bad for society just by having a campaign around the rights of a minority.
For instance -- I'll use a somewhat neutral one because of knowing where you're coming from -- it might be possible that there might be a campaign around aboriginal rights, hypothetically, which might lead to, in the campaign, things being said that might be quite injurious to aboriginal peoples and to their communities and that this in itself would be bad for society. How do you respond to that kind of a position?
M. Régimbal : Ce que l'OECTA a présenté -- cette idée qu'il y aura des séquelles après -- est très réel. On peut regarder même suite au référendum du Québec, ce qui s'est produit dans la société canadienne ; il y a encore des séquelles qui n'avaient peut-être rien à faire avec la question elle-même mais qui ont opposé deux groupes, les deux groupes fondateurs. Aujourd'hui on ressent encore ces séquelles-là.
Lorsque c'est encore plus près de la maison, lorsqu'on parle des droits des francophones, des droits des autochtones et même des droits des catholiques, à ce moment-là les séquelles pourraient être encore beaucoup plus dévastatrices.
M. Matte : Il y a suffisamment de problèmes sociaux à régler dans notre province qu'il n'est pas nécessaire de créer des situations qui vont polariser davantage les citoyens et les citoyennes autour de questions extrêmement sensibles pour lesquelles ils peuvent avoir des opinions mais pour lesquelles ils ne peuvent pas agir si ce sont des protections qui sont constitutionnelles.
Je pense qu'il faut protéger, il faut assurer que ces débats qui polarisent ne conduisent pas à un fractionnement de notre société. Il faut qu'on travaille encore ensemble sur les grands travaux sociaux que nous avons à faire dans notre province.
Mr Wildman: It would seem to me that your comments are very cogent. Mr Parizeau's statements on the night of the referendum about anglophones and so-called allophones in Montreal are exactly what you're talking about, and those sentiments and the cleavages that were produced in that are still there despite the fact that the side they were on won.
M. Beaubien : Bonjour, M. Matte et M. Régimbal. J'aurais plusieurs questions mais on n'a pas beaucoup de temps. On parlait de polarisation. Avec les débats qui se passent au Québec, pour les francophones qui demeurent dans le sud-ouest de l'Ontario dans un milieu anglophone -- la situation au Québec n'aide aucun francophone soit en Ontario ou en Saskatchewan. Alors, je suis d'accord qu'il faut protéger les droits des minorités, soit des francophones ou toute autre minorité.
La chose qui me cause beaucoup de difficultés avec les référendums directes c'est la façon de poser la question. Quant à moi, la façon de poser la question est la situation ou le point le plus important du référendum. Ce matin un groupe nous faisant une présentation a suggéré que la Loi 8 devrait être abolie. Si le gouvernement qui sera au pouvoir à ce moment-là avait une décision à prendre, de quelle façon poseriez-vous la question aux gens qui votent ?
M. Régimbal : Premièrement, dans notre document on dit que c'est au gouvernement à se garder la responsabilité de l'énoncé de la question et non pas aux personnes qui sont en train de le faire. C'est notre première affaire.
L'autre affaire, la question de la Loi 8, touche exactement ce qu'on dit : le droit des minorités. C'est difficile de gagner un référendum sur le droit des minorités parce que la question de la Loi 8 concerne exactement ça, et je ne peux pas voir comment on pourrait en arriver à poser une question autre que, «Est-ce que vous voulez l'abolir ?»
M. Matte : Il est important que vous, législateurs et députés de l'Assemblée législative, gardiez la responsabilité pour l'ensemble du bien public. Lorsque la Loi 8 sur les services en français a été adoptée par l'accord unanime des trois partis politiques de la Chambre, je pense que ça a été, en tout cas pour notre communauté, un grand moment de l'histoire sociale de cette province où on voyait que des gens élus par une majorité anglophone acceptaient d'assurer des services dans la langue de la minorité.
Il faut que cette responsabilité, qui est la vôtre comme législateurs, soit maintenue au niveau de l'Assemblée législative et du gouvernement. Il y a des points qui ne devraient pas faire l'état d'un débat public au niveau d'un référendum. Je l'ai dit plus tôt, ça polarise tellement une population que ça nuit au tissu et qu'on va sentir un plus grand nombre de gens se sentir ne pas faire partie de la société ontarienne et ce serait malheureux.
M. Beaubien : En tant que association qui représente une minorité, est-ce que la suggestion d'avoir des référendums directs dans la province de l'Ontario vous cause beaucoup d'inquiétudes, vous rend pas mal nerveux ?
M. Matte : Eh oui, beaucoup. D'ailleurs, c'est pour ça que nous disons au tout début du texte que nous préférions que l'Assemblée législative maintienne le pouvoir législatif, le pouvoir de faire les lois, de décider quels sont les projets de loi qui seront présentés à l'Assemblée législative et à la population et ne pas le laisser ouvert. Dès qu'on arrive dans des référendums, il y a des groupes qui vont, dans la population, prendre avantage de ce processus-là pour nuire à d'autres.
