ASSOCIATION CANADIENNE-FRANÇAISE DE L'ONTARIO
Wednesday 6 November 1996
Mr Max Radiff
Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario
M. Daniel St-Louis
M. André Lalonde
Mr Maximus Perera
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 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.GaryStewart (Peterborough PC)
Mr BudWildman (Algoma ND)
*In attendance /présents
Substitutions present /Membres remplaçants présents:
Mr TedChudleigh (Halton North / -Nord PC) for Mr Boushy
Mr TonyClement (Brampton South / -Sud PC) for Mr Froese
Mr PeterKormos (Welland-Thorold ND) for Mr Silipo
Clerk pro tem / Greffier par intérim: Mr Tom Prins
Staff / Personnel: Mr Philip Kaye, research officer, Legislative Research Service
The committee met at 1631 in room 151.
The Chair (Mr Ted Arnott): We are resuming our public hearings on the issue of referendums and we have with us today Mr Max Radiff, who is going to give us his advice on this issue. Mr Radiff, as you know, we have about half an hour for your presentation. We look forward to hearing your views.
Mr Max Radiff: The time restraints I'm aware of and I'm perfectly in line with them.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee for allowing me to share with you some ideas and concerns as they relate to the consultation paper on referenda and to the referendum process in general. My hope is that in some small way I will be able to encourage the Ontario government to establish such a system of public consultation not only within the legislative processes in the province but also in the bylaw process in the municipal governments for which you are ultimately responsible.
Before I examine the various questions raised by the consultation paper, I would like to take a few minutes to share some background and some basic philosophical tenets with which you must come to grips throughout this consultation process.
The pace of change in all aspects of society and within the very demographic makeup of this country is such that one can hardly speak of evolution any longer. Change is both explosive and revolutionary. All the horses we have been betting on -- a steady job, a higher standard of living, security for our old age and a better life for our children -- are stumbling in the backstretch and more people than ever are looking for a meaningful role in the management of public affairs.
Our government structures were designed in the horse-and-buggy era but the duties and responsibilities of government have changed and so have society's expectations. Governments are no longer capable of meeting the challenges of a modern, educated, mobile society, not because we have run out of cash but because governments are stuck on a treadmill trying to be all things to all people and, try as they might, they cannot keep up with rapid change.
The democratic form of government is more desirable now than ever before, but the established government structures in Canada are failing miserably in their sincere and well-intentioned attempts to balance the ideals of an effective and responsive democracy with the reality of a political and bureaucratic machine of enormous proportions and virtually unmanageable complexity.
A careful examination of democratic governance and its principles leads one to realize that the system has some fairly basic tenets inherent in it.
The first holds that in a democracy the people are never wrong. Choices may not always be beneficial and errors may be made, but a system where participation in the decision-making process is limited, either on the ground that certain decisions may be too risky to leave in the hands of the people or that some issues may be too complex for the people to comprehend, is not a democratic system.
A second tenet states that in order to be positive, democratic decision-making must be a proactive process. An effective democratic system must provide the electorate with the necessary tools to initiate action and an opportunity to participate in the democratic process in a fair and orderly and civilized fashion. People must have an opportunity to effect a decision, not merely to react to decisions already made by others.
A third tenet holds that limiting democratic power leads to retribution by the electorate. Voters may be prepared to give their elected officials a second chance, but only to a point. When that point is reached, voters will begin to react to their government and will do whatever may be perceived to be an effective protest against imposed decisions.
The fourth and last tenet I would like you to consider is that retribution is a reactive process leading to negative results. Getting even is no way to run a political system. Voter retribution can take the form of strikes, boycotts, mass protests and blockades. I don't think I need to point out to this group how negative these forms of retribution can be. You've had your fair share lately.
Any system of direct democracy, therefore, must ensure that the citizens have a real ability to effect change and not merely to change the government periodically. Whether we like it or not MPPs do not represent the will of the majority of the people -- they are not even elected by a majority of the citizens. MPPs represent the party line on issues and far too often that party line and all it entails becomes obvious only after an election when it is too late to do anything about it.
There are a number of advantages to the use of referenda.
First of all, a government is able to ascertain the true feeling of the electorate on an issue. Before the recent Quebec referendum, the Parti québécois claimed it had been elected to take the province out of Confederation. The referendum said, "No, you weren't; get on with the business of governing." If the federal government had put the new gun laws to the people in a referendum, there would have been no need to discipline Liberal MPs who voted against the party line, nor for MPs to be absent during crucial votes, thereby leaving their constituents without representation.
Another advantage to the use of a referendum is that people will buy into decisions that they have helped to make. You don't help make policy decisions by electing a representative. With people buying into the decision there is virtually no chance of retribution.
A third advantage is almost a corollary of the second. During the referendum process the voters will become much better informed if they know they are going to make a policy decision that will have a significant impact on their lives. Elections tend not to be issue-oriented but rather personality contests. Far too often elections are not proactive events but rather reactive ones which tend to get rid of someone rather than promote someone. A better-informed electorate is much more capable of keeping its representatives moving in the direction the people desire.
There are three main criticisms of referendum democracy. First, many politicians and theorists feel that the voters will make inappropriate decisions. These people seem to feel that winning an election makes it possible for someone to become wiser that those who elected them. Those who are elected, therefore, should be using this wisdom to make the decisions and the ignorance of the electorate should be kept at bay. The question remains, however, that if the electorate is so incapable, then how did it manage to elect such a wise crop of politicians? Remember, the people are never wrong.
