House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.


Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 105Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-222, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Monday, May 28, 2001, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-222 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 106Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

It being 5.55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should work towards incorporating a measure of proportional representation in the federal electoral system, making use of a framework which includes: ( a ) a report on proportional representation prepared by an all-party committee after extensive public hearings; ( b ) a referendum to be held on this issue where the question shall be whether electors favour replacing the present system with a system proposed by the committee as concurred in by the House; and ( c ) the referendum may be held either before or at the same time as the next general election.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move a motion that would take a look at changing the voting system in our country.

If we looked at the turnout in the last federal election campaign, we would see that only 61% of the Canadian people voted. It was an historic low. I was also surprised to see that only 67% of the people voted in 1997. I think that was also lower than we had ever seen before. During most previous elections we have had 75% to 80% of the people participating at the polls. I think the declining turnout reflects the growing alienation people have toward politics in general and the voting system in particular.

I put a motion before the House that asks the House of Commons to consider the possibility of striking an all party committee that would look at the various models of proportional representation that could be mixed into our constituency member system and have a measure of PR in the system itself. Unfortunately the motion is not votable.

Last fall I had the same motion before the House. We had two hours of debate at that time. Just before the third hour of debate was to take place and a vote was to follow, the Prime Minister called an election. That vote would have been the first time the House of Commons had voted on proportional representation since 1923.

The idea of PR in our system is one that is not very popular for incumbent politicians. All of us were elected through the first past the post electoral system. We were elected through a system where members who get the most votes in their riding get to become members of parliament. Some of us get here with well over 50% of the votes. Roughly half of the people get here with fewer than 50% of the votes. In most parliaments we have members elected with about a third of the votes, anywhere from 32% to 35%. At least half of us do not represent the majority of our constituents.

Most other countries in the world have a different kind of electoral system whereby the number of seats in the assembly, the house of commons or the parliament reflects the number of votes in the country, state or province. In fact we are one of only three countries in the democratic world with a population of more than eight million people that use the pure, first past the post system. The other countries are the United States and India.

Even in Britain, the mother of parliaments, under the Blair government there has been a change where there is a blend of PR, in the election of the Scottish members of parliament in the Scottish parliament, in the Welsh parliament, and in Northern Ireland. In fact, all members elected to the European community parliament in Strasbourg from Great Britain are elected by proportional representation.

According to the Jenkins commission, in the election after next—there is a campaign going on in Britain right now—there will probably be a mix of PR in the Westminster parliament itself. The Blair government has committed to a referendum on whether it should bring some PR into the British parliament.

Most of the countries that have left the first past the post system and have gone to a system of proportional representation have brought in a measure of proportional representation. Some of them, like France, use what I call the majoritarian system. In France, a member must have 50% of the vote to be elected.

In France, a candidate must have 50% of the vote or more to be elected to the National Assembly. The French president must have 50% of the vote to be elected.

They have the two tours, the two different votes, one on a Sunday and a second on the next Sunday. If a candidate does not have 50% of the vote in the first selection, the two top candidates run off. Most countries that do not have the first past the post system do have a measure of PR.

Under our present system we have tremendous distortions. Today we have a majority government elected with 41% of the votes and holding roughly 60% of the seats. It has a constitutional right to govern for some five years with all the powers that a government has under our constitution today. In the last parliament the government had a majority with only 38% of the people supporting it, one of the lowest support levels of any majority government in the history of the country. Sixty-two per cent of the people voted for the opposition parties.

If we look at the history of our country in terms of the parliaments, we find that since about 1921 or 1923 we have had only three majority governments elected by the majority of the people: Diefenbaker in 1958 and Mackenzie King twice during his long tenure as prime minister. Brian Mulroney in 1988 came very close with 49.9% of the vote or thereabouts.

We are electing in this country what are called fake majorities, whereby a majority is elected by a minority of the people. When we also factor in the turnout at elections, the last one being 61%, we find that only about 25% of the electorate actually voted for the governing party. That was with a voters' list which was not an enumerated list. Roughly one million people were left off the electoral rolls.

As we can see, we elect a parliament that does not reflect how the Canadian people actually vote or how the Canadian people actually feel. This also happens among the opposition parties. When I came back here in 1997 after being away for four years, I found that not only did the government get 38% of the votes, the Reform Party had 19% and the Conservative Party had 19%. Reform had 60 seats and the Conservative Party had 20. The Bloc Quebecois had 11% of the vote and our party had 11% of the vote. There are 21 New Democrat MPs and 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois. We have these distortions right across the board.

