House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was referendum.


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved that Bill C-216, an act to amend the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I have before the House of Commons today an amendment to the Referendum Act.

Hon. members may recall that a number of years ago, in the early 1990s, the House of Commons passed the Referendum Act to have a national referendum on the question of the Charlottetown accord and the Constitution. In our country we have had three national referenda. We have had a referendum on prohibition, a referendum on the whole question of conscription, and then in 1992 a referendum on the issue of constitutional reform. The question put to people at that time was defeated overwhelmingly across the country.

Today I am introducing an amendment to the Referendum Act, because the act we now have in the House of Commons covers only referenda on constitutional matters. My amendment is to amend the Referendum Act so that we can actually have a referendum on the whole question of electoral change or electoral reform. The reason for this is that I am a very strong advocate of changing our electoral system to bring in a system of proportional representation. I believe that before we would bring in a system of proportional representation, we should actually consult the people of the country to see if they want it.

Under the federal laws and statutes, the House of Commons by itself can change the electoral system any time it wants, because it only affects the federal law. If we look around the world we will see that most countries in the world do not have our electoral system; they do not have a first past the post system. In fact, of democracies with more than 10 million people, it is only Canada and the United States that have a pure first past the post system. In the last election in the United States in the year 2000, Al Gore actually received 550,000 more votes than George Bush, but George Bush is President of the United States.

India still has the first past the post system. This country has a first past the post system. Even Britain, the mother of our parliamentary system, now has a measure of PR in the Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament and they elect all of their members of parliament to the European Community, to the parliament in Strasbourg, through a system of proportional representation.

I believe we have to change our electoral system. The last time the House of Commons had a vote on PR was in 1922. Changing our system to the PR system is not likely to happen on a top down basis from parliamentarians; it will happen on a bottom up basis, from the people up.

We now have for the first time ever a national organization promoting proportional representation or electoral reform. That organization is Fair Vote Canada. Fair Vote Canada now has supporters from all political parties in the House. There are members of the Alliance who are in favour of changing the electoral system to bring in a measure of PR. There are members of the Liberal Party sitting in Parliament, only a few at this stage, who are in favour of changing the electoral system and bringing in PR. There are members of the Conservative Party who believe in changing the political system and bringing in proportional representation.

There are many Bloc Quebecois members who favour changing our electoral system to one based on proportional representation. I remember well that former Quebec premier and leader of the Parti Québecois René Lévesque was in favour of a new electoral system in Quebec.

Back in 1999 at a national convention our party passed a resolution to bring in a measure of PR.

We have the beginning of a national movement, a national movement that is very diverse and includes members of the trade union movement and members of the political left in Canada as well as members of the political right, including the Canadian Taxpayers Federation led by Walter Robinson, and others who favour changing the electoral system.

Why do I suggest that we have a system of PR in Canada? I believe that every vote should count, that no vote should be wasted. If we look at the parliaments we elect, we will see that the Parliament of Canada does not reflect how people actually vote. In the last campaign, the Liberal Party received around 50% of the votes in this country and yet it has almost 60% of the seats in the House of Commons.

In Ontario, out of 103 seats about 100 Liberals were elected in November 2000. One would think that about 95% of Ontarians voted Liberal, and yet the Liberal Party is almost a minority party in Ontario. It received 50% of the votes. Half of Ontarians get very few representatives here in the House of Commons.

The same thing is true of western Canada, where 75% to 80% of westerners in the House of Commons are members of the Alliance Party. Yet the Canadian Alliance in the last campaign received fewer than half of the votes in western Canada, representing a minority of western Canadians.

I can go through every Parliament like this.

I remember well the Parliament that began in 1997, after the June election. A comparison could be made between the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. In that election, the Bloc Quebecois got 11% of the vote, as did the NDP, but in the Parliament of Canada there were 21 NDP members and 44 Bloc members. The same thing happened with the Conservative and Reform parties, which had about the same number of votes nationally, but in the House there were 20 Conservative MPs and between 50 and 60 Reform MPs under the leadership of Preston Manning.

There are all these distortions in the electoral system, so that when people get up the morning after an election the Parliament they have elected does not reflect how they voted. In fact, there are many examples in Canada where the governing party actually received fewer votes than the leading opposition party. Today we have two governments that received fewer votes than the leading opposition party. In my own province, Saskatchewan, the NDP government led by Roy Romanow, which I of course supported, received 38% of the vote last time while the opposition party, the Saskatchewan Party, received 39% of the vote.

In the Province of Quebec exactly the same situation exists. The Parti Québecois now forms a majority government in the Province of Quebec, yet in the last provincial election, the Liberals under Jean Charest received more votes than the Parti Québecois. The Parti Québecois now forms the Government of Quebec, however.

We have these distortions all the way across the system. That happens regardless of the party. I think we should change the electoral system. I have said before that there are hardly any other countries in the world that now have a pure first past the post system. That is why a change has to happen here.

Under proportional representation, every vote counts and no vote is wasted. Today the majority of Canadians vote for losing candidates. People vote for people who do not win. If there were a PR system, a person could vote for the Canadian Alliance in Newfoundland and the vote would count. If a person were to vote for the NDP in Alberta, the vote would count. If a person were to vote for the Liberal Party on the prairies in western Canada, the vote would count. Right across the piece, people's voices and people's points of view would be heard here in the Parliament of Canada in a truly democratic system.