A second criticism is levelled by those who feel that there is no need for voter input into issues because elected representatives speak on our behalf and are accountable to us. Consider this: In a three-candidate election race the winner is often left with less than half the votes and, when you add this fact to the one that elections never see 100% voter turnout, you begin to realize how few people a representative really represents. Accountability at the polls is a reactive concept. If we don't like what our representatives have done we can get rid of them. In the meantime, however, we are stuck with what they did. Wouldn't it be far easier and far more productive to find out what the people would like to happen and then implement it? Sounds like a proactive and forward-moving procedure.
The third major criticism of the use of referenda is the high financial cost involved. While this criticism has some validity, we have to balance the costs with those inherent in government decisions which are made contrary to the public will. No one has ever said that democracy was the least expensive system to operate, but there are ways to hold down the costs and I'll deal with some of these later.
I would like to turn now to the concerns raised in the consultation paper, beginning on page 41, and to share some thoughts with you about each of them.
Question (a) deals with the scope of issues which might be the subject of a referendum. If the system is to be truly democratic there must be no limits on referenda topics other than the limits of the jurisdiction of the government. If the Legislature may pass laws on an issue, then the citizens should have the right to initiate a referendum on the same issue if they feel one is necessary. Citizens should have the right to petition any relevant question, any government decision, any government inaction and even the recall of their MPP, although the process in the last case must necessarily be different.
Question (b) deals with the issue of who decides whether a referendum should be held. Both the government and the electorate should be able to initiate a referendum -- the government by a motion of the Legislature and the citizens by a petition compiled in line with the rules established for them to do so. Once the petitioners have complied with the regulations, the government must not have the right to refuse to hold a referendum and it must be mandatory for them to begin the referendum process.
Question (d) deals with the timing of a referendum and is obviously looking for a way to reduce costs. If it is possible for a referendum to be held during provincial and/or municipal elections, so be it, but delay in putting an issue to a vote is delay in dealing with the issue. The old adage "Justice delayed is justice denied" is easily transferred to the referendum process. There must be a time constraint applied to the process, and I would suggest that a referendum must be held no later than six months following receipt of a completed petition or a resolution of the House.
Financing referenda campaigns is the subject of question (e). Just as rules are necessary for financing election campaigns, so rules must be established to control spending by the parties in a referendum campaign. Clear limits should be set and enforced. We currently have such a system in place for elections at the municipal level, so I doubt there will be any conflict with the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression. Elections Ontario is perfectly capable of enforcing these rules. Perhaps it should be the government's responsibility to ensure that both sides of the issue are made available to the voters. After all, a referendum, other than a recall one, is not supposed to be a reactive process but a proactive one in which the voters have an opportunity to tell their representatives what they should be doing with a defined issue.
A win in a referendum should be 60% of the voters who turn out. I see no need for a double majority because if a referendum is relevant only to a certain community, ie, a municipality within the province, then a municipal or regional referendum should be held under the auspices of that particular government.
Question (g) deals with compliance with the result. It is essential that the results of a referendum be binding if the people are to have real power to effect change. If the government has the option of implementing the change or not, then the idea of the power of the people is a sham. The rules of the referendum process must clearly state that the decision of the voters is to be implemented within a specified time period such as six months. Failure to comply with the will of the people is a very serious matter and perhaps should be tantamount to a vote of non-confidence in the government. If the referendum is a reactive one, then the government must make provision to cease and desist immediately.
In question (h), we see the issues of constitutionality and legality being raised. To be quite frank, I do not have a legal background but I do know that constitutions and legal systems exist for the benefit of the people and that it is unacceptable for governments to say that what the people want is not constitutionally and legally possible. If the current rules need to be changed, so be it.
In answer to (l), a system allowing citizen-initiated referenda should be fully implemented. Only if we are truly committed to this process will it function effectively. A signature requirement of 10% of the eligible voters in the province should be established. It is true, as indicated in question (j), that too low a threshold will result in too many referenda, but too many referenda is definitely preferable to the current system which allows for none.
The wording of government-sponsored questions should be the responsibility of the government; the wording of citizen-sponsored questions should be worked out by the leaders of the movement and, if necessary, bureaucratic specialists. Perhaps using the Office of the Ombudsman might be an approach to consider. Legislature approval should be required for government-initiated referenda but not citizen-initiated ones.
I'm not sure that the specifics of initiatives should be part of the referendum process. Issues should be dealt with on a broad basis; otherwise people will become bogged down in the details and lose sight of the principle at stake in a referendum. The bottom line, however, is that the people responsible for the initiative should define the question. The government should provide someone, perhaps the Ombudsman's office, to assist citizens who might need help with complex questions. The same appointee could also be of assistance to those who need to determine whether or not the subject of a petition is really within the jurisdiction of the government concerned.
Question (m) is closely related to the previous one and could be handled in the same way. Questions that may be in conflict with current laws and/or the Constitution should be examined by the legal experts in the Ombudsman's office and, if necessary, referred to the courts for a decision. The courts should be allowed to reword contentious questions in consultation with the individuals pursuing the issue, but if the petitioners wish to do so, they should be allowed to continue the petition process unhampered.
In answer to question (n), there should be no maximum number set for referenda within a specified time period. When maximums exist, they often become goals and the purpose of a system of referenda is not to be self-serving but rather to allow for public input on important issues.
The concern of multiple questions on the same topic is not great if a referendum deals with the issues rather than the details of issues, but the broad answer to this question is simple: Any initiative which contains the required number of signatures and which falls within the jurisdiction of the government must be included on the ballot. In answer to the second part of the question, namely, should the government or the Legislature be able to place a counter-initiative on the ballot alongside a citizen's initiative, I would give a qualified yes -- qualified because inherent in this concern is the "we versus them" attitude which seems to dominate politics these days and which the referendum process is trying to negate.