M. Beaubien : C'est ça.
M. Matte : Ça nous cause beaucoup d'inquiétudes. Mais si vous voulez le faire on ne pourra pas vous en empêcher. Au moins, si le gouvernement a l'intention de le faire, on ne peut pas empêcher que ça se fasse ; vous avez la majorité. Cependant, assurez-vous dans ce projet de loi de mettre suffisamment de garantis que ça n'ira pas nuire complètement au développement de groupes importants quand même pour le tissu social de cette province.
Mr Bartolucci: Is that the reason why you put the 90-day limit on the garnering of signatures? Is that one of the safeguards you're talking about?
M. Matte : Vous savez, nous ne sommes pas des experts en référendums. Nous sommes des enseignants ; nous ne sommes pas des avocats. Mais comme citoyens et citoyennes on peut quand même lire ce qui se passe surtout chez nos voisins du sud et on peut voir que, tant qu'il n'y a pas une limite dans le temps pour recueillir des signatures -- c'est-à-dire, ce serait quoi ? Qu'est-ce qu'on pourrait prendre ? On pourrait prendre un an, deux ans, trois ans pour une personne de se promener à travers toute la province de l'Ontario pour essayer de ramasser un nombre significatif de signatures pour mettre une question au référendum.
Je crois qu'il est important d'avoir un montant de temps raisonnable. Je suis d'accord avec vous cependant que s'il doit y avoir un projet de loi sur les référendums, il ne faudrait pas qu'il soit tellement restrictif qu'il empêche que les référendums soient tenus. Je veux dire, soyons honnêtes aussi avec la population. Mais en mettant un nombre limite de jours, je pense que ça garantit l'honnêteté et la transparence du processus.
Mr Bartolucci: Should there be any geographical restrictions or must signatures be gathered from all parts of Ontario, if it is a provincial referendum?
M. Matte : On n'a pas touché à ce domaine dans notre document. Il est évident que si nous voulions rendre plus restrictive la possibilité de tenir un référendum, si nous mettions des obligations régionales, des obligations géographiques, des obligations sur un certain pourcentage de la population francophone, anglophone, catholique, les femmes, les hommes, on rendrait encore plus difficile la tenue d'un référendum.
Il faut qu'il y ait un équilibre entre la possibilité de tenir le référendum et les barrières qu'on va mettre dans son chemin pour que les questions idiotes ou des questions très unidimensionnelles ne puissent pas traverser. Mais il ne faut pas empêcher qu'on puisse poser des questions ou qu'il y ait des initiatives si on est sérieux dans le projet de loi. Il serait facile de bloquer et de mettre beaucoup d'embûches. J'aime autant qu'on n'en fasse pas.
Mr Bartolucci: I know you're from Ottawa and I know that you know many people in Sudbury and that you deal closely with people in Sudbury and throughout northern Ontario. If you don't have geographical restrictions attached to it, are you not then punishing those who live north of Parry Sound?
Mr Matte: And east of Kingston.
Mr Bartolucci: That's right.
M. Matte : Oui. Vous avez raison. Quand nous avons écrit ce document, nous avons débattu : est-ce qu'on devrait également mettre d'autres barrières, d'autres limites ? On n'en a pas mis, ce qui ne veut pas dire que nous, comme francophones, qui habitons surtout dans l'est et dans le nord, ne préférerions pas -- nous préférerions évidemment qu'un nombre soit exigé également au niveau de la géographie.
Mais encore là je veux juste qu'on fasse attention à ce qu'on mette un nombre de barrières intelligentes mais pas un nombre de barrières qui empêchent le processus si un gouvernement veut vraiment tenir des référendums sinon, aussi bien ne pas avoir de projet de loi, ce qui serait notre première option.
Le Vice-Président : Comprenez-vous, pour la cause et les problèmes de la démocratie ontarienne, que les citoyens modernes ne répondent pas à des «issues» contemporaines ? Les membres des autres organisations présentent un autre point de vue concernant la nécessité des référendums parce que la démocratie contemporaine refuse de résoudre les «issues» d'aujourd'hui, les pensants.
M. Matte : Je comprends la question. C'est pour ça que nous présentons devant vous. Nous croyons que ce que le gouvernement présente est un document intelligent, c'est-à-dire qu'il pose une bonne question à la population, le document de M. Harris.
Un, nous comme organisation et nos membres avons un grand respect pour le travail difficile que les députés de l'Assemblée législative doivent remplir. Ce n'est pas facile d'être député et d'essayer de composer avec les différentes demandes qui sont placées sur vous. Ce travail-là, même si quelquefois nous comme association pouvons dire des choses qui peuvent être désagréables au gouvernement ou à l'opposition, à la base nous respectons le travail que vous devez faire au nom des citoyens et des citoyennes, comme nous vous avons élus.
Deux, je ne crois pas qu'il faille utiliser le référendum comme étant le seul moyen de répondre aux problèmes que vous avez posés. Il devrait y avoir d'autres façons d'assurer que la population aussi va pouvoir exprimer son point de vue sur des sujets importants de l'ordre du jour autre que par la polarisation des idées, et je vous donne un exemple, des choses comme au niveau local : les bear pit sessions dans vos circonscriptions, c'est important d'en tenir avec la population de façon à ce que, quand vous êtes chez vous ou que vous êtes dans le nord, vous invitez la population à se présenter et à parler sur un sujet important.
