House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

moved:

Motion No. 262

That a special committee of the House be created to continue the work on electoral reform as outlined in the 43rd Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from the 38th Parliament and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems; that the membership of the special committee be established by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House within five sitting days after the adoption of this motion; that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2); that the special committee have all of the powers granted to standing committees by Standing Order 108; that there be a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item; that the special committee be authorized to hold hearings across Canada; that the special committee be allowed to look into creating a citizens’ consultation group and issue an interim report to the House on this matter within six weeks of the special committee being struck; and that the special committee table its final report in the House of Commons no later than March 1, 2008.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a motion that seeks to continue the important work started in the last Parliament to follow up on the recommendations made in June 2005 by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and to move Canada forward on reforming our electoral system.

Motion No. 262 calls for the creation of a special committee of the House, as well as a citizens' consultation process to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral system of Canada.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the former leader of the NDP and long-standing parliamentarian, Ed Broadbent, who has been working on electoral reform for more than 50 years. Ed Broadbent was instrumental in the procedure and House affairs committee that made recommendations to the House, recommendations that were unanimously passed with the support of parties but were never acted upon.

I want to publicly thank Ed for his perseverance on the issue of electoral reform, to bring our country in line with most of the world's democracies to make Parliament more accountable to voters.

In a speech at Queen's University in March 2005, Ed Broadbent gave the following summation of why electoral reform is so necessary.

The truth is that the most seriously flawed component of our democratic society is our profoundly undemocratic electoral system. We have impartial courts and the rule of law, a Charter of Rights & Freedoms, a vigorous independent civil society and an independent press, but our electoral system is an outdated, non-representative, conflict-prone, gender discriminating, regionally divisive mess, bestowed to us from a pre-democratic era. The good news is that governments in six provinces have begun to embrace this issue and are calling for major reforms in their electoral systems. And with a minority government in the House of Commons, federal electoral reform, initiated by the New Democratic Party, has at last been put on the Parliamentary agenda.

I am pleased to carry on the work of Ed Broadbent and other NDP MPs like Lorne Nystrom and, once again, also in a minority Parliament, place electoral reform on the parliamentary agenda. It is possible to get work done in a minority Parliament and the time for electoral reform is long overdue.

People in my riding of Vancouver Island North and all across Canada want the House to move forward and decide how to reform or modernize our electoral system because our current electoral system is outdated and unfair. It has been in place for more than 100 years. When it was created, there were only two major political parties and now there are five. It came into effect before we had electricity, before women were persons under the law and before first nations had the right to vote.

In 1974, we made changes to Canada's political financing laws. We introduced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the Access to Information Act in 1983. We changed parliamentary processes along the way, including the election of the Speaker by secret ballot and overhauled the Canada Elections Act in 1996. Further political financing reforms were passed in 2003, and in 2004 changes were made to candidate registration.

We have been studying the question of reforming our electoral system for over 25 years through various government task forces and royal commissions. We had the Pepin-Robarts task force in 1979, the Macdonald Royal Commission in 1985 and the Lortie Commission in 1992.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs did extensive study in 2004 and 2005, hearing many witnesses and travelling around the world to study other parliamentary systems. Its report to Parliament in June 2005 forms the basis of the motion I am presenting and that I am urging all parties to support.

In its Speech from the Throne in 2005, the previous Liberal government pledged:

To examine the need and options for reform our democratic institutions, including electoral reform.

In response to the 43rd report, the previous Liberal government said:

Nevertheless, it is essential for every democracy to take stock regularly, to ensure that all aspects of its system of governance meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens. The Government of Canada has a duty to build on Canada's strong democratic traditions by modernizing our democratic processes to ensure that they reflect the values and interests of Canadians.

Motion No. 262 calls upon the government to continue the work that was started in the last Parliament, to follow the recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee's 43rd report to Parliament to strike a special committee to hold hearings across the country and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing Canada's electoral system. However, the most important part of the motion is the creation of a citizens' consultation process.

Following the recommendations of the 43rd report, the citizens' consultation group would make recommendations on the values and principles desired in Canada's democratic and electoral systems. As Nathalie Des Rosiers, a witness at the 2005 procedure and House affairs committee, said:

There's a gap between Canadian values and results, and that troubles a lot of Canadians.

