New Green Alliance Brief on Election Act

To: All Party Staff Committee on the Elections Act

From: New Green Alliance

September 30, 2021

The New Green Alliance would like to express our appreciation to the All Party Staff Committee of the legislature for asking for our input on proposed changes to the Election Act of 1996. The New Green Alliance, a registered political party in Saskatchewan, is part of the international Green movement which has political parties in over 100 countries around the world. We have fraternal links with the Green Party of Canada, the other provincial Green parties, the Green Party of the USA and are supporters of the principles embodied in the Global Green Charter.

Green parties around the world are committed to four basic pillars of the movement, and one of these is grassroots participatory democracy. We have seen the decline of voter participation across Canada in recent elections and a rise in cynicism about politics in general. In the last provincial election in Saskatchewan only 53% of eligible voters (not enumerated voters) went to the polls. We need major changes in the electoral system to re-engage voters. Thus the New Green Alliance would support the following changes.

I. Proportional representation

The New Green Alliance, and all Green parties around the world, support proportional representation. There are now five provinces in Canada formally considering the adoption of proportional representation. Saskatchewan, once known as the national base for populist democratic politics, is lagging behind.

The New Green Alliance would recommend that the province of Saskatchewan follow that of British Columbia: create a popular commission to hold hearings and meetings around the province to get input and provide information, produce a proposal for a PR system, and then submit it to the electorate in a referendum.

We could adopt a system similar to that in New Zealand, with 29 larger constituencies and then 29 elected through direct proportional representation. This is a simple system to use. A modification of this system is now used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as in the upper houses in Australia. The legislature could set a lower threshold of votes required to gain a seat in the legislature by the PR system. Some countries have set this at 5% of the votes cast.

II. Election spending

The New Green Alliance would recommend that the province of Saskatchewan follow the precedents of Quebec and Manitoba and ban political contributions from corporations, businesses and trade unions.

Personal donations to political parties should also be limited. One proposal would be to limit a contribution to $1275, the maximum for which there is a tax credit.

There should be greater limits on what political parties can spend in elections. This is the trend in all the western democratic countries. This is being replaced with increased financing from public sources. We should join this trend.

Other democratic countries provide free time for all political parties to present their case on radio and television. The trend here is to make this more equal -- not to give the dominant party the most free time.

The Election Act should definitely be changed to require that spending by constituency associations be included. Presently individuals, businesses and trade unions give donations to constituency associations and this is not recorded or audited. This is a gaping hole in the present Act.

All registered political parties should be able to participate in leader's debates that are televised or carried on radio. The Election Act should cover free time broadcasting including the right to participate in major political debates. These debates greatly influence voters, and all parties should have access to this important part of the electoral process.

III. Specific changes to the Election Act of 1996.

The Election Act of Saskatchewan must embrace the principles set forth by the Supreme Court of Canada in its decision on the Communist Party case: Miguel Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General), June 27, 2003. This is an interpretation by the Supreme Court of Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an expansion of what is meant by democratic rights.

The majority of the court decided that their role was to adopt "a broad and purposive approach" in defining what the legislation means. The purpose of section 3 of the Charter, they concluded, "is effective representation." They define this as "the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process, rather than the election of a particular form of government. This right is participatory and adverts only to a right to participate in the electoral process."

The court goes on to argue that section 3 should not be "construed too narrowly." Participation in the democratic election process includes "respect for diverse opinions and the capacity of individuals to enhance democracy. Full political debate ensures an open society benefitting from diverse opinions and a social policy sensitive to the needs and interests of a broad range of citizens."

They add that "participation in the electoral process has an intrinsic value independent of the outcome of elections. The right to run for office provides an opportunity to present ideas and
opinions to the electorate and the right to vote provides an opportunity for citizens to express
support for ideas and opinions."

The court majority then strikes down as unconstitutional the threshold level of 50 candidates. They state that "the ability of a party to make a valuable contribution is not dependent upon its capacity to offer the electorate a genuine government option.'" They support the role of political parties in the electoral process, "vehicles for the participation of individual citizens in the political life of the country. All political parties are capable of introducing unique interests and concerns into the political discourse and marginal or regional parties tend to raise issues not adopted by national parties." They add small parties and their platform positions have influence on larger parties as their vote goes up.

The court then strikes down as unconstitutional the section where unspent election funds for parties with less than 50 candidates is confiscated by the federal government. This argument here is important to the Election Act in Saskatchewan:

"Section 3 imposes on Parliament an obligation not to enhance the capacity of one citizen to
participate in the electoral process in a manner that compromises another citizen's parallel right
to meaningful participation. Political parties that have satisfied the threshold requirement have
more resources for communication than those that have not. The 50-candidate threshold thus
infringes sec 3 of the Charter by decreasing the capacity of the members and supporters of the
disadvantaged parties to introduce ideas and opinions into the open dialogue and debate that the
electoral process engenders. Moreover, the right to vote in accordance with preferences requires
each citizen to have information to assess party platforms and the legislation undermines the right
to information protected by s. 3."

Thus the New Green Alliance argues that the spirit of this decision by the Supreme Court would also make unconstitutional several sections of the 1996 Saskatchewan Election Act. These would include:

(1) The loss of the $100 deposit by candidates. This is a penalty to smaller parties. The federal election act includes reimbursement of all candidate's deposits.

(2) Reimbursement of election expenses. The 15% of the vote requirement discriminates against
smaller parties and greatly empowers the larger parties who spend large amounts. The New Green Alliance recommends that this reimbursement be abolished completely.

(3) The New Green Alliance recommends the simplification of all the registration and auditing
processes. The myriad of forms to fill out at present discriminates against small parties who do not have major sources of funds and hired staff.

Neal Anderson
New Green Alliance