M. Lalonde, le député de Prescott et Russell, à l'heure actuelle fait un débat semblable dans sa circonscription au sujet des travailleurs du Québec qui viennent travailler en Ontario alors que le contraire n'est pas possible ou est très difficile. Je pense que c'est un débat important dans Prescott et Russell et il le favorise par la tenue de sessions publiques où on peut aller s'exprimer. L'important pour les gens c'est de pouvoir aller exprimer quelque part à son député ses frustrations ou ses pensées vis-à-vis une question importante. Il doit y avoir d'autres façons aussi.
Le Vice-Président : D'accord. Merci pour votre excellente présentation, et bonne chance.
CITIZENS FOR FAIR TAXES
The Vice-Chair: Now we're going to proceed to exercise teledemocracy again. We're going to a teleconference call with Frank Spink from Manotick representing an organization called Citizens for Fair Taxes. Are you ready, Mr Spink?
Mr Frank Spink: Yes, I am. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today and to give you some thoughts on this move towards direct democracy.
In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, we select representatives to whom we delegate the authority to legislate and administer the government. Constitutionally, this authority is paramount and it cannot be usurped without the consent of those elected representatives. If we are dissatisfied with their performance, the only recourse is to turf the rascals out at the next election.
Democracy assumes that all electors are equal and have equal voice in the decision-making process, but unfortunately there is rarely, if ever, public unanimity on any given subject. Hence, those we elect must use their discretion in interpreting the will of the majority of their electors. They're subject to enormous pressures from special-interest groups, media and more vocal members of their own constituencies. This in itself is a recipe for dissension, and even Solomon couldn't please everyone.
We believe very strongly that our system of parliamentary democracy and government, imperfect as it may be, is better than anything else yet tried. This is not to say that it cannot be improved upon, but we also believe we must be very careful when we tinker with it. There is potential for improvement but there is also a heavy risk that precipitate action can lead to unforeseen and quite undesirable consequences.
For this reason, we are very concerned that, once again, not enough time has been allowed between the request for input and the closing date for presentations. This is a large subject and a lot of people simply have not had the resources immediately at hand. It's also of concern to us that you have not given an indication of what follow-on action will be taken.
As you know, politics, politicians and bureaucrats do not enjoy much public esteem these days. This certainly fuels a demand for more parliamentary democracy. It's difficult in today's climate to argue against those who feel that they are not well served by most levels of government, who therefore feel that they must take a more direct hand in decision-making. We understand that frustration but we do not share the view that greater citizen involvement in every issue will necessarily bring about better decision-making. It may, unless very carefully handled, result in paralysis or, worse still, anarchy.
We believe there is place for selective and limited use of citizen initiatives, plebiscites and binding referenda, but that their primary purpose should be to inform and to create checks and balances which will preclude abuse by government or bureaucracy.
There are a number of issues which arise in almost any discussion of government administration. Most of these should not require referenda to force change. The question is whether government will move without being forced. If this does not happen, then these issues will certainly come into force by referendum. Let me talk for a moment about some of these concerns.
There is too great a reliance upon enforcement of the party line rather than allowing a free vote on more issues. There is too little effort at real consultation and, more important, too little listening in what passes for consultation. There's too frequent use of time allocation to stifle debate in the Legislature. Frustrating as it may be to the government, we elected our representatives to consider and debate issues on our behalf. When governments stifle this, they are abusing the electors' rights.
Failure to recognize that the electors consider a party platform as a contract on which they have selected their representatives -- failure to honour this contract is not viewed lightly, nor does election confer the right to move outside the bounds of that contract without obtaining a further mandate. This is one area where binding referenda might be particularly effective. The abrogation of rights and the denial of rights to appealare a major concern to many. Neither legislation nor a referendum should ever allow this to happen. Secrecy and obstruction of access to information are major concerns to all who want responsible government.
The government can move to alleviate most of these without going through the complex time-consuming process of a referendum. Such action will not require the even more difficult and time-consuming process of making constitutional amendments.
Having said that we support the selective use of plebiscites and referenda, what constraints would we propose? First, no plebiscite or referendum should or could be used to absolve the government or the Legislature from its responsibility to lead, propose and enact legislation as authorized under the Constitution. We propose, however, that the government commit itself to call for approval by binding referendum of such legislation and that this would be a preconsideration to promulgation and implementation of such legislation which involves increases in taxes, borrowing or spending in excess of stipulated increase over current levels or the perceived reduction of the rights and freedoms of citizens. It would in no way absolve the government from the need to enjoy the confidence of the House when debating any legislation which would normally constitute an issue of confidence.
We believe that demands for referenda should be limited to the absolute minimum in order to minimize frivolous demands or those lacking a minimum level of support. Some form of screening group would be needed to legitimize the acceptance or rejection of a demand for a referendum. This should be bipartisan and should include public representation. A second referendum on an issue previously rejected could not be held again within the term of the current government.
