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.