House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

October 17th, 2000 / 6:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of my colleague's Motion No. 155 which states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should work towards incorporating a measure of proportional representation in the federal electoral system, making use of a framework which includes: (a) a report on proportional representation prepared by an all-party committee after extensive public hearings; (b) a referendum to be held on this issue where the question shall be whether electors favour replacing the present system with a system proposed by the committee as concurred in by the House; and (c) the referendum may be held either before or at the same time as the next general election.

I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, for bringing this issue forward. The member has been a champion both of reforming democracy and of bringing a measure of democracy before the House ever since he first became a member I believe more than 20 years ago. I want to say that it is this kind of outstanding work by one member of parliament that is a measure of what a person can do in the House and what can be accomplished.

I think it sometimes has been rather a lonely battle to take on this issue. I congratulate the member for having the strength and motivation to keep plugging away at the issue of making sure our democratic system is more representative and fair. It is an issue that perhaps Canadians do not fully understand, but when I talk to my constituents in East Vancouver and to other electors, I really understand that people feel alienated and very far removed from the political system. We only have to look at federal election results and voter turnout to see what happens in terms of people's alienation.

It used to be that when a federal election was called, 80% of those eligible to vote would actually go out and vote. That number has dropped. I believe in the last federal election it was down to about 67% or 69%. In my own constituency of Vancouver East it went even slightly below the national average.

Here we are today, in the House, poised to deal with the issue of proportional representation and days away from an expected federal election call on whatever issue the Prime Minister has dreamed up he wants to campaign on, when the very issue of democracy and fair representation has not been taken up by the government. I welcome the opportunity, days before what we expect to be an election call, to actually debate this issue. Hats off to the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for having the strength to bring forward and never give up on the issue.

It is important to explain to Canadian voters what proportional representation is all about. Basically it is making sure representation in the House of Commons is proportional to the number of votes a party actually wins. That is the basic premise and that is the principle on which we are advancing this motion.

What it really means is that if a political party wins, say, 38% of the vote, which in actual fact is what the governing party did win, it would get only about 38% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is not what our experience is today. When we see what our system really does produce it is really quite astounding. I think it reinforces people's cynicism about the political system.

I would like hon. members to look at the numbers. In the last federal election the Reform Party got 19% of the vote and so did the Conservative Party. However, because of our system of basically first past the post, the Conservative Party got 19 seats and became the fifth party. The Reform Party, still based on the same kind of support within the Canadian electorate, got 60 seats and became the official opposition.

In terms of the other two political parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP each got approximately 11% of the vote in the last federal election. What was produced in the House was astoundingly different. The Bloc Quebecois got 44 seats in the House and the NDP got 21 seats.

I think Canadians understand but they may not have thought it through in terms of the actual formula used. It begs the question is this what democracy is about? Is this what representation means? To the hon. member who said yes, that is what it is about, I say he is dead wrong.

If we look at every other developed country in the western world there is some proportional representation. Judy Rebick, a well-known commentator on CBC, wrote in her column in May 2000, when this motion was first introduced, that Canada is probably the least democratic country in the developed world when it comes to elections. Democracy is defined in the dictionary as majority rule, and yet in all of Canadian history only two federal governments have actually won a majority of votes. I agree with her view. We are way overdue for a political debate on this issue. Astoundingly it has not been debated for over 75 years.

When I came to the House as a newly elected member of parliament I had strong ideals, which I still have, about working for my constituents and making a difference in this place. I am sure all 301 members of parliament feel that way. However, when we look at the system under which we operate and see how it is systemically designed to reinforce establishment party rule, I really think we have to challenge that status quo. We have to say to ourselves and to Canadians that if we believe in democracy and true representation of what people are actually voting, we must have the courage to stand and change that system and move to a system of proportional representation where people can ensure that every vote counts.

That is precisely what the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has designed this motion to do, to ensure that the voices of Canadians, no matter where they are in the country, are actually reflected in the House of Commons representation.

The motion actually talks about establishing an all party committee. I suggest that this is a very important element. My entire last community householder addressed the idea in “It's About Democracy”. I talked about voting, the importance of the right to vote, and how in many places people have died for the right to vote. I actually included a whole section on proportional representation to get people's feedback. I have been amazed by the interest and the feedback from people who say they want to know more about it and how they can make sure it happens.

We are days away from an election based on the old established rules. As a consequence most people will be silent. Their votes will not be counted in a truly representational way.

As members of the House we have the opportunity to say we are willing to look at this issue, to make our parliament democratic and to make our voting system democratic. The 75 years of silence on this issue, other than the work our hon. member has done, is far too long to wait for true democracy.