Why has this never happened? Because the first past the post system is a very self-serving system for the government, regardless of the political party, regardless of what level of government we have in Canada. The change can be made only by the grassroots, by the people of this country.

I would hope that there would be a number of MPs who would rise in the House and talk about the need for electoral reform. I challenge any member of Parliament to go out on the street in any part of this country. He or she will find that the Canadian people are losing faith in our political system. In fact, in many ways we are sleepwalking toward a crisis in democracy.

I can remember when voter turnout was 75% or 80%. In 1997 the voter turnout went down to 67% and then down to 60% in the last election campaign. People are losing faith in Parliament and their politicians. People believe that politicians do not listen and do not hear. They believe that they elect politicians to do one thing and then something else happens. Part of the responsibility for that is the failure of our electoral system to provide the Canadian people with the kind of government they want and deserve.

The other thing is that under PR people can vote for their first choice and have their first choice count. There are a lot of Canadians in our present system who cast what I call a strategic vote. They are upset with the government and they vote for the leading opposition party. Or they live in a part of the country where the party they prefer does not have a chance of winning, so they vote for their second choice. Under proportional representation, people vote for their first choice and their first choice wins.

Another thing about PR is that it would also force all political parties to have a national vision. We have in Canada now five different regional parties, really, that are strong in different parts of the country. That includes the government, which is very strong in the Province of Ontario and to a lesser degree in the Province of Quebec, but not very strong when it comes to western Canada.

Under PR every vote is equal. For the NDP under PR a vote in Chicoutimi is worth as much as a vote in Regina. For the Liberal Party under PR a vote in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, is worth as much as a vote in downtown Toronto. It would force all parties to have a national vision and appeal to Canadians right across the board, regardless of their previous voting patterns and their previous voting history. This is another argument for proportional representation.

The main thing is that we would elect a Parliament where everybody is equal, where everybody's vote counts, and where nobody's vote is wasted.

Why do I today bring in a bill to amend the Referendum Act? I believe that for a major change of this sort the people should speak. In fact, we have a precedent for this. In New Zealand a number of years ago when that country moved from the first past the post system to the system of proportional representation, not just one but two referenda were held. The first referendum was on the principle of PR. The question put to New Zealanders was whether they wanted to bring in a system based on proportional representation or to stick with the status quo, which was first past the post. New Zealanders then voted to bring in a system based on proportional representation.

The second referendum in New Zealand allowed the people of the country, through a direct vote in a referendum, to choose the kind of proportional representation they wanted in their electoral system. They chose what was called the mixed member proportional, a system that is based on the German model, which is the reality in some 13 countries in the world.

I think what we should do is allow the Canadian people, through a referendum, to decide whether or not they want to keep the status quo or bring in a system of proportional representation.

For the last four or five years I have had a private member's bill before the House of Commons which would strike an all party committee to hold public hearings across the country and to come up with some recommendations as to the most appropriate system of PR for the country. Parliament would decide on the most appropriate model for Canada and then a national referendum would be held so the Canadian people could decide whether they wanted this new model of PR or the status quo of the first past the post system. Therefore we need to change the Referendum Act to allow the people to have a national vote on the subject.

The time has come when we should be striking a national committee to look at electoral reform. My vision of PR is one that is based on the German model. Residents of Germany get two votes in a campaign. Half the members are elected riding by riding. People still have their local member of parliament to look after their unemployment insurance needs, wheat board needs, immigration needs and so on. The other half of the members of parliament are elected on a list that each party presents.

It is from that list in Germany and in the other 12 countries that use the mixed member proportional where they draw names to make sure the parliament is representative.

If one party, for example in Ontario, with almost all the seats, gets only half the votes then the other parties would get almost all the members in the west so that the representation from Ontario would be proportional in accordance with the votes that are cast. Therefore they would have the best of both worlds. They would have a local member of Parliament and they would have proportionality. I think that is a truly democratic system.

I am looking forward to hearing the debate this morning. I hope members on all sides of the House will give this a great deal of support. It would give Canadians a chance, in a true democratic way, to pass judgment on the kind of electoral system we want to represent us in the future.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in debate on Bill C-216 which would amend the Referendum Act, but the bill really does not deal with the main topic of my hon. friend's speech, which was proportional representation.

I want to talk about the bill itself, which is about the Referendum Act, but I first want to respond to some of the member's comments about PR, as he calls it.

I want to suggest to my hon. friend that it is actually self-serving for the NDP to be supporting and calling for this kind of system which obviously would benefit it, but would it benefit Canada? I want to suggest that the system we have had for so many years has provided great stability in Canada.

When NDP members talk about proportional representation or about changing the electoral system at all, I wonder why they refuse to consider, for example, the ordinal system where there would be a series of runoff elections, as they do in France and in many other countries around the world.

My hon. colleague talked about the fact that many countries have PR. He did not mention the fact that many countries have the ordinal system where there are runoff elections. If anything is going to give people control over the result of their elections, surely it is the runoff system where they have to make the difficult choice of deciding which candidate to vote for when the candidate of their choice is out. That is remarkably similar to the process of being in government, the process of making decisions when we have people from across this country with different concerns and points of view and we have to find consensus and compromise.

