House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.


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3:05 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a fairly substantial amount of activity going on around here, but I will try to focus on this particular debate.

The interesting thing about this motion in one sense is where it comes from. The motion comes from the New Democratic Party, which all of a sudden, in this place at least, seems to have discovered something on the road to Damascus: that perhaps there is a better way of getting elected. I can certainly understand why the NDP would want to look for a better way to get elected given the lack of success that it has endured over the past many years.

I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.

I can understand why the NDP would want to make changes and I can understand why members of the official opposition might want to support those changes. This issue of representation and how people arrive at this place is something that generally occupies the minds and time of those who cannot succeed under the current system.

The proof of that would seem to be in the fact that when the New Democrats have enjoyed power for some number of years in British Columbia there is no talk of proportional representation or changing the system. I suspect that after the next provincial election the NDP will be reduced to a rump of their current status and of course the first thing on their agenda will be to change the way the NDP gets elected in British Columbia.

The other example would be the province of Ontario, where Bob Rae enjoyed five years in office. The rest of us did not, but he did. During that five year period when I had the challenge, shall we say, of serving in opposition with the Liberal Party of Ontario, I do not recall the government of the day, the New Democratic government of the province of Ontario, leaping forward, standing up and shouting that it would have to find a new way to get elected.

Clearly this only occurs when someone is either bitter or confused or is looking for something that might work because the current system simply will not work.

The other issue that I find curious coming from opposition parties is this constant feeding frenzy about reform in the House. The denigration of members of parliament, particularly on the government side, I personally find offensive. I know the great work that many of my colleagues have done and continue to do. I have talked about it in this place so I will not go there today.

I would suggest that is another example of the bitterness that a political machine or a party has when it arrives in this place and realizes that over 90% of the Canadian public did not vote for it, that it is not the government and that it does not get to make the decisions about how the country runs, whether it is the budget or whatever it happens to be. These parties can only try to put some pieces of metal into the spokes of the wheel of the governing party to see if they cannot trip it up.

Frankly that is what is happening here. This is the second time we have had an opposition motion. We have not had a motion here that deals with the substantive issues Canadians are concerned about, such as the changes in our health care policies that are occurring at the provincial level, such as upholding the Canada Health Act and the role of the national government. I have not seen a position come from the opposition saying that the government should do that, even though that indeed is what we do. I have not seen concern expressed by the opposition with great indignation about the two tier health care systems that are on the verge of occurring in the province of Alberta and, who knows, possibly even in the province of Ontario.

I do not see an opposition motion coming forward dealing with the recent decision that perhaps should be debated in this place, the decision of George W. Bush to bomb Iraq. I do not see anything coming forward. That is an issue that I think Canadians care about. Canadians care about what is happening in that part of the world.

I do not see an opposition motion coming forward to deal with the government's recent announcement to put $120 million into clean air in the province and the country to meet the standards we committed to at Kyoto.

What do we hear from opposition members? We hear them saying let us find a different way to get elected, because it did not work in 2001, it did not work in 1997 and it did not work in 1993. All they want to do is talk about how they can change the electoral system.

There are perhaps some areas where reform could and should be looked at. The Lortie commission was started by this government and reported here. There were bills adopted and there were changes made. It makes sense. We should not just say everything we do is right.

Surely to goodness there are other areas of concern that parliamentarians should be putting their minds to. I am sure that the Canadian Alliance would get somewhat nervous if we were to have parliamentary reforms that dealt with the referendum policy we all heard about with such fondness during the last election, about how if 3% of the people would submit a petition there could be a referendum on any particular item. Then the leader of course distanced himself from that particular issue and said it was not necessarily 3%, that it could be greater, that the party members were not sure. In fact at one point, I think, they were going to conduct a referendum on what the percentage should be so that they could then determine when and where they should hold a referendum.

Maybe we should have a look at reforming policies like that, at reform in the electoral system and making it more transparent. How about releasing the names of people who contribute to leadership campaigns? Would that not be interesting?

We do that. We have no difficulty with it. Members opposite do not seem to want to do that, yet we see as recently as yesterday and today the Leader of the Opposition trying to respond, in a rather feeble way, to questions put by the media about a $70,000 contribution to the Canadian Alliance Party made by a member of a law firm that was paid some $300,000 or $400,000 to defend the Leader of the Opposition in his defamation suit. Interestingly enough, the payment of that $300,000 or $400,000 came from Alberta taxpayers. Maybe there should be some way for us to investigate that.

Is it appropriate in electoral reform that when a leader of the opposition or a leader of any party in the House is elected at a party convention that the party then has the moral and legal authority to write a cheque for $50,000 to a sitting member so that person will vacate a safe seat, in the case of the Canadian Alliance, obviously, to allow the leader to run in that seat? Is it proper? Is that appropriate?

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3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

Why don't you talk about the motion?

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3:10 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Is that not something the member chirping over there thinks is the kind of electoral reform we should undertake? I would have no difficulty with that. I do not think it is not right to pay off a sitting member to vacate his seat so that the leader can simply come walking in.

We know that the Canadian Alliance, like its predecessor, the Reform Party, simply wants to adopt the American system. I have heard some rumours the Alliance is going to take a committee of its own down to Florida to learn how to count in the electoral process. We have—

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3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lanark—Carleton.

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3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is my understanding that the rules of the House require that all speakers actually address the question at hand, and I can see absolutely no connection between what the member is saying and the matter at hand. It is a partisan rant.

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3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The motion before the House deals with electoral reform. The hon. member for Mississauga West, the last I heard, was addressing the question of adopting an American system, which I assume he was going to say dealt with elections. Perhaps it was a bold assumption on my part. The hon. member for Mississauga West.

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3:15 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the Alliance members do not like it when people bring up the problems they have within their own organization, I understand that. However, it is about electoral reform, there is no question.

The motion here is that the NDP members wants to change the system so they can get elected a little easier and in greater numbers than they have been able to up to now. If we are going to do electoral reform, should we look at what does it mean to get elected as a leader in a party structure? I think that is relevant to this motion.

We cannot get to this place until we are nominated and elected by the party, either to be the candidate in a given riding or to be the leader of the party. Do we want to just talk about what they want to talk about or do we want to talk about the entire issue?

I will close by saying we have to compare apples to apples. If we are going to reform the system then we have to look at some of the mistakes and the unusual circumstances that have been going on across the way.

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3:15 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to also join in on the NDP motion that the House strike a special all party committee to examine the merits of various models of proportional representation and other electoral reforms.