I call on all members of the House to support the motion. At least let us have a good debate on it to see what kind of support there is from the public, because I think it is there.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I make the observation at the beginning that the reason why this has not been debated in the last 75 years is that the debate concluded 75 years ago with the conclusion that proportional representation is not anywhere near as democratic or efficient for democratic societies as what we do have in Canada, which is the first past the post constituency system.

I observe that the three most powerful democracies in the world, the three most efficient democracies in the world, the three democracies of which at least two of them have the greatest land masses in the world, have the simple plurality system that we inherited from the British parliamentary system.

If we compare proportional representation around the world, the majority of countries that have that type of system, which basically involves a party leader being able to name people to seats based on the percentage of votes his parties received, we will find by and large that the countries whose democracies work most inefficiently and with the greatest amount of difficulty are those that have proportional representation.

There is a reason for this. There is a very clear reason. Proportional representation is great in theory but terrible in practice. The reason is that in the end it so slices up the result of an election that very rarely do we have anything but a minority government and too often we have a situation where not only do we have a minority government but the balance of power is controlled by a very few.

I point out that Israel, which is currently in the news right now, is a classic case of proportional representation. What happens is that a legislative assembly or a parliament is fractured among many parties. What constantly happens is that no single party can get enough of the seats by proportional representation, percentage of the vote, to form a government. In the end, very small parties, often parties with very extremist agendas, form the balance of power.

I think one of the barriers to peace in the Middle East, to some extent, has been the fact that successive Israeli governments have had a great deal of difficulty advancing agendas for peace when they have had very small splinter parties, which they are dependent upon to remain in power, that are very reluctant to advance the peace process, as the current government of Mr. Barak. I find he made a superb effort, but we do realize that he had to come to some very difficult alliances to even bring the peace process as far as it has gone now.

Let us leave Israel. We can go around the world and find countries such as Italy and many others in which proportional representation has led to successive governments that are extraordinarily weak and have constant elections. It is bad enough to have an election in less than four years around this place, but some of these countries with proportional representation have elections about every year, if not every six months.

To illustrate my point I do come prepared. I do have an example that should strike great interest. It is the results of the 1997 election when the Liberals did form the government. It was a very narrow majority. In fact the Liberal government only received 38.5% of the popular vote but obtained 51.5% out of 301 seats in the House. So a government was formed.

The mover of the motion would find that unacceptable. Let us just consider what would have happened had we had proportional representation instead of the by constituency voting mechanism that we have inherited from the British parliamentary system. Here is what would have happened. I have a note here somewhere that I made. Had it been proportional representation in this parliament based on the 1997 election, two alliances would have formed based on the percentage of seats they would have obtained.

Let us suppose that one of those alliances would have been the Liberals and the NDP. The Liberals obtained 38.5% of the popular vote. The NDP received 11%, for a grand total of 49.5% entitlement for the number of seats. In other words, had the seats reflected the popular vote, then the Liberal and NDP coalition would have been entitled to only 49.5% of those seats.

Similarly we had the natural alliance formed around the Canadian Alliance, the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservatives. The figures are 18.8%, 19.4% and 10.7%, for a grand total of 48.9%. Of the five major parties in the House, neither natural alliance would have been able to form a government.

Where would the balance of the seats come from? There were three independents. In fact if the seats had been awarded according to the percentage of popular vote, enormous power would have been given to the two independent MPs who were sitting in this House. They would have had it in their power to determine whether it would be a government based on NDP-Liberal values or a government based on the more conservative or the more decentralizing philosophy that characterizes the Bloc, the Reform Party and the Conservative Party.

That is unacceptable. A country cannot be run when that kind of power is given to so few. What we have in our system is not fair, in the most literal sense, but it works.

When there is talk about democracy we do not simply talk about what is fair or what seems good on paper. We have to talk about what is good for the country and what is good for Canadians. What is necessary in any democracy is that we have a reasonable succession of governments that are able actually to carry out a mandate, if not for five years or four years, at least for three and a half years. In a system where there are two MPs holding 299 MPs to ransom, governments will rise and fall every six months, as indeed they do around the world with countries with this kind of problem.

There is another major problem with proportional representation which strikes near and dear to my heart. One of the problems is that in our current system the reason why there is a skew in the percentage votes is that if I win in my riding and another person wins in another riding I may win by 30%, 40% or 50%. It depends. Nevertheless I win in my riding and I come to the House representing the people in my constituency. It makes it very difficult for the Prime Minister or any party leader. If I come to the House I am not only here because of my party leader, I am also here because of the support I have received regionally in my constituency from my own electors.

In the proportional representation system there are no constituencies, not usually. In the majority of them there are no constituencies. What happens is that once the party leader, as in the case in Israel and so many other countries, gets the percentage of the vote, he determines who takes his place in parliament. The difficulty is that means the party leader can hold his politicians together with an iron fist, whereas the reality here is that the Prime Minister has to be on a certain amount of good behaviour around here because he cannot easily fire backbench MPs like me.