Looking across the way, one would think that every single person in Ontario voted Liberal. The Liberals had 99 of 101 seats, I believe, in the last parliament. In this parliament the Liberals again have all but two seats in Ontario, with 101 or 103, despite the fact that in 1997 the majority of Ontarians actually voted for the NDP, the Conservatives and Reform, and despite the fact that last November once again almost half of Ontarians voted for the opposition parties. There are great distortions. It is the same thing in the west. Historically in the vote in the west the Liberal party is under-represented. We have all these distortions right across the piece.

There is a growing sense of alienation that our country is not as democratic as it should be. If we were to bring in a measure of proportional representation it would be a way of making sure that nobody's vote is wasted. Every single vote would count in the composition of the House of Commons. It would empower people to make sure that their votes would count not just on election night but during the whole four year period that the House of Commons is in session. That is why I put the motion before the House today that we look at the various methods of PR that might be brought into fact in this country.

There are different methods of PR. In Israel there is basically one constituency for the whole country. People vote for a list and it is divided up on a proportional basis after the vote. I do not think that is appropriate for our country.

In Germany there is what is called mixed member proportional, where half the German members are elected riding by riding like we do it in this country and the other half in accordance with proportional representation. There are two ballots. Germans first vote for their local member of parliament and then for their party of preference to govern the state of Germany. It is the proportion of the list votes, of the proportional votes, that determines the number of members of parliament in their house of commons. If one party receives 30% of the vote and less than that percentage in terms of the elections for their own local members of parliament, they are compensated for that from the members elected by the PR system.

I think that is probably the more appropriate system to look at if we are to have a measure of PR in Canada. In our country I believe it should be done on a province by province basis. It is important that Quebecers elect Quebecers in terms of proportional representation and that Ontarians elect Ontarians. It can be done in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and across the piece. I think we could devise a unique Canadian system that would be reflective of the country and good for the country as a whole.

In Germany, half the members of parliament are elected by ridings and half by the proportional or list system. In our country we can look at what is best for us. We could have a 50:50 system. We could have any number from 15% to 40% elected by the list and others elected riding by riding. We could look at any kind of combination that might be good for and relevant to our country.

The main thing to note is that Canadians are feeling so alienated by our political system. They feel that their votes do not count, that their votes are wasted.

If we did have a measure of PR in this country we would have radically different voting patterns as well. I have now been in 10 election campaigns of my own. As we have campaigned throughout Canada, how often have we heard stories of people voting strategically? They say they would vote for our party if it could win. They say they would vote for our party in a particular riding but we could not win the particular riding. Or they say they do not like such and such a party so they are voting for another party to stop party A. In fact, I know someone who is a member of a certain party who has not voted for that party for 25 years because he is always voting for another party he does not like. If we had a system of proportional representation, he would be voting for his first choice.

Many Canadians now vote for what they call the lesser of two evils. In terms of the way we try to strategize the impact of our votes on the electoral system, when we vote for the lesser of two evils we are still getting evil.

With PR we vote our preference. With PR our votes are reflected in the House of Commons. As I said, every country in the world with more than 8 million people, except for three, has abandoned the first past the post system as being unfair and unjust.

People feel their votes are wasted. Most people vote for losing candidates. People feel their votes do not count.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

An hon. member

They're not voting.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

They are not voting. They are turned off in droves. That is very worrisome in terms of a dynamic political and parliamentary system.

I think this is just one of the democratic reforms we will need if we are to make this place more relevant for the Canadian people. Parliament itself has to be reformed. The Prime Minister's Office has far too much power.

The Prime Minister's Office can appoint not only all the cabinet members and all the senators but the head of every important public agency in the country, including the judges in the supreme court, the head of the military, the head of the police, the head of state in our country and the head of state's representatives in each of the provinces, the lieutenant-governors.

When there is a majority government here, almost dictatorial powers rest in the hands of the Prime Minister of Canada. Surely the time has come to reform the system, to make it more open, accountable and democratic.

We just had a vote in the House a few minutes ago. We have votes in the House every week. Government bills are never defeated. Members cannot tell me that in the last 40 or 50 years every government bill has been the right one or the proper one for the country. We have a system of confidence votes whereby members of parliament cannot vote their conscience or for the wishes of their constituents or for what they think is best for the country without voting non-confidence in the government of the day.

