moved that Bill C-216, an act to amend the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I have before the House of Commons today an amendment to the Referendum Act.
Hon. members may recall that a number of years ago, in the early 1990s, the House of Commons passed the Referendum Act to have a national referendum on the question of the Charlottetown accord and the Constitution. In our country we have had three national referenda. We have had a referendum on prohibition, a referendum on the whole question of conscription, and then in 1992 a referendum on the issue of constitutional reform. The question put to people at that time was defeated overwhelmingly across the country.
Today I am introducing an amendment to the Referendum Act, because the act we now have in the House of Commons covers only referenda on constitutional matters. My amendment is to amend the Referendum Act so that we can actually have a referendum on the whole question of electoral change or electoral reform. The reason for this is that I am a very strong advocate of changing our electoral system to bring in a system of proportional representation. I believe that before we would bring in a system of proportional representation, we should actually consult the people of the country to see if they want it.
Under the federal laws and statutes, the House of Commons by itself can change the electoral system any time it wants, because it only affects the federal law. If we look around the world we will see that most countries in the world do not have our electoral system; they do not have a first past the post system. In fact, of democracies with more than 10 million people, it is only Canada and the United States that have a pure first past the post system. In the last election in the United States in the year 2000, Al Gore actually received 550,000 more votes than George Bush, but George Bush is President of the United States.
India still has the first past the post system. This country has a first past the post system. Even Britain, the mother of our parliamentary system, now has a measure of PR in the Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament and they elect all of their members of parliament to the European Community, to the parliament in Strasbourg, through a system of proportional representation.
I believe we have to change our electoral system. The last time the House of Commons had a vote on PR was in 1922. Changing our system to the PR system is not likely to happen on a top down basis from parliamentarians; it will happen on a bottom up basis, from the people up.
We now have for the first time ever a national organization promoting proportional representation or electoral reform. That organization is Fair Vote Canada. Fair Vote Canada now has supporters from all political parties in the House. There are members of the Alliance who are in favour of changing the electoral system to bring in a measure of PR. There are members of the Liberal Party sitting in Parliament, only a few at this stage, who are in favour of changing the electoral system and bringing in PR. There are members of the Conservative Party who believe in changing the political system and bringing in proportional representation.
There are many Bloc Quebecois members who favour changing our electoral system to one based on proportional representation. I remember well that former Quebec premier and leader of the Parti Québecois René Lévesque was in favour of a new electoral system in Quebec.
Back in 1999 at a national convention our party passed a resolution to bring in a measure of PR.
We have the beginning of a national movement, a national movement that is very diverse and includes members of the trade union movement and members of the political left in Canada as well as members of the political right, including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation led by Walter Robinson, and others who favour changing the electoral system.
Why do I suggest that we have a system of PR in Canada? I believe that every vote should count, that no vote should be wasted. If we look at the parliaments we elect, we will see that the Parliament of Canada does not reflect how people actually vote. In the last campaign, the Liberal Party received around 50% of the votes in this country and yet it has almost 60% of the seats in the House of Commons.
In Ontario, out of 103 seats about 100 Liberals were elected in November 2000. One would think that about 95% of Ontarians voted Liberal, and yet the Liberal Party is almost a minority party in Ontario. It received 50% of the votes. Half of Ontarians get very few representatives here in the House of Commons.
The same thing is true of western Canada, where 75% to 80% of westerners in the House of Commons are members of the Alliance Party. Yet the Canadian Alliance in the last campaign received fewer than half of the votes in western Canada, representing a minority of western Canadians.
I can go through every Parliament like this.
I remember well the Parliament that began in 1997, after the June election. A comparison could be made between the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. In that election, the Bloc Quebecois got 11% of the vote, as did the NDP, but in the Parliament of Canada there were 21 NDP members and 44 Bloc members. The same thing happened with the Conservative and Reform parties, which had about the same number of votes nationally, but in the House there were 20 Conservative MPs and between 50 and 60 Reform MPs under the leadership of Preston Manning.
There are all these distortions in the electoral system, so that when people get up the morning after an election the Parliament they have elected does not reflect how they voted. In fact, there are many examples in Canada where the governing party actually received fewer votes than the leading opposition party. Today we have two governments that received fewer votes than the leading opposition party. In my own province, Saskatchewan, the NDP government led by Roy Romanow, which I of course supported, received 38% of the vote last time while the opposition party, the Saskatchewan Party, received 39% of the vote.
In the Province of Quebec exactly the same situation exists. The Parti Québecois now forms a majority government in the Province of Quebec, yet in the last provincial election, the Liberals under Jean Charest received more votes than the Parti Québecois. The Parti Québecois now forms the Government of Quebec, however.