The reality is that he can dismiss people from cabinet but he cannot dismiss people from their House of Commons seats. If he does, he may do it at his peril because—and the hon. member for York South—Weston is a good case in point—the leader may dismiss but the voters may return that person as an independent.

The thing that I find most appalling about the very thought of proportional representation is that in that kind of parliament I would not survive 10 minutes.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I was at university, we had a debate on proportional representation in Canada and we had trouble finding people capable of justifying it within the system in which we live.

The Canadian parliamentary system, with all of its history, cannot be improved merely by introducing a new way of voting. What absolutely needs to be changed is the entire way the municipalities, the provinces and the federal government operate, and that cannot be done solely at the federal level.

I remember the New Democratic Party's talk of pure proportional representation. Among my professors here in Ottawa, and they were fairly leftward leaning, there was not a one who talked about pure proportionality. Technically, it is impossible to apply. Many impressive works have been written on this; I have looked up my old reading list. There are some very good books on proportional representation and a pure proportional system can never be implemented.

I also recall that some decades ago a number of provincial governments, a number of provincial parties, including our friends in the New Democratic Party and the Parti Quebecois, proposed proportional representation. I will not address the Parti Quebecois, but rather the NDP. Some provinces are governed by the NDP. There are medium and large municipalities that are governed by parties that are more or less left wing. I have not seen any example of proportional representation. That simply does not exist.

The other major problem with this private member's bill is that the Senate is completely overlooked. They do not want to talk about the Senate. It is like our friends from the Canadian Alliance who do not want to talk about the sovereignists in the House. They vote against motions because these motions are presented by sovereignists. There is respect for democracy, but that is another issue. The Senate is important. A few years ago, some discussions took place and some proposals were made about proportional representation for the provinces in the Senate. The Senate has a historical role that is not, of course, truly fulfilled. It must represent the territories, the larger territories such as the provinces, and the regions.

Instead of appointing friends as senators, we could use a system based on proportional representation to choose them. For example, the Canadian Alliance Party, the Bloc Quebecois and all the other parties could be represented in the Senate. Without really changing the role of the Senate, each province would submit a list of names.

That is one solution but, here again, we are talking about lists and when we talk about lists it is as though we were undemocratic. What the NDP member told us earlier is that proportional is equivalent to democratic. It is not true because it is up to one person, the party leader, to decide whose name will be on the list. For example, in a riding, assuming we were to keep the same structure, if I lost the election it would mean that a clear majority, in a perfect system of proportional representation, had rejected me, their representative. That is not democracy.

During the 1990s, when the number of seats in the House was increased to represent Canada's demographic growth, there was talk of having a percentage, 250 members, for example, elected in the present system, and the remainder, some 50 members, elected proportionally.

Here again, with such a high risk of a minority government, and the set rules in the House of Commons on political party recognition—a minimum of 12 members of a party must be elected for the party to be officially recognized—the rule of a proportional vote could not be used. For example, if six members of the Green Party were elected, they would not have official status in the House. This is another problem of democracy.

The question of proportional representation must really be examined as a whole. First, there must be the assurance that the representative elected in a given region carries some weight, carries some of the political will of his community.

Instead of proportional representation, could we talk of a second ballot? Instead of proportional representation here in the House, each riding could hold a second ballot. That means that every member would have to have 50% of the votes plus one.

There would still be the risk of government inefficiency, because the strength of Canada and the provincial governments lies in the fact that when government is elected and given a mandate for a certain period, and more often than not in the case of a majority government, the government has a majority to give it the time to introduce bills, to take major decisions and to reach difficult decisions.

Could a second ballot or proportional representation not be used in the case of the committees? Perhaps. It is done. In that case, there is no list, but rather an ongoing system of appointments.

Clearly improvement is necessary. I say this often. It is like the Canadian constitution. The constitution is not just a couple of pieces of paper we stick in a drawer or display in a museum. The Canadian constitution has a daily and real impact on the life of every citizen, except that we do not have to modernize it because people do not want to talk about the constitution. There is no wish for a weekend constitutional conference.

If the country evolves, if people move with the times, perhaps this piece of paper should be updated as well. Naturally, this includes the role of MPs. It includes the way in which these men and women are elected. This automatically brings us to the Senate.

People want to abolish the Senate. Why? Because they say it is ineffective. Someone was telling me that two houses were better than one. In that case, the Senate must be given a role. Perhaps it could perform the role assigned it by the constitution, which also provides certain protections.

In the constitution, Quebec is given special status through its number of representatives in the Senate. This is important. What would proportional representation mean for the people of Quebec? What effect would it have on the francophones of the country? This has to be considered. We are still a minority and will have to keep fighting to preserve our language. That is where the Senate comes in.