We have to change those rules. The only votes that should be confidence votes in the House of Commons are budget bills, the throne speech or anything else that might be designated confidence by the government itself. Everything else should be a vote in which members have the freedom to vote how their constituents feel. In other words, the confidence vote should not be there.

We have the most handcuffed political and parliamentary system in the world. In Britain even popular governments such as the Blair government have lost several bills in the house of commons. Margaret Thatcher, a very strong and popular prime minister at one time, lost several votes in the house of commons when she was the leader of a majority government. In this country it does not happen.

Those are the kinds of changes we have to make. We need stronger parliamentary committees and more independence. The Speaker of the House of Commons is elected through a secret, independent vote where the whips are not applied, but the chairs of committees are not elected secretly. They are technically elected but are appointed by the government itself.

These are the kinds of reforms we need to make this place more relevant. We need parliamentary reform, but we also need electoral and voting reform so that when people go to the polls they can vote for their first preference and when the votes are counted on election night the composition of the parliament would reflect how the Canadian people voted.

I will conclude by saying that my motion today asks for an all party committee to study the various kinds of proportional representation that might be incorporated into our electoral system. It also calls on that committee to report to parliament. If parliament adopts the motion, it calls on parliament to put the preferred model of PR to a referendum, whereby people can choose between the model of PR recommended by parliament and the status quo, the first past the post system. If the people decide to change the voting system, we would have a system that I think the people of this country would feel is more inclusive and equal for each and every Canadian.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

May 29th, 2001 / 6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, for all the failings of the first past the post electoral system, and they are considerable, there is nevertheless a very powerful interest group that has a strong incentive to keep that system in place. That interest group is us.

All 301 members of parliament are here because the first past the post system put us here. It may be that we will be able, through the efforts of high-minded members such as the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and others like him, to temporarily build a majority within the House that is brave enough or self-sacrificing enough to abandon the status quo for a future that would return only some of us to this place, but it will be an uphill battle. If we engage in uphill battles, we have to make sure that as many factors as possible are on our side.

Today I want to make a specific proposal, not a proposal for a specific electoral system to replace first past the post. I do not want to endorse the multi-member proportional system or the alternative ballot or multiple member districts or any of the other versions of proportional representation that have been put forward in the past. Each of these has its own unique merits. Each has some demerits as well. Most significantly, each system has a reasonably predictable impact on how each of the existing parties would perform in a future election if the vote distribution were to be the same as it was in last November's general election.

If we try as a group to select a system in advance I can guarantee that the system will be reviewed and analyzed by each person and each party with one question foremost in mind: how will this help me or how will this hurt me? If any part of the tenuous coalition that we are today beginning to build decides that partisan or personal considerations outweigh the merits of the specific system being proposed, that in itself will likely prove sufficient to kill the proposal.

Today I am proposing that we engage as parliamentarians in a three stage process to bring about the successful implementation of genuine electoral reform.

First, we need to build a coalition of parliamentarians, intellectuals and journalists behind the idea that first past the post is not acceptable in a mature democracy and that some kind of electoral reform is needed. This process is already partly under way. Electoral reform has a prominent place in the Canadian Alliance statement of policies and principles, which reads:

To improve the representative nature of our electoral system, we will consider electoral reforms, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, electronic voting, and fixed election dates, and will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.

Second, and here I am merely repeating my party's proposal on the matter, we need to establish a process by which Canadians can vote directly on the question of electoral reform. However I do not favour a single referendum. That would involve putting a single model of electoral reform on the ballot and letting voters choose between it and the status quo.

Instead I recommend a referendum to authorize the striking of a commission and the holding of a second referendum on the findings of the commission. The commission could contain members of all parties or it could contain experts and individuals of undoubted integrity and impartiality. Its mandate would be to select three or perhaps four alternative models which could be presented to the Canadian electorate in a second referendum.

The third stage of the process would be the holding of the second referendum that had been mandated by the first. In the second referendum the electorate would be presented with a preferential ballot on which each voter would rank the proposed models in order of preference. If one model had the support of a majority of voters on the first count of the ballots, it would become the new electoral system of Canada.

If no model were chosen on the first count, the least preferred model would be removed from the table and all ballots in which it had been the preferred model would be recounted and redistributed according to the second preferences on those ballots. This process would continue until one model had obtained at least half the total votes cast.