If we are to hear what Canadians want, then we must engage them at the grassroots level on the values that they want to see represented and design a system that meets those goals. Everyone counts and so should our votes but, more and more, Canadians feel that their voices and choices are not heard.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, in its report to Parliament in 2005, found that:

A major source of worry for many Canadians, and many Parliamentarians, is decreasing voter turnout in Canadian elections. It is a particular concern that young people, and certain ethnic and social groups, are less likely than others to vote.

Between 1988 and 2004, voter turnout dropped dramatically in federal elections. In 1988, it was 75.3%. In 1993, it fell to 69.9%. In 1997, we saw a further drop to 67%. In 2000, it was 61.2%. In 2004, only 60.9% of Canadians bothered to vote. Last year, in 2006, the turnout rose slightly to 64.7% but this is still not anywhere near acceptable.

The Law Commission of Canada, in its 2004 report “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”, states:

For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics.

It contributes to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples. Critics maintain that countries with first-past-the-post systems routinely under-represent women and minority candidates.

It prevents diversity within the House of Commons. As a result of regional concentration, disproportionate votes to seats, and an under-representation of women and minority candidates, legislatures within this system lack a diversity of voices in political decision-making processes.

This system favours an adversarial style of politics.

That is something that we see daily in this House.

The Law Commission further states:

--many citizens want to be involved, want to have a real voice in decision making, and would like to see more responsive, accountable, and effective political institutions.

This is something I have heard from many of my constituents and from people all across the country. Canadians are telling us that every vote should count. However, in the last election, 665,940 votes for the Green Party elected zero MPs, while only 475,114 votes in Atlantic Canada elected 22 Liberals. It took 89,296 votes to elect each NDP MP, 43,339 votes for each Conservative member, 43,490 for each Liberal and 30,455 for each Bloc MP to get elected.

When ordinary citizens feel disenfranchised from the process, they tend to not participate. They feel their votes do not count.

When we look around the world, we see that other industrialized countries have embraced a fairer system of electing their representatives. We can look at the example of other Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, a longstanding Westminster democracy that adopted proportional representation in 1993. Nigel Roberts, in New Zealand: A Westminster Democracy Switches to PR, said:

--the change can be regarded as a good example of how to move from one voting system to another. It was done only after a great deal of research, debate and public consultation. Most experts on electoral reform would agree that major electoral reforms should not be undertaken lightly, and the move to...PR in New Zealand was certainly not undertaken likely.

New Zealand's Royal Commission on the Electoral System sat for over a year before releasing a detailed report in which it defined the following criteria for testing both first past the post and other voting systems: fairness between political parties; effective representation of minority and special interest groups; effective Maori representation, the Maori being New Zealand's indigenous ethnic minority; political integration; representation of constituents; voter participation; effective government; effective parliament; effective parties; and legitimacy.

At the same time, however, the royal commission stressed that no voting system can fully meet the ideal standards set by the criteria and pointed out that the criteria were not all of equal weight. New Zealand's parliament is an example of how we can have diversity. As Nigel Roberts again points out:

Six parties are represented in the [New Zealand] new Parliament, each in close accord with the share of the votes it won throughout the country as a whole; the system is highly proportional. There are now 15 Maori in the House of Representatives, and Maori are represented in the New Zealand Parliament in rough proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. The same is true of Pacific Islanders, and the country's first PR election also saw the election of the country's first Asian MP. In addition, the overall proportion of women in Parliament rose from 21 per cent in 1993 to 29 per cent in 1996...Furthermore, voter turnout in New Zealand was even higher in 1996 than it had been in either 1990 or 1993.

There are many members of Parliament who know it is time to change our electoral system. In its throne speech, the current government talked about electoral reform, saying:

--this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.

The Law Commission of Canada agrees:

While there is no single magic bullet that will instantaneously stimulate Canadians' involvement in the political system, a consensus appears to be emerging among political parties of all stripes, experts in electoral behaviour, and grassroots organizations that electoral system reform is a good starting point for energizing and strengthening Canadian democracy.

I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the 43rd report of the procedure and House affairs committee to have open, meaningful engagement with the citizens of Canada and have their values and principles reflected in an electoral system that works for all Canadians.