We have these distortions all the way across the system. That happens regardless of the party. I think we should change the electoral system. I have said before that there are hardly any other countries in the world that now have a pure first past the post system. That is why a change has to happen here.
Under proportional representation, every vote counts and no vote is wasted. Today the majority of Canadians vote for losing candidates. People vote for people who do not win. If there were a PR system, a person could vote for the Canadian Alliance in Newfoundland and the vote would count. If a person were to vote for the NDP in Alberta, the vote would count. If a person were to vote for the Liberal Party on the prairies in western Canada, the vote would count. Right across the piece, people's voices and people's points of view would be heard here in the Parliament of Canada in a truly democratic system.
Why has this never happened? Because the first past the post system is a very self-serving system for the government, regardless of the political party, regardless of what level of government we have in Canada. The change can be made only by the grassroots, by the people of this country.
I would hope that there would be a number of MPs who would rise in the House and talk about the need for electoral reform. I challenge any member of Parliament to go out on the street in any part of this country. He or she will find that the Canadian people are losing faith in our political system. In fact, in many ways we are sleepwalking toward a crisis in democracy.
I can remember when voter turnout was 75% or 80%. In 1997 the voter turnout went down to 67% and then down to 60% in the last election campaign. People are losing faith in Parliament and their politicians. People believe that politicians do not listen and do not hear. They believe that they elect politicians to do one thing and then something else happens. Part of the responsibility for that is the failure of our electoral system to provide the Canadian people with the kind of government they want and deserve.
The other thing is that under PR people can vote for their first choice and have their first choice count. There are a lot of Canadians in our present system who cast what I call a strategic vote. They are upset with the government and they vote for the leading opposition party. Or they live in a part of the country where the party they prefer does not have a chance of winning, so they vote for their second choice. Under proportional representation, people vote for their first choice and their first choice wins.
Another thing about PR is that it would also force all political parties to have a national vision. We have in Canada now five different regional parties, really, that are strong in different parts of the country. That includes the government, which is very strong in the Province of Ontario and to a lesser degree in the Province of Quebec, but not very strong when it comes to western Canada.
Under PR every vote is equal. For the NDP under PR a vote in Chicoutimi is worth as much as a vote in Regina. For the Liberal Party under PR a vote in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, is worth as much as a vote in downtown Toronto. It would force all parties to have a national vision and appeal to Canadians right across the board, regardless of their previous voting patterns and their previous voting history. This is another argument for proportional representation.
The main thing is that we would elect a Parliament where everybody is equal, where everybody's vote counts, and where nobody's vote is wasted.
Why do I today bring in a bill to amend the Referendum Act? I believe that for a major change of this sort the people should speak. In fact, we have a precedent for this. In New Zealand a number of years ago when that country moved from the first past the post system to the system of proportional representation, not just one but two referenda were held. The first referendum was on the principle of PR. The question put to New Zealanders was whether they wanted to bring in a system based on proportional representation or to stick with the status quo, which was first past the post. New Zealanders then voted to bring in a system based on proportional representation.
The second referendum in New Zealand allowed the people of the country, through a direct vote in a referendum, to choose the kind of proportional representation they wanted in their electoral system. They chose what was called the mixed member proportional, a system that is based on the German model, which is the reality in some 13 countries in the world.
I think what we should do is allow the Canadian people, through a referendum, to decide whether or not they want to keep the status quo or bring in a system of proportional representation.
For the last four or five years I have had a private member's bill before the House of Commons which would strike an all party committee to hold public hearings across the country and to come up with some recommendations as to the most appropriate system of PR for the country. Parliament would decide on the most appropriate model for Canada and then a national referendum would be held so the Canadian people could decide whether they wanted this new model of PR or the status quo of the first past the post system. Therefore we need to change the Referendum Act to allow the people to have a national vote on the subject.
The time has come when we should be striking a national committee to look at electoral reform. My vision of PR is one that is based on the German model. Residents of Germany get two votes in a campaign. Half the members are elected riding by riding. People still have their local member of parliament to look after their unemployment insurance needs, wheat board needs, immigration needs and so on. The other half of the members of parliament are elected on a list that each party presents.
It is from that list in Germany and in the other 12 countries that use the mixed member proportional where they draw names to make sure the parliament is representative.
If one party, for example in Ontario, with almost all the seats, gets only half the votes then the other parties would get almost all the members in the west so that the representation from Ontario would be proportional in accordance with the votes that are cast. Therefore they would have the best of both worlds. They would have a local member of Parliament and they would have proportionality. I think that is a truly democratic system.
I am looking forward to hearing the debate this morning. I hope members on all sides of the House will give this a great deal of support. It would give Canadians a chance, in a true democratic way, to pass judgment on the kind of electoral system we want to represent us in the future.