Mr. Speaker, I was not particularly surprised by the comments of Liberal members, but I am grateful for the motion introduced by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
However, before I read the motion, I want to talk a bit about the Liberal Party's opposition to this motion. It is rather easy to identify its reasons for opposing this motion.
There is some pretty deep thinking involved here. The party in power thinks that if this is the best country in the world, with the best electoral system in the world and the best government in the world, then nothing should be changed. Except that I will shake up the Liberals a bit by advising them to read a certain UN report—wake up everybody—because we are no longer the best country in the world. Our rating has slipped. The Liberals are so used to being the best that they ensure we are also the best at scandals and fraudulent activities. To this end, they exaggerated and extrapolated their obsession with being first at everything. This is true when it comes to politics, expect that, at some point, we need to slow down. Other people should do that. The courts will rule too on their waste and spending habits, on the somewhat less elegant ways they compensated their friends or those to whom they gave money, later asking for 12% back. This was the case in some provinces or some organizations. Fortunately, that way of doing things has been rectified.
So it is understandable, but perhaps we should look at reality in 2003 and say that examining a position does not necessarily mean one admits to being “the worst”. There is some place between the “best” and the “worst”. Do not worry; if we study this, there will be no problem.
But this debate is on the motion of the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who appears to have been making this a personal issue for a number of years. Permit me to read the motion:
That this House call upon the government to hold a referendum within one year—
I like this part of the motion better.
—to determine whether Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation and, if so, to appoint a commission to consult Canadians on the preferred model of proportional representation and the process of implementation, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.
Personally, I think it would have been much better to ask for the creation of a committee that would hold public consultations and report back in 2006. For reasons I do not understand, they want to make the process more complicated. But it is hard to be opposed to the principle.
We could hardly oppose it, for one simple reason: in Quebec—another distinction or difference—we have not been afraid to engage in this debate and have been doing so for more than 40 years. Mr. Speaker, I realize that you are very knowledgeable about the political parties and politics in Quebec. I am not telling you anything new, but this might be new to a few members in the House.
Over the years, the various political parties tried many times to introduce proportional representation. It was under the René Lévesque government that the process went the furthest with Minister Robert Burns and his excellent deputy minister, Raymond Faucher.
At the time, there was a public consultation process. A bill was also introduced in 1984 concerning territorial proportionality. It was defeated by the caucus after having been supported by the Premier and the leader of the opposition.
So much for transparency in democracy. The Premier and the leader of the opposition agreed, but the caucus defeated the motion for territorial proportionality. At the time, the leader of the opposition was Claude Ryan.
In February—this is a little like what the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is asking for—estates general were held on electoral reform. Countless stakeholders offered their views. These estates general travelled throughout Quebec and there was a large meeting with more than 1,000 people. People were able to discuss which electoral system they preferred or thought to be best suited to the reality of a modern Quebec.
The Liberal Party is currently reviewing the issue and a bill should be introduced during this term. However, there is a small problem. The Liberal Party made a campaign promise to introduce a form of proportional representation for the next election, but after the election they said it would be for the next election, in other words, in five or six years, and that they would review the issue in the meantime.
Forty years might be a long time, but at least we are tackling the issue and working on improving the system. When the government is ready, the work will have been done.
What the Bloc Quebecois appreciates is that the motion by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle does not call for the change to be immediate. That is why we are surprised to see the Liberal's opposition. What we are being asked is to be ready when the time comes, when the change needs to be made.
For example, when we proposed that a commission be set up to address a single currency, they said “Look at the Bloc members. They want us to have the U.S. dollar.” That is not it at all. As they say, when the train pulls into the station, we need to be ready to get on board. So it is better to study the question before something gets imposed upon us. The same goes for proportional representation.
Are we going to wait until we have a federal election turnout of 42% before we address the question of why people do not get out and vote? There is perhaps a defect or shortcoming in the way MPs represent their electorate. Perhaps there is a shortcoming in the amount of work MPs who are not in cabinet do. Perhaps there is a shortcoming in the present electoral system.
If we study this system and reach the conclusion that the system we have is the best, then we stick with it. But if we are confident that the present system is the best, we should not have any problems about comparing it with other hypotheses so as to be able to state at the end of the process that the status quo should prevail.
We are so confident that we do not even want to talk about it; we want to hide it, set it aside, save it. What a great show of confidence.
It seems to me that we are clearly in favour of introducing some form of proportional representation. There lies the question. A form of proportional representation does not mean a uniform system across Canada. There may be a middle ground somewhere. At the very least, there are elements of the proportional system that could help enhance democracy and the representation of citizens in the House of Commons.
Because of the first past the post system, political parties that do well in an election sometimes get blanked out. We find that unfortunate.
This proportional system could have been put forward or examined at the time when the reform of the electoral system was dealt with in committee, along with the new ridings and the appointment of returning officers.