We believe that plebiscites offer a useful means of informing the government and the Legislature of public views on a variety of issues, but their use must not preclude informed debate in the Legislature. A mechanism needs to be introduced for an appropriate number of citizens to request that a plebiscite or a referendum be held on a subject and must provide means of excluding frivolous issues. It should require that any request for a plebiscite be considered in the Legislature and that there should be a public record of the consideration. If the plebiscite is placed on the ballot, the results of the plebiscite must be considered in the Legislature and there must be public record of such consideration. There must also of course be clear and consistent rules for the framing of the question, which must be short and unambiguous.
There are some other additional considerations on which we are not yet ready to take a position, but we do want to flag them for your consideration. First, the level of votes to pass a referendum would have to be question-specific. Approval of a major money item would require a higher level of support than, for example, the alteration of the boundaries of a municipality.
We have concerns about how the format of the question will be decided and how it will be tested. Recent experience shows that keeping the question simple, unambiguous and unbiased will be very difficult. We are concerned with what authority will supervise the education of electors prior to a referendum. What steps will be taken to ensure that all sides of the issue are presented to the electors in a fair manner? Will there be limits to the amount of public or private money which can be expended to support or oppose the proposed project and who may spend it? Who should be qualified to vote or take part? And how will disputes over the result of a vote be resolved?
In conclusion, the question of public participation in the process of government and/or legislation has many implications and interpretations. The paper Your Ontario, Your Choice is somewhat disappointing and in some areas superficial. We would have expected that the government, with its research resources and the experience, would have given more thought to this concept and brought forward more reasoned discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of a number of alternative approaches.
The government was elected to provide leadership and guidance. You have recognized that the public wants more involvement and control over government action. You most certainly recognize that some of the administrative problems inherent in direct democracy are formidable. Frankly, we think at this stage it's a bit of a copout. The government knows in general what the public wants. There's nothing new or unexpected in the concerns advanced previously. What is now needed and expected is a discussion paper setting out what you, the members of government, perceive to be a practical plan to satisfy these needs and to eliminate the alternatives.
Ladies and gentlemen, the public wants some checks and balances to keep the government within bounds. They do not want to do your job for you. Referenda may be necessary or desirable in some cases, but much can be done without them. Let us please see the government, the Legislature and this committee bring forward some reasoned and responsible proposals.
I thank you for your attention. I hope you'll find our comments helpful and constructive.
Mr Bartolucci: Mr Spink, because you're a part of Citizens for Fair Taxes, if there are going to be referendums, would you suggest that all tax increases be subject to referendum?
Mr Spink: I think my statement was that tax increases, spending or borrowing be limited to a specified amount above the normal figure and that anything in excess of that would require a further mandate by way of referendum.
Mr Bartolucci: In your estimation, are user fees a form of taxation?
Mr Spink: Very definitely.
Mr Bartolucci: Are they subject to referendum as well?
Mr Spink: At the local level, I presume that would be a reasonable approach to take. I'm not sure that every user fee necessarily justifies a referendum at the provincial level.
Mr Bartolucci: Let's talk about one user fee that's certainly of much public debate and of much public importance, and that's the user fee for seniors on prescriptions. Do you think that should be the subject of a referendum?
Mr Spink: I'm sure there are a number of people who will. I'm speaking purely personally at the moment. No. I am a senior, I'm on a fixed income, but I do not personally object to the application of the roughly $6 fee at the present time.
Mr Bartolucci: With all due respect, Mr Spink, I'm not asking for your personal opinion as to whether you agree or disagree with the use of the tax; I'm asking, do you think it should be a matter for a public referendum?
Mr Spink: It's marginal. There are many who would think so; I personally don't.
Mr Bartolucci: Who decides then what is the subject of a referendum? If it's a marginal item such as you've just described, if the majority of or many seniors oppose this, how do you decide? Who decides if it should be the matter of a referendum?
Mr Spink: I think I said to you that an application for a plebescite or referendum should go to the Legislature and should be considered there. That provides the opportunity for those citizens who have a view on it to make their views known to their representative, and if the bulk of such views as passed through their representative goes one way or the other, that I think is the intent of what you're trying to do.
Mr Bartolucci: Then there is no such thing, in your definition, as a citizen-initiated referendum?
Mr Spink: No, I didn't say that at all. I said that a citizen-initiated referendum should go to the Legislature for consideration. I believe that certainly if a strong case is made in either direction, the Legislature would respond to it. I do not believe that every time a small number of citizens, or whatever number of citizens, decides to put something on the agenda it should get there without some very careful screening.
Mr Bartolucci: Just a final question: What percentage of the population should the threshold be?
Mr Spink: I think you would have to make that question-specific. It depends entirely on what you are proposing to do. It depends on the applicability of it. For example, does it cover everyone in the province or does it cover a particular group such as elderly people or a local municipality, that sort of thing. That is one of the more difficult things which will have to be resolved in whatever legislation is brought forward to deal with this.
I will repeat what I said a few minutes ago: Damn it, we don't want to do your job for you. That's why we pay you people to come forward with some constructive suggestions. We do say, however, that if your suggestions are starting to get too far out of line, then we want some checks and balances. But, damn it, we want the government and the Legislature to do their jobs.
