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 system.

Topics

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think, if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, in relation to its study of relations with Muslim countries, a maximum of 14 members divided into several groups of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be authorized to travel to the Middle East and South Asia from October 13 to October 26, 2003 and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, our party is not exactly fringe. We have the largest membership of any of the four opposition parties today. We are third place in the polls. The Alliance is in fourth. That may disappoint the member, but that is the fact of the matter today in terms of public opinion.

He is concerned about the power of the prime minister. I want to remind him that the prime minister, and indeed all party leaders today, have the power to sign or not sign nomination papers. It is a pretty awesome power.

Back in 1997, when the current Prime Minister was the Leader of the Opposition, he appointed candidates. In my own province, Georgette Sheridan was appointed as the Liberal candidate in Saskatoon--Humboldt. I remember Marcel Masse being appointed as a candidate for the Liberal Party in Hull--Aylmer. There were two or three others also.

Does the member agree with that practice? That practice exists today, but it should not. Under PR it should not exist. My vision of a proportional representation system is one that is open, transparent and democratic, otherwise I would not support it.

Would the member acknowledge at least that the power of the Prime Minister is too great today and also the power of party leaders sometimes is abused when they appoint candidates and do not allow a proper democratic nomination process to take place? His party is guilty.

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle is an experienced member and he knows his history. When prime ministers or party leaders refuse to sign nomination papers, there is a great possibility that the person will still run and succeed as an independent or switch to another party.

The reality is that because of the constituency system any leader has to be careful. If an individual MP is very popular in his constituency, because he has done a good job, then that MP cannot be wished away as easily as someone failing to sign his nomination papers.

As for appointed candidates, the record on appointed candidates is pretty clear too. They do not tend to last very long. The prime minister or party leader can appoint candidates but so often they do not survive for very many elections. On the other hand, if someone is genuinely grassroots in our constituency system then watch out.

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, I just could not resist jumping into this with a few comments.

We do have a party system, but I would say that the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, for whom I have a lot of respect, has sound logic but that is the point. It is just sound. It is unencumbered by meaning. This party has more free votes than any other party. If we are going to be accused of not having any, then there is an issue.

In terms of proportional representation, I do not think our system works all that well because voter turnout has been declining. I have been at debates myself where I have been sorely tempted to vote for the Green Party candidate because he was the best person in the room. I am a candidate who won by 55 votes. If anybody should be against this in the interest of self-preservation, it is me.

I will stand proudly and support this motion by the NDP, not because I think it is the panacea to solve our problems but because we have to keep the issue on the radar screen, explore the options and figure out a way to reconnect with the people in our ridings. Environmental issues and the issues that these supposed minor parties are pushing are important and we need to hear their voices.

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I do not think there was a question in that. We are out of time but we will have a short answer.

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, voter turnout is poor because the Liberals have been so successful and the opposition have been such a failure.

We have a range of opinions here. We can get everything on this side that we do not need the opposition. That is why I think we do not--

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

On a point order, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Business of the House
Government Orders

September 30th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties with respect to the taking of the recorded divisions scheduled for Wednesday, October 1, 2003, and I believe that you would find consent for the following motions. I move:

That the recorded divisions scheduled for Wednesday, October 1, 2003, on M-387, C-406, M-392, M-288 and if necessary M-83, take place at 5:45 p.m. with bells at 5:30 p.m.

And, that after the said votes, the House continue to sit for one hour in order to consider government orders.

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on the NDP motion by my friend from Regina--Qu'Appelle, which reads:

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.

I am not a supporter of proportional representation as the best electoral reform for Canada, but I will be voting in favour of this motion because I think it is far overdue for Canadians to have a say in the undemocratic nature of our institutions and processes.

There are several variations of proportional representation. Under a pure PR system, every party with one per cent or more of the vote elects the appropriate number of MPs from a political party's list. This system, and most variations of it, becomes confused in a federation like Canada. Does the list simply mean a pool from which the leaders choose, or must there be a list from each of the provinces so that Parliament, while made up of people selected from a party list, will also represent the provinces in proportion to their population?

