Debates of Sept. 30th, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.
- Point of Order
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Point of Order
September 30th, 2003 / 10 a.m.
Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier asked a question and I promised to provide an answer as soon as possible.
In fact, I have reread the text of the question carefully. It asked the government whether an RCMP investigation was being carried out. As we all know, the government does not comment on whether or not RCMP investigations are being carried out. I cannot therefore provide any additional information, because we do not, of course, comment on whether or not investigations of this kind are under way.
Point of Order
I am sure the House appreciates the intervention of the hon. government House leader.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot on September 15, 2003, concerning remarks by a judge which have since been quoted by other judges and which he regards as contemptuous of this House.
Let me start by thanking the hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot for raising this important issue, as well as the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their interventions.
The hon. member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot stated that a remark made by Mr. Justice Iacobucci in his 1998 ruling on the case of Vriend v. Alberta, which has since been cited by two other judges, infringes on the supremacy of Parliament and is contemptuous.
Mr. Justice Iacobucci was quoted on page 7342 of Debates of the House of Commons of September 15, 2003 as follows:
In my opinion, groups that have historically been the target of discrimination cannot be expected to wait patiently for the protection of their human dignity and equal rights while governments move toward reform one step at a time. If the infringement of the rights and freedoms of these groups is permitted to persist while governments fail to pursue equality diligently, then the guarantees of the Charter will be reduced to little more than empty words.
The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot asserted that, by his reference to “governments”, the judge was actually referring to Parliament. However, as I read them, the judicial comments of which the hon. member complains suggest that the courts should not wait for the government or Parliament to introduce legal reforms as this can take too long or be incomplete in the end result.
Seen in this light, in my view, the judge's comments would seem to focus on the parliamentary process rather than on Parliament itself. To be sure, the comments are critical of the process where it may be slow to provide remedies in respect of legal rights, but this is the sort of comment any Canadian might make and one that the judge might have considered appropriate given the facts of the case before him. Cases may occur where comments made by a judge are so egregious as to require your Speaker's comment but it does not appear to me that this is such an instance.
In this case, in the context of the privileges of the House, where the dignity of this parliamentary chamber may be offended in the minds of some hon. members, my task is to weigh the character of the judicial comments against the freedom that must be allowed to a court, and to this chamber, to explain its actions as it sees fit. In my view, there is no animus against the House or its dignity in the remarks of which the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot complains.
A regime of mutual respect ought to govern the relationship between the courts and the House. Each must be free to discharge its responsibilities without criticism from the other. In this case, the observations complained of by the hon. member do not, in my view, amount to a contempt of the House.
Accordingly, I do not find a prima facie breach of privilege in this case.
Office of the Privacy Commissioner
I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 8(2) of the Auditor General Act, a special report on the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)( g ), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is with honour that I present petitions with the signatures of 10,679 Canadians who are asking for Parliament to support Private Member's Motion No. 83.
Motion No. 83 asks the health committee to examine whether abortions are medically necessary as defined by the Canada Health Act and to compare the health risks for women undergoing abortions to those for women who carry their babies to full term. I would like to thank the 10,679 Canadians who signed the petitions. As members will see, the number of petitions is quite large and I submit them.
Questions on the Order Paper
Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions on the Order Paper
Is that agreed?
Questions on the Order Paper
Some hon. members
Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
That this House call upon the government to hold a referendum within one year to determine whether Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation and, if so, to appoint a commission to consult Canadians on the preferred model of proportional representation and the process of implementation, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.
Mr. Speaker,the debate today in the House is on the idea of appointing a parliamentary committee or commission to study the various methods of proportional representation and then to put the idea to the Canadian people in a national referendum, whereby the people themselves choose whether or not they want to have this new system of proportional representation or the status quo.
The vote this afternoon will be an historic vote. The House last voted on the idea of PR in 1923, some 80 years ago. I believe that it is time we had a good look at our voting system.
To me, a fundamental principle of democracy is how we represent the will of the people in our parliamentary institutions. All voters deserve to be represented equally in the Parliament of Canada. What proportional representation does is empower the people so that every vote counts, no vote is wasted and all votes are represented equally here in the House of Commons of Canada.
Our system does not do that. All we have to do is look at the present Parliament. In November 2000 in the federal election campaign, the Liberal Party took barely 41% of the votes and yet has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons.
The motion looks at the various modes of proportional representation that would be relevant to our country. As I said, this will be the first vote since 1923 on PR. It is about time for us to do this, because our country is suffering from what I call a democratic deficit.