Mr Wildman: Thank you, Mr Spink. I think your presentation was quite well reasoned and put forward some interesting ideas. I agree completely with your last comment that members of the Legislature should do their jobs. They are elected, as Edmund Burke said, by their constituents to exercise their judgement. If they exercise their judgement in a way which is contrary to the wishes of their constituents, they must of course defend their position the next time a general election is called. I agree completely with that point of view. The fact that Edmund Burke was a Conservative and I am not of that persuasion doesn't mean I don't think he was correct in his philosophical interpretation of the role of a legislator.
Having said that, I am a little confused and I'd like you to clarify for me. Are you saying that there could be citizen-initiated referenda, keeping in mind that you've said they should be very limited, without the approval of the wording by the Legislature? Is that what you're proposing?
Mr Spink: In my comments I said something to the effect that the mechanism to set this up would have to be put in place and that there would have to be provision for agreeing upon the wording of the question. One of the problems certainly that you would find is that with citizen-initiated referenda there would be a wide range of wording that might be brought forward to you. There must be some mechanism for arriving at agreement on the wording of it. In that sense, I think you'd probably do that at the legislative level, but certainly with some input from the public. I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Legislature simply tear up the thing that's put in front of it and write its own version of it.
Mr Wildman: No, I understand what you're saying. That's helpful. I am a little concerned, though. Using the example that Mr Bartolucci raised, which you characterized in your opinion as marginal, if the government has taken a tax initiative like the user fee for prescription drugs for the seniors and disabled, has initiated that change in policy and implemented a new tax such as that, recognizing that the current Premier describes user fees as taxes, is it likely that those who might be in opposition to that new tax would gain approval for their question when it was submitted to the Legislature, which has a majority supporting the government position?
Mr Spink: This comes into the category I referred to when I said that it goes to the Legislature to legislate. If you go back to my words, I didn't say to "enact." I did say that if the government and the Legislature agreed on a course of action which involved money, taxes, borrowing, that sort of thing, prior to implementing they would have to go and seek approval.
Mr Wildman: Oh, I see. I understand your position, but I'll just close off by saying I don't think that resolves the problem, because if the government has determined to do this, particularly if it were a marginal thing, as you describe this particular tax, it's unlikely that the majority in the Legislature would go against the wishes of the Premier and his government.
Mr Spink: That's entirely possible. However, what I said to you was that in that case you must seek the approval of the public by way of a referendum before you may implement.
Mr Wildman: Oh, I see. All right. Okay, I understand your position.
Mr Clement: Thank you so much for participating in our committee hearings. I wanted to start off by elaborating on a comment that was made in the document, the discussion paper that we are reviewing, which clearly indicates that the government does intend to proceed with some form of referendum legislation. I can assure you that we are going to act. The question is that we wanted some public discussion about what the terms of that piece of legislation should entail, and what are the pros and cons and how do we properly balance, as you have so appropriately put your mind to, the rights and responsibilities of legislators and the rights of citizens to initiate or decide upon matters that affect them?
I wanted to throw something at you, because we'd had a couple of presentations yesterday. I'm shamelessly paraphrasing; I do apologize that I can't repeat an hour's worth of presentation to you as a preamble. But the essence of their commentary and their critique of referendums seemed to be that individuals will always act selfishly upon issues of public importance and that that's why we need government to transcend selfishness and to act -- and I'm putting it in the best way possible, given the fact that I'm biased against this point of view -- for the public good, whereas individuals cannot do that, so we should not have referendums in place. I'd like your views on that, because I found that a bit disturbing in terms of the characterization of human nature, but I wanted to know how you felt about it.
Mr Spink: It's probably correct to say that some individuals will always pursue the personal objective. I think it is not a valid statement if you choose to take the citizenry en masse.
Let me go back for a moment to what I said before on the marginality of the question of fees for prescriptions. When I say "marginal" there, I say that because I believe if you went to a referendum with that the result would be very much in question. I suspect that you'd find a very large number of people who support it; I suspect that you'd find a very large number of people who would not. When I say "marginal," I simply say I don't think that one is clear-cut by any stretch until the votes are counted.
Mr Clement: Quite so. Perhaps I could move on to something you did talk about in relation to how best to have a public which knows why it is voting one way or the other. You mentioned the importance of public education. Let me just say I agree with you, but let me also say I have some reservations about the idea that it's government's role or the role of some committee that is financed by government to publicly educate on either side of the referendum. I guess my preference would be to see individuals who believe passionately on the issue fight it out in the court of public opinion. Am I going off in the wrong direction here? Am I properly characterizing what you wanted to see happen?
Mr Spink: No. I think government has a responsibility to make sure a clear picture is in front of the voters before they're asked to make a decision. It may well be -- and in my view it is -- preferable that education, as far as possible, be in the hands of those who propose or oppose the thing in question. I would not like to see a situation where some particular partisan group put on a very strong pitch and perhaps had access to plenty of money to support it; in essence, put on a very biased and one-sided approach to this thing and that this was allowed to go to the public without the other side being appropriately aired. That's why I said in one of my particular passages that both sides of the question should be fairly in front of the public. If that doesn't happen through the action of individuals, then there is a responsibility on the part of the government to bring some balance back into it. Again, this depends entirely on who is going to be allowed to spend money.
