House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

Topics

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 105
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-222, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

May 29th, 2001 / 5:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Monday, May 28, 2001, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-222 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 106
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

It being 5.55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved:

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.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move a motion that would take a look at changing the voting system in our country.

If we looked at the turnout in the last federal election campaign, we would see that only 61% of the Canadian people voted. It was an historic low. I was also surprised to see that only 67% of the people voted in 1997. I think that was also lower than we had ever seen before. During most previous elections we have had 75% to 80% of the people participating at the polls. I think the declining turnout reflects the growing alienation people have toward politics in general and the voting system in particular.

I put a motion before the House that asks the House of Commons to consider the possibility of striking an all party committee that would look at the various models of proportional representation that could be mixed into our constituency member system and have a measure of PR in the system itself. Unfortunately the motion is not votable.

Last fall I had the same motion before the House. We had two hours of debate at that time. Just before the third hour of debate was to take place and a vote was to follow, the Prime Minister called an election. That vote would have been the first time the House of Commons had voted on proportional representation since 1923.

The idea of PR in our system is one that is not very popular for incumbent politicians. All of us were elected through the first past the post electoral system. We were elected through a system where members who get the most votes in their riding get to become members of parliament. Some of us get here with well over 50% of the votes. Roughly half of the people get here with fewer than 50% of the votes. In most parliaments we have members elected with about a third of the votes, anywhere from 32% to 35%. At least half of us do not represent the majority of our constituents.

Most other countries in the world have a different kind of electoral system whereby the number of seats in the assembly, the house of commons or the parliament reflects the number of votes in the country, state or province. In fact we are one of only three countries in the democratic world with a population of more than eight million people that use the pure, first past the post system. The other countries are the United States and India.

Even in Britain, the mother of parliaments, under the Blair government there has been a change where there is a blend of PR, in the election of the Scottish members of parliament in the Scottish parliament, in the Welsh parliament, and in Northern Ireland. In fact, all members elected to the European community parliament in Strasbourg from Great Britain are elected by proportional representation.

According to the Jenkins commission, in the election after next—there is a campaign going on in Britain right now—there will probably be a mix of PR in the Westminster parliament itself. The Blair government has committed to a referendum on whether it should bring some PR into the British parliament.

Most of the countries that have left the first past the post system and have gone to a system of proportional representation have brought in a measure of proportional representation. Some of them, like France, use what I call the majoritarian system. In France, a member must have 50% of the vote to be elected.

In France, a candidate must have 50% of the vote or more to be elected to the National Assembly. The French president must have 50% of the vote to be elected.

They have the two tours, the two different votes, one on a Sunday and a second on the next Sunday. If a candidate does not have 50% of the vote in the first selection, the two top candidates run off. Most countries that do not have the first past the post system do have a measure of PR.

Under our present system we have tremendous distortions. Today we have a majority government elected with 41% of the votes and holding roughly 60% of the seats. It has a constitutional right to govern for some five years with all the powers that a government has under our constitution today. In the last parliament the government had a majority with only 38% of the people supporting it, one of the lowest support levels of any majority government in the history of the country. Sixty-two per cent of the people voted for the opposition parties.

If we look at the history of our country in terms of the parliaments, we find that since about 1921 or 1923 we have had only three majority governments elected by the majority of the people: Diefenbaker in 1958 and Mackenzie King twice during his long tenure as prime minister. Brian Mulroney in 1988 came very close with 49.9% of the vote or thereabouts.

We are electing in this country what are called fake majorities, whereby a majority is elected by a minority of the people. When we also factor in the turnout at elections, the last one being 61%, we find that only about 25% of the electorate actually voted for the governing party. That was with a voters' list which was not an enumerated list. Roughly one million people were left off the electoral rolls.

As we can see, we elect a parliament that does not reflect how the Canadian people actually vote or how the Canadian people actually feel. This also happens among the opposition parties. When I came back here in 1997 after being away for four years, I found that not only did the government get 38% of the votes, the Reform Party had 19% and the Conservative Party had 19%. Reform had 60 seats and the Conservative Party had 20. The Bloc Quebecois had 11% of the vote and our party had 11% of the vote. There are 21 New Democrat MPs and 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois. We have these distortions right across the board.

Looking across the way, one would think that every single person in Ontario voted Liberal. The Liberals had 99 of 101 seats, I believe, in the last parliament. In this parliament the Liberals again have all but two seats in Ontario, with 101 or 103, despite the fact that in 1997 the majority of Ontarians actually voted for the NDP, the Conservatives and Reform, and despite the fact that last November once again almost half of Ontarians voted for the opposition parties. There are great distortions. It is the same thing in the west. Historically in the vote in the west the Liberal party is under-represented. We have all these distortions right across the piece.