I believe we are literally sleepwalking toward a crisis in democracy in our country. In the last election campaign, about 60% of the people participated. In the campaign before that it was 67%. Years ago, 75%, 80% and more than 80% of people participated in elections.
People are losing faith in the parliamentary system, in the voting system, in terms of it representing their issues in the House of Commons. I believe that it is time to catch up with the rest of the world. Most Canadians are not aware that there are now only three countries in the world with more than eight million people that use the pure first past the post system: Canada, India and the United States of America.
In the United States in the last campaign for president, George W. Bush got 550,000 fewer votes than Al Gore, but who is the President of the United States? It is George W. Bush, not Al Gore.
Those are the kinds of distortions that we have in a first past the post system. Even in the British system, the mother of our parliamentary system, there is now a measure of proportional representation in the Welsh parliament and in the Scottish parliament. All MPs are elected to the European parliament through proportional representation, and there is a commitment from the Prime Minister of Britain to have a referendum on the idea for Westminster itself.
We are one of a few countries in the world that uses a system invented before the telephone, a system that is archaic, a system that does not represent or mirror the voting intention of the people of the country in the Parliament of Canada. In fact, I think a lot of people would be scandalized to realize that most of the majority governments we have had have been elected by a minority of the people.
We have had 16 majority governments since 1921, including today's. This Prime Minister has had three majority governments, all of which were elected by a minority of the people. In fact, of the 16 majority governments, only four had a majority of the people voting for them: Mackenzie King in 1940 and 1949, Diefenbaker in 1958, and then Brian Mulroney, who had almost exactly 50%, about 49.99%, in 1984.
Most majority governments in the country have been elected by a minority of the people. We are one of the few countries in the world left using this archaic system whereby the minority can elect a majority, this country and the United States.
As I have said, Parliament does not mirror how the people vote so it is no wonder that people are giving up and losing faith in the voting system. I was elected in 1968 and I was out of politics after 1993 for four years. Before I lost in 1993, I used to think that the first past the post system was a wonderful system. It treated me very well. It treated all of us very well; that is why we are here. But after four years with the ordinary people and hearing what they had to say, I realized that people in the country are losing faith in the voting system.
When I came back here in 1997, I looked around Parliament and saw a majority government across the way that was elected by 38% of the people. I saw the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservative Party. I looked at the results. They both had 19% of the votes. Then I looked at the seats. There were 60 Reform MPs and there were 20 Conservative MPs in that corner of the House.
I looked at the number of votes cast in favour of the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. Each party received about 11% of the vote, which elected 21 New Democrats and, I believe, 43 or 44 Bloc Quebecois members.
We had a Parliament that did not represent or reflect how the people had voted.
There is a real democratic deficit in the Parliament of our country. Even though, in the last federal election, they did not even get 41% of the vote, we now have a government with a strong majority.
The number of votes cast for two parties, the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, represented about 21% of Canada's population, but taken together, these two parties have only 25 or 26 seats, which is 8% of the seats in this House.
On the provincial level, we see exactly the same thing. I remember the Quebec election five or six years ago. Jean Charest, the leader of the Liberal Party, received more votes than Lucien Bouchard. But who was elected premier of Quebec? Lucien Bouchard.
At about the same time in British Columbia, there was an election in which the Liberal Party received more votes than my own party, the NDP. But who formed the government? The New Democratic Party, with a majority government. There are distortions everywhere in our electoral system.
However, under proportional representation, if a party were to receive 20% of the votes, the party would receive 20% of the seats in the legislature or in Parliament.
Yesterday, there was an election in Prince Edward Island. The Liberal Party—the party of the leader of the federal government sitting opposite—received some 43% or 44% of the votes, which translates into less than 15% of the seats in the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly.
The distortions are all over the place.
I ask members of the House to look at the reasons for proportional representation and why countries around the world have adopted a system of PR. First, the question of fairness, where every vote counts and every vote counts equally regardless of where one lives in the country.
Today that does not happen. One would think almost all the people in Ontario are Liberals because they have almost all the seats in Ontario and yet they receive only half the votes. One would think almost everybody in the west was for the Alliance or the former Reform Party and yet the Alliance or the former Reform Party, with an overwhelming majority of the seats, has less than half the votes in the west and remain a minority party in western Canada.
What is important about proportional representation is that people can vote for their first choice and their first choice would count. How exciting that would be. We would have a different voting configuration across this country. People could actually vote for the Liberal Party in rural western Canada and their vote would count, vote for the NDP in Alberta or Quebec and their vote would count, vote for the Alliance in Newfoundland and their vote would count or vote for the Conservative Party in the province of Quebec and their vote would count. People could vote for their first choice and their vote would count here in the House of Commons.