The people of Canada are concerned about many issues: climate change and the environment, fairness and affordability for working families, and the war in Afghanistan, to name but a few. I share their concerns and I believe that a fairer, more representative voting system will give us a government that is more responsive and accountable to their concerns.

The makeup of our Parliament should reflect the will of the voters and the diversity that is Canada. The time has come to change our electoral system for the better. Everyone matters. Every vote should count.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent presentation and for putting this motion forward to the House. I applaud her for laying out the history of this issue, particularly the work done by my predecessor, the former representative from Ottawa Centre, Mr. Broadbent.

I want to ask the hon. member about one of the things that is critical in this issue and was cited by her: civic participation. In the report that we are asking to be implemented, all parties called for citizen engagement. I wonder if she would shed some light on that. The government claims to have a process in place. Would she comment on that?

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, to answer the question from the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, I know that the Conservatives have said they want to have a citizen consultation process, but as for what their process is, it is a contracted out process to their hand-picked friends. It is a closed process. They do not want, as they say, special interest groups to take over.

I have to ask, though, who are these special interest groups? Women? First nations? Ethnic minorities? These are exactly the people we need to hear from. That is why the recommendation from the 43rd report is for a consultation process that is very broad. We want to have the values and principles that Canadians want to see in an electoral system.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, in her motion, the hon. member for Vancouver Island North states that there would be “a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item”. It may make sense, but I am puzzled by it is. I am not sure what that means, given that the special committee will be needing nationwide reporting back in more than a year from now. What is the point of this particular item that just seems out of place in this motion?

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the time limit referred to as required in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2) is a rule of the House for the length of speeches in committees.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has essentially said, by eliminating all of its funding, that the Law Commission of Canada does not perform useful work. The member mentioned one useful example on electoral reform. I am sure that the commission also is essential for women's issues.

I wonder if the member believes that the Law Commission of Canada does useful work. If she believes it does useful work, I wonder if she could give us some examples.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was able to refer in my notes to a fabulous report that the Law Commission did about electoral reform in Canada. The Law Commission did an extensive study on the impact of the unfair, archaic voting system and made recommendations to the procedure and House affairs committee to reform our democratic system. I hope the House will pass this motion so that these recommendations now can be implemented.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, PR seems like a great idea. Being a neighbour of Prince Edward Island and now physically linked to the Island, where politics are like religion and are taken very seriously, I think that one of the reasons the experiment failed was that it became very complicated. When we get talking about MMP, STV and SMP, all the various methods of PR, is there a way of making this more communicable to the Canadian public and therefore more acceptable?

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is a very complex issue, but it can be simplified. When we go out to ordinary Canadians about the values they want to see in their electoral system, we can come up with something that would work for Canada, that this House could put forward, and we could explain it. It would not be that hard. We had a citizens' consultation process in British Columbia and came up with the STV system, which 57% of Canadians--

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Lanark--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the gist of my presentation today will be to point out that in view of the very aggressive set of initiatives already introduced by the government on the subject of electoral democratic reform, both in this chamber and for application to the upper House, the motion by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North is effectively redundant.

I want to start my comments by pointing out that the government in its throne speech indicated that it was going to focus intensively on the challenges faced by Canada's electoral and democratic systems. This was done in part in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the last Parliament.

Seeing as the New Democrats are talking about the report of this committee as if it is holy writ or, indeed, brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, I note that in fact it was not; it was brought down by a group of us, including me.

Let me just read for members what the report said, because it does not say quite what the New Democrats represent it as saying. It states that a “citizens' consultation group”, along with the parliamentary committee, should:

--make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems...[this] would take into account an examination of the role of Members of Parliament and political parties; citizen engagement and rates of voter participation, including youth and aboriginal communities; civic literacy; how to foster a more representative House of Commons, including, but not limited to, increased representation of women and minorities, and questions of proportionality, community of interest and representation;....

Some of this is being taken care of through the citizens' consultation process that is currently under way, as the government has announced, and which has a much broader mandate than what the hon. member is proposing in her motion, but it is a mandate that reflects accurately what was proposed by this committee when it made its report in June 2005.