Question (p) gets at the problem of paying for referenda. As I said before, democracy is not famous for its low costs of operation. If we are to be concerned primarily with low-cost government, we should be looking into absolute dictatorship. The costs of referenda, however, can be reduced if municipalities conduct the vote using continually updated voters lists -- voters lists which indicate whether a voter is a resident of the municipality as well as a ratepayer there. Telephone voting could be established for those who reside in unorganized areas of the province.
Municipalities should be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses, ballots should be printed centrally and distributed to the municipalities, and the clerk of the municipality should be given the responsibility of overseeing the voting process, subject, of course, to the offices of Elections Ontario. As far as electronic or mail-in voting is concerned, question (q), there should be a thorough investigation of the effectiveness and costs involved before a move is made in this direction.
The remainder of the questions, with the exception of (u), all deal with the details of the voting process, and these can be worked out by those who have the legal expertise in the electoral field. The chief guiding principle they should use is one of the tenets mentioned earlier, namely, "an effective democratic system must provide the electorate with the necessary tools to initiate action and an opportunity to participate in the democratic process in a fair and orderly and civilized fashion." In fact, all your deliberations on the topic of referenda must be guided by this fundamental concept.
The answer to the last question -- should a minimum level of voter turnout be required before a referendum is valid? -- is no. There is no minimum set for electing representatives, so why should one exist for selecting solutions to problems or expressing concerns? Municipal elections are notorious for their low voter turnout, but the results are still binding.
I would like to end by making an urgent appeal to this committee to put a comprehensive referendum system in place in Ontario. I would also like to urge you to pressure the Minister of Municipal Affairs to amend the Municipal Act to allow municipalities in Ontario to adopt a system of binding referenda within their municipal borders. The change in the act may be permissive, although prescriptive would be in the better interest of the voters. At the moment, ministry officials say that such action is not possible under the current legislation. If the government of Ontario wishes to include a model in the legislation, I would suggest that the Rossland, British Columbia, bylaw is a proven one to follow.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Radiff, for your presentation. I intend to allow about three minutes per caucus for questions, and I will start with the Liberals.
Mr Gilles E. Morin (Carleton East): In your presentation you seem to be extremely positive as far as referendums are concerned. Do you see any negative aspects of referendums?
Mr Radiff: Some of the ones that came out in the paper indicate that there are costs involved; that's negative. Sometimes you'll have too many referenda; that's negative. But if you don't approach this whole thing on a positive basis, it won't work. If you're always looking for the pitfalls, that's where you're going to be: in a pitfall.
Mr Morin: What about the danger, for instance, where legislation took years and years to introduce and implement and, all of a sudden, because of the whim of the government in power, they decide, "We don't need that law any more; pass a referendum and we'll get rid of it"? What do you feel about that?
Mr Radiff: If the people want it and the people are right, they've got it. That's the way it should be. That's what democracy is all about. Just because the government has decided that "This is the way we should go" doesn't mean that's the way we should go, according to the people. I'm very much a democrat -- with a small "d," please, although being a Democrat in the States these days isn't so bad -- but if the people want something different and are prepared to go out and vote in favour of something different, that's exactly what they should have.
Mr Morin: But that's the danger, sir. Sometimes it could be the will of a minority that wants to destroy the whole system, and that is the danger.
Mr Radiff: But I don't think you're going to get a minority supporting a referendum and winning a referendum. You've got to have 60%. If 60% of the people have to vote in favour of the change, then it's no more of a minority than you've got now. We have a minority of the people making the laws now.
Mr Peter Kormos (Welland-Thorold): I appreciate your submission. I think the issue is a fascinating one.
To follow up on Mr Morin, the concept of the tyranny of the majority, which is something that's been written about and discussed in democratic institutions for decades, centuries, I appreciate you've placed it at 60%, but what if a majority of Ontarians wanted to eliminate every bit of, let's say, Bill 8, the French Language Services Act?
If we simply adopt the referendum approach that is being discussed, how do we protect the minority from the will of the majority? There are some of us who don't think that is democracy in its entirety. That's perhaps a tribal form of democracy; it's been described as a tribal democracy. How do we protect the minority from the majority?
Mr Radiff: I don't quite know how to word this. I have more faith in the people of Ontario than that system says. I don't think the people in Ontario are going to do that. I don't think the people anywhere in a democratic system would do that. The majority of people support the French language, so they're not going to opt out.
There are bogeymen in the system, and that's what this is, a bogeyman. I think the tyranny of the majority is a bogeyman that we look at even now. Theoretically you represent the majority of the people, and you have the tyranny; you have the right to pass the laws. You see the demonstrations down in front, and the people are saying, "This is a tyranny." This is the way it's operating. If the people had a say in some of the changes that are being made, if we asked the people, we'd probably end up with the same things. The gun laws are a classic example. If they had put the gun laws to a vote, they would have passed a referendum, there's no doubt about it. But we had all these problems that came out of it.
The other thing is that if you pass it, people buy into it, and as a result you've got the people supporting this thing. If people want to put on a referendum about getting rid of French-language training and the majority supports it, which I'm convinced they would by a long shot, then everybody is buying into that decision. We say, "We support this," and then we work towards it to help it.
Mr Kormos: Have you considered proportional representation and what that would mean in terms of a parliament or a democratic body being more reflective of the community that elected it? In other words, what was the percentage of support in terms of the overall Conservative vote in the last election?