As for the House, I must admit that we lost out a bit. In the constitution, Quebec has 75 seats, except that there is no section providing for an increase in that number, as Quebec did not then have the right of veto that it has in the Senate. With every passing decade, Quebec is losing political clout because it is losing ground demographically. Before anything is done about the little constitutional protection Quebec still has, there will need to be a constitutional conference in a lovely building surrounded by water and guarded by the RCMP.

These are therefore major constitutional changes and we need to think of present and future minorities. We must think about the role of the ridings, the role of the provinces and the role of the Senate.

What this motion is asking us to do is to discuss things. That would be fun, but the motion does not go far enough. There is no mention of the Senate.

It is conceivable that everyone could be elected by proportional representation and that there would still be an appointed Senate. Senators would be appointed by a government that would not be able to stay in power for more than six months.

Our system is not built that way. It is, first of all, a two-party system. There is a party in power and there is the opposition. This has been the third time in Canadian history that the opposition has been comprised of three or four parties. It certainly will not be the last. In our system, like that of Great Britain, the United States, like many major countries, if one really wants to talk about better representation, proportional representation cannot be applied to Canada at present. It is impossible.

So I say yes to virtue, but also to realism. I invite hon. members to look at what goes on internally. First of all, how can improvements be made in the other place? We could put in place certain improvements to the Senate without changing the constitution, because people want nothing to do with that. Unfortunately, it is a question of once burned, twice shy, particularly in Quebec.

Let us put in place measures that will improve the Senate, let us ensure provincial and territorial representation, and then later on improvements can be made to what goes on here.

The hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is challenging the House and the government to make use of proportional representation. What I would invite him to do is to first meet with the provincial NDP governments. He might have more luck convincing his NDP brother than his Liberal distant cousin.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Whelan Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in this important debate on an aspect of our electoral system.

My remarks will begin with some observations on Canada's electoral system and tradition, then comment on the experiences of other countries and point out some considerations we should bear in mind on this very important issue.

Canada's electoral system is a model for democracies around the world. It is a well functioning system with a long history that Canadians support. Indeed, other countries have sought out our expertise in designing their electoral systems.

As we all know, Canadians elect members of parliament through a first past the post, single member constituency system derived from the British electoral system. The first past the post system encourages pre-election consensus building within parties so they might present broad platforms to appeal to the majority of voters. This also means that each of the 301 federal ridings is represented by the one candidate who receives the most votes in an election. That means that individual Canadians at the local level can elect an MP and have someone from their area who they can identify and contact on issues of importance to them.

Canadians have a tested election system that has provided us with strength in terms of stability and consensus building as well as local representation for individual Canadians.

There has also been debate on the reform of the existing system. There has been little broad based public debate on possible changes to our electoral system. Most of it has centred on the possibility of a directly elected Senate.

In 1979 the Pépin-Robarts task force on Canadian unity proposed that 60 supplementary seats be added to the House of Commons and that these seats be allocated to parties in proportion to their share of the popular vote. In the early 1980s the Quebec government considered and in the end rejected a regionally based proportional representation system.

More recently, the MacDonald commission in 1985 and the Beaudoin-Dobbie committee in 1992 recommended that members of the Senate, but not those of the House of Commons, be elected by proportional representation.

A system based on proportional representation in Canada would likely result in more minority governments, would make post-election coalition building a major step in forming a government, could give marginal parties disproportionate influence on national policies, and could exacerbate regional tensions by making it more difficult to build national consensus among all Canadians.

Such fundamental change in the electoral system would require broad public debate and public support and possibly a constitutional amendment, which I will comment on in a few moments.

I will now consider other countries' experiences. A number of foreign countries have incorporated proportional representation into their electoral systems. Several points are important to note.

First, there is a wide range of possibilities for proceeding with proportional representation. Second, other countries' experiences vary. For some, proportional representation has been costly and divisive, and in some cases, abandoned. Some of the advantages of proportional representation cited by its advocates include higher voter turnout, more voter choice and more diverse representation, with more women and minorities in the legislature and in government.

However, a closer examination of the facts shows that these advantages are in fact not as clear-cut in actual practice. Indeed, proportional representation can be a complicated and costly system.

Now we have to take a look at constitutional considerations. Canada's constitutional provisions must be considered when assessing possible changes toward greater proportional representation. First, the constitution, sections 37 and 55, requires that provinces be proportionately represented in the House of Commons. Second, the Canadian tradition of one member representing one geographically defined constituency would probably be hard to change.

Any major public debate on changes to the electoral system which considers a greater degree of proportional representation could be expected to open up many other issues including: the question of representation of aboriginal peoples; distribution of seats, by province, by region, and urban versus rural; Senate reform; and roles, responsibilities and accountability of MPs elected from a party list. These issues suggest that a constitutional change might be required to proceed with proportional representation.