I am happy to participate in the debate because in the last session I had the opportunity to discuss the whole issue of proportional representation and proportional electoral systems in Alberta. I was there as the federal representative to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is the only parliamentary association in Canada which actually has separate provinces as its members. Once a year, I, my colleagues from the other provincial legislatures and members of the federal branch meet to discuss topical issues. We did so in Alberta. It provided for lively debate but we could not reach consensus. It was a very emotional debate. People felt strongly one way or the other way. However, we could not arrive at consensus, not only at the federal level but also looking at it provincially.

I know this matter was actually the subject of an international conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association two years ago in New Zealand, when the member for Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant was the chair of the CPA. Again we led an all party delegation and again no consensus was achieved at that time.

I would like to address the motion in the context of whether or not the proportional system works best as far as women are concerned. Does it increase women's participation in the political process? Does it actually increase the number of elected women?

Two years ago another parliamentary association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, released a global analysis of what has worked for women in politics and what has not between the years 1975 and 1998. It also surveyed all of its members.

One of the questions addressed was “Which electoral system works best for women”. Was it the majority system, was it a proportional system, was it a mixed system? Interestingly enough, the IPU's world inquiries led one to be rather prudent in its conclusions. While it found that the proportional system may be the most conducive to the election of women, it was only conducive provided there were a number of safeguards that were applied.

The safeguards included, for example, including at least one woman or giving a percentage of women in each electoral list and including at least one woman in an elected position in every closed list. It found that it worked well if it alternated between men and women in every list. Also, it needed to establish that a certain percentage of lists would be headed by women.

The issues to be dealt with in putting women on a list or people on a list are quite complex. In addition, quite surprisingly the study found that a proportional system, even with the safeguards that I just talked about, was only a temporary measure for a long existing imbalance. We still have a long way to go to ensure that the House of Commons is represented 50:50, that being 50% women, 50% men, which reflects our population.

While at first glance one might argue that the proportional system assists in increasing the number of elected women, I would respectfully submit that the proportional system does not in itself ensure the increased participation of women in politics.

Here are the important things that have to be decided. Who decides whose name appears on the list? Who decides how many men will appear on the list? Who decides how many women will appear on the list? Who decides what percentage of women will appear on each electoral list? More important, who decides what percentage of the list will actually be headed by women?

It is not our riding associations or constituents at grassroots who decide who is going to be on those list. It is the political parties and the people in power who decide. The grassroots, the constituents and the riding associations have no input whatsoever into those lists. However, they are the people to whom we are all accountable, not the powers that be.

I would like to take this opportunity to share with my colleagues what has recently transpired in France. The last two or three weeks the front page story of the New York Times has been about France's new parity law. Last year France passed a law which requires all political parties to field an equal number of male and female candidates in almost all elections, starting with the municipal elections which are coming up in March.

This is the first country in the world that has actually required this and I would submit that the jury is still out on it. We do not know what will happen and how this will increase women's participation in the political system or being elected, but it is a novel way. Again, it is not just a proportional system. Where there is a list it requires 50:50 parity. It is an interesting experiment and is something we should all watch very carefully.

Let us go back to the Inter-Parliamentary Union study of what has worked to increase the number of elected women, which has nothing to do with the proportional system. The study found that women's chances of getting nominated are higher when their party has realized that women can be and are an electoral asset.

It found the success higher if the party had incorporated the gender dimension in taking on a number of steps, be it establishing a committee on gender equality, or gender focal point with a mandate to scrutinize the party's policy in that connection, or re-orienting the party's women's wing so that it promotes women's vision and it secures support for women within the party, not just offering women support to the party.

It also found it was important that the parties reviewed rules and practices for internal elections to ensure equality of access by women and men to the leadership positions in the party and to local and national elected mandates.

As an aside, today I was speaking to my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. He said that he just had his annual meeting of his riding association and the majority of people on his executive are women. I do not believe it had a list at that time or that it was done on a proportional basis. Again, it goes to how the party promotes from within and how the party values its women.

The study also interestingly found that quotas established by law did not work. It found that quotas do not permit the development of a real political space for women. That is something that we as parties have to deal with ourselves. Moreover, requiring political parties to have a given percentage of women candidates failed because there was no sanctions for failing to meet that type of quota.

What the study found to be most effective was self-imposed quotas. The self-imposed quotas result from recognition that women are not only an electoral asset, but that women's full participation in all aspects of the political process is not only essential for the good of society but is also an essential ingredient of democracy.

Witness the leadership of the Prime Minister and his commitment to ensure the full participation of women in Canada. It was our present Prime Minister who appointed a woman, Canada's first chief justice of the supreme court, the Right Hon. Beverley McLachlin, an appointment that was applauded, not just by women or by members of this party, but by the legal community across Canada.

It was our present Prime Minister who also appointed the first woman commissioner of official languages, Madame Dyane Adam. It was the Prime Minister who appointed the Right Hon. Adrienne Clarkson as the Governor General of Canada. Also, since taking office our Prime Minister has indeed made sure that half of all Canadians appointed to the Senate are women and one-third of the Canadians appointed to our judiciary are women as well.

Certainly, this is a leader who leads by example. He shows us the important role that women play in our society, within our party, within our major institutions and within our government. This is a man who understands, and I am proud to be part of that team.

Last but not least let us not forget, as I said a few weeks ago in the House, that our Prime Minister made history once again on January 15, 2001 when he appointed the first woman to occupy the position of chief government whip, the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean.

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3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Canadian Alliance Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that was a truly, legitimate, well thought out and excellent speech as compared to some of the other speeches we heard today. She spoke clearly and honestly. I appreciate that very much and so will Canadians who will be reading this and perhaps viewing this today.

She said the magic word quotas at a certain point in her speech. I am just curious as to why. Having an all-party parliamentary committee looking at some aspects of electoral reform, is it possibly a bridge to the kind of reforms that she is looking at about opening up a system to have more access for women as she described? There is no reason why that could not be included in this exact motion, or that this motion could not be an avenue to precisely that kind of reform that she is concerned about. That could be contained entirely within this motion as well. The fact that she speaks against the motion is unfortunate.

I also notice that, just like some of the previous speakers, she took the issue of proportional representation and grossly oversimplified it. She analysed the issue of proportional representation in the macro level quite well, then tried to apply it vis-a-vis concerns about having more women candidates and a more proportional voice in the House for women. That is fair enough. However, the oversimplification of proportional representation being just this sort of big balloon that she pops from the one angle of having more women in this place does not do this debate justice. It does not do the issue of proportional representation justice.

There are all sorts of models of proportional representation out there. I personally do not happen to be a fan of proportional representation.

I have a couple of questions for the member. She spoke of the need of political parties, maybe her own, to have a quota system for candidates, that 50% of candidates should perhaps be women. Some political parties have that. For example, the NDP in British Columbia has that in its platform.