Mr John Hastings (Etobicoke-Rexdale): It was 45%.
Mr Kormos: So 45% of the Legislature would be Conservative, 30-something per cent would be Liberal, and New Democrats were at 17%, I think, somewhere around there. Would you support that sort of model? It's obviously a European model that's prevalent and works well in Europe.
Mr Radiff: It's definitely better than what we've got now but it still doesn't get round the problem that representatives represent a minority of the people in a riding. They really do. I hate to say that to make you feel bad, but if you take a look at the number of eligible voters in your riding, how many of them turned out to vote, first of all?
Mr Kormos: Down where I come from we got pretty high voter turnout.
Mr Radiff: Did you? Okay.
Mr Kormos: And they're not to blame.
Mr Radiff: Did you get 50% of the eligible voters?
Mr Kormos: I didn't last time. That was the toughest election in my life. But I did the two times before.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Kormos. I have to cut this off due to time constraints and turn to the government side.
Mr Tony Clement (Brampton South): I just want thank Mr Radiff for his very worthwhile presentation. We haven't met for a couple of months, so it's good to be reminded of some of the core reasons for wanting to look seriously at the referendum alternative.
I'm coming at it from a slightly different angle from that of my friend Mr Kormos, but I'm just wondering why you put the threshold for the passage of a referendum at 60%, why you were not enamoured of 50% plus one?
Mr Radiff: For the same reason that we talk about representatives not representing the majority of people. If you make it at 60%, then you've got a better chance of getting the majority of the citizens. I don't know how much you know about the vote count when it comes to referenda. Rossland, British Columbia, has had a system on this for years. They know that whenever there's an issue on the table they get a way higher voter turnout than they normally do. I think the 60% wouldn't guarantee it but it would give you a pretty good shot at having a majority of the citizens eligible to vote in favour of something.
Mr Clement: So you're trying to take into account the fact that not everybody turns out.
Mr Radiff: That's right.
Mr Clement: Do you have any thoughts at all, when it comes to citizens' initiatives, on what the petition system should be like? Should it be 5% or 8% of the voters?
Mr Radiff: No, it's 10%. That's one of the things I mentioned.
Mr Clement: Would you do that province-wide or would you try to segment that regionally?
Mr Radiff: It has to be province-wide, I think. If it's going to be a Legislature of Ontario issue, then it's got to be a province-wide thing. That doesn't mean you've got to have 10% by a region. It's 10% across the board.
Mr Clement: So if it's concentrated in --
Mr Radiff: If we got a whole slew of them out of Toronto, then that I could see as maybe a problem. But then the people get to vote outside of Toronto.
Mr Clement: Torontonians are people too.
Mr Radiff: That's right. They certainly are people and they pay one heck of a pile of taxes to this government.
Mr Clement: That's right; quite so.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We appreciate your information and your advice today.
ASSOCIATION CANADIENNE-FRANÇAISE DE L'ONTARIO
The Chair: Next I'd like to call forward representatives of l'Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario, Mr André Lalonde. We may have to interrupt you with about five minutes left on the clock so that the members of the committee can go and vote. I hope you understand that.
Mr Kormos: Chair, if I may, I don't know if they've been consulted as to whether they prefer to be interrupted or to wait until --
The Chair: They have indeed.
Mr Kormos: Okay. God bless.
Mr Daniel St-Louis: We don't mind that.
Mr André Lalonde: That's fine. Mr Chairman, I'd like to present Daniel St-Louis, who will be accompanying me in the presentation, and I'd like to present my son, Jean-François Lalonde, who's here on the Take Our Kids To Work project today. He's been with the president of ACFO in meetings since very early this morning and he'll be with us until quite late tonight.
Monsieur le Président, membres du comité, l'Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario est heureuse de pouvoir soumettre dans le cadre de cette consultation publique ses commentaires sur le document de réflexion du gouvernement visant les consultations par voie référendaire.
Notre association regroupe un bon nombre d'organismes d'envergure provinciale que compte la communauté franco-ontarienne ainsi que 22 chapitres locaux. L'ACFO a pour objectif premier de défendre les intérêts des 550 000 francophones vivant en Ontario et de promouvoir le bien-être de cette communauté.
L'ACFO reconnaît la pertinence de cette forme de consultation pour orienter les politiques publiques. Nous ne saurions prendre position dans le sens contraire, puisque nous avons déjà pris part activement dans une démarche référendaire, c'est-à-dire, celle de 1992 sur les accords constitutionnels de Charlottetown. Devant la réflexion que porte le gouvernement provincial sur cette question, il va de soi que l'adoption d'une loi d'encadrement référendaire viendra confirmer l'importance de cette forme de participation publique au processus politique ontarien.
Bien que nous acceptions l'usage de cet outil, notre association demeure très prudente quant à ses modalités d'application. La voie référendaire ne peut et ne doit pas être utilisée abusivement, et l'Assemblée législative doit conserver la primauté de la loi. Les dispositions législatives régissant l'utilisation des référendums doivent donc être claires et sans ambiguïtés. Elles doivent également établir des critères qui limiteront la portée et l'usage qui en sont faits.
Notre position s'appuie sur deux fondements essentiels :
Les systèmes parlementaires canadien et ontarien disposent déjà des mécanismes nécessaires pour assurer la bonne marche des affaires courantes de l'État ; par exemple, les élections à intervalle régulier, un processus législatif et exécutif bien établi, un système juridique structuré, et d'autres encore.