Mr. Speaker, I want you to know, for me particularly, that I am very concerned about the distribution of seats by region, urban versus rural. We should be well aware of the fact that it is important that our rural areas in Canada are well represented in the House of Commons, as they are today.

Particularly in a province like Ontario it is very important that we continue to have diversified representation, that we continue to recognize the different issues in northern Ontario and in southwestern Ontario, the different issues that we have in urban centres versus rural centres, and the different issues in Burlington, as the member has just pointed out.

Every area has different issues and every area needs to have someone there who can respond to those issues, represent those issues, bring them to a national consensus and bring them to an area where we can work together to resolve these issues and define what they are.

There would be tremendous public debate on that very issue. I do not know how we would resolve it to the satisfaction of a minority of people who need representation. We cannot allow them to not be represented.

We also have to look at the importance of provincial representation and provinces, the distribution of seats and why and how the constitution was written, why certain guarantees were made, and we have to encourage development in those areas where they may not have large populations, such as the Atlantic provinces. We need to encourage and ensure that those provinces grow economically and grow in population. It is important that we look at that.

When we look at other countries' experiences, it just does not hold up. One of the advocates says that it includes higher voter turnout, more voter choice and more diverse representation of women and minorities, but the facts say that is not happening. There are not those clear cut examples. They are not there in reality. In fact, it is a more expensive system. We have to look at what is working well in Canada, at why it is working well and at why would we want to change from what we have.

There is an opportunity after every national census to make representations on the boundaries of each riding and to discuss what should be included and what should not. Sometimes members of parliament themselves will go forward to make suggestions that would make their area larger or that would give their boundaries a higher population because they recognize that there are communities or centres of communities that need to be connected and need to be together. They need to be represented in a way that reflects the way in which they live and work together. We cannot just put a line down the middle of a community and expect them not to be insulted by that.

It is important that we continue to talk about and debate the system but it is important that we continue to have representation. I thank the hon. member for raising this issue. I know it was raised during the procedure and house affairs committee's consideration of election issues. I believe it would be premature of the House to pronounce itself on an issue as complex and far reaching as proportional representation or to have a national referendum on it at this point in time. I am therefore calling upon all hon. members to oppose this motion.

I would thank you for your wonderful job as Speaker in the House of Commons over these past few years. I have very much enjoyed having you in the chair and having the opportunity to work with you.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Thank you for those very kind words.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to stand in the House of Commons to speak on the issue of democracy.

I congratulate the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for bringing forward this initiative. Frankly I am surprised. He has been reading our book. Is that not incredible? If one looks at the 75 principles on which our party was founded and the principles that now give us direction on how to represent our constituents in this wonderful House of Commons, one will read, in item 74 of those 75 guiding principles, the following:

To improve the representative nature of our electoral system, we will consider electoral reforms, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, electronic voting, and fixed election dates, and will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.

The hon. member is really a closet Canadian Alliance member.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK

My motion came before your book.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

The hon. member claims that his motion came before our book. I rather doubt that. This happened quite a while ago. This is very similar to policies to which I have aspired ever since I was first elected.

What is democracy? That really is the question here. To me democracy is that system whereby we reflect, in the rules of our country, the will of the majority of the people as much as possible. There are times when that is not possible. Sometimes the majority of people simply do not like something when in fact it is a necessity. However, in a true democracy, if we come up to those kinds of situations I believe we need to be able to persuade the Canadian people, based on sound argument, that the measure is supportable. I have observed in my short lifetime that in those countries where a majority of the governed do not support the decisions made by their government the society usually deteriorates. We see sometimes total chaos in those countries.

What do we have in Canada? Do we have democracy? As I said, I am proud to stand in the House of Commons as representative for the people of Elk Island. In my party, the one I very proudly belong to, I have a mandate to represent the people of my constituency, whereas the other parties by policy have to vote the way they are told by their party leadership. In our party the rule is that when a clear consensus can be found among the people of the riding it is the duty of the member of parliament to represent the wishes of those people.

Contrast that with other parties where individuals who act contrary to party wishes get kicked out. They need to be represented in a way that reflects the way in which they live and work together. We cannot just put a line down the middle of a community and expect them not to be insulted by that.

Another thing that comes to mind with respect to a democratic system is that we are so far from it. It is incredible the amount of power we have vested in one person, the Prime Minister of the country. Right at the grassroots level the Prime Minister, as the leader of the governing party, can actually choose candidates in different constituencies at election time.

It is not required that the candidate be the person chosen by the people in the constituency. We have a number of situations where people aspiring to run to become members of parliament have been rebuffed by the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. They have been told they cannot run even when they have won the majority of votes at their meeting. Instead, the party in power states what people it wants. In some cases an election is not even held. The candidate is simply appointed.