Through being exposed to that kind of a process, of making those difficult choices, people would understand more and more, although I think many of them already do, but they would understand even better how government must work and how we must reconcile differences across our country and throughout different parts of our culture and our society. I suggest that my hon. friends maybe could look at the ordinal system and consider that when they talk about electoral reform.

However the bill is not so much about PR. It is really about referenda. What the bill proposes is the inclusion in the Referendum Act of a reference to electoral reform. This means that if the governor in council considers that it is in the public interest to consult the Canadian electorate on a question relating to the Constitution of Canada, or the reform of the electoral system of Canada, the governor in council could submit that question in a referendum. That is what the bill does; nothing more, nothing less.

This addition would not make it mandatory to hold a referendum in order to effect an electoral reform. It simply would impose certain obligations on the government in cases where it decides to submit to the electorate a question concerning electoral reform. The Referendum Act sets forth the rules that apply to constitutional referenda. For example, it provides for the organization and registration of registered referendum committees responsible for receiving contributions and incurring expenses. It authorizes the allocation of free broadcasting time and the possibility of holding the referendum only in certain provinces. These same rules would apply for electoral reform.

Referenda in Canada, including those conducted under the Referendum Act, are consultative and do not have the force of law. Hence, the House would have to examine and pass a bill even if a referendum were held on a given question.

To summarize, adding electoral reform to the Referendum Act would not mean that a referendum would have to be held in order to effect electoral reform. Such a referendum would not be binding. This change simply would impose certain rules to be followed if the Canadian people were asked a question concerning electoral reform. It is not about PR.

Bill C-216 adds nothing more to the current situation.

The government or Parliament can always propose holding a referendum on a specific question, and there is absolutely no need to amend the Referendum Act to do this.

In the past, Parliament has proposed holding referenda when necessary. For example, there was one on the prohibition of alcohol in 1898 and one on conscription in 1942.

The government can establish specific procedures depending on the question it intends to put to a referendum.

It is not necessary to subject each possible referendum relating to the electoral system to the same requirements as referenda on changes to the Constitution.

If we had to decide on whether to subject electoral reform to the rules set out in the Referendum Act, we would have to ask ourselves the following question: why add only electoral reform?

In fact, several subjects are just as worthy. For example, what about questions on abortion, capital punishment or immigration?

If all these questions are put to a referendum, should they not be subject to the same rules?

It seems to me that the addition of electoral reform or anything else to this act should be considered in the light of what the amendment contributes in terms of benefits and real impact. Surely we do not want a purely cosmetic change. As I indicated, this amendment would not have the effect of making referendums on electoral matters mandatory and Parliament remains free to propose the holding of referenda. Consequently, the amendment would have little practical effects.

In addition, while adding questions relating to electoral reform to the Referendum Act would impose a framework for holding a referendum on that question, there would be little advantage to this since Parliament can easily provide for rules to govern the holding of a referendum.

What is more, it is not clear that we want all the mechanisms of the Referendum Act to apply to a given popular consultation. For example, in a given situation it may be desirable not to resort to referendum committees to oversee referendum expenses. In certain cases, Parliament may want the outcome of a consultation to automatically change the law, and this would not allow that to happen. The benefits of an amendment like that would therefore appear to be marginal like this one or non-existent.

Electoral reform projects are generally approached in the spirit of co-operation among the parties. Generally speaking, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been able to take account of the interests of political parties, lobby groups and various regions of Canada when reviewing this type of bill. That is why Parliament remains a preferred instrument for dealing with electoral reform.

Electoral modifications have given consideration to a whole range of issues. Complex questions with numerous ramifications are often raised. It is my belief that parliamentarians in committee can more easily balance the various elements associated with the proposal than can the public faced with the question that must be answered yes or no, which may not be the answer they really want to give. They may want to give a more complicated or complete answer.

That being said, no one can deny that the Canadian electorate is the ultimate judge of the policies adopted by the government and Parliament. People sanction the work done by MPs and the government as a whole on the occasion of general elections.

For those reasons I do not support the bill, and I would like to add that electoral reform is at the heart of representative democracy. I want to reaffirm that the government is a firm believer in co-operation and a non-partisan approach to electoral issues.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always good to start the day with a laugh. I enjoyed that last element of humour when the parliamentary secretary suggested that the Liberal Party cared about cross-partisan approaches after having launched a very partisan attack upon the excellent proposals of my friend from the New Democratic Party.

Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said, the primary focus of the bill is very clearly electoral reform. Questions like whether to use the funding formula, as the finance committee has suggested under the Referendum Act, in a situation of a referendum on a non-constitutional item is perhaps the most irrelevant consideration I can imagine. I have no idea why the speech writer who wrote for the parliamentary secretary put it into his speech. It truly is an absolutely irrelevant point.

The bill is a revised version of a bill that the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle introduced about a year and a half ago in this place. We debated it once before. Due to the intransigent attitude of the government on the subject of private members' business, it was not votable then and it is not votable now. That is a most regrettable fact because it is a very good piece of legislation which deals with a very important issue.