Indeed, we have made sure that the consultation group reflects what the committee wanted. At the time when I sat on that committee, I was not a fan of that process, but Ed Broadbent, who is constantly cited in the NDP's arguments, spoke in favour of that particular type of process. I said that we would have the usual suspects showing up at this process, and he said, “Sure, it will be the usual suspects, but they have a lot to say, and it is a good process”. The committee voted for it and the government is following through on the recommendations of the committee.

Now the New Democrats have discovered that they really favour another proposal, the citizens' assembly proposal, which Mr. Broadbent fought against vigorously when it was brought up by the Conservatives and which is why the Conservatives put a dissenting report advocating that proposal into the 43rd report of the procedure and House affairs committee. Thus, when the NDP members refer back to this through a revisionist version of history, we must recall that it is a little bit different from the way it actually worked when it happened.

I now want to list some of the legislative initiatives that the government has moved forward with on the subject of democratic reform, because this is really an extraordinary push forward. We are doing more on this issue than any previous government has ever done.

I will start by pointing to the Federal Accountability Act, which changed the rules for financing. It made them much more restrictive, eliminating corporate and union donations and reducing individual donations to $1,000 per capita, ensuring, in other words, that money and affluence are not the determining factors in financing political parties, and therefore ensuring that parties can operate on a level playing field.

We have moved forward on a number of items that deal with making the electoral system fairer, such as Bill C-31 to get rid of electoral fraud, a bill that the NDP opposes although all other parties in the House support it. It is a bill that will do a great deal to make the system much fairer and will ensure that no Canadian is disenfranchised, because electoral fraud disenfranchises everyone who is affected by a vote outcome that can be determined fraudulently, and that is a real problem.

The increased electoral fairness through Bill C-16, which is now in the Senate, having been passed by the House, will ensure that elections occur once every four years, not when the Prime Minister chooses to call them based upon whether his or her party is high in the polls. That was a terrible wrong. It was abused by the previous government repeatedly. This initiative will ensure that it is not abused again. This follows, of course, a series of legislative initiatives adopted at the provincial level, first in British Columbia and then in Ontario, to ensure that provincial elections are also on fixed four year dates.

We have also moved forward on Senate reform. Bill S-4 limits the tenure of senators to eight years. We are having a tremendous problem getting that bill through the Liberal controlled Senate. The government has initiated this bill. It makes sense. It is going to ensure that senators are not effectively appointed for life. Frankly, this is the first time we have seen any serious attempt at Senate reform in the history of this country.

Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, would allow for elections of senators. They are called consultative elections because we have to respect the constitutional prerogative of the Governor General to appoint senators.

That bill is interesting not only because it would allow for democracy to finally reach into the Senate and elections to occur within the Senate, but elections under this legislation would not be by means of the first past the post system. Rather elections would be by a single transferable vote system, in short, a proportional system that attempts to ensure that broader preferences come forward and are represented in choosing a senator. It would have the same effect in the Senate as what occurs in the Australian senate, for example, which uses a similar system where a broader range of preferences is expressed. This is a tremendous step forward.

I find it interesting that when talking about proportional representation the New Democrats always take great pains to avoid talking about the one piece of electoral reform legislation that is actually before the House right now, the attempt to introduce proportional representation in the upper house of Canada. In listening to the New Democrats talk about this, one would think there is nothing going on there at all and that it is not worth discussing.

Focusing on something that can happen right now in this Parliament is very important. The issue came up when the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London introduced a motion in the procedure and House affairs committee last week asking that the committee consider a variety of democratic and electoral reform issues, including the issue of proportional representation in the upper house. The New Democrats on the committee voted against it. They ensured that the motion would be defeated.

I do not detect a pattern of behaviour that is logical and actually beneficial toward moving forward on the democratic reform file. The New Democrats are trying to focus on a single hobby horse in a way that suits their interests best.

I find it interesting that Ed Broadbent advocated the idea of electoral reform. During the election campaign when the New Democrats released their election platform, that party moved from favouring more proportional representation as a general theme and letting Canadians look for the best solution, to directly choosing the solution that would be given to Canadians, the multi-member proportional system.

That system has some merits. That system is used in Germany and New Zealand, both of which are respectable democracies, but it not the only available proportional system. For example, it is not the system used in Australia's upper house, which is proportional. It is not used in Malta or Ireland. All of those countries have a single transferable vote system. It is also not the system used in Australia's lower house which uses the alternative vote system. It is not the only proportional system, but it was the only one that the NDP wanted to advocate.