We experienced this in Canada just last week when the Prime Minister effectively chose the member of parliament for one of the ridings in Newfoundland. It basically gave the people there no choice at all. He has been appointed to the cabinet of Canada without even having won an electoral seat in this country. To me that is not democracy.

The Prime Minister who chooses the candidates in the ridings is also the one who controls the members of parliament and tells them how to vote during each vote held in this place, that is, with the exception of the odd private member's bill, where members express themselves individually.

The Prime Minister controls the Senate. He appoints the members of the Senate, especially when there is a change of party in power, after a short length of time. We have experienced this since 1993 when the Conservatives held the majority in the Senate and when it served a very useful function, frankly. From time to time the Senate maintained a bill was not good for Canada and sent it back with amendments. However, after a while senators retired or passed away. They were replaced with Liberal appointees or liberally appointed. They now do the bidding of the Prime Minister in the other House.

There is no democracy in that. The Prime Minister appoints the candidates, appoints the Senate, and controls how they vote in both Houses. One could say that is really more of a dictatorship than a democracy. We must add to that the ability of the Prime Minister to appoint judges and commissioners to all the different commissions in the government. It goes on and on. We do not really have representative democracy.

With respect to proportional representation, the specific motion before us today, there are different kinds of proportional representation. The model I like the best is the one in which each constituency has a first past the post candidate. To me it seems fair that the person who got more votes than anyone else, not the one who came second or third, should represent the people of that riding.

However, there is a better way to do even that. In votes we should seriously consider having people express themselves in a preferential ballot and have the votes counted by computer. The person who has the fewest votes on the first level of choice would drop off the ballot. Every ballot with that person as a first choice would then go to the second choice. The process would continue until the person had a majority of the people in the riding. In that way we would not have a situation where there is a minority member. Eventually he or she would have the majority of the votes based on the first, second, third or fourth choice.

The second model I like a great deal is the one in which we have the first past the post system, as now, but also members at large for perhaps each province. I do not think we would want to do this right across the country. It would cause a bit of a problem. However, in each province there could be a set-up in which each province has so many members of parliament elected from the constituencies plus so many at large. That number could be used in the proportional system to top up representation for each province. It would serve very well to balance out the powers.

Then the ultimate, and this was the argument from the Liberal side, was that we would have a minority government. A number of people have told me our best governments have been minority. In minority governments legislators have to actually engage in a fair amount of give and take, negotiating and accepting amendments to improve bills. We thus get better legislation. I think we would be much better served if governments had to do that negotiation on the bills and motions they brought forward.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me this opportunity to address Motion M-155, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should work towards incorporating a measure of proportional representation in the federal electoral system, making use of a framework which includes: ( a ) a report on proportional representation prepared by an all-party committee after extensive public hearings; ( b ) a referendum to be held on this issue where the question shall be whether electors favour replacing the present system with a system proposed by the committee as concurred in by the House; and ( c ) the referendum may be held either before or at the same time as the next general election.

I listened carefully to the eloquent speech by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle on his Motion M-155, and while I find his arguments very interesting, I do not agree with his proposal. There are, in my opinion, very good reasons to keep our existing electoral system. That system is based on ridings, with each riding electing a member of parliament.

This means that a member of parliament has a great responsibility toward his constituents, who can vote against him the next time around. Similarly, voters can get rid of the government in office if they no longer trust it. The verdict is decisive in the case of a majority.

Moreover, as the only representative for his riding, a member of parliament is responsible for representing his constituents regarding any issue that comes before parliament.

Under the current system, a member of parliament must take into account a whole range of opinions. He does not speak only on behalf of his party. As the sole representative of his riding, he must try to correct all sorts of wrongs and he must take into consideration the interests and opinions of all his voters.

Thus, the role of a member of parliament is to fulfil the basic function of any political system, which is reconciling a large number of views.

We also saw that in some countries using an electoral system based on proportional representation, it can sometimes take weeks after an election before the government is formed. Also, once the government has been formed, often under a coalition integrating small specialized parties—not to say extremists—it is not in a position to maintain the confidence of the legislature.

Electoral systems based on proportional representation often require the establishment of a coalition between parties of diverging political views. A plurality system tends to lead to the formation of broad based parties bringing together members from different regions and linguistic and ethnocultural groups.

Proportional representation is likely to lead to a coalition government formed following in camera political negotiations and not as the result of balloting.

Some countries have realized that proportional representation exacerbates regional differences and rifts within societies and that the search for a national consensus on vital issues is accordingly complicated.

Finally, in our electoral system, voting is a simple act. The voter simply indicates the name of his preferred candidate. This permits the reduction of the number of spoiled ballots.

The vote count is quick and simple. Generally, only a few hours after the polls close, Canadians know which party will form the government and which will form the opposition.