The fact is our current electoral system benefits nobody except the Liberal Party of Canada, a party which has received three majority governments in a row based upon mandates of 40%, 38% and 40% respectively. That is to say, that at no point in the past decade has the federal Liberal majority government, with its absolute dictatorial powers, ever had the support or indeed a mandate from the majority of Canadians. Nevertheless it proceeds to hold more than 50% of the seats due to the vagaries of our electoral system and because of our system and the ironclad party discipline in the Liberal Party, it holds 100% of the power. That is not the way things should be.

Therefore when we hear the parliamentary secretary attack my hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party on the basis that his proposals serve the partisan advantage of the New Democratic Party, I can only say that my hon. friend from the Liberal Party should avoid perhaps casting aspersions.

There are changes that can be made to the electoral system that would improve it. There are changes that can be made to the electoral system that could make it worse than the status quo. The first past the post system is not the worst imaginable system.

I chatted with another member earlier. We discussed the system that exists in Israel for example. There are no constituencies and everybody is elected from a single party list submitted by each party. The result is that Israel has no form of local representation. For example, it has parties with very small percentages of the total vote holding the balance of power in the Knesset with a result that they are able to have a disproportionate influence on policy. I submit that is worse than the status quo.

One can imagine other systems. We can see other systems, including the French run-off system, which I think is atrocious and would be a step backwards from the status quo.

I have my own preferred system that I would like to see in place instead of the system we have now. However rather than going on about what that system might be, I will simply observe that there are many systems in the world, for example, the multi-member proportional system, the MMP system that is used in Germany and New Zealand. Some members elected at large, as in Israel, and some elected in single member districts as in Canada.

The system in Australia in its lower house has members elected by preferential ballot, a single transferable ballot in which voters cast a ballot and list off their candidates and preference. If their preferred candidate does not win, some other candidate can be elected as their ballot is passed on indicating their second preference. Also, Australia uses the system in the senate where each Australian state has 12 separate representatives and voters are able to choose their top 12 candidates.

One can go on and on. The Irish have their own system. There are various systems in place in Canada at the municipal level.

Rather than advocate any of those policies in particular, I want to suggest something that I think would overcome the kind of allegation the parliamentary secretary made. He suggested that there was partisan preference going on and that my hon. colleague from the NDP was somehow choosing a system that best suited the NDP and would best achieve the NDP's overall goals or that I might do the same thing with regard to the kind of electoral system that would produce the largest number of Canadian Alliance members.

The problem is that it is very easy to take current election results and start fiddling with them to produce numbers that would produce, for example, more Canadian Alliance members in Ontario, or more Liberal members in Saskatchewan, or more New Democrats or whatever. That is not really the point. The point is to design a system that would allow us to begin discussion and would allow Canadians to choose a system that favours the kind of outcome which would produce the best representation, without regard to which party will benefit.

My hon. colleague's bill starts the process. Whatever system we are talking about, it suggests it should be submitted to a referendum so at least Canadians can vote for or against it based upon whether in their minds it is better or worse than the status quo. That is a very good starting point.

I would like to take it one step further and suggest that my hon. colleague's bill would be improved if he were to have some form of a two step process. This was a proposal that was executed in New Zealand when it moved from a first past the post system to the system it currently has. If I am not mistaken, the system currently in place in New Zealand is one that my hon. colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle looks upon very favourably, an MMP system.

New Zealand held a first referendum in which this question was asked. Should there be a change to the electoral system? When that was agreed upon, there was then the promise of a second referendum in which the actual choice would be made.

The particular form of this policy which the Canadian Alliance has adopted is that we would have a first referendum which would set up a commission. The commission would review and come up with several proposals on different electoral systems. Then, in a second referendum Canadians would vote by means of a preferential ballot and indicate which of those systems seemed to be the best. One item on that ballot would be a status quo, the first past the post system. If all options put forward by the commission were inferior in the minds of Canadians to the status quo, we would simply revert to the status quo.

However we have the possibility of moving forward and in a way that could not have been predetermined by the existing parties, because one thing we all can define is that all of us here have a certain stake in one system or another coming out.

We must all be behind what the philosopher John Rawls called a veil of ignorance. As we move forward and look toward the electoral system that replaces the status quo, none of us can go in knowing what the outcome would be or else we would wind up debating the outcome and the partisan benefits for one party or another of that outcome as opposed to the status quo.

However if we have that veil of ignorance through a two referendum process in which the second referendum is a choice between a number of options that have not yet been made at the time of the first referendum, then we have made the system largely free from the interference of those who are currently members of the House of Commons and who have an interest in one side or another coming out.

This is not a votable item. If it were, I would suggest the amendments I have described. Nonetheless, the measure as proposed by my hon. colleague for the New Democratic Party is a good one. I hope at some point in the future it will be possible to make this item votable. I believe that it could be made votable if the unanimous consent of the House were found. Therefore I will now ask that unanimous consent be given to making this a votable bill to demonstrate the goodwill that my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party spoke of earlier in his speech.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to make the bill votable?

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member who made this proposal that if any significant changes to electoral reform are ever made, a referendum should be allowed.

What it boils down to is letting the people decide. Political parties and the government itself would find themselves in somewhat of a conflict of interest they made changes to the electoral system.

We all know the political party system; clearly, each party is capable at times of rising above party politics. You know full well that if a referendum grants the mandate to significantly reform the electoral system, there is a guarantee that the proposal came from the electorate.