The New Democrats were actually advocating it. They were saying it was essential to move from our system to that system when the MMP system, the multi-member proportional system, had just been defeated in P.E.I., where it received less than 40% of the vote, and an alternative system, the single transferable vote proportional system, had been adopted by almost 60% of British Columbians in another referendum.

We have to be careful. When we look at what the New Democrats are proposing we have to ask ourselves, do they favour proportional representation? Do they favour changing the electoral system in a way that reflects what Canadians want, which means maybe not choosing that system up front, or do they favour the system that is likely to produce the best result in terms of numbers of seats for New Democrats if their vote total does not change? In other words, the NDP is saying, “Without actually changing our appeal to the Canadian people, how can we get more seats in the House of Commons?”

That is not a beneficial approach. We have to work on allowing Canadians to make these decisions themselves.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues from the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party for their speeches on this important issue.

For all of us it is a question of demonstrating to Canadians that our electoral system bears a reasonable proportion of the seats received to the votes cast. We have heard reasons for that. It is a direction we are going in for sure.

The Law Commission of Canada issued a report in the spring of 2004 which recommended a mixed proportional system. I must underline that the Law Commission of Canada statute requires it to engage in the fullest possible public consultation, as well as deep social research, both of which went into that massive report. It is perhaps the most comprehensive review of voting systems in the Commonwealth if not the broader democratic world. So, a lot of the work has been done. I will come back to that in a moment because it is important.

Following that commission report, we heard in the 2005 Speech from the Throne, with communication between the NDP and the Liberal government at the time, that we would look toward reforming the electoral system. The procedure and House affairs committee has come up with its report. Whether we go ahead with a special committee of the House or whether it is a subcommittee of the procedure and House affairs committee or that committee as a whole, we are inexorably moving forward under all of these demands and recommendations to seriously consider electoral reform in this country, not the least because six jurisdictions in Canada are looking at it very seriously.

British Columbia already looked at it once through its citizens assembly. It held a referendum at the time of its last fixed term election. My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party mentioned that it was barely passed; it was actually barely not passed in that it received 58% of the vote, a majority of course, but there was a 60% threshold put on it. That will be proceeded with in the next provincial election in British Columbia. The question will be put again. That was between the preferred single transferable vote system that the citizens assembly came up with and the current first past the post system.

Ontario is having a citizens' assembly as well. That is pushing us inexorably toward considering it federally. As well there are four other jurisdictions considering it.

I would equate this to the rise of medicare and our public health system which started at the provincial level. There was, I guess, a lot of resistance in Saskatchewan when that was put forward, but then in operation it became a model for the whole country.

I think the provinces have already started this process on its way and, as I say, through the House committee, through the Speech from the Throne and through the Law Commission of Canada, we have actually started on that route ourselves.

The purpose is to get some relative proportion between the number of votes cast and the number of seats obtained. Other members have mentioned the underlying even greater importance, the reason for that basic need is so we do not have groups in our society who are underrepresented because there are some barriers in our electoral system to their full participation.

I would add the outcome of regional disparity. Under the simple first past the post system, we have a huge disparity between the number of seats in any one region or province and the number of votes cast there for any particular party.

I have great sympathy for the NDP's long-standing interest in proportional representation because that party is disadvantaged. The NDP historically has been getting a lesser proportion of the seats than that party's proportion of votes. This is common for third parties in Westminster-style first past the post systems. The concern comes from that.

In that regard the current prime minister, Tony Blair, before Britain's 1997 election thought, as the mythology goes at least, that he was going to get a minority government and he needed the support of the Liberal Democrats in order to hold government. He made a deal that if he formed government, he would have a royal commission on electoral reform and put that to a vote against the current system.

Roy Jenkins, a former minister of the crown and wonderful biographer of some of the most important people in British history, including his most recent work on Winston Churchill, was made royal commissioner. In 1998 he came up with a breathtakingly sensitive, wise and tested system to blend the first past the post system with proportional representation. He very effectively shielded out all of the shortcomings of each and reinforced the strengths of each in a mixed member proportional system, which bears some real resemblance to the Law Commission report.