Mr Clement: Right. Now I understand you. So if we had a regime in place which would, as some have suggested earlier today, allow a right of access to media, a right of access to the means of disseminating their particular point of view, then you would have less concern and would feel less strongly that government should play an active role in education. Is that fair?
Mr Spink: I think government should play a role in making sure the picture is there. If it isn't there without government intervention, then I would favour some intervention by the government. But I would prefer very definitely that the government intervention be restricted strictly to keeping the playing field level.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you, Mr Spink, for participating in these hearings through teledemocracy. If you would like, we would appreciate receiving your views in writing. We will keep you posted as to the next chapter on the referenda legislation. This is, as Mr Clement said, only phase 1. We noted your comments at the beginning as to where we're going. It's not just a matter of having an exploration or a consultation; there will be follow-up. Thanks once again for participating.
Mr Spink: Thank you, sir. I will send down to you a copy of my working notes. Obviously, if there are further questions that anyone wishes to put --
The Vice-Chair: It would be much appreciated. Thank you very much.
COMMUNIST PARTY OF CANADA (MARXIST-LENINIST), ONTARIO REGIONAL COMMITTEE
The Vice-Chair: We're now back to the next deputant on our list today, and that is Anna DiCarlo from the Communist Party of Canada.
Ms Anna DiCarlo: Thank you. I just want to correct you, first of all: It's not the Communist Party of Canada; it's the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).
The Vice-Chair: My apologies. I saw that in brackets.
Ms DiCarlo: The problems which have been presented in the consultation paper on the referendum alternative in our view are among the most pressing problems facing Canadian society at this time. The consultation paper acknowledges only superficially the dissatisfaction that's felt by people of Ontario presently about the political process that treats them like bystanders who have no choice but to watch as decisions are being made which affect their very existence and the kind of society they want to live in.
The consultation paper presents the referendum alternative as a mechanism to provide the electors with a means to participate in governing the society, as well as solving some of the problems with which this government, even though it's a majority government, has been plagued. This includes the problem of the perceived legitimacy of its decisions and problems of how to deal with differences of opinion which are presently being settled by the agencies of law enforcement. The consultation paper even presents the referendum as an alternative to the existing state of affairs.
It is the opinion of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) that the referendum alternative does not fundamentally address the basic problem which has beset politics, politicians, the political parties and the political process itself, not only in Ontario but in Canada as well. Nevertheless, if referendum legislation is to be introduced, then we would propose the following:
(1) Legislation should enable a referendum to be initiated by (a) the Legislature or (b) any citizens on the basis of 5% of the eligible voters signing a petition.
(2) The referendum, as the definition implies, must be considered binding.
(3) The conducting of referenda and plebiscites must not be conducted as a sales campaign for a government agenda.
Therefore, we would propose:
(a) Once the Legislature votes to hold a referendum, neither the government nor any political party represented in the Legislature should be provided with funds to agitate for their positions.
(b) The electoral commission must provide an information package containing all the information relevant to the matter to be voted, distributed free of charge to all eligible voters. The information package should contain background information as well as full details on the impact of the legislation in question.
(c) The state should not fund the formation of a Yes or a No committee; ie, no Yes or No committees should be funded by the state.
(4) Referendum legislation must be part and parcel of legislation to renew the electoral process so that it empowers the people to elect and govern themselves if a real solution is to be provided to the lack of credibility of the present political process.
According to the consultation paper, the current political process works just fine when a majority government is formed on the basis of a choice being made by the electors between competing party programs; as long as the majority government does what it says it was going to do, then life will be fine, the public will be happy. The facts show that the case is otherwise.
When the current electoral process came into being, only men of property were entitled to vote. The electoral process suited the limited franchise in existence at that time. Elections were fought out on the basis of the competing interests within that very limited polity. While the polity today has grown to include all citizens of a certain age, the electoral process has not been modernized and renewed to reflect the existence of universal suffrage. As a result, the elections have nothing to do with the real complexity of interests that exist in the society.
The electoral process itself impedes debate and discussion about the competing programs and impedes arriving at decisions about what program will advance the general interests of the society. The political parties which dominate the electoral process with their competing programs comprise one of the tiniest segments of the society. Less than 2% of the Canadian population, all told, participate in political parties at this time, giving the broadest possible definition to what it means to participate. The electoral system, which is based on the electorate being provided with a choice of so-called competing party programs and competing candidates who are selected by political parties, has become anachronistic, and it is incapable of meeting the demands of a modern democracy.
The main flaw, the fundamental problem, with the existing representative democracy and its political process is that only a tiny élite can come to power because the process blocks the people from electing and governing themselves. A modern representative democracy must recognize the same rights and duties for all citizens. It must enable all citizens who are at least 16 years of age on the day of election to elect and to be elected directly without any encumbrances placed on the exercising of those rights. The electors have to be enabled to select and elect candidates and determine the agendas and the programs which are set during the elections. Both of these tasks belong to the entire electorate, not just political parties, as the case is now in law.