With that in mind, I would like to stress the importance of making far-reaching changes. We are talking about an initiative that was taken in Quebec quite some time ago. This initiative was launched by Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Minister responsible for the Reform of Democratic Institutions, Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, and Minister responsible for Relations with French-Speaking and Acadian Communities.

Mr. Charbonneau launched a major operation, a significant challenge for the entire electoral system, which will reach a very significant stage this week during the estates general. There will be three days of reflection where more than 1,000 Quebeckers will submit their views on changes they feel should be made to the electoral system.

With regard to the motion before us today, we see that the Government of Quebec already has a well-established democratic initiative under way. We are being told—this is important—that any attempt to reform the electoral system has to be broad right from the start. The campaign will culminate next week during the estates general in Quebec City. The question is what makes a good political system. Do we want a British parliamentary system, an American or French style presidential system, or something else yet again, provided it is consistent with our democratic reality and what citizens want?

We witnessed this, in fact, on the weekend. Large crowds gathered to demonstrate and send a clear message to the government that they are opposed to a war in Iraq. Can these views be heard under our present parliamentary system? This is something we need to think about.

Nevertheless, we cannot address these electoral issues without questioning the relevance of our current political system and the relevance of the electoral system in and of itself, as well as all the other major issues that Quebec has put on the table.

I have already spoken about the British Parliamentary system and the presidential systems, but there is also the whole issue of electoral systems. For example, if the population considers the relevance of a majority system, as is happening in Quebec right now, or a system with some element of proportional representation, there are different forms of PR.

My colleague from the NDP made a comparison, saying that the Bloc Quebecois had elected 44 members to the House with approximately the same number of votes as the NDP, which elected 21 members. This distortion may well represent a reality in Canada, which is that there was one region of the country, Quebec, that was clearly dissatisfied with the system in place and that it expressed this dissatisfaction by voting for the Bloc Quebecois. In that case, this seeming distortion between the results may simply have been a reflection of the will of the population.

I say this, not to aggravate debate on the Quebec issue, but to serve as an example, to say that when considering changes to our the system, we need to assess the relevance of regional proportion, if indeed we feel it is appropriate.

If we give the issue this type of consideration, the member's motion is a good one, because we cannot make these types of changes without, I believe, asking voters themselves, the constituents, because they are the ones who give the mandate.

So, I would invite the federal government to look closely at the democratic process that the Quebec government has followed and which will culminate this week with the estates general.

Since Quebec is on the eve of an election, we could see if all the political parties support the position that is chosen after the estates general. During the next mandate, no matter which government is elected—I am certain it will be a PQ government—this government could use the results of this democratic process and see what relevant changes to make to our system.

In Quebec, during the 1970s, political party financing was reformed. Ottawa has just decided to follow suit. During a speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged René Lévesque's contribution in this area as a major contribution to democracy.

The entire democratic system in Quebec is presently under discussion. The Canadian government would perhaps do well to take a closer look at what is being done in this area.

Quebec has broken new ground in putting other important subjects on the table, such as the role of regions in renewing the democratic system and, specifically, what can be done to satisfactorily include the regions when this kind of action is undertaken.

Quebec is also thinking about first nations and the Quebec nation. How can we ensure that they are sufficiently and adequately represented in the appropriate Parliament?

There is also talk of representative or direct democracy. For example, right now, only the government has the power to trigger a referendum. It would be possible to make holding a referendum on specific subjects mandatory when the approval of the National Assembly is not enough.

The motion presented here today in Canada's federal Parliament aims to further this debate. If, in fact, there is a will to ensure that the system of democratic representation in Canada better reflects reality, I think that this would be the model to follow.

I also want to invite everyone listening, especially Quebeckers, to pay attention to the estates general, because they will probably affect democracy in Quebec for many decades to come.

A number of ideas will be debated at the estates general, including the relevance of holding elections on fixed dates, limiting electoral mandates, and the integrity of the voting process.

During consultation, we asked people if they preferred the current situation or if they would like the voters' list to be improved, if they were in favour of implementing a voter's card, and various other questions. The right to vote at age 16 is another question that was asked.

I have here a list of at least twenty places in Quebec where hearings were held during the lead up to the estates general that will be held this week.

Quebec is an example of how to conduct this type of consultation. The issue of women in politics is also very important. We looked at how to have more women elected because, at the end of the day, parliaments have to represent the public, and women make up a little more than half the population. We have to be able to adopt the same solution in parliaments.

That is the type of weakness found in the current systems, which future changes should address. If we want the public to accept these things, they have to have a say.

I will conclude on this point. Yes, I think that if we ever made significant changes to the Canadian electoral system, these changes should be approved by the public through a referendum.

But before doing this sort of study, we must look at the overall impact on the situations that we want to change, to see whether it is limited to electoral issues or whether there are also other aspects of democracy that must be taken into account.

I invite everyone to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the estates general to be held in Quebec City this week on February 21, 22, and 23 and whose theme is “Citizen Empowerment”, so that Canada, and other countries in the world can enjoy what Quebec may decide to adopt. The better our democratic systems for ensuring that people are represented, the better the decisions, provided that they are more in line with what the public wants.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and say a few words on Bill C-216. I wish to congratulate my friend from the NDP for bringing this issue before the House, not because I necessarily agree with him although I could be persuaded, but because this is an issue that should be debated thoroughly in the House, to see if a better way can be found of reforming Parliament and the electoral system.