Such a process would ensure a consensus result. The system finally chosen might not be the ideal preference of most voters, but it would at least be a system which very few people had found to be their least favourite choice or totally unsuitable.

To be on the safe side, the existing first past the post system should be one of the alternatives that voters could select on their preferential ballots. This would ensure that even if the commission had done its job poorly and selected a range of entirely unacceptable options, the worst that could happen would be a return to the status quo.

Such a process would produce a majority in favour of change. What would the new electoral process look like in the end? Frankly I do not know. That is the whole point. I can support the process. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle can support it, as can members on all sides of the House as long as each of us is confident in the wisdom of the people and hopeful that the system we prefer will at some future date get a fair hearing.

One of the great philosophers of the past century, John Rawls, wrote in his book, A Theory of Justice , of the impossibility of achieving consensus on moving forward to a just society as long as participants in the process know who the winners and losers will be. He proposed a thought experiment in which each person's existing position within society was hidden from view behind what Rawls referred to as a veil of ignorance. In such a situation all would endorse a new and more just state in an improved society because everybody would have a greater possibility of being a net winner than of being a net loser.

If we hope to succeed at changing our system of electing representatives to this place, we need to emulate Rawls' model. We need to place the final outcome behind the Rawlsian veil and move forward, certain only of the fact that what will be produced in the end will be better and more beneficial for the country than what we have today.

Presence In GalleryPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I ask hon. members to take note that in the gallery we have a very special group of visitors who communicate by way of sign language. On your behalf, I say welcome to the House of Commons and thank them for coming to visit us. We wish them all very well.

Presence In GalleryPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are justly proud that their country has one of the most stable and democratic political systems in the world. It is a model for many countries.

This has not happened on its own. Rather, it is the result of the commitment of Canadians from every region to ensuring that all citizens can express opinions on important issues and cast votes for the candidate of their choice. To translate this commitment into reality we have developed an electoral system which provides the flexibility needed to keep up with changes in our very dynamic country.

Of course, even the best system has its critics. It is natural that from time to time people and groups will come forward with suggestions for improving our system. Today's private member's motion, with its call for the introduction of a new electoral system based on proportional representation, is a good example of this. The Green Party of Canada has also brought a challenge before the courts to look into the same issue.

If I may, I will take a few minutes to discuss some aspects of the motion. I will discuss how it might impact on Canadians and why it arguably represents a risky gamble which might not be warranted under present circumstances.

To begin with, it is important to note that proportional representation is not a new idea. It has been tried in various forms in a number of countries over the years with varying degrees of success. It is currently used in one form or another in a number of countries, most notably France, Germany, Israel, Ireland and New Zealand.

While all these systems fall under the heading of proportional representation, they vary enormously and use very different approaches. Some use a two ballot runoff system where marginal candidates are eliminated in the first round of voting. Others have true proportional representation systems where the entire country is treated as one constituency and members are selected from party lists based on the percentage of the popular vote received by the parties. Others have mixed systems where some members are chosen on the basis of first past the post contests while others are chosen from party lists.

This is a complex situation involving many different alternatives, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. While proponents of the system claim it leads to better representation, particularly of minorities and regions, and that it encourages higher voter turnout, the experience of those using proportional representation suggests there can be negative impacts as well.

For example, proportional representation can lead to more minority governments. It can make governing more difficult, increase political instability and force parties to engage in lengthy political deal making to cobble together coalitions with very different interests.

As well, small one issue parties can sometimes find itself in the position of king maker which may allow it to force its own agenda on the nation as a whole. Proportional representation also sometimes gives a voice to extremist groups which would have been shut out in the normal course under a first past the post system.

Some countries have found that proportional representation can exacerbate regional differences and cleavages within a society and make it more difficult to reach national consensus on important issues. That could be particularly true of Canada where there exist and have always existed huge differences regionally, culturally, linguistically and religiously.

Finally, some countries have found that the use of party lists in selecting members of legislatures can strengthen the power of the unelected party insiders responsible for deciding who will be on the lists and in what order of precedence.

In Canada a proportional representation system could involve a change to the provisions in our constitution which require that provinces be proportionally represented in the House of Commons.

One of the strengths of our current electoral system is that Canadians are represented at the constituency level by a specific member of parliament. This provides a specific point of contact for Canadians at the constituency level. In other words, our current system ensures that members of parliament must be in ongoing contact with specific groups of Canadians.