Systems of proportional representation all over the world have provided women with much greater representation in the parliaments and legislative assemblies and provided minorities with a much greater representation for the simple reason that under proportional representation, if a party does not have a team of candidates that reflects that region, then that party will be judged harshly by the electorate. It is a way of involving more women and more minorities.
I think the Liberal Party should think about the question of national unity. We have, in essence, five regional parties in the House of Commons, including the Liberal Party. If we had proportional representation it would force every party to have a national vision. For every party the vote in Chicoutimi, Quebec would be worth the same as the vote in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Kamsack, Saskatchewan or in Kamloops, British Columbia. It would force all parties to have a national vision about where this country should go.
At the same time it would provide the flexibility where there could be regional parties, because any vision of PR in a big federation, whether it be one based on province by province rights or region by region breakdowns, where we can have a party like the Bloc Quebecois which would have a vision for Quebec and yet do very well in the province of Quebec, or any other province, for a party of a different political ideology or stripe. Those are some of the reasons for proportional representation.
I want to look at some of the arguments made by the government and people across the country who are skeptical of changing our voting system. One of the silliest arguments I have heard ever from the government House leader was when he said last week that we were a federation. I can only think of one federation in the world which has proportional representation and that is Germany. A little bit of research shows we have some 25 federations in the world. Some 14 of those federations have a measure of PR and seven of those are in Europe. Being a federation does not preclude or exclude the possibility of having a system based on proportional representation.
Second, some people say that we will lose the direct election of our local members of Parliament. That does not have to be the case. I believe in a system of PR called a mixed member proportional, where we elect some MPs riding by riding and some MPs on a proportional list. Germany is the best example of a mixed member proportional system where half the MPs are elected riding by riding, so they have their local representative and half of them are on the list. There are 13 countries in the world that have the German system with the mixed member proportional.
People in Germany get two ballots. They vote for their candidate of choice in their own riding, be it Vancouver East or elsewhere, and then they vote for their party of preference. The preferential list determines the proportion of the seats for each party in the House of Commons, the Parliament or the legislative assembly. In the end we get our local member of Parliament but if our party gets 20% of the votes we also get 20% of the seats.
The government House leader would say that the people who are elected proportionally do not represent anyone in particular. That does not have to be the case. They can represent the province or the region from where they are elected. Our present senators are supposed to be representing the province from which they are chosen, so why could these regional MPs not represent the province?
My vision is to have a mixed member proportional done on a province by province basis across the country. The regional MPs from Saskatchewan, B.C. or Newfoundland would represent their province as an entity. The local MP, the member for Vancouver East, would represent her riding, as she does today.
The mixed member proportional system is a system that would provide the best of both worlds: local representation and proportionality. If someone received only 5% or 10% of the votes, his or her party would have 5% or 10% of the MPs rather than no MPs. That is why this system is used in almost every country around the world.
Some people say that it will be unstable and that there will be nothing but minority governments. What is stable about our system today where with 37% or 38% of the votes there is a majority government and 63% of the people who voted for opposition parties are in the minority? Does that create stability?
I have been around this place for a while. I have seen minority governments and I have seen them work well. I remember in 1972-74 when Pierre Trudeau had a minority Parliament and it worked well. There was a working relationship at that time between the Trudeau government and the New Democratic Party.
Before I arrived here in the 1960s, Pearson, one of our best prime ministers, never had a majority government. Lester Pearson, who was prime minister from 1963 to 1968, and was one of the best prime ministers we ever had, ran one of the most productive Parliaments we ever had. Minority governments do work well. They are more representative and reflective of the people.
I know this may lead to a radical idea and may send shivers through the government House leader's body. We may end up having what is called a coalition government. I see he is already shaking, shivering and quivering. I know it is radical in our country but coalition governments exist all over the world. There is one today in Saskatchewan which is doing very well. It is a coalition government with a majority of NDP members and a minority of Liberals. That government has governed now for four years.
If that is the way people vote, then that is the way people vote. We would then have a Parliament that would reflect the voting intentions of the people.
People may also say that it may not be as democratic, that the leaders would have too much say and that the party hierarchy would choose the candidates on the lists. Any system of PR would never have my support unless it included an open and democratic election of candidates by all parties on the preferential list. We could do that through a big convention, through a primary or through a one member one vote process. It could be done in many ways but it would have to be open, democratic, accessible and visible for each and every Canadian.