I have a concern about proportional representation. We would look at the percentage of votes that various parties get and those parties would have a number of members according to the number of votes those parties received. That sounds tremendous and it would be hard to argue against because that would truly be proportional representation. However to do that fairly is another story.

I will give members an example. The great province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the best example to use because we have only seven seats. In my province, the NDP and the Canadian Alliance seldom receive over 10% of the vote. Consequently, they receive no seats whatsoever. There are seven seats and a party needs about 15% of the vote to get one seat. If a party were to receive 15% of the vote, from which riding would the member be selected from? In all seven ridings the Liberals, the Conservatives or whomever, usually win with a large percentage of the vote. But because some other party received 15% in the total vote, that would mean it had to have a member.

I am not sure of the semantics involved because it is extremely complicated. Before we go off saying this is the way to do it we had better work out a system that does not deprive the majority of people in any one riding who voted from having the person they selected as their true representative of that riding otherwise it would be unfair to the riding involved. It might be unfair to the province and it might be unfair to the country, but it would certainly be unfair to the people who actually selected that person. We must work out a system that will get around that.

There are several good things that could come out of the suggestion made by my hon. colleague. There are some possibilities for electoral reform and they include: making the Senate an elected body; appointing an independent ethics counsellor responsible to Parliament and not the Prime Minister; making members of Parliament the central decision makers in Ottawa once again, which we certainly cannot say we are today; requiring ministers to be directly accountable to Parliament for their budgets and the conduct of their departments; and enhancing citizen participation by the way of referenda on major public issues.

All of these issues have been debated over the last couple of years with most people saying this is the way to go, but we are doing little to implement such good ideas. The bill, which has been put forth by my hon. colleague, would perhaps spur things on to improving things considerably.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, at its conference in August of last year in Edmonton, adopted a major parliamentary reform document covering many of the issues mentioned by various parties. It certainly concerns the Canadian Alliance because it was developed in conjunction with a number of people who sit in that party. If people were to openly admit the truth, they would say that we are very close on such policies.

We might ask ourselves why we are not as close on other issues. That is a good question which has to be answered one of these days.

There are a couple of sections in that policy document, one on parliamentary reform and one on citizen involvement. On parliamentary reform some of the things talked about are free votes, confidence votes, party discipline, commons committees and proper representation and control, code of ethics in Parliament to discipline parliamentarians, legislative federalism, power of the purse, relationship between Parliament and the courts, Senate reform, government by regulation, and the list goes on.

Regardless of how much we talk about it, regardless of the document we brought forth, regardless of the cooperation of the Canadian Alliance with us in relation to these policies, regardless of bills brought forward by my colleague and members of the NDP, and regardless of the position of the Bloc, unless we change government we would not get it done. The Bloc and the Canadian Alliance are perhaps the two parties that are already benefiting perhaps from proportional representation because most of their votes are in selected areas in the country and they tend to elect members according to the percentage of the vote, more so than other parties that are spread out or have a wider base of support across the country.

Regardless of how much we talk about electoral reform, unless we change government we would not get it done because instead of trying to reform Parliament to be more open, the present government is just entrenching. We never had a better example than what is happening today.

In a few minutes time the government House leader will stand to invoke closure on a bill that we will be talking about for a few hours today. That goes against everything anybody in the House should stand for. We already agreed a little earlier to take from the budget large sums to go toward the gun registry. It is such an embarrassment. Now from the back door the government opens up the doors again. We cannot go on with that charade.

It is about time that we drew to the attention of the people of the country the financial cruelty that has been perpetrated upon them by the government opposite. In light of that, to create part of that awareness, I move:

That this House do now adjourn.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

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

Referendum ActPrivate Members' Business

12:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion negatived.

The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act (political financing), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-24. The proposed legislation would improve the transparency and fairness of Canada's electoral system and address the perception that corporations, unions and the wealthy exercise a disproportionate influence in our political system.

Canada's electoral system already is the envy of many countries. As Canadians we have participated in election observation missions right around the world. As a former Minister of International Cooperation, which I was a number of years ago, it was always such a pleasure to see a number of our fellow citizens under Elections Canada, sometimes under UN mandate, participate in election observation in many countries of the world. We have done so through the Commonwealth and through la Francophonie and each time have earned the respect of other countries.

The amendments we have before us today continue the modernization of our electoral system that began with the enactment of the new Canada Elections Act in 1970 and the 1974 Election Expenses Act.

I had the pleasure of sponsoring Bill C-2 during the last Parliament. This is a bill intended to consolidate all Canadian electoral legislation and it has done so for a good number of measures. This being a democracy, however, there is no limit to how far we can go in improving certain legislation.

Today we have before us a new bill which builds on what we have done in the past, improving our electoral legislation still further.

The bill follows the Prime Minister's commitment of last June, in his excellent eight point action plan, to bring forward new legislation for political financing. This commitment was reiterated in the Speech from the Throne.

I hear our colleagues across the way expressing enthusiasm at the initiative. Perhaps later they can express that enthusiasm in their debate.