I am not sure if she thinks that candidacies for political parties should be prorated on some other physical characteristics, for example, income. Should we have candidates of different brackets of income? Some political parties and political scientists have seriously advocated that. Should we have candidates for political parties who represent a wide variety of people with disabilities? Should we have political candidates who represent or are prorated on a wide variety of ages? Different people have advocated that.

If she is willing to bend on this one principle that we ditch equality and prorated candidates based on physical characteristics when it comes to gender, is she willing or interested in doing the same thing with some other characteristics that people have and people are concerned about?

I come to this Chamber having replaced a Liberal member of parliament. Prior to that member of parliament, there was a female candidate who represented my constituency of Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. Her name is Sharon Hayes. She represented my constituency very well. She is a woman of honour and class.

I asked her what was her greatest frustration as a member of parliament. She said it was her inability to stand up and say what was of concern to her constituents, to have tangible legislative powers at the committee level, to have tangible powers in the House of Commons and to have real reform possibilities in this place. She said those powers are not there because the government, and it is a long entrenched history, does not allow people to stand up for what they believe and that affects everybody, men and women.

Could the member please address the issue of quotas and other aspects? Could she please address the issue of allowing this place to allow more members to have more power and how that affects women?

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3:30 p.m.


Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I have enough time to answer all the questions but I will certainly try.

First, I looked at the whole issue of proportional representation in the context of getting more women elected to the House of Commons or to government. There seems to be this belief that by having a proportional system we are automatically going to get more women into the House of Commons. That is too simplistic.

My whole point in raising this issue is that it is incumbent upon all parties to encourage women to participate in the political system. Twenty-one per cent of the House is composed of women members of all parties, yet women represent 50% of the population. It is important that we encourage more women to participate in politics so they have a say.

One of the great and wonderful things about being a Liberal member of the government, and in being a woman, is that this is a party that encourages women to participate. It encourages us to stand up, to be heard and to speak on behalf of our constituents.

I know this is the hon. member's first term, but I hope he will be able to watch me. As I did in the last term, I stood up many times and spoke on behalf of my constituents. I watched the concerns that I brought to the House finally take place in the form of legislation and policy by the government.

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3:30 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is my first speech House in the House since the November 27 general election. I have risen to speak at other times but not on a motion. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the voters of Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans for showing their confidence in me for the third time.

I would also like to congratulate them for their wise judgment in being able to separate in their minds the work of an MP and an issue that was really not pertinent to this election, namely the whole matter of municipal mergers. As we know, certain of my colleagues were defeated, unfortunately, because of the Liberal party's special knack of deflecting attention from real issues.

Having made this point, I am pleased to speak to this motion by the New Democratic Party calling for the striking of an all party committee to examine the merits of various models of proportional representation and other electoral reforms.

I would like to begin by stating that no one can oppose what is right. I believe that there is some merit to having committees address certain methods of representation. We would respectfully submit, however, that what lies behind all this, whether general elections or voting, is the entire issue of democracy. It is a matter, above all, of the exercise of democratic rights. It is a matter of democratic institutions.

Before thinking about creating an all party committee, it would be a good idea, in my opinion, for the government to focus some effort of reflection on certain aspects of the electoral process.

Among other things, for the purposes of the debate, I would like to raise three questions. Let us ask ourselves, and I think that this concerns those watching these proceedings at the moment, if democracy can be improved. Is the electoral process, whether we mean a uninominal single ballot system or a proportional system, a component of democracy? Third, is proportional representation a means of improving the democratic process?

As I do not have enough time allotted me, I will not be able to answer each question in detail. However, I want to make it clear in my remarks that we must consider this question a lot more and in much broader terms than by just looking at the way the representatives of the people of Canada are chosen.

Among other things, and it would have been useful for the NDP to mention this, we should look at the whole question of corporate funding of political party coffers. Today, we note, and I think the report of the chief electoral officer is clear, contributions by individuals and we see those of the major corporations, which contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to party coffers.

In the case of the six major banks, which had profits of some $9 billion last year, if we looked at their contributions to the traditional parties, such as the Liberal Party or the Progressive Conservative Party, or at those of the oil industry lobby, which contributes happily to the election fund of our colleagues in the Canadian Alliance, we would see that there is a sort of two-tiered funding in Canada.

On the one hand, there are the big contributors representing corporations, to the detriment of mere voters. When I say “mere voters”, members will of course understand that I do not wish to minimize the importance of a middle class worker who supports a particular party and who calls his MP or candidate to tell him: “I have studied your party's platform. You have been my MP for x number of years. I have looked at what you are doing, the stands you take, and I think that you are representing me well. It is with pleasure that I am sending you a cheque for $20 or $25”.

I think that members understand very well that my remarks are not intended to pass the same judgment on all contributors to campaign funds. I think that there is a difference between a major bank or a large oil company or multinational that is going to invest several hundreds of thousands of dollars in a party seeking office. Naturally they will expect the favour to be returned.

That is why I say that we have a two tier funding system in Canada. When one has funded an election campaign such as the one last fall, when we had people giving us $2, $5, $10, $20 and sometimes, if we were luckier, $50 or $100, to whom is one accountable when the election is over? We are accountable to the ordinary members of the public who funded the election campaign, and not big companies and powerful lobbies.

Another point that this motion should address is the whole issue of how election officials are appointed.

The timing is good, because we just finished an electoral process. The 301 members who are here were elected by the people. I do not think that any of those who voted in Canada did so with a loaded gun to their head. Members of parliament were democratically elected.

We could ask ourselves, however, why voter turnout was so low in the last election. Why? This reflects a lack of democracy system that is becoming increasingly more serious.

I am sure that even though you are now the Speaker of the House, you are back in your riding of Kingston and the Islands on the weekends. You can see that, unfortunately, a percentage of the population has totally lost confidence in the political system and in politicians. This is a realistic conclusion.

We, the 301 elected members of the House of Commons, should wonder why some people have lost their trust in democracy. Why are some people telling us “We do not want to be bothered anymore. You are all the same. It is all the same. You are trying to fill up your pockets. We see you during election campaigns, but once you are elected, you ignore us”?

Félix Leclerc lived on Île d'Orléans, which is in my riding. In one of his songs, he said “On the eve of an election, he'd call you son. The day after, of course, he had no clue what your name was”. This song dates from the 1950s and I think it is as current today as ever. Why did people not put themselves out to vote on November 27? Because of cynicism, if not outright disgust, with politicians. In a democracy, that is cause for alarm.

The candidates for all parties who were defeated and the ones who won seats, as the 301 of us here in the House of Commons did, have experienced the process. We had to deal with a government-appointed electoral machine as far as the returning officers went, reporting to the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley.

The objective of the Bloc Quebecois is going to be to ensure that the government reaches a decision on specific improvements to the Elections Act and to the electoral process, including the whole matter of how election workers are appointed.