Now we hear the argument: Why should we not try it at the provincial level? My answer for the minister across the way is that we should show some leadership in the House of Commons. Some of the provinces are showing leadership.
In his throne speech Premier Jean Charest said that there would be a measure of PR in the Quebec national assembly in the election after the next. British Columbia and Prince Edward Island are studying the issue. The leader of the Liberal Party in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, has said that there will be a chance for the voters of Ontario to make a decision on changing the voting system if he becomes the premier of that province. He has told voters that they will decide how elections will work. He said:
The time has come for a full, open public debate on voting reform. When almost half of the public does not see the point in heading to the polls, we have already had a non-confidence vote in our democracy.
A number of Liberals and a number of people of all political stripes at the provincial level are now saying that the time has come to change the voting system and that we should allow the people to have a say as to what kind of system they want.
When we look around the world we find that our voting system is very archaic. As I said, we are only one of three large countries that use first past the post. Most countries use a form of proportional representation.
I watched with interest when the Soviet Union fell apart and the political leadership in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and many other countries in the old Soviet Union were looking for a voting system that would best represent the people of their countries. They looked at our system as well as other systems around the world. The interesting thing was that not one of those countries chose our first past the post system of voting because they felt it was not democratic and would not reflect the voters' intentions in the parliaments of those particular countries.
New democracies, old democracies, New Zealand, and many democracies have switched to a system that has a measure of proportional representation.
What I am excited about is that proportional representation empowers the people. Every vote counts and every vote would be represented in the House of Commons. Many systems have a threshold where a party must receive 3% or 5%, so every vote for a party preference of 3% or 5% is represented. Other countries have systems without a threshold.
These are issues that a parliamentary committee can study and make recommendations on. Those are the things that make the proportional representation system a much better one in terms of empowering and exciting people about the political process.
Finally, we have today a motion before the House that says we should study the various forms of proportional representation that can be relevant to our unique federation. We should propose the model that the committee comes up with to the Canadian people in a national referendum so that people will have a chance to choose between the new model and the status quo, first past the post, as people did in New Zealand.
I ask the government House leader, and government members across the way, what is wrong with letting the people of the country have their say?
If Dalton McGuinty, who is about to be the premier of Ontario, is saying that the people should have a say in a referendum on the democratic deficit and on the voting system, what is wrong in putting the question to the Canadian people at the appropriate time so that they decide what is the best way to reflect their views and represent them in the House of Commons?
This is not a decision for politicians. It is not a decision for a government, particularly a government that represents a minority of the people. It is a decision for the people of Canada to make at the time of a national referendum.
We had a referendum on the Charlottetown accord and we can also have a referendum on the voting system.
I wish to conclude by saying that what we must do is represent the will of the people in this chamber and the way to do it is by changing the voting system in Canada.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for yet again raising this issue for debate. It is important that we debate matters which may not at first blush fit in with our set ways.
Many countries have proportional representation or some form of it. There are many hybrids of this.
With regard to the one that the member is proposing as one that we might want to consider, I looked at it in one of his previous speeches. It is a system whereby there would be candidates in every riding but there would not be as many ridings as there are today. We would probably have 200 ridings in Canada instead of 301 or 307 as the case may be.
That effectively means that all members of Parliament who are elected in a riding would have 50% more constituents than they do today which makes it extremely difficult for them to have that intimacy with constituents in terms of serving their needs.
The second aspect is that the balance of the seats in the House of Commons would be represented by those on lists in the proportion of the votes that they received in the second balloting.
This would create a second class of member of Parliament. Some would be directly elected and have all these constituents to take care of, and others could very well be those who could not get elected on their merit. Quite frankly it raises some concern about whether or not the homogeneity of the House of Commons in terms of the common bond of association would cease to exist.
Could the member comment on those two points?
Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
Mr. Speaker, all the motion says is that we should have a committee or commission study the form of proportional representation that might be most appropriate for our country and have a national referendum. It does not prejudice Parliament by saying we want system A, system B or system C.
I have my preference. My preference is a mixed member proportional system like in Germany or in 13 countries around the world because that system combines both local MPs and proportionality. But that is not part of the motion. We should have a study as to what system would be most appropriate for our country, even though I believe and hope that the German system is probably the one we would most likely accept in Canada, if we do accept proportional representation.
My vision also includes abolishing the unelected Senate and bringing the checks and balances right into the House of Commons by empowering the House, by having stronger and more independent committees, committees to initiate legislation, timetable legislation and so on.