It also reflects the consultations that I have had with political participants and it builds upon existing political financial measures that exist both in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

Hon. members already are familiar with the key elements of the proposed legislation. The Prime Minister presented it to us in the excellent speech that he gave to the House last week. As such, I would like to take the opportunity to focus on the public financing provisions of the bill, which have received considerable praise from the general public but which have also drawn criticism, undeserved criticism of course but criticism nonetheless, from the hon. leader of the opposition.

On the key public financing measures, the virtual elimination of political contributions from corporations and unions and the new limits on individual contributions would have a significant financial impact on political parties and, arguably, to some extent, on candidates as well. For that reason the bill would build on existing financial measures already provided for to political parties to maintain the viability of our electoral system.

The measures contained in Bill C-24 are the following: the rate of reimbursement of electoral expenses for parties is increased from 22.5% to 50%; the definition of expenses eligible for reimbursement is broadened to include a portion of polls during election campaigns, and the ceiling for reimbursement to political parties is raised correspondingly; the percentage of votes candidates must obtain in their ridings in order to qualify for reimbursement of electoral expenses is lowered to 10% from the current 15%.

On this point it is to be noted that almost all candidates in the last election who would have received this funding, virtually all of them, 115 out of the 120 or so, are for parties represented on the opposition side of the House. Therefore, that particular measure favours almost exclusively opposition political parties. Almost no defeated Liberal candidate would have qualified for the particular measure I just described.

There would also be an allowance for registered parties of $1.50 for each vote they received in the previous election, to be paid on a quarterly basis.

Also, we are proposing amendments to the Income Tax Act to double the amount of an individual political contribution that is eligible for the 75% tax credit from $200 to $400, with of course the adjustments for each other bracket of credit accordingly. This would make it easier for candidates to receive smaller donations at the same time as the larger ones would no longer be possible.

As the Prime Minister noted in his opening remarks, public funding of the federal electoral process has been a longstanding tradition in Canada. Just in case members across the way are pretending that we as Canadians invented something here, we have not. Everyone knows of the U.S. primary system for the president and how a particular presidential candidate is awaiting, having won a certain number of votes, in order to qualify for the famous matching funds coming from the public treasury in the United States. So in fact--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

It's voluntary.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

The hon. member says it is voluntary. No one forces him or anyone else to accept taxpayers' dollars in the electoral process, but I note that in the last election I reviewed carefully the public accounts in terms of the candidate reimbursement, and of all the Alliance MPs sitting across the way in the House of Commons, how many sent their money back because they did not want it? Some people here insist that I reveal the amount, so let us do so. Zero. Not one of them gave the money back. Remember, these are people of principle. They cannot accept taxpayer funded election campaigns, except of course when they get the money themselves.

As we can see, those are the principles we have in front of us. No, this has nothing to do with principle at all on the part of members across the way. It has to do with something else. They in fact think that they have found one clause in the bill on which to launch an objection. Not only that, we know what they did. They put a reasoned amendment to the bill. This is an amendment, the same that exists for Bill C-10A by the way, which we will debate another day, which basically says that this bill will never be read a second time in the case of this particular initiative.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

What a great idea.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

That is what they say: what a great idea. They are against debate. They are putting time allocation in reverse. What they are doing is saying that this bill will never pass at all. That would mean that every one of their speakers would speak on the amendment and every one on a subamendment and then start back with the amendment until they introduce a new subamendment. It is time allocation with the time allocation being forever, at least as they see it. That is what they have moved to the bill to amend electoral laws. They do not want it to go to committee. They do not want the debate. They want to stall.

Incidentally, the official opposition has put that measure on every single bill that has come to the House of Commons since last December. We saw the sad spectacle, and I will depart from my text a little here, on the floor of the House of Commons last Friday. I invite everyone to check Hansard and read what the official opposition critic said. I see him standing in front of me, Hansard in hand. The words were something like this, I am in favour of the bill, and he went on to say so, but my House leader told me to move the following reasoned amendment.

Then he moved an amendment that the bill not be read a second time. That is what we have. We have the official opposition blocking every single piece of legislation, even when it speaks in favour of a piece of legislation. That is what we have before us today.

Why? Because opposition members are determined not to work. They do not want to work. They do not want to do the mandate, the mandate given to them by the people of Canada, and the office that they swore to do to the best of their ability to govern this country. Now it is becoming obvious. There was not much sincerity in that.

Let me go back to Bill C-24. In terms of the direct funding, provinces such as Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have measures that are virtually identical to what is in Bill C-24.

The amounts differ, however. It is agreed that the amount of financing that comes from taxpayers in Quebec is less than what is proposed in this bill. That said, however, if we take the 1976 amount and adjust it for today's rate of inflation, it is nearly identical. The amount in P.E.I. is far higher, however, and New Brunswick falls between the two.

Thus there is taxpayer financing of political parties in three Canadian provinces. Quebec, of course, was the one to invent the system. That is a fact, and naturally we must acknowledge that the system of democratization that was inaugurated in Quebec was very much ahead of its time. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged this.

I have met with officials of Élection Québec, as well as with officials in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. There is no doubt at all in my mind that, on most points, but not all, the Quebec legislation is more advanced.

I also borrowed some of the things that existed in Ontario, such as publication of annual audit results for individual electoral ridings. Ontario has, without a doubt, the best system, and it has been in place since 1975 or 1976.