Of course, even the best systems are open to criticism. However, we must not forget that Canada's political system is one of the most stable and democratic in the world. It serves as a model for many countries.

Our electoral system has stood the test of time, while remaining flexible in the face of change. Clearly this is a delicate and complex matter, which must be handled wisely, especially since there is nothing to indicate real public support for such a change.

Holding a national referendum on this issue is not warranted. This is why it would not be a good idea to carry this private member's motion through, and I would advise the members of all parties to oppose it.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for your excellent work. I am most grateful to you.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Thank you very much.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on the matter before us. When we work internationally as Canadians on issues particularly related to getting better representation in houses of parliament around the world, it has been interesting to compare systems of government and whether proportional representation can improve the lot of women, for instance, in certain countries where the lists are very clear that it is male-female throughout the system.

We also have in Canada a fine tradition of very clear responsibility for certain ridings. It was interesting that the member for Elk Island suggested that was our first and only call when it has always been my understanding that a Canadian member of parliament is not responsible only to his or her constituents but to all Canadians. People in the riding of Elk Island have just as much right to call me. I hope everyone does not start to call me. My staff is very busy.

There is the aspect that when I make decisions or think about voting in parliament I also think about the impact of my decisions and the decisions of the government on people in Elk Island, men, women and children from all walks of life. That is a very important aspect of our system.

While the debate is quite interesting and we should certainly take the time to review whether our system of government is working for Canadians and how to improve it, if people take an objective look and try to avoid some of the silliness that we have heard in at least one speech tonight, they will say that Canadian members of parliament represent Canadians well, that there is a check and a balance in place, and that there are good reasons for our system to continue to exist.

If members look around, in 1993 this was the most multicultural parliament in a long time. We had far greater representation from the different founding nations and people who made up our country, new citizens, people who came to Canada for the first time. I am a child of immigrants. It is interesting that the Reform Party, which supports the motion, has the worst representation of women in parliament with just 3 of 50 or whatever seats it has.

It is worth it for us to examine different systems of government to see what works best in different countries, but our Canadian system works very well. Another challenge in looking at proportional representation is that there is no single system internationally. Perhaps there are other ways in which we can improve our institutions.

Certainly there has been a lot more support for motions. Just today most members of the House voted for a Bloc motion, although the Reform Party voted against it. There has been much more liberty, especially on this side of the House, to encourage members to live up to their expectations and the expectations that Canadians have of them.

Our system, as I said, has worked well. We have clear accountability. We have a system where each of us, including the member for Essex, myself and, I am sure, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, has a very active constituency system.

We help our constituents on a day to day basis in our offices. We have wonderful staff members across the country who take the ideas from our constituents and give us the information so we can do our jobs better. We are able to provide value added service to them in being an advocate with various government departments and making sure that we change legislation that does not seem to be working effectively.

We have a good system in Canada. We have had a lot of improvements over the last number of years. I can assure the House that we in our caucus have great debates behind closed doors and come up with a united team having great representation across the country and a fine leader who allows us that debate.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the item is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of the motion.

Peacekeeping
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Pursuant to the order made earlier this day the House will now proceed to consideration of the motion that this House take note of possible Canadian peacekeeping in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Peacekeeping
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the Minister of National Defence. I am pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to address the House for the first time in a role which I have now held for approximately eight hours. I feel it is an important opportunity as well to address the issue of peacekeeping.

The government fully supports the practice of parliamentary consultation on significant Canadian military deployment outside our country. In this context we are raising the question of Canadian participation in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, known as UNMEE.

Before I discuss the merits of Canadian participation in this mission I would like to offer a bit of background information. On June 18 of this year, following two years of periodic and bloody warfare, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed the cessation of hostilities agreement under the sponsorship of the Organization of African Unity.

These two years of fighting came at a heavy cost. It is difficult to give an exact figure, but it is estimated that at least 120,000 people were killed. The hostilities forced some 1.4 million people to leave their homes during a drought. Canada cannot ignore the sad fate of these people.

The OAU called on the United Nations to play a vital role in ensuring that both sides respect their security commitments. The agreement further asks that a United Nations peacekeeping mission monitor a temporary security zone between the opposing armed forces.

The request from Ethiopia and Eritrea to the United Nations comes at an important time for peacekeeping. The recently released findings of the Brahimi panel point to major issues that need to be addressed by the international community to ensure that peacekeeping practices are effective and Canada will continue to be in the forefront of such reform.

What we do in support of UNMEE is an important demonstration that we are prepared to support, in real terms, innovative change. It is equally important that we demonstrate our support for Africa, underscoring that African states can expect our help in achieving a measure of security for our people.

Canada believes that the United Nations should be central to the maintenance of international peace and security. This belief has prompted us to support, again and again, UN peacekeeping operations. Canadians understand that for the United Nations to play a central role in fostering global peace the UN member states must step up to the plate and swing the bat.