There is also a flaw in the Canadian electoral system in that 100% of the 308 returning officers are said to be appointed by the governor in council. The Chief Electoral Officer—and if ever there were a non-political officer, it is he—has requested the authority to appoint returning officers, through a competitive process, which the government party refused, of course.
In committee at the time, I argued that there should be no hesitation. I am convinced that there are competent Liberals. They may not all be competent, but there must be a few who would go through the competitive process and keep their jobs. However, the Liberals are so sure that their returning officers are good, competent and hard-nosed that they will not consider having a competitive process or proportional representation. That is what I call confidence.
In our internal documents, we have noted that the proportional system is an approach that should be part of a larger effort to enhance political institutions and parliamentarians. The confidence bias the public has for Parliament may be a solution. Under Bill C-34, the ethic counsellor will not be the only one resolving the whole world's problems, but this study could also provide a solution.
We support the principle while at the same time saying that our ultimate goal is to represent the people of Canada well, as long as we in the Bloc Quebecois are here. Our ultimate goal is not to improve the system so that it can be used for another 125 or 150 years and work to our advantage. On the contrary, we want to get out of it following a winning referendum on sovereignty.
However, on the other hand, as long as we are in the system, it is very much to our advantage to ensure that voters in Quebec are recognized in a Parliament whose electoral system could be modernized.
The most important part of the NDP motion concerns public consultations. Bogus prebudget consultations are held. On major international agreements, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade holds consultations that are, more often than not, not very serious. And, moreover, when it comes to something as important as the electing representatives, nothing is said about the way in which public representatives are chosen.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this motion primarily in terms of this need for consultation. Such consultations would lead to an exchange of ideas on the issue and would lead to future replacement models that could work in Canada.
However, we question doing this so early in the process. Studies were doubtless undertaken by various committees, or studies could be undertaken before launching this consultation, to allow people to discuss, using concrete examples, as we heard earlier in this House, those countries which have a different electoral system from our own but which are not necessarily banana republics. There are other countries and other electoral systems.
In representative democracy, the way that representatives are elected is extremely important, since this mechanism translates the public's wishes into the number of seats each party obtains.
There are two major types of voting systems: majority voting and proportional voting. In the majority system, constraints related to governance dominate, while in the proportional system, constraints related to representation are predominant. There are mixed systems as well, aiming at a solution lying somewhere between the two, and that, I think, is what Canada should look into.
Each of these types is divided again according to voting methods. Thus, even though we are in a majority system, there are different kinds of majority systems.
At one extreme, there is the first past the post majority system, the one used in Canada, the United States and Great Britain, the preferential system, as in Australia, and not so far away, there is the two round system used in France. In the last election in France, the importance of the two round majority system became apparent.
On the other hand, in the other type of voting systems, there are proportional elections that can be absolute, as in Israel or the Netherlands, that is with one huge electoral district, or moderate proportional systems with larger or smaller districts, as in Norway, Switzerland and Belgium, with a much higher rate of participation.
We are dealing here of countries with a recognized democratic system, countries that are not in the third world, democracies that could reasonably be taken as inspiration for improvements to our system. From another point of view, some say no, our system is so good that we do not even dare to compare it with others.
Finally, there are mixed systems that combine elements of the majority and proportional systems, for instance those in Germany, New Zealand, Japan, and Russia. There are variations in the mixed systems too. They can be of the reciprocal type, as in Germany and New Zealand, where the seats attributed proportionally are intended to compensate for those filled by a majority. That is one model we might consider as suitable, or at least which might provide Canada with some inspiration.
In contrast, in Russia and Japan, it is a mixed cumulative system, and the element of compensation is lacking. When correcting any failings of the current system, we must not make voting more complex for the voters, thus pushing them farther away from their representatives; we must ensure that they at least understand who their member of Parliament is, and that there are no more ridings and no more party representatives. Thus, if this study is done, one priority must be to maintain the close link between the voter and his or her representative.
There is no sense in trying to correct a problem by creating an even bigger one. That is why I am describing systems that exist in other countries. I think that if we implemented this in Canada, it would have to be done slowly and in stages, to allow the public to properly understand the improvements that we want to see made to the current electoral system.
Of the 53 most stable democracies—in other words, where democratic elections are held at regular intervals, countries with at least 3 million inhabitants and a multi-party system—there are 25 that have proportional representation, 15 that have a first past the post system and 13 with mixed member proportional. Consequently, we can deduce that there is no magic recipe or miracle formula.
If out of 53, there are 25 with proportional representation, 15 with first past the post and 13 with mixed member proportional, that means that culturally and politically, people have to identify the system that best suits them during the development of their country, and that electoral systems can evolve, as society does.
The first past the post system may still be used—this was pointed out earlier by the Liberals—in many major democracies, such as the United States. But we must not forget that George W. Bush was elected with a 50% participation rate and that roughly 50% of those people voted for him. Therefore, roughly 25% of the Americans elected their president.
In this regard, there was a minor problem in a state where his brother was governor.