There is a growing sense of alienation that our country is not as democratic as it should be. If we were to bring in a measure of proportional representation it would be a way of making sure that nobody's vote is wasted. Every single vote would count in the composition of the House of Commons. It would empower people to make sure that their votes would count not just on election night but during the whole four year period that the House of Commons is in session. That is why I put the motion before the House today that we look at the various methods of PR that might be brought into fact in this country.

There are different methods of PR. In Israel there is basically one constituency for the whole country. People vote for a list and it is divided up on a proportional basis after the vote. I do not think that is appropriate for our country.

In Germany there is what is called mixed member proportional, where half the German members are elected riding by riding like we do it in this country and the other half in accordance with proportional representation. There are two ballots. Germans first vote for their local member of parliament and then for their party of preference to govern the state of Germany. It is the proportion of the list votes, of the proportional votes, that determines the number of members of parliament in their house of commons. If one party receives 30% of the vote and less than that percentage in terms of the elections for their own local members of parliament, they are compensated for that from the members elected by the PR system.

I think that is probably the more appropriate system to look at if we are to have a measure of PR in Canada. In our country I believe it should be done on a province by province basis. It is important that Quebecers elect Quebecers in terms of proportional representation and that Ontarians elect Ontarians. It can be done in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and across the piece. I think we could devise a unique Canadian system that would be reflective of the country and good for the country as a whole.

In Germany, half the members of parliament are elected by ridings and half by the proportional or list system. In our country we can look at what is best for us. We could have a 50:50 system. We could have any number from 15% to 40% elected by the list and others elected riding by riding. We could look at any kind of combination that might be good for and relevant to our country.

The main thing to note is that Canadians are feeling so alienated by our political system. They feel that their votes do not count, that their votes are wasted.

If we did have a measure of PR in this country we would have radically different voting patterns as well. I have now been in 10 election campaigns of my own. As we have campaigned throughout Canada, how often have we heard stories of people voting strategically? They say they would vote for our party if it could win. They say they would vote for our party in a particular riding but we could not win the particular riding. Or they say they do not like such and such a party so they are voting for another party to stop party A. In fact, I know someone who is a member of a certain party who has not voted for that party for 25 years because he is always voting for another party he does not like. If we had a system of proportional representation, he would be voting for his first choice.

Many Canadians now vote for what they call the lesser of two evils. In terms of the way we try to strategize the impact of our votes on the electoral system, when we vote for the lesser of two evils we are still getting evil.

With PR we vote our preference. With PR our votes are reflected in the House of Commons. As I said, every country in the world with more than 8 million people, except for three, has abandoned the first past the post system as being unfair and unjust.

People feel their votes are wasted. Most people vote for losing candidates. People feel their votes do not count.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

An hon. member

They're not voting.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

They are not voting. They are turned off in droves. That is very worrisome in terms of a dynamic political and parliamentary system.

I think this is just one of the democratic reforms we will need if we are to make this place more relevant for the Canadian people. Parliament itself has to be reformed. The Prime Minister's Office has far too much power.

The Prime Minister's Office can appoint not only all the cabinet members and all the senators but the head of every important public agency in the country, including the judges in the supreme court, the head of the military, the head of the police, the head of state in our country and the head of state's representatives in each of the provinces, the lieutenant-governors.

When there is a majority government here, almost dictatorial powers rest in the hands of the Prime Minister of Canada. Surely the time has come to reform the system, to make it more open, accountable and democratic.

We just had a vote in the House a few minutes ago. We have votes in the House every week. Government bills are never defeated. Members cannot tell me that in the last 40 or 50 years every government bill has been the right one or the proper one for the country. We have a system of confidence votes whereby members of parliament cannot vote their conscience or for the wishes of their constituents or for what they think is best for the country without voting non-confidence in the government of the day.

We have to change those rules. The only votes that should be confidence votes in the House of Commons are budget bills, the throne speech or anything else that might be designated confidence by the government itself. Everything else should be a vote in which members have the freedom to vote how their constituents feel. In other words, the confidence vote should not be there.

We have the most handcuffed political and parliamentary system in the world. In Britain even popular governments such as the Blair government have lost several bills in the house of commons. Margaret Thatcher, a very strong and popular prime minister at one time, lost several votes in the house of commons when she was the leader of a majority government. In this country it does not happen.

Those are the kinds of changes we have to make. We need stronger parliamentary committees and more independence. The Speaker of the House of Commons is elected through a secret, independent vote where the whips are not applied, but the chairs of committees are not elected secretly. They are technically elected but are appointed by the government itself.

These are the kinds of reforms we need to make this place more relevant. We need parliamentary reform, but we also need electoral and voting reform so that when people go to the polls they can vote for their first preference and when the votes are counted on election night the composition of the parliament would reflect how the Canadian people voted.