Canadians also understand and demand that when our forces go abroad in the service of peace they do so under the aegis of a coherent game plan.

UN missions must have achievable objectives. They must have a mandate sufficiently broad to achieve those objectives, and they must have the human and financial resources necessary to operate effectively.

That is why, in this debate on whether or not to send troops into Ethiopia and Eritrea, we must ask ourselves how this mission will help Africa and how it will strengthen UN peacekeeping, as well as take into account specific features of the mission's mandate.

Since June, the UN security council, of which Canada is an active member, has recognized the need to deploy a peacekeeping force in the region in order to prevent the resumption of hostilities. It therefore adopted, on July 31, Resolution 1312 creating the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

This resolution authorizes the deployment of 100 military observers with the mandate to ensure on site initial liaison between the parties, establish the mechanism for verifying the ceasefire and help with overall planning for the peacekeeping mission.

On the basis of the assessment mission, the UN secretary-general recommended the establishment of a peacekeeping force of 4,200 personnel; roughly 4,000 troops to establish and maintain the security zone, plus an observer force of about 220 personnel and associated support resources. The security council adopted a resolution authorizing this phase on September 15.

It is worth noting that since the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement there have been no reports of significant military skirmishes. In short, there is a peace to keep and both sides appear genuinely to want the agreement to work.

Moreover, UNMEE has a clear and achievable mandate. Its role is well defined and appropriate, and it will have the resources to do its job right. However, there is another aspect of the UNMEE mission that affords an important opportunity to bolster the capacity of the UN to advance and effect peacekeeping in line with the Brahimi recommendations.

Canada, in conjunction with several like-minded countries, has worked to create a new rapid deployment mechanism, the standby high readiness brigade or SHIRBRIG. The United Nations request for Canada to provide troops to UNMEE came within the context of deploying a SHIRBRIG battalion.

SHIRBRIG is a multinational brigade to be held at a high state of readiness and activated as required for chapter 6 operations with the United Nations. Reflecting our long held desire to build a capacity within the UN to deploy peacekeepers where they are needed in a timely fashion, Canada has participated in SHIRBRIG from its inception.

UNMEE provides the first test case for SHIRBRIG. The proposal before us is to send one Canadian company of about 400 troops within a Dutch battalion that would go to Ethiopia and Eritrea as part of a SHIRBRIG deployment. This battalion would be joined by two battalions from other troop contributing countries.

As I noted earlier, as envisaged, an expanded Canadian role in UNMEE would be as part of a Dutch led SHIRBRIG battalion. The Netherlands has signalled that it would consider providing one SHIRBRIG battalion on the condition that a reliable and experienced peacekeeping partner would also participate in a significant way. The Netherlands therefore approached Canada and asked us to join it in a SHIRBRIG deployment.

I am pleased to say that the Dutch government has approved this proposal and the matter is currently before parliament in the Netherlands. Obviously Canada believes that the successful deployment of a Dutch led SHIRBRIG battalion would provide both concrete proof of the viability of the SHIRBRIG concept and momentum in the further deployment of a UN rapid reaction capacity called for by the Brahimi panel.

I would like to point out that Canada has already played a role in the initial stages of UNMEE. Canada contributed one Canadian forces lieutenant-colonel as UNMEE's chief operations officer and a further five officers as military observers, but now the UN has asked us to consider a greater involvement. The government proposes that the Canadian armed forces provide a mechanized infantry company group, a necessary national command and engineer and logistics support, estimated at 400 personnel.

This may also involve a requirement for an initial engineering surge of up to 200 personnel to help establish infrastructure. The Canadian contingent would operate as part of a Dutch led battalion under the UN field headquarters. The headquarters would have as its core the SHIRBRIG headquarters staff to which Canada has committed seven officers.

Exact Canadian troop numbers would be determined following further discussions with Dutch authorities and a strategic reconnaissance mission to the area. Variables include the nature and scope of Dutch logistical support, the precise location of Canadian deployment, the quartering arrangements Canadian personnel would use and the extent to which costs would be offset by UN funding.

Therefore, endorsement of this proposal before us will allow Canada to accomplish several things. First, it will allow us to contribute in a meaningful way to regional peace in East Africa. Second, it is an opportunity to demonstrate that the UN can achieve its peacekeeping objectives when a mission is given an appropriate mandate and sufficient resources. Third, it will underscore the ability of the international community to support organizations such as the OAU in developing African solutions to African problems.

We will be in good company doing a necessary job for a fixed period of time, and then coming home. Canadians should embrace this opportunity to show we are serious about helping African countries in need and supporting the UN's role.

I would like to leave the House with this thought from Benjamin Franklin, who said “There was never a good war or a bad peace”. Let us act as agents of peace in the Horn of Africa.