Clearly, this is a difficult and complex issue where caution might be urged. Because of this and the fact that the issue is currently before Canadian courts in a constitutional challenge, it is my view that it would be unwise to go forward with the proposal shown in the private member's motion.

In the meantime however, this is not to say that no action should be taken. There are always many things that can be done now and in the future to improve the functioning of our existing electoral system. This was demonstrated recently by the passage in the House of a new elections act. As well, the chief elections officer will lay his report on suggested amendments to the Canada Elections Act before parliament this fall, and a committee will study and discuss these recommendations.

In conclusion, I commend the very experienced member moving the motion for his demonstrated and continuing commitment to improving Canada's electoral system. It is a commitment I hope that is shared by all members in the House and by the government. I urge him and other members to work within the House as we all seek new ways of ensuring that our electoral system can continue to do the best possible job of serving Canadians.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take part in the debate on Motion No. 21, presented by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, which reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should work towards incorporating a measure of proportional representation in the federal electoral system, making use of a framework which includes: ( a ) a report on proportional representation prepared by an all-party committee after extensive public hearings; ( b ) a referendum to be held on this issue where the question shall be whether electors favour replacing the present system with a system proposed by the committee as concurred in by the House; and ( c ) the referendum may be held either before or at the same time as the next general election.

I will have occasion a little later to come back to each of the points of this motion, but first, we must, as the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader has said, acknowledge the dedicated continuing commitment and consistency of the ideas of our colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle. For a number of years, he has regularly raised in the House the need to reform the Canadian electoral system.

Why should we reform it? For a number of reasons. First, intrinsically speaking, our first past the post system has a number of advantages to it. The advantage for voters is they can identify directly with the person they elect, to get any jurisdictional problem that may arise dealt with by the elected member.

The system has a number of minor anomalies as well. It can lead to certain distortions, to certain problems that may be due to the fact that the candidate elected is the one receiving the most votes. This is not, however, an absolute majority. Very often an MP can get elected with, who knows, 38%, 40% or 42% of the votes. Thus the majority of the people in the riding will have voted for a candidate other than the person who will be representing them in parliament for four years.

Beyond the intrinsic nature of our political system, our electoral system, there are certain things that have to be acknowledged. On many occasions during the various debates in this House, particularly those involving the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and the hon. member for Halifax, when I have had the opportunity to speak to this matter, I have stressed the point that, despite the efforts of the election officials and by the chief electoral officer to make voting more accessible, we are forced to conclude to our great surprise, and I must add that this is cause for concern, that voting is on a downward spiral. There is a downward trend. Fewer and fewer people seem interested in public affairs and the electoral process.

This must be of concern to us, because in a democracy, regardless of our efforts to make voting more accessible, fewer and fewer people are exercising their right to vote. This has to be a cause of concern.

Obviously, there are most certainly grounds for a parliamentary committee to address the matter. In the coming months, following the tabling of the chief electoral officer's report dealing with the last election and containing his recommendations, we will have the opportunity to consider the advisability of reforming our electoral system to better meet the expectations of the public.

This time, I hope the government will be more willing to make in depth changes to our electoral system.

Let us now go back to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. The motion specifically refers to a system of proportional representation.

At first glance, the motion seems to be somewhat restrictive. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle himself talked earlier about implementing a two vote electoral system, which would ensure that any candidate who is elected in a riding got the majority of the vote. However that does not seem to be one of his major concerns, at least from what we see in the motion now before the House.

That might somewhat limit the scope of any debate we could have on the reform of the Canadian electoral system.

Of course, I find the suggestion to set up an all party committee to consider the issue quite attractive. However we already have the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that would normally deal with such an issue. Perhaps we could then go through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs or a special committee struck for the occasion.

We now wish to pass reforms following a referendum, during which electors, citizens of Canada and of Quebec would be asked to vote on the model defined by the committee charged with examining the matter.

I think that the Canadian Alliance member made it clear that we would also have to reflect on the referendum process used to approve the model proposed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Here again, I find that the framework given us here is, in essence, relatively limiting because the desire seems to be to propose only the model which would be defined by the committee charged with examining this matter. We presume right off the bat that the model proposed would be proportional representation.

In closing, I wish to address one final point. The referendum in question should take place before or at the same time as the next general election. We obviously have no objection whatsoever to this last recommendation.