During the 36th parliament, we had the opportunity to introduce some amendments in committee, because we believed that the government was not contributing to democratizing the electoral process. Far from it. It was our opinion, our firm opinion, in the Bloc Quebecois, that the government is leaving an unacceptable degree of power with the governor in council when it comes to the selection of election workers.

What does governor in council mean for those watching, who are not familiar with this jargon? It means that the Prime Minister, with his cabinet and caucus, makes the appointments, and only rarely are these appointments not partisan. We need only look at the returning officers in each of our ridings.

When the Liberals are in government, these are the people who have been very good Liberal organizers, who have done things in the Liberal association. When the Conservatives were in government, returning officers were Conservatives. This is known as the theory of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Under the Liberals, they wear red, under the Conservatives, they wear blue.

In any case, some of the members, such as the one for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, who changed from blue, to independent, to red, will perhaps be wearing green on the eve of St. Patrick's Day on March 17. Who knows?

We in the Bloc Quebecois propose that the appointment of the Chief Electoral Officer be made by a resolution of the House of Commons approved by the opposition parties and not just the party in office. At the moment, the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley, was appointed by the party in power, after it had informed the opposition parties.

I think it is worth while looking at what is done elsewhere. The large number of very competent researchers put at our disposal could check to see how these appointments are handled in the Quebec National Assembly, and also in other parliaments and provincial legislative assemblies.

I want to talk about a legislative assembly I am more familiar with. In the National Assembly, important appointments require a two thirds majority and sometimes even a unanimous vote, whether it is for the position of ombudsman, chief electoral officer or other senior public positions whose duties require a very high level of credibility and impartiality. We are far from such an appointment process.

What we are asking is simple. We want the federal Elections Act to be transparent and we want to ensure there is no appearance of conflict of interest.

As I mentioned earlier, the appointments of returning officers, that is those responsible for the voting process in the ridings, are partisan appointments. This is why the Bloc Quebecois is asking that officials and returning officers in the ridings be appointed following a public, official, open and transparent competition, as is the case in other jurisdictions. Again, I would ask our researchers to look at what is being done in the National Assembly.

This morning, in his reply to the NDP motion, the government House leader referred to the Lortie commission, formally known as the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. That commission addressed the need for the independence of election officers. On page 483 of its report, the Lortie commission reached the following conclusion:

A cornerstone of public confidence in any democratic system of representative government is an electoral process that is administered efficiently and an electoral law that is enforced impartially. Securing public trust requires that the election officials responsible for administration and enforcement be independent of the government of the day and not subject to partisan influence.

Even Canada's chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, in his appearance before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, said:

When I go out on the international scene I do not recommend that the Canadian system be emulated where it comes to the appointment of returning officers. I clearly indicate, as I do in Canada, that the appointment of returning officers under the present system is an anachronism.

All this is a concern. When Canada's chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, is in other countries, he recommends that they not use the Canadian model to appoint returning officers.

But we know that Canada likes to give lessons on democracy in many countries and to monitor elections in Zimbabwe, in Haiti, and all over the world. It likes to pass itself off as the guardian of democracy and a model to follow.

I think that some serious questions are in order when we see that Elections Canada is disavowing this system, that the chief electoral officer describes it as an anachronism.

Finally, still on the issue of transparency, there is the major point of identifying voters. During consideration in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Bloc Quebecois asked that a voter identification process be included in the legislation. The primary objective is to prevent a voter from usurping someone else's voting right. Once again, the government turned down this request.

We might wonder what the government has to hide. Why is it against transparency? Why is it against a system that would improve democracy, with one person one vote? What is the government trying to hide? There is cause for concern.

The Bloc Quebecois was asking for a new appointment process for at least the chief electoral officer, who is more or less responsible for the enforcement of the elections act, in order to reduce the government's control over this area.

We need to ensure that the chief electoral officer is appointed by at least the majority of the opposition members. If we, in the opposition, were to take part in the appointment process, then we would not be able to criticize the government, because we would have given our support. Members on both sides of the House would have to agree on the qualifications required of the incumbent.

To conclude, I would like to say that, whatever happens, if we can make democracy more transparent by dealing with the flaws in the current system, we might then be able to consider other options of representation, including proportional representation. The government still has a lot of work to do before we can get to that point. I have discussed this issue with some Liberal members and I know they also expect some improvements to the electoral system.

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3:50 p.m.


André Harvey Liberal Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw attention to the work of my colleague. When he says that there is always room for improvement, he is right. In fact, many members of this parliament want to see the electoral process improved by being made more transparent.

There are two expressions heard very often from members of the Bloc Quebecois: more transparency, more democracy. We need to check that we do not have a beam in our eye, before trying to remove the mote from our neighbour's.

My colleague referred to electoral democracy. It is always a good thing to stick to the things one knows best. In the last election, in my own riding, as was reported in the media, the Bloc Quebecois had trouble accepting a profoundly democratic process. One of their top members for the past 10, 15, maybe 20 years sold 600 membership cards in order to gain eligibility for the fine position of official candidate to run against André Harvey in the last election campaign.

Unfortunately, as members are aware, this was against the most elementary rules of democracy. a candidate was refused access to a convention that seemed above-board in everyone's eyes. Those who claimed in the House of Commons to be profoundly democratic, highly respectful of the basic rules of citizen participation in the elector process, got pushed around, shunted aside, by their leader. The leader of the Bloc Quebecois arrived with his parliamentary leader, the ineffable member for Roberval, to announce “You no longer have a spot, so move over”.

As hon. members have seen, two days before the election, the Bloc Quebecois leader was in my riding, both times proclaiming me the winner. So sure was he of my victory, perhaps, that he decided to ignore the elementary rules of democracy and did not even nominate a candidate.

Before thinking about reforming the entire world, what does my honourable colleague think of each of the parties in our own ridings? a young fellow sold 600 memberships, yet he could not even take part in a convention, because the Bloc Quebecois had decided that a certain person was to be the candidate.

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3:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord has really mastered the art of dodging. That would make him a very good boxer, except that he does not know how to throw a good punch.

I agree with him that Sylvain Gaudreault was an excellent candidate. There is no question about that. The best proof that the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord has a natural tendency to exaggerate is when he says that that person has been a very active supporter of the Bloc for 15 or 20 years, when we all know that the Bloc will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on May 15.

According to the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, that man was so loyal to the Bloc that he was an active supporter of that party even before it was formed. That is loyalty for you. To support a party 10 years before it is formed, it takes some extraordinary powers and a good crystal ball.

I remember a few things that happened on his new side of the House. We could ask the people of Markham how they felt about having the former chief economist of the Bank of Montreal being forced upon them as a candidate. Were they happy about that? We see these kinds of things everywhere.