Another key question is, how would these lists be compiled? Would there be conventions and if so, would they be province by province, perhaps by patronage or lineage? Some systems, recognizing that there must be regional representation or constituencies, have a mixed system in which half the MPs are elected off a list, the others by the first past the post method that is currently used in Canadian elections. New Zealand and Germany are examples of this compromise.

I have a great deal of respect for proportional representation or some variation of it as an alternative to the status quo, but I do not believe that simply changing our current first past the post system of electing MPs to PR, proportional representation, would be a healthy or wise reform. In fact, I believe particularly that as a stand-alone reform it would lead to unhealthy and unintended consequences for Canada.

First, as with all PR systems, Canada could quickly devolve into constant minority governments, rendering Canada ungovernable absent potentially exotic coalitions of rivalling single issue parties, language based parties, or aggressively regional parties that would be destructive of the development of a national vision.

Second, by simply reforming the mechanism of electing members of the House of Commons and ignoring the need for Senate reform, accountability of judicial appointments, accountability in the election of the Governor General, and a host of other problems, we would be prescribing a placebo for Canada's ills rather than engaging in a more comprehensive and thoughtful process of democratic reforms broadly.

The two most effective critiques of our current first past the post system is that one, it elects MPs who may not be representative of the majority of their constituents, and two, it can therefore produce governments that are not themselves reflective of the wishes of the country. This second critique is of particular concern because of the nature of the concentration of power in the hands of a majority government and the possibility of an increasing disconnect between the governed and the government.

This is fueled by an important consequence of questions that must be considered by political scientists. The first question asked is, what is the worst form that government can take? The answer is tyranny. To what form of tyranny are democracies prey? The tyranny of the majority. To that end, mature democracies that understand this danger inherent in democratic systems have developed mechanisms to check power, mechanisms such as bicameralism in Germany and the United States, a dual executive such as in France, a separate elected executive such as in the United States, and internal governing mechanisms that check majorities from imposing irrational, ill-conceived or incongruent ideas on a hostile or unconsenting public.

There is no perfect electoral system for all countries. There are only perfect ideals to which systems can aspire to embrace. Those ideals include, but are not limited to, fair representation, voter participation, national unity, intellectual identity and civic participation. While I cannot address each of these elements in the time that I have, I can say with certainty that proportional representation, as a stand-alone reform as is proposed by this motion, would not move Canada forward democratically but would move us backward.

Proportional representation might make sense if we had an elected Senate to balance the needs of regions in our national discourse. Proportional representation might make sense if we had some mechanism to ensure that citizens would still have a say in who their specific representatives would be rather than having elites thrust upon them via party lists, where candidates are placed by patronage and plucked from by sequence.

I believe in free elections for the Senate, free votes for the House, open nomination contests in parties, empowering Canadians with ballot initiatives, curbing the power of cabinet to stifle free speech and free votes. I believe in separating the executive from the legislative branch to allow Canadians to democratically choose their head of state in a stand-alone vote.

Canada is a profoundly undemocratic country with archaic institutions, an arrogant and unaccountable Governor General, a Senate staffed with allies of political elites, leadership campaigns without the free sale of memberships, and new campaign finance rules that force Canadians to finance ideas to which they do not subscribe through the direct financing of political parties with taxpayers' dollars.

We need a wholesale reform of our democratic system in Canada. Proportional representation is one of many possible reforms. I support the motion as a means of starting a broader discussion to renew Canadian democracy and ensure Canadians have a say in the governance of this great country. However, were this referendum ever to come about, I would vote against proportional representation and in favour of a broader dialogue for broader reforms.

Madam Speaker, I am out of time as I would like to divide my time with the member for Prince George--Peace River, but I am prepared to entertain any questions.