Or, il nous apparaît important de ne pas dérober les élus et les représentantes et représentants de l'État des responsabilités qui leur incombent.
L'exercice du droit de vote lors d'un référendum implique que l'électeur ou l'électrice est appelé à prendre position sur une question pour laquelle les législateurs ne se sentent pas aptes ou n'ont pas l'autorité voulue pour trancher. En ce sens, ce vote est un geste qui revêt un caractère particulièrement important. C'est un acte solennel de la part de l'électeur et de l'électrice qui ne doit pas perdre sa valeur en raison d'un usage trop fréquent ou d'une application sur des questions courantes.
En se fondant sur un usage restrictif de la voie référendaire, l'ACFO invite le gouvernement et la législature tout entière à considérer les modalités de fonctionnement suivantes :
D'abord, la tenue d'un référendum devrait être du ressort de l'Assemblée législative. Celle-ci devrait voir à formuler et débattre de la question, organiser le scrutin et assurer un bon déroulement du vote. Naturellement, sous l'autorité de l'Assemblée, cette tâche devrait revenir au bureau du directeur général des élections.
Un référendum provincial doit être circonscrit qu'à des questions sous l'autorité pratique ou constitutionnelle de la province. Toute question qui irait au-delà de son autorité ne pourrait avoir force de loi.
Le référendum ne doit pas devenir un outil pour permettre à la majorité d'abuser de la minorité ou d'imposer sa volonté sur cette dernière. En raison de ce principe, tout projet de référendum qui porterait atteinte aux droits des individus et des collectivités prévus par la constitution canadienne, par la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés et la Charte des droits de la personne de l'Ontario doit être jugé irrecevable.
Sur cette question, l'ACFO insiste tout particulièrement. Le référendum ne peut être utilisé pour retirer à une communauté minoritaire un droit qui lui est déjà acquis, constitutionnel ou non. Nous croyons fortement que les droits fondamentaux ne doivent pas être soumis aux aléas circonstanciels de l'opinion publique. Forcément, si les droits d'un groupe d'individus ou d'une collectivité sont en jeu, ce groupe ou cette collectivité doit-il aussi donner son assentiment à toute modification de ses droits.
Si la tenue d'un référendum résulte d'une volonté populaire de soumettre une initiative aux électrices et aux électeurs de la province, le projet de loi sur les consultations référendaires devra contenir des dispositions claires sur les modalités d'acceptation d'une requête. Il faudra éviter qu'un référendum résulte d'une frivolité d'une personne ou d'un groupe d'individus.
Would this be a good time for me to stop, Mr Chair?
The Chair: I would say. Excuse me, but I have to interrupt you at this time. The committee is adjourned for approximately 12 minutes.
The committee recessed from 1702 to 1717.
The Chair: I'd like to resume the committee meeting. If you could start again where you left off, Monsieur Lalonde.
M. Lalonde : Nous étions en train de revoir un certain nombre de points. Au quatrième point, nous parlions de la tenue éventuelle d'un référendum à la suite d'une volonté populaire. Nous disions à ce moment-là qu'il faudrait éviter qu'un référendum résulte de la frivolité d'une personne ou d'un groupe d'individus restreint. Ceci pourrait entraîner la tenue fréquente de référendums sur une multitude de questions de moindre importance ou d'intérêt limité.
Il faut donc éviter de banaliser l'importance des référendums. Une pétition portant les noms d'au moins 10 % des électrices et des électeurs ontariens devrait être requise pour qu'une question référendaire aille de l'avant sans obtenir, au préalable, l'accord de l'Assemblée législative. Dans de telles circonstances, cette dernière doit toutefois rester responsable de l'organisation et de la tenue du scrutin et de voir à donner suite au résultat du vote.
Par ailleurs, nous estimons qu'un référendum ne devrait être reconnu que lorsque 50 % plus une des voix exprimées favorisent le projet et que 70 % des électrices et des électeurs inscrits se sont présentés aux urnes. Le choix de question doit aussi pouvoir permettre une réponse claire, «oui» ou «non». À défaut de tels résultats, il serait mal avisé pour les élus d'agir dans un sens ou dans l'autre, la légitimité du processus lui-même étant alors en cause.
Enfin, pour limiter les coûts associés avec la tenue de référendums, les consultations devraient s'organiser autour de scrutins déjà prévus ; par exemple, les élections provinciales et municipales. Pour éviter toute confusion ou pour noyer l'enjeu, le nombre de questions soumises devrait être limité.
L'adoption d'un projet de loi sur les référendums doit contribuer à enrichir notre système démocratique et la société ontarienne dans son ensemble. En ce sens, l'Association canadienne-française de l'Ontario souscrit au principe évoqué par le gouvernement ontarien dans son document de réflexion :
«Les propositions en vue d'utiliser le référendum doivent être vues...comme un moyen parmi d'autres de permettre la démocratie directe dans le cadre de notre système parlementaire et, ainsi, de renforcer les liens qui unissent tous les citoyens et citoyennes de l'Ontario.»
Sur la base de ce principe, il nous apparaît invraisemblable de voir dans l'usage des référendums une panacée qui permettra de régler toutes les questions problématiques ou les enjeux fondamentaux en société. Cet instrument démocratique doit être utilisé parcimonieusement et avec justesse. La voie politique et la voie juridique demeurent toujours les principales portes d'accès pour le règlement de différends en société.