There are some unfortunate events. There may be different ways of doing things, but that is not the issue. The member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, from 1997 until the 2000 election, did not base his campaign on the merit of his own candidacy, but rather on internal divisions, on other parties' problems. Good for him if he can do that. I wish him a lot of success in his career. He will probably be appointed Minister of Transport because he is certainly a good candidate to become a member of the cabinet.

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3:55 p.m.

An hon. member

He will build roads.

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3:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

He will build roads and he will build bridges, even if there is no river. We will relive the Duplessis years with the member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

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3:55 p.m.


Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on the motion by the NDP on proportional representation.

I always like to speak following a member of the Bloc in the House of Commons. It is rather amusing to see how these people demean democracy. They are very good in speeches, but in practice, they do not necessarily serve as a model.

They say “Why have voting percentages dropped in the country as a whole?” This sort of speech, where they say any old thing, contributes to people's impressions that politicians do not in fact have much to say.

However, on the plus side of our democracy—I will use the Bloc Quebecois member's example—who elected our candidate in the riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord? The people did. They decided André Harvey was the candidate they wanted to represent the people in that riding.

André Harvey appeared to be the most competent person. So, democracy as such always finds expression in our system.

Let us return to the NDP motion. The question that perhaps should be put at the outset is, why are we questioning our electoral system in Canada? There is always some reason for doing so. I have never seen a party in government advocate proportional representation. It is always the opposition parties that do.

I could refer to Quebec. Between 1970 and 1976, there was a party called the Parti Quebecois advocating proportional representation. When it was in office, between 1976 and 1985, nothing more was said. In 1985, it was back in the opposition and began talking about it again.

As we know, this is an issue that was discussed by the Bloc Quebecois. At one of their conventions, they even considered including it in their platform. But I think they were told by their head office in Quebec City to take it off the agenda as quickly as possible.

Proportional representation has a beginning and an end. But in fact there should be no limits regarding proportions, because we are talking about numbers of parties and numbers of votes.

Earlier, my colleague also mentioned the lists of candidates and the proportion of women on these lists. That could also apply to ethnic groups. It could apply to the number of women from each ethnic group. It could apply to languages. It could apply to a number of elements. Therefore, this concept should not be restricted to proportional representation.

The fundamental question is: Why are we proposing to establish a multi-party committee to take another look at the possibility of establishing a new electoral process whereby anyone in this place may speak on the behalf of whom? The majority, the minority, the minorities of the minorities? This is what we must ask ourselves.

This is basically what it is all about. This is a problem in just about every house of every legislature. Studies are conducted, usually after each electoral process. Commissions are set up, and committees do studies, organize public hearings, and consult the parties in the House and the public. After every election, the same conclusion is always reached here in Canada, and that is that the Canadian electoral system, our electoral system, is perhaps not perfect, but that so far—as Churchill said—none better has been found.

The system of proportional representation has also been tried in other countries, and people went back and changed their system. Why always go back and keep asking the same question?

Does our electoral system allow all citizens to express their views in an election? I can compare two electoral laws. I can compare the electoral laws of Quebec and of Canada. I was pleasantly surprised to see how Canada's law encouraged Canadians to vote. If an individual citizen does not wish to vote in Canada, and does not vote, it is because they have decided not to do so.

People can register at any time. They can register when they arrive at the polling station. They have only to show identification and say “I am a Canadian citizen; I live at such and such an address; here is my identification” and they are registered and allowed to vote. This is not the case with Quebec's electoral law. It is more limiting in this regard.

So, as far as the Elections Act is concerned, I find that our legislation is a model compared to other democracies around the world. Let us draw a parallel with the election of the U.S. president, where there is no popular vote per se. The president is never elected directly by popular vote, but rather by an electoral college. In this country, however, the people decide who is going to represent them in the Quebec National Assembly, or in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Thus, anyone can vote, provided he or she is a Canadian citizens with identification.

The Elections Act, therefore, is not restrictive. In fact, it is extremely permissive. We are going to refer to those who administer it, and say it is up to the returning officers in each area, because they are the ones running the show.

I have had experiences. As far as I know, I represent the Liberal Party of Canada, but the person in charge of the election, the returning officer for the riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry—I do not know what happened on election day—did not rule in our favour on many points in applying the legislation.

When someone is appointed to this position, on the face of it, that person is objective and has only to apply the legislation. Overall, this is done in a highly satisfactory manner. Often, when there is a problem, it is with the political organizations and the riding level, not with the administration of the act itself.

Why then this idea of proportional representation? I keep coming back to this point. Our electoral system allows all citizens in all ridings throughout the country to voice their opinion on the candidates. There is no limit on the number of candidates in one riding. In some ridings, we can find up to 12 names on the list of candidates and on the ballot. So anyone, if a citizen, is free to run for election. There is no limit.

We can say today that, obviously, only one person per riding will get elected. That person is usually chosen by the majority of the voters in his or her riding. A person is elected when a majority of voters decide to vote for the candidate of the political party whose message and agenda appeal to them, and this is true right across the country. A majority elects a candidate who is part of a team representing a political party and its leader. Of course, a political party is made up of many supporters.

If we look at the results of the last election, we see that the Liberal Party of Canada was elected in all the provinces. Liberal candidates were elected in Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, the Maritimes, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, everywhere. The question is, and that brings me back to the motion before the House, why should we once again examine the merits of proportional representation? What political party is raising this issue?

To promote democracy and to provide a greater choice to the people, maybe the political parties should ensure that their agenda is for all the people of Canada. We are elected by the people of Canada. That is what it is all about. Is our message reaching everyone in Canada or is it heard only by the residents of a particular region?

The results lead to the conclusion that some political parties are regional whereas others are national.

First and foremost, we must work with the various political parties to help them develop a message or a platform for all Canadians. If the majority of Canadians across the country decide to choose a particular political party, it should be because their analysis showed that the platform put forward by the Liberal Party of Canada best responded to their needs. Other parties may have more specialized platforms that are more responsive to the needs of a particular region.

Before we think about changing the mechanism or the structure, or the electoral process, we should reflect on what we stand for as individuals and also on what each political party stands for.

In Quebec, there are more than 30 members of the Bloc Quebecois. However, that party's platform does not respond to the needs of Canadians in general nor is it accepted by them.

To have an even more democratic system in Canada—and I should not say more democratic—we could say in the Canada Elections Act that any political party that wants to be active on the national scene must have a federalist vision and not a separatist vision.

One can see how far democracy is applied in Canada. Even those parties whose goals oppose the Canadian federation are allowed to take their place on the Canadian chessboard. Let us see whether, in other countries, such parties, within a federal system, are allowed to take up a position on the national chessboard. It is fairly peculiar to Canada to allow a party, whatever its origins or its vision, to become part of the Canadian electoral process.