Regarding second class MPs, under the mixed member proportional system, half the MPs would be elected riding by riding and the other half proportionally in order to represent the regions. Yet we vote directly by regions in this country so that we have some elected representatives in Saskatchewan as a whole, British Columbia or New Brunswick. The senators are supposed to represent those regions now.
We have six Saskatchewan senators who are supposed to represent Saskatchewan, but they are not accountable and democratic. The people elected on a PR list would have to face the people again in four years and be elected, be accountable and have democratic scrutiny as to whether or not they should return. In that way we would not have two classes of MPs. Both would be elected and be accountable, both would have constituencies and constituents, and both would have to face the electorate every four years. That system is used in 13 countries around the world.
It does not have to be fifty-fifty. It could be that 60% represent ridings and 40% are elected on the list. These are details that should be studied. That is why I want a parliamentary committee or a parliamentary commission to study the appropriate system of PR for our country. We are one of the few countries in the world that uses an outdated first past the post system.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, I support the hon. member and his party in this initiative that they have undertaken to draw attention to what he described as an archaic system. It is well known across the land. I also support his initiative that would result in a referendum where the people would decide upon what system they want to see.
However, I do have a concern when he talks about fairness. He talked about the fairness of the proposal or the model that he is putting forward that would see some MPs selected as representatives of ridings and others selected from a list. He said, if I heard him correctly, that there could be a convention to actually have the parties put forward a slate of names and then have them elect people at a convention that would ultimately be on the list.
I wonder, given the present party discipline of the various parties and their leaders, what would lead him to believe that the leaders would give up that type of power?
My concern is that we would see a system whereby the parties' proportional lists, that some MPs would be selected from, would be controlled by the parties themselves and by the leaders. I only need to draw attention to the need for free votes in this House of Commons.
Supposedly we just had a free vote. His party was the only party where the leader brought down the heavy hand and said that none of his members were going to be allowed to vote freely to represent their constituents or to represent their own conscience on the issue of redefining traditional marriage. Instead, they would have to vote the party line.
What would lead him to believe that his party and his leader would give up the power to ensure that the people on the proportional list were people that his leader wanted?
Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
Mr. Speaker, I would not support any system that did not have an open and democratic selection process for people on the proportional list. Parliament would have to write the rules and draft the legislation to ensure the process was democratic.
It was not long ago in this country when people said that parliamentary leaders would never agree to an election law that would outlaw corporate and union funding. I never thought I would see my party agree to a law that would prohibit us from getting trade union funding for election campaigns, but we did. Things change and people evolve. A democratic system should be in place where candidates are democratically chosen.
It does not have to be just one member-one vote or a convention. We could use the single transferrable ballot. There are many different systems that are democratic, open and transparent. Those conditions would have to be met for me to support it. Ballots must be secret. We should have a system where party leaders do not control the voting process; it must be controlled by the people themselves. I would not support any other system unless it had that component in it. I sincerely mean that in terms of my answer to the member from British Columbia.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle because he has taken the lead, in this Parliament and in other Parliaments, to bring forward this issue of democracy and parliamentary reform and proportional representation. He has been a real champion of that.
In listening to the arguments that he has laid out, it strikes me that the single greatest impediment to bringing forward democracy in PR is the Liberal government. It has huge vested interests in keeping the system as it is and preventing some sort of measure of proportional representation.
I would like the member to talk about how this should also be debated in Canadian communities. We have seen groups like Fair Vote Canada and other organizations. This is a massive campaign outside of Parliament to bring forward PR. Would he comment on that?
Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right that the opposition to this idea is in a large extent motivated by what I call political greed. The government across the way has a majority with 40% of the votes. Under PR it would not have a majority. The majority of people have voted for the opposition parties.
Governments that have majorities are not interested in changing the voting system because it works well for them. It worked well for me for many years. That is why politicians who are incumbents are wedded to the system. When they are thrown out of office, the same is true of the NDP, this is not a left-right type of issue. We have the Alliance, the NDP and the Bloc together on this.
I had a press conference once with some of the most right wing members of the Alliance and the leader of the Marxist-Leninists in British Columbia. It is not a left-right issue. It is a question of the who is in and who is out, whether it is the NDP or the Conservatives or the Liberals or whomever. If we get a big majority, we tend to like the system that brought us there. Parties are usually committed to this idea when they are out of office.
I make an appeal to have a referendum. Let the people of this country decide because there is growing interest in the community. There is a national organization called Fair Vote Canada. People want change. They want democracy. They want their will represented in the Parliament of Canada.