Par définition, un référendum a deux conséquences majeures : il oblige l'électorat à faire un choix sur une question bien précise et il élargit le débat à l'ensemble de la population. Or, ces deux facteurs tendent à polariser la société. Le Québec nous sert pertinemment d'exemple à cet égard. Les référendums de 1980 et de 1995 ont créé des séquelles durables dans les relations entre individus au sein des familles québécoises et dans la société en général, en plus d'entraîner des incertitudes très coûteuses.
Bien qu'en initiant ce projet le gouvernement ontarien souhaite rallier la population et la rapprocher de ses institutions politiques, la réalité nous montre que les résultantes d'une telle démarche ne correspondent pas toujours à ce louable objectif. Au contraire, elles peuvent souvent entraîner la division et des coûts à moyen et à long terme.
Nous invitons donc le gouvernement ontarien à agir avec beaucoup de prudence et pondération dans les choix qu'il fera quant au projet de loi sur les référendums. Merci.
The Chair: Thank you very much, M. Lalonde. We have time for some questions, and I'll turn to the New Democratic caucus first.
Mr Kormos: Thank you kindly. You were here when I made my comments to the previous presenter and I spoke of this concept of tyranny of the majority. There are some, clearly, who think that democracy is as simple as the prevailing majority, and that is to say that the majority can create a society which is a very discriminatory or oppressive society to certain classes of people if those people are not in the majority, if they're in the minority.
You also appear to have restricted your support for referenda to some very narrow, very restricted, very controlled forum or issues.
What would your response be, if we're talking about what is democratic and what is not, to the concept of proportional representation, such as many European countries have in their parliaments or chambers, where, if a certain party receives X per cent of the popular vote, they have that percentage of representatives in a legislative body? That would mean the New Democrats wouldn't have formed a majority government in 1990, that the Liberals wouldn't have formed a majority government in 1987, that the Conservatives, because the majority of Ontarians didn't vote for the Conservatives and their policies, wouldn't have formed a majority Parliament in Ontario now. Have you reflected at all, during the course of your work on this, on the issue of proportional representation?
Mr Lalonde: No, not specifically, but our preoccupations, I think, are quite clear. We are quite aware of the danger when a majority imposes its will or takes away rights, constitutional or not, from the minority. Although we may think this is not possible today, moods do swing, things happen, and the majority today also is not necessarily the majority tomorrow. We're quite preoccupied and we would like to see a law that would not allow this to happen on a whim, on a fancy, because of some immediate political problem. Therefore, if referendums are to be held, there must be a very high standard, in our opinion.
Mr Kormos: I should explain, you see, it's my view that notwithstanding that the majority of people in our provincial community may not support minority language rights, it's the job of legislators sometimes, yes, to be directed by the electorate in a direct way, other times to lead. It's my view that legislators have a responsibility to protect a minority in the instance of minority language rights.
In the instance of same-sex spousal benefits -- as you know, that was an issue in the last government -- it's my view, notwithstanding that, as it was then in 1995 or 1994, the majority of Ontarians might not endorse it, that legislators had a responsibility to protect the rights of that minority that may not have had a level of popular support. It's interesting, because I share your concerns about the approach to referenda because of what it does to those sensitivities.
Mr Lalonde: I might add that we believe we must use the various ways and means and tools that are available to us to exercise democracy, and referendums are only one. There are other means: The election of representatives is one, the judicial system is another one, the executive function is another one. We believe that a combination of those can provide for real democracy. To say that we should forget everything else and make referendums the ultimate decision-making power would certainly go against what we have proposed today.
The Chair: It's the turn of the government caucus now for a couple of questions.
M. Clement : Je veux vous remercier pour votre présentation. Ma question est la suivante : si c'est clair que les référendums sont sous la juridiction de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés et sous la Charte des droits de la personne de l'Ontario, est-ce qu'il est plus possible d'appuyer un référendum en Ontario ?
M. Lalonde : Oui. Notre position, c'est qu'on ne peut pas s'opposer de façon catégorique à tout référendum. Cependant, en plus des préoccupations que vous mentionnez, je pense qu'il est essentiel aussi de mentionner que les standards doivent être élevés.
Je me rappelle encore les 10 questions qui ont été posées en Californie hier soir. Il y avait deux postes à élire, plus la présidence, et il y avait également 10 questions. Quel a été le résultat dans la participation de la population ? Le «turnout» -- excusez le mot -- était très bas. Donc, ça a eu un impact qui n'était pas désiré. Mais le fait de pouvoir permettre tant de questions et pas nécessairement toutes des questions d'envergure fait en sorte qu'on perd l'importance du référendum.
M. Clement : Les affaires constitutionnelles etc.
M. Lalonde : Et c'est extrêmement important que ça ne puisse pas renverser des décisions constitutionnelles et des droits, soit sous la Charte des droits de la personne ou sous la Charte canadienne des droits et libertés.
Mr St-Louis: If I may, as a complement to the last element, just return to the example that was used in the previous presentation on the French Language Services Act: Even with the Ontario Charter of Rights and the federal charter, the French Language Services Act does not come under the auspices of either of those two, so it could theoretically be subject to referenda. This is one of the areas where the association certainly feels some concern about the kind of use that could be made of referenda. So the question of the Charter of Rights does not necessarily encompass all aspects of rights of individuals and collectivities.
M. Hastings : Merci pour votre présentation de l'Association. Ma question porte sur un exemple peut-être d'un pays qui a connu l'impact de décisions négatives contre la minorité quand la constitution de ce pays a situé vigoureusement les droits de la minorité de ce pays.
Do you have an example of a country where there are referenda and they actually had a question which had a negative impact and had a loss of minority rights in that country, even though they had a constitution in place and a similar charter, a set of circumstances like we have here? Has there actually been an historical example?