The prestige of politics, politicians and political parties has never been lower. Taking up the task of democratic renewal is what is needed to regain and restore the credibility of the political system. In the absence of addressing the fundamental block to democratic requirements, the introduction of referendum legislation will not solve the problem. If, on the other hand, referendum legislation is being introduced and proposed as a means for the government to garner unrepresentative votes for its own agenda, the credibility crisis will deepen even further and faster than is already the case. The use of referenda and plebiscites will not in themselves eliminate the serious crisis which is confronting the society at this time vis-à-vis the credibility and legitimacy of the political process. None the less, nothing less than a comprehensive package of legislation that will enable all citizens to exercise their right to elect and to be elected can do this.
Mr Wildman: I'd like some explanation here. You say in 3(a), recognizing that you don't think referendum legislation will resolve the problems as you perceive them, if there is to be referendum legislation, "Once the Legislature votes to hold a referendum, neither the government nor any political party represented in the Legislature should be provided with funds to agitate for their positions." Would that also apply to all political parties?
Ms DiCarlo: Yes. We're speaking generally that there should be no state funding, particularly for the government of the day or for political parties within the House. But at the same time what we're saying is that there should be really no campaigning as such, no campaigning as we know it. If you look at the Quebec legislation, which you must know, the government funds a Yes side and a No side.
Mr Wildman: I understand that. I was asking a wider question.
Ms DiCarlo: Funds shouldn't --
Mr Wildman: Shouldn't go to any political party. There are a number of registered parties in Ontario that are not represented in the Legislature. So they should not be able to be recipients.
Ms DiCarlo: No, and I would argue even further and say that no public funds should be spent on campaigns, other than one main piece of information, or several pieces if, as the referendum goes on, there's a requirement for more; that is, simply straightforward information, without the electorate coming under any kind of what we call marketing pressure, as you saw in the Charlottetown accord, where people were scandalized that millions and millions of dollars could be spent to try to tell them what decision to make.
Mr Wildman: I just have two other questions. Who would provide this information? Would it be the proponents and opponents themselves, and how would they be organized if you weren't allowing campaigning?
Ms DiCarlo: The concept is that there would be no proponents or opponents. The concept is that if there's a piece of legislation, then the electoral commission, an independent body -- in this case, I suppose we're talking about the provincial Elections Ontario -- would be entrusted with preparing an objective package of information for the electors covering all the aspects of that legislation. For all the background information that they require, they would go to experts, they would go to whoever they need and just simply, objectively give the electors the information they need. Speaking as an elector, I don't need some politicians to come and tell me how to make my decision.
Mr Wildman: All right, I understand your position. I'm just trying to understand how the logistics would work. How would the information, once prepared, be disseminated?
Ms DiCarlo: I would suggest door to door to every eligible voter. If you recall, during the Charlottetown accord, that was one of the problems that happened. I think the government at first printing only printed 15,000 copies, because they really didn't think that Canadians were going to want copies, and then the 1-800 lines were absolutely jammed and people were calling every day asking for copies and they finally had to get around to doing a complete run that went door to door to everybody.
Mr Wildman: I recognize that, but I would just posit that perhaps part of the reason for the great interest was the campaigning that was going on that raised the profile of the issue.
Ms DiCarlo: I think that's true, because people were saying: "This is really ridiculous. They're telling us we have to vote about this, but they aren't telling us what the package of information is. They're simply telling us that if we don't vote Yes, the country is going to fall apart. Let's read what this actual Charlottetown accord says."
Mr Wildman: If there had been very little campaigning, as you suggest, no campaigning, perhaps there wouldn't have been as much interest.
Ms DiCarlo: I guess that's a judgement call, a speculative kind of thing. If you're saying we have to get -- "we" being people who are not in the Legislature -- incensed before we take an interest, I think you're wrong. There was quite a high level of interest, because the Constitution struck a chord with a lot of Canadians.
Mr Wildman: It's the fundamental law of the country.
Mr Clement: Ms DiCarlo, do you believe that there are any institutions of authority in Ontario that are legitimate?
Ms DiCarlo: Everything is legitimate. There's a Constitution, there are laws. You mean that enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the people?
Mr Clement: Yes.
Ms DiCarlo: I can't think of any. It's not a matter of my opinion. If you go by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, which spent $22 million of our taxpayers' money to find out what Canadians thought about the electoral process, political parties and political institutions were way, way, way down on the list; they were just below trade unions and banks. So it's not a matter of my opinion, really. You know, Ontario -- I don't think the situation is any different in any other province.
Mr Clement: How can we, then, entrust some form of authority with disseminating the objective truth, and how can we entrust the government or the institutions derived from government with creating an atmosphere that would lead to a legitimate result in a referendum, under your suggestions?
Ms DiCarlo: I think the starting point is to obstruct the use of money. That's one of the main problems that we encounter, whether it's in the elections or in the referendum, that people in the society who have lots of money and who want to see their agenda imposed on the society have the resources at their disposal to do so. The electoral laws put certain limits, but we all know those limits are big, big, big limits that allow huge amounts of money to be spent.
As a starting point, if we could just start with that, that finances, especially state finances, can't be allowed and that no other kind of campaigning with the aim of marketing -- and I know it's a subjective area, what you call marketing and what you call somebody simply giving their opinions. If we could eliminate that from the realm of political discussion in the society, it would go a long way towards the substantive issues being discussed by people.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): Do you believe in the principle of freedom of speech?