In passing, the member for Vancouver Island North mentioned the Law Commission of Canada and its president, Nathalie Des Rosiers, who is a former fellow law commissioner of mine before I entered politics. The question was asked as to what kind of work the commission has done.

The commission did the monumental study, after consultation and research, that was probably more extensive than anything done in this country on institutional child abuse. The centrepiece of that was the residential schools abuse which became the basis for the residential schools settlements, reconciliation and a number of reforms, awareness and recognition of that injustice in our country. The commission also opened up the debate on the same sex marriage issue by doing a major report in the late 1990s on civil unions. It looked at a lot of the complicated issues in a highly intelligent way as to the state's role versus the church's role in the solemnization of marriage. The commission has done a lot of breathtaking work on restorative justice as well.

As my colleague, the hon. member for Yukon, mentioned, it is passing strange in a way to see the budget of the Law Commission of Canada cut to zero, which may not actually be possible for the government to do without the consent of the House. It is a statutory and independent institution. It has statutory responsibilities to fulfill. If the government is able to reduce the commission's budget to zero, there is an issue of legal capacity that we have to carefully look at.

A new citizen consultative process has been announced by the government. The Prime Minister mentioned it about three weeks ago and it was mentioned again today. This is curious for a number of reasons.

We have a parliamentary process through the House committee which is just getting going again after the last, might I say, unnecessary election, but it also is subsequent to what has already been introduced. The member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington mentioned the democratic reform issues that the government has already brought forward. Whether it is terms, election of senators, fixed elections dates or the political financing aspect, how can we possibly take the government seriously when it says it is going to consult Canadians after it has already introduced all of these changes? It seems to be a little backward.

Let us do something meaningful and substantive with the citizens consultation. There are two models in Ontario and British Columbia that are highly representative and deliberative. Let us not just use a polling firm and a think tank to go out and have a few discussions across the country. Let us look to what the Law Commission has done. It is a statutory, independent public institution. Let us look to our parliamentary direct responsibility and role through our committees. Then let us have discussions with Canadians in a really fulsome way without barrelling forward with changes that do not benefit from that wide consultation and acceptance by the public. Let us do it in a way that will encourage the public to take part fully in elections in the future.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Motion M-262 put forward by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North. I thank her for having proposed this motion.

First off, let me say that the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting this motion proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North because it duplicates the work done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Considerable work has been done, and the committee has expended a great deal of time and energy as well as taxpayers money to produce its 43rd report, pursuant to the order of reference of November 25, 2004, that, further to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommend a process that engages citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of our electoral system with a review of all options.

In March 2005, members of the committee divided into two groups and travelled to several countries in order examine at first hand the experience of electoral reform and to see how those countries had consulted and engaged citizens in the reform process. Seven members travelled to Scotland, England, and Berlin, while six other members travelled to New Zealand, and Australia. During these trips, the members had the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of politicians, academics, representatives of political parties and electoral commissions, and persons involved with electoral reform, and to study at close hand the systems and reform processes used, if any.

The committee approached this study resulting in the 43rd report by hearing from a number of witnesses. These included representatives of the Law Commission of Canada; representatives from various groups involved with public policy; academics who have studied issues relating to electoral reform and public consultations; and representatives of various provincial initiatives involving reviews of electoral systems. All of these individuals and groups have been extremely helpful in providing members of the committee with valuable insight on how to approach the issue of electoral reform, the ways in which to review the existing electoral system, and how best to consult with and engage citizens.

Moreover, a call for tenders for public consultations on Canada's democratic institutions and practices went out on January 9 in response to the April 4, 2006, Speech from the Throne, which stated that:

Building on the work begun in the last Parliament, this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.

The consultations will address various issues, including political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons, the Senate, and the role of citizens. These consultations are to begin March 9, 2007, and an interim report is to be tabled by May 23.

The motion tabled by the member for Vancouver Island North proposes a number of elements already included in Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, and in Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. Let us take a look at some of these elements.

Bill C-16 would relieve the Prime Minister of the prerogative to call a general election at the most auspicious time for the political party in power.

This bill has other positive spin-offs. It supports the work of Parliament by enabling elected representatives to better plan their work and by preventing elections from interfering with the adoption of the estimates. It also promotes voter participation. Contrary to what the Conservative government would have us believe, democratic reform as set out in Bill C-16 will not lead to an upheaval because it will not bring major changes to the status quo.