I see the hon. member for Peterborough is in the House. We both served as MPPs for several years at Queen's Park. When I arrived in Ottawa, I found the system to be flawed, when, for an electoral riding that was exactly the same as the one I represented at Queen's Park, my riding association was not required to have an audit, nor to report anything publicly. Nor was the riding association required to provide Elections Canada with a financial accounting. Yet, at the provincial level, the same riding, identical in size and in every other manner, was required to provide this. Why so? What is keeping us from having greater transparency? I think it is in all of our best interests to do so.

We borrowed from the different provinces, or at least from the bigger provinces and elsewhere that I had the opportunity to visit. We learned and we tried to take from the best that we could find everywhere, to come up with a system that, I think, will greatly improve what we have.

However, we will not be able to do so unless we pass the bill at second reading and refer it to committee so that all of our colleagues from around the country can provide their opinions on it in order to improve it.

My parliamentary secretary, who is from the Atlantic region, has important issues to raise about that region and the impact there. We are all looking forward to studying it in committee to see how to improve the bill and to deal with the issues that come under provincial jurisdiction. I have had similar conversations with a member from New Brunswick who also wants the bill before committee so it can be improved.

The other day, some people wondered what had happened to the famous trust funds; I sometimes referred to them as the infamous trust funds, depending on the context. These people wanted to know up to what point a trust fund would be prohibited and, if the act was not sufficiently clear, they wanted it clarified so that if money were withdrawn for political expenses, they would have to be subject to transparency rules. Receipts would have to be issued each time.

That is the objective, and the bill is being sent to committee. However, the first speaker opposite, who was from the official opposition, decided to present a dilatory motion—immediately condemned by the next speaker, who was from the Bloc Quebecois—to prevent the bill from being read a second time.

The bill has the support of four of the five parties in the House of Commons, although in some cases this support is a bit more reserved. But, in principle, four of the five parties like the bill. They say that it should go forward, that certain parts need to be improved, admittedly, but that it must go forward, as quickly as possible in the view of some people, even on the other side of the House.

So what happens the first day? The official opposition blocks it—pardon the pun. The Canadian Alliance blocked the bill, as it has blocked all other bills since December. Everything is at a standstill. According to the Canadian Alliance, Parliament is not working any more, but that is because the Alliance no longer wants to.

That is not how things work. We are here to work, to do our part, to do our job, to send bills to various parliamentary committees to be improved, and then passed.

Today, all that has stopped. Things cannot go on like this. Our parliamentary committees have the solemn duty to meet with Canadians throughout the country. Not a single committee is travelling. Why? Because the Canadian Alliance opposite has decided that there will be no more travelling, that no one will go anywhere any more.

On the other side of the House, they are preaching so-called democracy, a democracy that consists of refusing Canadians the right to speak to parliamentarians. That is the democracy invoked by members of the Alliance.

We see these so-called democrats across from us. Canadians are fed up. There is a reason their popularity is only at 8% in the opinion polls. In my riding, there are more people than that who believe Elvis Presley is still alive.

No, that is not democracy, it is blackmail. Canadians do not want this. We have excellent initiatives before Parliament. Even in cases where some parliamentarians do not entirely agree with the legislation, they still have the right to consider the legislation, they still have the right to express their views on it, to send it to parliamentary committee, to do an in-depth study and lastly, vote against it, if that is their choice.

They have the right to do their work without being held hostage by a small group across the room from the Alliance party, which is not really popular with anyone.

That is the message I want to give this House this morning. Let us move forward with Bill C-24. Send it to committee for improvement. We are open to improvements, but we are not open to that little group in front of us that says, “We no longer create legislation; we continue to receive our paycheques, but we have stopped working”. That has been that party's attitude since before the holidays.

We must continue to do our work. We will do our work on this side of the House. Canadians will see that the government intends to represent their interests. Even if I disagree from time to time with the other parties, I must admit that they too want to continue working; they do not want to be a part of this quasi vacation declared by the other side of the House, for reasons which, in my view, are completely invalid.

I ask all colleagues to support Bill C-24 at second reading and to send it to committee to see how we can improve the bill. I ask that the Canadian Alliance, which enjoys the support of almost nobody across Canada, to stop the stalling tactics on every piece of legislation. If it were not for the votes inside its own caucus, perhaps nobody else would support the party.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the hon. member is trying to relive his rat pack days with some passion. I find it unfortunate because it is passion not founded on reason or facts.

When I raised the voluntary nature of the U.S. presidential matching fund system, what he apparently did not know was that taxpayers could designate on their IRS tax form whether they wished a portion of their taxes to be directed toward public funding for presidential campaigns. It is not mandatory for taxpayers. They are not compelled against their conscience to finance political campaigns which they may find abhorrent.

First, if he is willing to raise the example of the U.S. presidential matching fund system, is he then willing to amend the bill to allow taxpayers voluntarily to designate a portion of their tax dollars to go toward the enormous increase in public funding that he proposes?

Second, the Prime Minister suggested that the purpose of the bill was to avoid the perceived excesses of the American financing of political campaigns. I agree there are excesses there. However is the House leader not aware that his proposed solution in large part adopts the American system? Is he not aware that in the United States corporate and union contributions to political parties have been banned since 1976 and since 1976 there has been a $1,000 per individual limit for contributions to political campaigns?

If he and the Prime Minister are trying to avoid the American system, why then are they adopting it?