M. Lalonde : Il n'y en a pas qui me viennent à l'esprit à ce moment-ci, mais je suis convaincu qu'il est possible d'en trouver puisque les droits de minorités ont été enlevés dans certains pays à certains moments, que ce soit par un système dictatorial ou dans d'autres circonstances. Donc, on va certainement se charger de vous en fournir des exemples. Mais tout de suite je ne m'attendais pas à cette question-là. Je n'en ai pas qui reviennent.
Cependant, même là où ce n'est pas une question aussi directe que celle-là, cette question a été posée dans tous les débats sur les droits à l'éducation confessionnelle à Terre-Neuve. Peu importe la réponse qu'on y a portée, il reste que ça a été une très grande préoccupation de la population et des législateurs. C'est encore une question que se pose, je crois, le Sénat canadien.
M. Morin : Je voudrais féliciter premièrement mes deux collègues, M. Clement et M. Hastings, de s'être exprimés d'une façon aussi agréable et aussi franche dans la langue de Molière. Ça me renverse. Vous devriez le faire peut-être plus fréquemment en Chambre.
Je voudrais, M. Lalonde, vous remercier de l'excellente présentation que vous avez faite. Ce que j'ai aimé, c'est que vous avez compilé dans quelques pages toutes les inquiétudes qui moi personnellement me mangeaient et aussi plusieurs de mes collègues.
M. Hastings faisait allusion à la question des minorités, si vous connaissiez des exemples semblables où on avait abusé des minorités. La question devrait être posée de la façon suivante : croyez-vous sincèrement qu'il devrait y avoir des mesures nécessaires pour empêcher que l'on n'abuse des minorités ou encore qu'on n'enlève les droits des minorités ? Je pense évidemment que ça a pris des années avant que la Loi 8 ne soit créée, et il s'agirait tout simplement qu'un gouvernement, peu importe lequel -- je ne fais pas d'accusations -- sent une opportunité de se débarrasser d'une certaine loi parce qu'une minorité dans un certain coin dit, «On veut se débarrasser de la Loi 8 ; ça coûte trop cher.» Alors, qu'est-ce que vous dites là-dessus ?
M. Lalonde : Si les référendums ont un certain pouvoir, à ce moment-là -- il y a un exemple que j'aurais dû mentionner, de fait, tantôt qui me vient maintenant à l'esprit. C'est le Règlement 17 ici même en Ontario en 1920, où il y avait de l'enseignement en français dans bon nombre d'écoles de la province, et ce depuis très longtemps, depuis les premiers établissements en Ontario. À ce moment-là, par décret du gouvernement, on l'a rendu illégal.
Donc oui, c'est tout à fait possible que ça se produise si on donne aux référendums le même pouvoir qu'on donne à un gouvernement. Notre histoire nous rend probablement très nerveux et très prudents sur ce plan-là.
M. Morin : Est-ce que vous avez considéré la forme qui devrait exister, par exemple ? Vous demandiez tout simplement que la question soit préparée par l'Assemblée législative. Qui serait sur ce comité-là ? Les trois partis ? Est-ce que ça devrait être un organisme détaché de l'Assemblée législative ? Est-ce que vous avez eu le temps d'y réfléchir ?
M. Lalonde : Non, nous n'avons pas développé les modalités, mais nous avons tenté plutôt de suggérer au comité certains grands encadrements qui permettraient ensuite de développer des modalités. Mais nous en sommes restés là, à ce qui nous semblait être une question de standards, une question de respecter les lois du pays, et aussi une question de très grande prudence pour ne pas permettre la tyrannie par la majorité qui a été mentionnée tantôt.
M. Morin : Je vous remercie, M. Lalonde.
M. Lalonde : Ça me fait plaisir.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation this afternoon. We appreciate your advice.
The Chair: Would our next presenter, Mr Maximus Perera, come forward. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I have to ask you to keep your presentation brief, Mr Perera. We have about 20 minutes, but we certainly look forward to your presentation.
Mr Maximus Perera: Fortunately the first speaker has introduced the subject very well, and the responses I have provided mirror the responses he has given except in just two cases.
Under question (e) I had provided an answer saying no, but I think I have had enough time to have some second thoughts on the subject. I think there has got to be some rule-making regarding the disclosure of the contributions and who the beneficiaries are.
Of course, looking at what's happening in the States relating to referenda and initiatives, there is a lot of money involved. I think it might be nice to have some type of legislation covering those aspects about, if you are going to retain some type of polling company, whether they should have the same privileges regarding the limitations, the thresholds, whether they should be 5% or 10% in their case, things like that. It's something that will have to be looked at carefully.
Listening to the submissions that were made before by the French-language types of questions, they relate to paragraph (j). I had said, in the case of initiatives, as long as they are not in violation of the Constitution and don't contravene the Charter of Rights and, of course, are within the areas of provincial responsibility. I would like to add another condition to that: that whatever referenda are to take place, they don't extinguish existing rights or privileges that citizens of Ontario have under existing legislation. That would guarantee whatever rights they have now.
I would like to suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that is something we need to have. The existing system of democracy in the province doesn't provide much excitement because there is no commitment or participation by the electorate. We have to do something to stimulate the interest of the average Ontarian. I think this is a good tool that could be used to do just that. Without too much delay, I would like to see legislation covering this whole area of referenda in Ontario.
That's my submission, if there are any questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We do have some time for questions from each of the caucuses. I'll start with the government caucus. Are there any questions for Mr Perera?