In a minority government, the opposition will still be able to overthrow the government and trigger an election at any time because this bill does not challenge the fundamental principle that a majority of parliamentarians can decide to trigger an election if they feel it is necessary.

A fixed election date system only works if the government in power agrees to it. Since the Prime Minister retains the right to recommend that Parliament be dissolved at any time before the fixed date, he can call an election whenever he chooses, with a good reason to do so.

The other element in motion M-262 relates to Bill C-31, which seeks to reduce the opportunity for fraud or error, improve the accuracy of the national register of electors, facilitate voting and enhance communication between election officials, candidates, parties and voters.

Bill C-31 was the product of close cooperation among the political parties. The government listened to the opposition parties when it introduced Bill C-31. The Conservative government should take the same approach to other issues, instead of stubbornly pushing its law and order agenda, and it should listen to the Bloc Québécois, which is calling for rehabilitation rather than repression. Moreover, instead of insisting on dismantling the gun registry, the minority Conservative government should listen to the Bloc Québécois, which is calling for better control over the registry costs.

As I have already said, the purpose of this bill was to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for fraud or error. As a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I participated in the work leading up to the introduction of this bill in the House of Commons, so I can say that a lot of work went into it.

The committee includes representatives of each political party, all of whom cooperated effectively, thus enabling us to achieve our goal of improving the electoral process and strengthening the public's faith in it.

The bill also proposes another change that the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for: assigning each voter a unique identification number. This unique identifier will appear on the voters' lists, eliminating duplication and making for better lists. It is important to point out that this unique identifier will be randomly generated and assigned by the chief electoral officer.

In our opinion, other concerns are more pressing that motion M-262, such as the fiscal imbalance, which the Bloc Québécois, on behalf of all Quebeckers, is calling on the government to correct by transferring $3.9 billion to Quebec.

There is also the crisis in the manufacturing sector. The Conservative government's economic laissez faire approach is no response to the challenges manufacturers face to modernize, innovate and equip themselves better in order to compete with foreign companies.

These are just a few of the issues that we think are more urgent than creating a special committee to continue the work of electoral reform, because, as I said a few minutes ago, that work has already been done, and at a considerable cost.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for bringing this motion to the House of Commons for us to debate and to vote on.

I begin by referring back to some comments made by other members. In particular, I challenge the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington who said that the motion did not address electoral reform as put forward in committee. He also indicated that Mr. Broadbent was not in favour of the consultation process. He might want to change his take on this. We know Mr. Broadbent fought vigorously in committee for a parallel track so we could have citizen consultations. No one else did that. It was his work that allowed us to have the process in place. I want to put that on the record.

The government is trying to hijack electoral reform for its own purposes. Ironically, it is saying that it knows better than citizens. Let me explain that.

Before the Christmas break, my party put forward its intention to bring this issue to the House of Commons. We were being transparent, as we have been consistently. We let Canadians and Parliament know that we would bring this motion forward in the House. It was no secret.

Interestingly enough, after Christmas the government scurried and found a process to allow it to say it would move on the issue. It attempted to take it out of the hands of Parliament and therefore Canadians, because Parliament represents the interests of Canadians. The government said it knew better. It talked to its friends in consulting firms and lobbyists and put together a package. By doing this, it could say that it consulted Canadians. This was not good enough.

The terrible irony is that is not democratic. The whole point of the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the last Parliament was to ensure that Canadians would be heard, not only by their MPs, but through genuine citizen consultations as well. We know the previous government dithered on this, did not get to it and was unable to meet the commitment.

We are asking this Parliament to honour the commitment of the previous Parliament and deal with this issue. In the 2005 Speech from the Throne and the 2006 Speech from the Throne both governments, different political parties, claimed they would honour electoral reform. We are providing that opportunity for all parties.

It is passing strange that the Bloc Québécois says that everything has been done. It sounds to me like those members receive their message track from the government. Maybe this gives us an indication of more things to come with respect to the budget. They have said that all the commitments in the 43rd report from the procedure and House affairs committee have been honoured. They forgot to tell the House that the most important part of the report was to have MPs consult with citizens as well as to have citizen consultations.