Let us return briefly to the issue of the referendum. One of the concerns we should have as members of this federal parliament is to recognize the federal nature of this country, a federation composed of very different provinces. Therefore, in the event that we go ahead with a system of proportional representation, we must ensure that we take this federal nature of Canada into account, both in the results of the referendum and in the implementation of a proportional system.

This motion, which refers to a proportional system, has already been debated in the House, at which time the member for Laval Centre laid out the position of our party most eloquently.

We said at the time that, because of the current system's limits and despite its benefits, the introduction of a proportional component could ensure better representation for minority groups, as I always say when we debate this issue, which would be an improvement over the present situation.

I am thinking about groups such as cultural communities, the disabled, women and also young people, who are underrepresented in parliament.

Such a system would also better reflect the various ideologies found in our society, which are not well represented here. Indeed, people who vote for small parties often have the impression that their vote is lost because is it very unlikely that a candidate for a small party will be elected to parliament.

The introduction of a proportional component would give small parties the opportunity to be represented in parliament, so democracy in general could benefit from their input.

Incidentally, this may prevent the distortions inevitably brought about by the current system where, for example, with only 38% or 40% of the votes, a government, and specifically a Prime Minister holds in his hands 100% of the power over a certain period.

This could also further greater co-operation between the various political parties represented in parliament and prevent that system enhancing confrontation and antagonism.

Or course, we have to recognize that, despite all that, a pure proportional representation system or one with a proportional representation component has some drawbacks, notably the political instability associated with pure proportional representation systems and also the creation of two classes of members in a system with a proportional representation component.

For all these reasons, I would say that the motion before us is very interesting. It has some limits, and it is unfortunate that we do not have the opportunity to vote on the motion to follow up on the very commendable intentions that we have heard today in the House.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, after full and comprehensive consultations with all parties in the House, I think you would find consent for the following motion which would propose an amendment to the first report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration tabled yesterday. I move:

That the first report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, tabled on Monday, May 28, 2001, be amended by adding the following amendment to clause 94: a ) by adding after line 10 on page 39 the following: “(b.1) in respect of Canada, the linguistic profile of foreign nationals who became permanent residents;” b ) by replacing lines 22 to 24 on page 39 with the following: “any; (e) the number of persons granted permanent resident status under subsection 25(1), and (f) a gender-based analysis of the impact of this act”.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the parliamentary secretary to table the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the please of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to taking part in this debate. I want to congratulate the member from Regina—Qu'Appelle, who is almost my seat mate now with the close proximity, on this issue. I know he has spent a lot of time on this.

For the viewing public to understand what the motion is, it states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should work toward incorporating a measure of proportional representation in the federal electoral system, making use of a framework which includes: (a) a report on proportional representation prepared by an all-party committee after extensive public hearings; (b) a referendum to be held on this issue where the question shall be whether electors favour replacing the present system with a system proposed by the committee as concurred in by the House; and (c) the referendum may be held either before or at the same time as the next general election.

Again, I commend the member for this. It is very insightful. I know the member spent a lot of time on this.

By the way, the other day we were stranded together at the Ottawa airport heading east to Atlantic Canada. With the way the air service was to that part of the country, we were both delayed by six or eight hours. However the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle was on his way to Prince Edward Island to speak to students at the University of P.E.I. on this very subject. Although he was late and did not arrive until something like 10 o'clock at night, they waited for him. He gave his speech and had a number of interviews with the P.E.I. press on this very topic.

The reason I mention that is I was able to pull something off the Internet today regarding P.E.I., what it is doing and how it is responding to some of these new ideas floating around on proportional representation.

The headline reads that P.E.I. is now investigating proportional representation. It states that Prince Edward Island's chief electoral officer says he hopes to have some options on proportional representation ready later this year. It speaks of a legislative committee on the elections act which has tabled a report in the legislature. Therefore P.E.I. is looking at the situation and how it can be improved.

One of the things I point out is that in P.E.I. the ruling party is the PC Party. I guess I should not be the one arguing with the success of the Conservative Party in P.E.I. However the fact is it has 96% of the seats, and received about 58% of the vote in the last election. The Liberal Party and the NDP received about 42% of the vote between them, but only one opposition seat in the P.E.I. legislature. I think that points out quite effectively the problem with our system as it now exists.