I will conclude by saying that my motion today asks for an all party committee to study the various kinds of proportional representation that might be incorporated into our electoral system. It also calls on that committee to report to parliament. If parliament adopts the motion, it calls on parliament to put the preferred model of PR to a referendum, whereby people can choose between the model of PR recommended by parliament and the status quo, the first past the post system. If the people decide to change the voting system, we would have a system that I think the people of this country would feel is more inclusive and equal for each and every Canadian.

Proportional Representation
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, for all the failings of the first past the post electoral system, and they are considerable, there is nevertheless a very powerful interest group that has a strong incentive to keep that system in place. That interest group is us.

All 301 members of parliament are here because the first past the post system put us here. It may be that we will be able, through the efforts of high-minded members such as the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and others like him, to temporarily build a majority within the House that is brave enough or self-sacrificing enough to abandon the status quo for a future that would return only some of us to this place, but it will be an uphill battle. If we engage in uphill battles, we have to make sure that as many factors as possible are on our side.

Today I want to make a specific proposal, not a proposal for a specific electoral system to replace first past the post. I do not want to endorse the multi-member proportional system or the alternative ballot or multiple member districts or any of the other versions of proportional representation that have been put forward in the past. Each of these has its own unique merits. Each has some demerits as well. Most significantly, each system has a reasonably predictable impact on how each of the existing parties would perform in a future election if the vote distribution were to be the same as it was in last November's general election.

If we try as a group to select a system in advance I can guarantee that the system will be reviewed and analyzed by each person and each party with one question foremost in mind: how will this help me or how will this hurt me? If any part of the tenuous coalition that we are today beginning to build decides that partisan or personal considerations outweigh the merits of the specific system being proposed, that in itself will likely prove sufficient to kill the proposal.

Today I am proposing that we engage as parliamentarians in a three stage process to bring about the successful implementation of genuine electoral reform.

First, we need to build a coalition of parliamentarians, intellectuals and journalists behind the idea that first past the post is not acceptable in a mature democracy and that some kind of electoral reform is needed. This process is already partly under way. Electoral reform has a prominent place in the Canadian Alliance statement of policies and principles, which reads:

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.

Second, and here I am merely repeating my party's proposal on the matter, we need to establish a process by which Canadians can vote directly on the question of electoral reform. However I do not favour a single referendum. That would involve putting a single model of electoral reform on the ballot and letting voters choose between it and the status quo.

Instead I recommend a referendum to authorize the striking of a commission and the holding of a second referendum on the findings of the commission. The commission could contain members of all parties or it could contain experts and individuals of undoubted integrity and impartiality. Its mandate would be to select three or perhaps four alternative models which could be presented to the Canadian electorate in a second referendum.

The third stage of the process would be the holding of the second referendum that had been mandated by the first. In the second referendum the electorate would be presented with a preferential ballot on which each voter would rank the proposed models in order of preference. If one model had the support of a majority of voters on the first count of the ballots, it would become the new electoral system of Canada.

If no model were chosen on the first count, the least preferred model would be removed from the table and all ballots in which it had been the preferred model would be recounted and redistributed according to the second preferences on those ballots. This process would continue until one model had obtained at least half the total votes cast.

Such a process would ensure a consensus result. The system finally chosen might not be the ideal preference of most voters, but it would at least be a system which very few people had found to be their least favourite choice or totally unsuitable.

To be on the safe side, the existing first past the post system should be one of the alternatives that voters could select on their preferential ballots. This would ensure that even if the commission had done its job poorly and selected a range of entirely unacceptable options, the worst that could happen would be a return to the status quo.

Such a process would produce a majority in favour of change. What would the new electoral process look like in the end? Frankly I do not know. That is the whole point. I can support the process. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle can support it, as can members on all sides of the House as long as each of us is confident in the wisdom of the people and hopeful that the system we prefer will at some future date get a fair hearing.

One of the great philosophers of the past century, John Rawls, wrote in his book, A Theory of Justice , of the impossibility of achieving consensus on moving forward to a just society as long as participants in the process know who the winners and losers will be. He proposed a thought experiment in which each person's existing position within society was hidden from view behind what Rawls referred to as a veil of ignorance. In such a situation all would endorse a new and more just state in an improved society because everybody would have a greater possibility of being a net winner than of being a net loser.

If we hope to succeed at changing our system of electing representatives to this place, we need to emulate Rawls' model. We need to place the final outcome behind the Rawlsian veil and move forward, certain only of the fact that what will be produced in the end will be better and more beneficial for the country than what we have today.

Presence In Gallery
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I ask hon. members to take note that in the gallery we have a very special group of visitors who communicate by way of sign language. On your behalf, I say welcome to the House of Commons and thank them for coming to visit us. We wish them all very well.