Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague from the New Democratic Party. Essentially he is asking us to consult Canadians in a referendum on whether to replace our current electoral system with some form of what he refers to as proportional representation.
Specifically, just to get a hold of what he is advocating, he says that within one year we would have a referendum. This would be followed by a commission to consult Canadians on their preferred form of proportional representation and how it should be implemented, and all of this no later than January 1, 2006.
The motion really addresses two issues. The first is the process issue, whether we should call for a referendum on proportional representation. Of course we have not decided whether we want it yet. The second issue is whether we need to replace our present electoral system.
First, it is premature to speak on what kind of process should be used to consult Canadians on voting reform, whether it be by referendum or otherwise, before there has been any kind of informed debate on this issue. We are certainly getting ahead of ourselves a little here.
While the government of Quebec is considering reforming its electoral system, in B.C. a citizen's assembly will examine the B.C. electoral system and may recommend retaining the current voting system or perhaps adopting a new one. The Law Reform Commission of Canada has also been examining the issue of voting reform as part of its study of governance over the last few years, but it will only publish its report in 2004.
Therefore, the discussion has been engaged, and this is quite proper, but there is ongoing debate about our institution. Some will say that it is healthy for Canadians to discuss these matters and perhaps something that is healthy for the institution, however, the government cannot support a motion that calls for a referendum when the debate has barely been started. These are early days and Canadians have yet to give any indication that they desire a fundamental change of this kind. Before we talk about process then, it is paramount to undertake a balanced examination of the voting system, including our present first past the post system.
Canada's first past the post system has been a pillar of our institutional framework since pre-Confederation time. The first Parliament, in what is today Canada, was in Nova Scotia and it started in 1758. That is the system under which we started to elect members of Parliament. Our system has provided us with strong national governments that have been able to act decisively, to govern a diverse and very much decentralized country.
I believe the stability provided by our system is key to this debate. In particular, because of the unique characteristics of Canada, I believe it remains the best system for us. Good governance demands the ability to reconcile a tremendous range of differences in a federation: linguistic, regional, cultural and so on. One key problem with proportional representation models, at least with every model I have seen, even the so-called mixed ones that blend elements of both proportional representation and first past the post, is they barely result in a political party winning a majority of the votes.
The hon. member across has told us what he believes are the great values of minority government, presumably with himself and his colleagues holding the balance of power in that minority, and herein lies perhaps some of the motivation. Consequently these systems significantly reduce the likelihood of majority governments at the federal level.
Recent research by the Law Reform Commission of Canada has demonstrated some of this reality. The study found that even with a system that consists of only 20% of proportional representation, majority governments would only occur half as frequently in Canada. Canadians need to know these things before they make decisions.
The authors concluded that with proportional representation, minority governments would become the rule rather than the exception. Is that what we want? Canadians need to know these things. Do we want to create a system that deliberately creates minority governments all the time?
By contrast, in the 36 elections since 1867, using our current voting system, all but eight have brought us majority governments in the House of Commons. Sometimes it has been my party, which I like obviously, sometimes not. Sometimes it is somebody else's party but that is okay. That is a decision of the people of Canada.
Proponents of proportional representation argue that parties would simply form coalitions to govern and this would be just as effective in their view. It really makes one wonder then what the purpose is to go through the exercise if it is to create a new element of what we now call political parties by another name. My colleague, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, made this point during a speech he delivered at Carleton University last year.
Furthermore, our present system allows for the resolution of sensitive issues with a strong governing party. It does not matter whether they are issues of minority and so on. We have had some of those before us recently. A coalition government could result in divisive issues being aired out publicly on an ongoing basis. It would be very difficult to have the kind of force necessary to govern a country as diverse as ours.
I want to divert a little from some of the material that I have and talk about something the hon. member said. He used the example of New Zealand and somehow drew from that a parallel with Canada.
You and I, Mr. Speaker, come from a eastern of Ontario. The distance from Hawkesbury in my riding to the other side of Kenora near the Manitoba border is the same roughly as the distance between Montreal and Orlando, Florida. Therefore some of us would be represented by members of Parliament who come from as far away as from here to Orlando, Florida. Do we want to advocate a system like that with provinces the size of the ones we have in Canada? I have no idea why one would ever want to have that kind of element.