In this regard, I think we have done enough studies in the past 20 or 25 years. Reports have been prepared and tabled, softcover reports and others in five volumes.

I think we should first encourage parliamentarians or the members of political parties to give more thought to what they represent, to the message they want to get across to the people of Canada. Let us allow the people, the population as a whole, to decide.

One of our principles is to let the people in a riding decide on the candidate to represent them in the House of Commons. They voted for that person. It must not be a question of mathematics applied after the fact because a political party obtained a percentage of votes and must therefore then be allotted a representative or two. This is not quite how our House should be organized.

We always say that, when a member speaks in the House, it is on behalf of the people in his or her riding. This is why as well ridings are set up with a percentage, an almost identical number of voters. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole there are approximately the same number of voters, give or take 10,000 federally, because the ridings are very large compared to the provincial ones.

When I rise in the House, I represent my fellow citizens, not just those who voted for me, but all of them, all the voters whose names were on the voters' lists. Such is the principle that guides us.

The idea is not to develop new rules that would allow just about anyone to create a political party and to be here in the House because he or she represents 1% of the population. That is not the idea.

Our system works well since there is a rotation. The problem may be that some political parties in this House convey a message that does not meet the expectations of all Canadians. That, in my opinion, is the problem.

The party in office changes the moment another party carries a message that better reflects the views of the majority of Canadians. We must develop national messages and programs, not regional ones.

In conclusion, a good friend of mine, Michel Bélanger, who is no longer with us, held prestigious positions in Quebec, both in the banking industry and in the Quebec government. He was involved in the referendum. He left a message that his son read in church, at his funeral, in which he said “What is feasible is not necessarily desirable”.

I wanted to end on this note, but before I conclude, I would like to pick up on a few points raised by Bloc Quebecois members when they spoke about party financing. Quebec has its own legislation on party financing, but so do other countries. Canada's system allows political parties to receive donations from individuals and from corporations, but this should apply to all political parties.

It makes me smile to hear members of a political party criticizing this form of financing while they use it indirectly. During the last election campaign, the Bloc Quebecois invited a minister of the Government of Quebec, who was bound by the legislation prohibiting corporations from making campaign donations, to a fundraising dinner as a guest speaker. Honestly. They sometimes take a pretty ambiguous stand.

I will conclude by quoting the headline of an article in La Presse , which read “According to Michel Gauthier, the Bloc Quebecois must disappear”. This would perhaps be a little more in line with our electoral process, the representation system we have developed in the House of Commons.

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February 20th, 2001 / 4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on the fact that he presented his speech without notes from government officials but regret the fact that his remarks were so redundant and circular in nature. In particular, it seems like this was a pretty fatuous effort simply to defend the status quo, which is after all the driving motive of force of the government.

The member suggested that the opposition parties support the motion in principle because they fail to garner the support of most Canadians for their programs. Would the hon. member not admit that the party of which he is a member has failed to obtain the support of most Canadians in each of the last three elections?

In the last two elections respectively, the Liberal Party earned 38% and 41% of the popular vote, which was far short of majority. Yet, with roughly 60% of Canadians opposing its program, it managed to completely monopolize political power in the country. Does he think that is in the best interest of democracy?

Furthermore, does he not think it would be helpful to national unity if the composition of parliament in some way reflected the diversity and plurality of political views which we find in the regions? Would he not think that the 25% of the voters of my province of Alberta who voted for Liberal candidates should have a larger representation in this place than they currently have?

Would he not similarly concur that the 1.5 million Ontarians, the 25% of Ontarians who voted for the Canadian Alliance, should have more than 1.5% of the representation of this province? Is he not at all disturbed that roughly half of Ontarians have virtually no voice in this place in terms of their partisan choices?

Does he have any regard at all for the fact that Canada is now the only multiparty advanced democracy in the world that has a system of voting designed in and for 16th century England when candidates really were non-partisan candidates elected for the purpose of representation?

Would he not concur with me that we should be mindful of the many international precedents in other parliamentary systems, such as sister Commonwealth countries including Great Britain which has adopted a form of modified PR for its regional assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

I wonder if the member could address these points. Does he not think that a greater reflection of the plurality of views in different parts of the country would be healthy for democracy? Does he apologize at all for the fact that his government shamelessly exercises completely uncontrolled power, even though it is opposed in elections by 60% of Canadians? Does he think that every other complex multi-party democracy in the world has it wrong and Canada alone has it right?

Now that we have managed to drive voter turnout down to 60%, does he think that is a record of success and vibrancy in our democracy?

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4:20 p.m.


Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, if my approach is circular, it covers all of Canada. It goes beyond a regional vision.

In the last election, the Liberal Party of Canada won 41% of the vote, the Canadian Alliance 26%, the Bloc Quebecois, 11%, the Progressive Conservative Party, 12% and the New Democratic Party, 9%. So the people spoke.

Italy has an electoral process. It has approximately one government a year. It is therefore always dealing with coalition governments. I think a government should not constantly be blocked by silly games being played in the House because when a political party goes to the people it presents a platform and makes commitments. If it is elected with a majority, it has four or five years to honour those commitments.

Having a majority government gives that party a better chance of honouring its commitments and following up on its platform. That means it is also assessed on its platform at the end of its mandate.

Should we ignore that? The electoral process has evolved both at the federal and provincial level. I remember when candidates could run in two or three ridings during a campaign. That has changed. Now there is one candidate per riding. No candidate can run in more than one riding.

There was a time when candidates could be both a member of parliament and the mayor of a municipality at the same time. Today, the system has been changed so a member of parliament can no longer hold any other position.

The Canadian electoral and parliamentary systems have evolved over the centuries as a result of pressure coming from the people. It is not only because of individuals expressing ideas here and there. It is often when these ideas are accepted or assimilated by the general public that our system starts to change gradually. That is something we can see in the provinces as well as here, in the House of Commons.

I always come back to the expression “What is feasible is not necessarily desirable”. It should be demonstrated that the present system does not meet the aspirations of Canadians. Canadians should be asked if they want changes in the parliamentary system because, if they can vote, they can say what they want.

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4:20 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry who unfortunately has to sit on this side of the House. That shows how the government chose to treat him on his arrival here.

He talked about transparency, openness and improvements to our electoral system and the way we run election campaigns, among other things.

I would like to know what the member thinks of the approach used by his own party in the last election campaign, where they promised to build roads and bridges here and there. What does he think about that?

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4:25 p.m.


Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the difference between my hon. colleague and I is that I am not afraid to make commitments and to fight to uphold them.

I would tell him this: I could ask all the Bloc members here in this House to show what they have done for their ridings since 1993;. How have the people in their riding benefited from Canada's economic growth?