I only have to look at my home province of New Brunswick. In 1987 Premier McKenna won every single seat in New Brunswick. He won 57 out of 57 seats, yet received less than 60% of the vote. The Conservative Party at the time received somewhere in the area of 40% of the vote, but did not elect one single member to the New Brunswick legislature. If we asked Frank McKenna what one of his biggest handicaps was as a premier, it was the fact that he held all the seats. How does one practise democracy in a forum where one holds all the cards?

I will point out how our party has suffered under that system. Let us go back to the election of 1993. Of course, Mr. Speaker, as you well know, I was part of the class of '88 as were you. The only difference was, you won your election and I did not. The Conservative Party went from the party of power to having two seats on the opposition side.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

At least you had gender parity.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Incidentally, the member has so much information that he wants to throw out that he can hardly resist. However I hope I touch on some of the things that we spoke about privately.

In 1993 the Conservative Party had approximately the same number of votes as the Bloc. The Bloc sent 54 members to the House of Commons with the same number of votes that sent only two Conservative members in all Canada to the House.

The 1997 election is another example of how the system has to be fixed, changed or modified in some fashion. The then Reform Party had within 100,000 votes, the same number of votes the Conservative Party had.

Yet in 1997, if memory serves me correctly, the Reform Party sent approximately 60 members to the House of Commons and the Conservative Party sent only 20. Although we received approximately the same number of votes within 100,000 or so, the Reform Party had 40 more seats in the House of Commons. So on the story goes.

Let us take a look at British Columbia. In its recent election of a week or so ago the NDP sent three members to the legislature. The governing Liberals who won the election had approximately 56% of the vote but again some 90% of the seats. The system in some ways is patently unfair.

Not to be unkind to the Liberal Party and the government of the day, the truth is there are many members on that side of the House and on this side of the House, to be fair, who are sitting here with far less than 50% of the vote. In the last parliament nationally the Liberal Party received about 39% of the vote and formed the government. Clearly over 60% of Canadians voted against the very party that formed the government. It simply means that the system has to be examined and changed.

We can look at many examples around the world where the system has been changed and is working quite well. The problem in Canada is that once a party forms the government there is reluctance on the part of that prime minister and the government to change the system. Why would they change a system that is working in their favour? Hence the problem.

We cited the case in P.E.I., of which the hon. member for Regina-Qu'Appelle is quite aware. It has gone through successive elections where this has happened and now the Conservatives are the beneficiaries of a system which hurt them in two previous elections. This flip-flopping back and forth in some sense hurts all of us because it basically destroys what democracy is all about.

We support the member's initiative. It is thought provoking. This is a place where new ideas have to be brought in, where new ideas have to be encouraged. We have to examine better ways of doing things.

I cannot speak for the Prime Minister, but the downside of the motion is that I do not expect the Prime Minister will want his caucus to support it or his party to support it. The truth is that they are in power and I guess the intent of the game politics is to ensure that they continue to keep power.

In conclusion we support the member. We support the initiative. I look forward to debating the issue and fleshing out the details as we go along.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a sense the debate points to the weaknesses of our system in regard to private members' bills and motions. It underlines very clearly that the system needs a basic reform because of the anomaly of finding today that we are debating a motion which is not votable and will die in a few minutes when before the election the same motion was deemed votable by another committee and was debated fully until acceptance or rejection. Perhaps we should reflect upon why the same motion is votable one day and non-votable today.

I have a lot of reservations about strict proportional representation because of the instability it has caused in so many countries where it has been tried as a pure system. I also have reservations about a referendum that would decide on a question with either a yea or nay without a huge amount of study as to what is the best system.

I congratulate the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for bringing the motion before us. I wish it was votable because I believe these fundamental questions should be debated and studied by us. I believe that for us to say our present system is the best of them all without looking at all the others and finding out what improvements can be made is short term. We should not close our eyes to possible improvements that could make our democratic process far more effective and far better for Canadians at large.

The members before me have quoted obvious examples. In the last B.C. election three New Democrats were elected but no Green Party members were elected in spite of having gathered 12% of the vote. B.C. now has a government with all the seats except three. This obviously will create problems because a government cannot govern without an effective opposition to put pressure on it to perform over the years.

We also have the example of New Brunswick and of our own party. Although I rejoice in that, when I look at it objectively and fairly I have to admit that it was a quirk of history which gave us most of the seats in the province even though we did not get a majority percentage of the votes.