I know the first past the post rewards the Bloc Québécois, and maybe that is something it does not want to encounter. I do not know. It is strange that those members would give us the impression that all the concerns, which were laid out in the report, and the commitments made to Canadians for a process occurred when in fact they had not.

The motion of my colleague is like a concurrence motion. It is asks this Parliament to commit to something it did not get to in the last Parliament. Canadians are very concerned. My predecessor on this issue, Mr. Broadbent, clearly outlined measures. He said that it was important to have ethics and accountability in government, and that might include a ban on floor crossing, which has not mentioned by the Conservative government. The Conservatives are concerned about electoral fraud vis-à-vis the opportunity for voter fraud. However, they do not mention candidate fraud, for example, when a candidate runs for the Liberals and then the next day becomes a Conservative.

Canadians are more concerned about candidate fraud than they are about this supposed potential for voter fraud of which there has been very little, in fact four cases over three elections. We have had more candidate fraud than we have had voter fraud, so that has to be addressed.

On the point of electoral reform, Mr. Broadbent along with others argued that the antiquated first past the post system will require major democratic reforms. To reach a degree of fairness in our present electoral system, he reasoned that a mixed system of individual constituency based MPs like we have now and proportional representation is necessary to erase the imbalance in the House of Commons.

I should note it is the model in New Zealand. New Zealand used to have a Canadian style system of concentrated power and there the voters rebelled against the alternating Labour Party and National Party dictatorships. Electoral reform now ensures coalition cabinets.

The present Prime Minister, in a paper with Mr. Flanagan, wrote:

In New Zealand, which used to have a Canadian-style system of concentrated power, the voters rebelled against alternating Labour party and National party dictatorships: electoral reform now ensures coalition cabinets.

Those are his words, not mine. That is our present Prime Minister writing that not that long ago, in 1997.

I agree with him that we have tired of this kind of dictatorship, this benevolent dictatorship as some have called it, where a party can receive 38% of the vote and have a big fat majority.

The problem is that the government along with the Bloc does not want to actually encounter this issue with Canadians because we need to deal with this issue.

I want to speak about the issue of democratic reform vis-à-vis the problems in terms of regional representation. In our system, where there are only votes that transfer into seats and are those which are cast for the candidate who gets the most votes, which is our first past the post system, the major disadvantage is for opposition parties.

Remember that under Preston Manning the Reform Party was shut out of seats in Ontario despite the fact that it received 20% of the vote. The system is also bad for governing parties. In the 1980s, for instance, the Liberals under Mr. Trudeau received 23% of the popular vote in western Canada. This should have meant 20 MPs from the west instead of the two who were sent to Ottawa.

As an anecdote, Mr. Broadbent, who was the leader of the NDP at the time, was approached by Mr. Trudeau and asked if he would not mind having a coalition government because Mr. Trudeau was so worried about the lack of representation in the west. Mr. Broadbent looked at the menu of choices Mr. Trudeau was offering policy-wise, and thanked him but said, not this time. A wise choice.

If we were to have a system structured as such, we would have regional representation built in. I turn to the examples of the last election. What happened in Montreal and Vancouver was a travesty. We had highway robbery of the democratic system by the Conservative government.

In the case of Montreal, Mr. Fortier was taken out of the back room and thrown into the cabinet with a portfolio of great importance. In Vancouver we saw what happened with candidate fraud with the Minister of International Trade. He was a Liberal one day and of course became a Conservative the next day.

If we had a system similar to New Zealand which would take away from the concentrated power that is a dictatorship, as the Prime Minister stated in his paper, we would have a system which would represent regions as well. That work has been done.

The work we have put forward is the mixed member, not the multi-member as the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington suggested. That would allow members to be elected first past the post so they would be representing their riding and to have people assigned proportionally.

That is exactly the system that would ensure that we would not have these dictatorships as the Prime Minister suggested and it would ensure that we have regional representation. The Conservatives, having won power, could have had someone representing those regions where they were not successful, in the urban areas like Vancouver and Montreal, and they would have the legitimacy of having an elected person in cabinet.

I am delighted that we are debating this issue. I look forward to the vote and encourage all members to vote for what is a very progressive, insightful and important motion.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.