Back home that was our priority during the election campaign. People realized that the economy was growing in Quebec and in Canada, but that they had yet to reap any benefits in their riding.

I would go even further than that. I even challenge them to read all the speeches Daniel Turp, the Bloc member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, made in this House. I challenge them to find in all his speeches in his three and a half years here the number of times he mentioned highway 30, used the words “riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry”, “of my fellow citizens”, “at home”. I would like that. This is where the difference lies.

I will talk about home. And, here in the House of Commons, I will talk and represent the people of my riding. I will represent all Quebecers. I will defend their rights. I will defend Quebec's interests, but I will not represent the separatists. I will represent all of the people.

I hear them saying all the time in the House and everywhere in public that they speak on behalf of Quebecers, when they got barely 36% of the vote compared to the federalists, who got 64% of the vote. And, in the case of the Quebec provincial election of 1998, the Liberals in Quebec got 200,000 more votes than the PQ, and yet they are still saying they speak on behalf of the majority of Quebecers.

If democracy is to be the subject, then the rules of democracy must be followed and applied, especially.

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, for Canadians watching the debate I would like to indicate that every so often opposition parties have an opportunity to set the subject for debate during a particular day. Today the New Democratic Party has set the subject for debate with the following motion:

That this House strike a special all-party committee to examine the merits of various models of proportional representation and other electoral reforms, with a view to recommending reforms that would combat the increasing regionalization of Canadian politics, and the declining turnout of Canadians in federal elections.

Others before me have given some statistics about the regionalization of this place: most government members are from one province of the country; other parties mostly draw their members mostly from a particular part of the country; and voter turnout in the recent election fell somewhat dramatically.

Our party has taken the following position with respect to electoral reform. We have long argued that the Canadian political system has a long way to go to achieve the standards of democracy, openness, representativeness and accountability that we have set for ourselves as Canadians.

The Canadian Alliance takes the position that elections must be conducted in a way that best allows the people to express their will, not only about the person they wish to represent them in Ottawa but on the kinds of policies they wish their national government to pursue. We also take the position that another vital principle is that elections must be held in the most open and fair manner possible so that Canadians will feel absolute confidence that there is no manipulation of the vote.

I could go in a number of directions in expanding on those basic positions of the Canadian Alliance Party, but I should like to spend some time on the issue of proportional representation, the one issue of parliamentary reform specifically mentioned in the New Democratic motion. It is fair to say that the New Democrats have a particular interest in this kind of reform. If the seats in the House were allocated strictly by proportional representation, instead of 13 seats the New Democratic Party would have 25 seats given the percentage of popular support that it garnered in the last election. Members can see why the party feels somewhat cheated in that the results of the popular vote are not reflected its proportion in the House of Commons.

Our party struck a task force on democratic reform a little while ago. It was a very good task force because it had as one of its members my colleague from Lanark—Carleton. It came down with a report on a number of issues. I should like to read to the House and to Canadians watching some of our observations about the matter of proportional representation.

The principle is that representation in parliament of groups of like-minded voters is in proportion to the groups' voting strength. For example, if a party wins 40% of the popular vote it obtains 40% of the seats. Proportional representation, says the task force, is sort of like ice cream. It comes in many flavours and colours and includes everything from the Italian and Israeli variety, which has some downside, to the mixed member proportional system used in Germany and New Zealand.

The proportional representation principle ensures fairness to parties because no party is overcompensated or under-rewarded. In addition, the PR principle aims at fairness for voters in that few votes are wasted. Election results under proportional representation are more truly shaped by the voters and hence produce governments that are more accurately representative of citizens.

Voter turnout was highlighted in the New Democratic motion today. Voter turnout under proportional representation is between 8% to 11% higher. In addition, when few votes are wasted voters need not resort to strategic voting. Voters can be true to their own honest beliefs without the worry that their vote will be wasted or that they will inadvertently elect the least desirable party. That is particularly the case in the province of Quebec, to which the previous speaker alluded.

Under proportional representation the allocation of seats in parliament would more accurately represent the political diversity which exists among Canadian voters. No party is likely to hold a majority of seats. The result would be a fundamental realignment of power within parliament, breaking down Canadian practices which have excessively concentrated power in the executive.

Especially beginning with this parliament there has been much gnashing of teeth about the centralization of power in the executive in the Prime Minister's Office. Proportional representation would be a fair and obvious way to address that.

It is asserted by some, rightly or wrongly, that our country is run out of the Prime Minister's Office by a handful of mostly unelected political appointees. The concentration of power leads to abuse of power. The House of Commons is unable to fulfil its function, which is to hold the government responsible.

You have already heard, Mr. Speaker, points of order and questions of privilege in which members have expressed concern about not being able to do their job, to be heard in this place or to hold the government to account. Combined with party discipline such parliamentary majorities permit Canadian prime ministers to be elected dictators. Those are strong words, but some members feel there is a strong reason to use them.

A proportional representation voting system would eliminate such dictatorial tendencies and redress the imbalance of power within parliament. How is that? It is because no party could enjoy a majority, or rarely in any event. Proportional representation would transform parliamentary practice from an adversarial confrontational style which concentrates power and excludes most MPs from participating to a practice of inclusion, rule by consensus and meaningful participation by all.

Mr. Speaker, you would hear a lot fewer howls of outrage and heckling because under proportional representation members would have a more meaningful role.

There is strong evidence suggesting that a less adversarial style of governing, aimed at the long term public good rather than short term partisan interests, results in a more efficient government.

The conventional wisdom among political scientists is that the British Westminister responsible government model delivers strong government while proportional representation, coalition consensual governments are weak, was turned on its head by the findings of political scientist Jankowski who devised a study to measure economic results and efficiency under different voting systems.

Jankowski's study encompasses 12 democracies over a 100 year time span and measured per capita gross domestic product. His conclusion was that:

The statistical evidence rejects the responsible, or Westminster political parties argument. Strong, centralized two-party systems do not promote economic efficiency... Westminster parties actually reduce economic growth relative to weak, or multi-party systems.

In addition, there is much circumstantial evidence that Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Scandinavian countries each have educational systems and economies that out performed or did as well as Canada's throughout the last 40 years.

Most governments cannot resist influencing the economy for purely political reasons. They inflate the economy before elections and deflate the economy after elections. I find this hard to believe, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure you do to, but this is the finding of the task force.

Academic Edward Tufte studied the frequency of this self-serving practice and found that all but eight democratic governments worldwide were guilty. Each of the eight exceptions have a proportional representation system. The opportunity to manipulate the economy for short term political gain is less likely when power is shared.

The task force also concluded that Canada has precisely the wrong voting system for its social realities and regional differences. Countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and South Africa have successfully incorporated differences more numerous and more pronounced than Canada's. These countries have proportional representation.