I look at what the Australians have done and admire them for their grit, daring and courage in having looked at different systems. They have realized that first past the post is not the perfect system. They have devised a system where the person who wins truly wins an overall majority.

I look at various European nations that have tried different systems and have decided that pure proportional representation does not quite work but have adopted a mixed system of runoffs and different types of proportional representation systems. Today certain countries in Europe, such as Germany, Finland and France are showing very stable democracies and all have various segments of their populations duly represented by elected representatives.

I wish the motion had been made votable because I would have voted for it. I believe we must study these questions. During this quiet debate I felt there was a consensus or a feeling among us that nobody had the perfect answer but that everybody wanted to seek out a way to make democracy fairer and more workable.

I congratulate the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I invite him to bring his motion back to the House but to perhaps leave out the referendum and strict proportional representation. Perhaps he could look at fixed term elections every four years. I wish he would bring it back because I for one would love to vote on it and have the matter studied further.

Proportional RepresentationPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow two themes in conclusion. First, I thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his remarks. I had exactly the same motion before the House last fall and it had been deemed votable. We had two hours of debate and were about to have a third hour when the Prime Minister called the election.

Since the election there has been growing popularity in looking at the idea of PR. A court case has been launched by the Green Party and it is now before the courts. However, all of a sudden the private members' committee decided not to make the motion votable even though it is exactly the same motion as the one I introduced last fall. This motion too will die in about four minutes time.

I appeal to the House to look at the idea behind this. All the motion is asking is that we strike an all party committee to look at the various models of proportional representation or various measures that could be mixed into our system. It does not call for a pure system of PR but leaves it very wide open. This all party committee could hold public hearings to look at improving our electoral system.

At the end of the process, if we agree in parliament, we would go to the Canadian people in a referendum with our recommendations and the status quo so that they could choose between the two. The people would be sovereign and would choose want they want to do, as they did in New Zealand a few years ago. That is all the motion calls for.

I hope we could look at new ideas. It is a radical new idea in the country but we as parliamentarians should be looking at new ideas and new ways to do things.

There is a national organization called Fair Vote Canada which is trying to organize across the country a push on voting reform and proportional representation. It is not trying to push a particular model but a principle of having a system where the people's votes are accurately reflected in the House of Commons so that we do not get the great distortions we have had over the years.

The last thing I want to say is that we may have some initiative on the provincial level. I was in Prince Edward Island three weeks ago, as the member for Fredericton said, and I met with Premier Binns. I wish to commend him publicly. They are looking now at bringing in a blend of PR in Prince Edward Island. A legislative committee there recommended some options. The chief electoral officer of Prince Edward Island is saying that he hopes to have some options for proportional representation ready later this year.

The last four election campaigns in Prince Edward Island resulted in very lopsided parliaments. In three of those four elections there were only one or two members of the opposition. Today there is only one member despite the fact that 42% of the people voted for the opposition parties. I was there for their question period. There was one Liberal member in opposition to the leader asking question after question for over half an hour. That kind of system does not function properly.

Premier Binns has made Canadian history by being the first premier in the first province, just like it was a cradle of Confederation, to bring in a blend of PR. My conversation with the premier has led me to believe that he is very sincere about putting the question to the people of Prince Edward Island in a referendum as to whether they want to try a blend of proportional representation.

We have so many distortions. In the last provincial election in Quebec, Jean Charest and the Liberals got more votes than Lucien Bouchard and the Parti Quebecois, yet Bouchard formed a majority government. In my own province of Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow of my party got 38% of the vote and the opposition Saskatchewan Party got 39% of the vote, yet Mr. Romanow formed a majority government. In British Columbia five years ago, to show I am not partisan because it is not a partisan issue, the provincial NDP led by Glen Clark got fewer votes than the opposition Liberals, yet Glen Clark formed a majority government.

I could go on and on about these great distortions but the time has arrived for us to do something about them. I will keep on pursuing this matter. All I am saying is that we should set up an all party committee to look at the various models that might be relevant to our country and to design in the end a unique Canadian model that would be good for Canada, that would be more inclusive, empowering, democratic and accountable. Part of that model, I say to my friend across the way, is a fixed election date. I believe in that and I always have. We need parliamentary reform to make our country more democratic, more inclusive and more accountable.

The debate has now died. I appeal to all members on all sides of the House, because of the alienation people toward the political process, to consider in the future an all party committee to look at the important area of voting reform. I thank members for their participation.