Ms DiCarlo: Absolutely.
Mr Klees: I'm just interested in how you reconcile that with what is obviously a prohibition against individuals or organizations pressing their view or advertising their view, marketing their view, if you will.
Ms DiCarlo: We haven't proposed anything in that regard. What we're saying is that state funds shouldn't be used for that purpose.
Mr Klees: So it's okay for --
Ms DiCarlo: If GM wants to spend $1 million of its dollars to convince people that they should do something, we live in a society where that's considered acceptable, but it's quite different when the state itself, through taxpayers' money, through tax refunds and so on, is subsidizing this to take place.
Mr Klees: So it's okay for any other organization to market, to press the issue, but not for the state and for the elected people who have been given the responsibility to communicate effectively and to uphold the rights of the individuals; they are gagged under your proposal.
Ms DiCarlo: They would definitely be gagged under this proposal, yes.
Mr Klees: Interesting. It's an interesting view of the world.
Ms DiCarlo: We can look at what actually takes place. It's more frequent than not that rather than dispassionate discussion taking place, agendas are set and the agendas are rammed down people's throats.
Mr Klees: But it's okay for --
Ms DiCarlo: You're the one who's saying it's okay for these things; I'm saying that if the government wanted to, if the government had the interest of raising the level of political discussion in the country by publishing, simply saying, "Okay, we're not going to have any marketing campaign; we're going to try to discuss the substantive issues and provide all the background information," then, quite frankly, if GM spends $1 million, at least the citizens in the province will know what's involved. So that publicity campaign, that campaigning, loses its relevance once the people in the society are equipped with all the facts.
Mr Klees: But doesn't discussion imply an exchange of information and a dialogue?
Ms DiCarlo: Exactly.
Mr Wildman: Even disagreement?
Mr Klees: Disagreement, and through disagreement you sharpen your ideas and you come to compromise. But you're suggesting that this shouldn't be allowed.
Ms DiCarlo: No, I'm not suggesting that; I'm suggesting that what the government does at this time -- the experience of Canadians with referenda to date has been that the opposite takes place. I can go back to the Charlottetown accord, where I very actively participated on the No side, and what I found is that, inescapably, wherever people got together, very, very serious, substantive discussion took place. But what we were seeing on the television, what we were seeing in the government's little brochure, what we were seeing everywhere else was the exact opposite. It was really against all the odds. If you recall, the banks, the trade unions, every single political party in Canada, they all got together to say Yes. You must have seen the figures on how much money they spent. It was scandalous. But where people were able to get together, at the all-candidates' debates, wherever the discussions were organized, then people were having very serious pros and cons, as you put it, and it was by no grace of the marketing campaign that took place.
Mr Bartolucci: Ms DiCarlo, thank you very much. Just a follow-up question to Mr Klees's. There should be no limits at all to the amount of money a private person or corporation can invest in a campaign. Is that what you're saying?
Ms DiCarlo: My opinion is that until you have a comprehensive package of electoral reform, then I don't think you could introduce referendum legislation, and without changing the whole way that finances work in the political process in a broader picture, I don't think you could introduce that kind of legislation.
Mr Bartolucci: Presently, is there any time where you feel a referendum should be held?
Ms DiCarlo: I think they should be held, as we're proposing, wherever there are citizens who have the initiative to propose them. I've been watching the situation in BC. It's a bit onerous, the conditions they've put there, and it's going to be interesting to see whether people can actually make use of that legislation. We're proposing 5%. We think that's a bit more realistic. Especially given that a government can do whatever it wants on the basis of 28% of the eligible voters, 5% for some citizens doesn't seem to be --
Mr Bartolucci: Should there be requirements geographically, then?
Ms DiCarlo: I think if it was really well-worked-out legislation, then it would have to specify that if the issue in question specifically affects one region, for example, of the province, then there would have to be requirements that take it across, and in other cases, where it's general legislation that doesn't specifically affect some area of the province, that 10%, period, would be fine.
Mr Bartolucci: Over the course of the last 14 months, the government has obviously made changes. Their mandate, they say, in the Common Sense Revolution was to make changes. Of the changes they made, which ones do you think should be subject to referenda?
Ms DiCarlo: I think the omnibus legislation should be, the reason being that there was very significant opposition. I think this is one of the most critical problems that's taking place right now, that even though the government has a majority, there's very, very definite opposition to what the government is doing. We don't have any means at our disposal -- I'm saying "we" as a society -- there are no mechanisms in place for when these very serious differences of opinion take place, what should be done. For the government to make use of things like plebiscites and referenda and so on, I think it would be very wise to do so if it's seriously for the purpose of soliciting the opinions of the people. If it's for the purpose of building public opinion for what it wants to do, I think it will be a disaster.
The Vice-Chair: Thank you very much, Ms DiCarlo, for coming before us today and making your views known. We'll keep you posted as to what happens in this evolution.
Before I adjourn, I remind members that we start tomorrow morning at 9:30 am. I declare today's meeting adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1739.