The task force made a number of findings that proportional representation would be a much better way of dealing with the national unity issue, and I know other speakers have elaborated on that.

In summary, the task force found that proportional representation has the potential to give fair results to parties, give voters more choice, waste fewer votes, bring greater political diversity into parliament, build national unity, weaken the power of the Prime Minister and cabinet, increase the power of parliament, encourage responsible government, render government more responsive to changing public demands, deliver a more efficient government, connect the government to the people, and foster a political culture of democratic participation.

Would it not be wonderful if we had even half of those changes in our particular democracy?

Although there are advantages and disadvantages to be weighed and different approaches to proportional representation, I believe that the NDP's motion, if we were to support it in the House and set up a committee to conduct such a study, would serve the interests of Canadians. It would further the democratic aims and objectives of our country and be a positive step for us to take.

In addition, my colleague from Fraser Valley has over the last several months spoken a great deal about other democratic reforms we believe the House should pursue: that there be free votes in the House; that the ethics counsellor become an officer of parliament rather than an employee of the Prime Minister, which we debated and voted on in the last few days; that there be a new standing committee on privacy, access and ethics; that appointments for officers of parliament be made more democratically; that there be more restricted use of closure and time allocation; and that there be more spending accountability on the part of the government.

There is a lot of scope for us to move forward in our democracy by examining those measures. I support the motion by the New Democratic Party. I also urge other members of the House to support the very sensible step of actively and vigorously examining these measures, hopefully with a view to reinvigorating and re-democratizing the institutions that serve Canadians from coast to coast.

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4:40 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the comments she made about the motion before the House today. She pointed out the need for a committee to look at proportional representation, an idea whose time has come. Most countries have an element of PR in their systems.

I should like to hear the member comment on other kinds of electoral and parliamentary reforms that we should perhaps look at. It seems to me that the Senate must be reformed, elected or abolished. Very few Canadians, about 5% according to the polling, actually support the unelected, unaccountable and undemocratic Senate.

The power of the Prime Minister's Office under the constitution is much too great in terms of its ability to appoint so many people without a proper vetting of his appointments by the appropriate parliamentary committee.

We should also have set dates for elections, throne speeches and budgets so that we can properly plan those important events. The power of timing should be taken out of the Prime Minister's hands and indeed out of the hands of the premiers who enjoy similar powers under the constitution.

I believe there should be fewer confidence votes and more free votes in the House so that we can reflect on what is best for the country, for the common good for Canada and for all their constituents. It goes without saying that House of Commons committees should have more power and independence in terms of initiating and timetabling legislation and in the free vote of committee chairs.

Those are just some of the things that are important. Added to that is the motion the other day by the Leader of the Opposition to have an independent ethics counsellor reporting to the House of Commons and not to the Prime Minister.

That is the sort of package my party and I look at in terms of providing a bigger democracy and more democracy in terms of our electoral and parliamentary systems. In addition, we need more economic democracy in terms of the power that transnational corporations take away from ordinary people and from governments in trade deals and the like. However that is another issue for another day.

Could the hon. member sum up her vision or her party's vision of a bigger democracy in terms of our electoral and parliamentary systems?

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4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, our party, the Canadian Alliance, has a complete section in its policy book on democratic reform. We have a section on economic principles. We have a section on social principles, and we have a whole section on democratic governing principles and democratic reform.

Our policy book includes many of the measures the hon. member just mentioned, such as free votes in the House of Commons, fixed election dates, looking at proportional representation, and putting more power in the hands of people to hold their government and elected members accountable.

As the member mentions, most democratic countries have moved toward proportional representation. Of thirty-six liberal democracies with over two million people only three have still not implemented proportional representation. They are Canada, the U.S. and Jamaica. Britain, Scotland and Wales brought proportional representation to the political table and their discussions began in 1999. Canada is a bit behind the curve in looking at more democratic ways to arrange its electoral affairs.

One area where I disagree with the member who asked the question is in the whole area of abolishing the Senate. I think that would be a big mistake, unless there are some electoral reforms made in the way the House operates.

The Senate represents regional issues as opposed to the one person one vote way of representation that this Chamber represents. If the Senate were abolished there would be imbalances and regional inequities, which are reflected in this Chamber where the governing party comes mostly from one province, the province of Ontario. There would be much less of a voice and much less vigour in defending and representing the views of other parts of the country. If that were the only arrangement whereby issues could be dealt with, there would be a real imbalance in the way regional interests were handled.

It is because we have a Senate that regional issues have a fighting chance of being properly considered in the second chamber. I urge the member to think about the implications of abolishing the Senate because of the need to reflect more properly and more truly regional interests.

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4:45 p.m.


John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the New Democratic Party bringing this proposition before the House today. It would have a little more credibility if the New Democrats had tried this kind of system in provinces where they have been in power. As far as I know the NDP has not tried that.

The Alliance has a lot of time for this proposal. It has a lot of friends in Alberta and as far as I know Alberta does not use the PR system. It is still very much using the first past the post system.

What I have to say is nothing new. I am sure the member for Calgary—Nose Hill knows that the first past the post system gives a much better chance of a majority government. From a majority government there should be more accountability and more focus on responsibility.

For example, when Bill Clinton came to the presidency in the White House back in January 1993, in his campaign throughout 1992 he had more or less promised a public health care system across the United States. We all know what happened to it. It did not happen mainly because he could not get the support. He could not strike up a coalition among fellow democrats and republicans.

If Mr. Clinton had been a prime minister with a majority under a parliamentary system, he could have got that kind of proposal through. That speaks well of a parliamentary system and it speaks well of a system that very often produces a majority government. Would the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill like to comment on that aspect?

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very important point. His argument, as I understand it, is essentially that a strong majority government which does not have to compromise or be diluted with input from other groups is able to push an agenda through more vigorously and more effectively than a government that has to be dependent upon the support and concurrence of more groups than just its own members.

We have to look at how effective that system of government has been in Canada. In my short time in the House, which has been just over seven years, I have personally seen the effective input of members and the opportunities to hold the government accountable and have a system of checks and balances on what government wishes to do significantly eroded. Committees now are simply run as closed shops by a particular department. The ministers do not really have to answer to committees or change their legislation because of committees.

If we think dictatorship without a lot of checks and balances is an effective way to go, perhaps we should go all the way toward a totalitarian state. Then the governing head of state could do whatever he or she wishes to do. However, we would argue that according to democratic convention that is not a desirable way to run a country.

I would certainly be aghast if the member suggests that we need to go more in the direction of unchecked majority power and less on the need to build consensus and support to bring a broad coalition of thought and support behind a particular initiative. I reject the member's premise and I think if he is a democrat he should too.