Mr Hastings: Mr Perera, can you think of an example of a referendum question that could advance minority rights rather than decrease them? Strengthen them? The theme running throughout all these submissions has been generally the concern, which is a legitimate one, that somehow or other, even with constitutional stuff built in, minority rights could be adversely affected. I'm just wondering if you can think of a set of circumstances the reverse way, where a referendum question could advance minority rights, further protect them.
Mr Perera: No, I couldn't think of anything at this stage. I looked at what is happening in Switzerland and Australia, but there was nothing much that we could gather in those areas relating to the minority rights aspects. All in all, in Ontario we have been very liberal in the sense that there have been privileges and rights extended to the minorities, whether they be ethnic or language types of things.
Mr Clement: I noticed that you have opted for a 5% minimum threshold in order for a citizens' initiative to be put on a ballot. You're still comfortable with that? You don't think it's too low?
Mr Perera: There have been suggestions that a 10% threshold would be fine, but I think it an undue burden that would be placed on the proponents of a referendum. One of the things I am suggesting is that they do not get any funding from the government. Considering that, I am comfortable with the 5% limit rather than 10%.
Mr Clement: That makes it, in a sense, more accessible, doesn't it? Because if it was 10%, you'd probably have only the organized groups in society that would have the ability to use the legislation to their advantage. This makes it more accessible to the general population.
Mr Perera: Exactly. That's what I was thinking about.
The Chair: Turning to the Liberal caucus now, Mr Morin.
Mr Morin: No, I don't have any questions.
The Chair: Turning to the New Democrats now, Mr Kormos.
Mr Kormos: I understand if a referendum is binding. What's the difference between this and polling, let's say, which is done by all types of governments all the time?
Mr Ron Johnson (Brantford): Not us.
Mr Kormos: Mr Johnson said, "Not us." He had a grin on his face because even he knows.
What's your sense of the distinction between a referendum, appreciating that it's binding, and polling? Governments do it all the time. They want to know what public opinion is. Notwithstanding the history of governments like Brian Mulroney's and David Peterson's and the last provincial government, governments are obsessed with thinking that they are doing things that are in response to the electorate but they inevitably find themselves turfed out. How do you see a distinction: surveys versus referendum, mere polling versus referendum?
Mr Perera: With polling, of course, you are getting a sense from a sample of the population. You don't go to the entire electorate to find out their feeling on a particular issue. That way, it doesn't form part of the democratic process. In the same way, in plebiscites you have a referendum but the government is not obligated to carry it out in case they get a positive response. That too I find a little unacceptable. You're asking the people, who have the power, "What is your sense on this particular issue?" When they have said, "Yes, we like it," or "We don't like it," the government changes its mind and doesn't accept it. I find that not very satisfactory.
Mr Kormos: I'm sure you, along with others, indicate that there's no need to have a minimum number of people participating in the referendum as long as there's a majority support of the people who did vote in the referendum.
Mr Perera: Yes, I think I have worded it that way somewhere in the submission. Anyone who is civic-minded and is interested in the process, they are the people who are going to come forward and vote. If you don't go and vote, I don't think you have the same rights, because you haven't been part of that process.
Mr Kormos: But the suggestion earlier, and I suspect it's been before this committee before, is the concern about the fact that even when you have a government elected by the largest single bloc in a given riding, it's not necessarily a majority of the voters, because we have voter turnouts that range from very low to modest. There was concern expressed about that. That was being portrayed as something of a shortcoming or flaw in the electoral system. Wouldn't the same shortcoming or flaw exist in a referendum system?
Mr Perera: The potential for more people to be involved and to get excited about it is much better in a referendum than the existing election process, because people don't feel they are part of the process now. Sometimes they throw their hands up and say, "Okay, we know that party A is going to come into power because party B's record, when it was in power, was terrible." People basically know that they're not going to get back into position.
Mr Kormos: You also say no restrictions on campaign spending or advertising. I'm trying to think of a scenario. Let me use one, let's say, with the beer companies, which as you know spend millions; Lord knows how much they spend on advertising. If there were a referendum on the issue of advertising beer or controls on advertising or a greater restriction on access to it, the beer industry, it seems to me, would have incredible resources and good reason to invest them. How would you balance the power in the types of campaigns that could be launched by the respective parties?
Mr Perera: If the companies or any particular organization has got the capital to throw into advertising, when you get the general public, their point of view, I'm sure people in Ontario are rather knowledgeable and could easily pick up what is true and what is false. No amount of advertising is going to change the outcome. It may probably be good for the economy, for the advertising industry.
Mr Kormos: I'm sure among the proponents of referenda would be the ad industry and the publishing industry.
Mr Perera: So be it, if they are willing to throw money.
Mr Kormos: What were the results of the referendum, Chair, yesterday in Michigan on casinos? Does anybody know, as a point of information? Casinos were an issue in Michigan yesterday, in the presidential election.
Mr Bill Grimmett (Muskoka-Georgian Bay): It's not reported on here. They've got everything else covered here.
Mr Kormos: Nobody knows the result?
The Chair: We're almost out of time. We'll have to check on that and have someone get back to you.
Mr Clement: It's one of life's little mysteries.
Mr Kormos: Perhaps legislative research could inquire about that.
The Chair: I'll tell you about it afterwards. I was watching the TV this morning.
Mr Kormos: It'll knock the daylights out of the Tories' gambling endeavours once the Yanks get --
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Perera, for your presentation this afternoon. The committee stands adjourned. We'll meet again at the call of the Chair.
The committee adjourned at 1748.