House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.


SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to participate in the debate today on the motion put forward by the New Democratic Party. It is an important debate and one on which we have had some good exchanges of opinions and ideas here in the House today.

I will begin my remarks by congratulating the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle who led off the debate in the House today. I think many people across the country know that the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle has kept this issue alive both here in Parliament and in the community with his courage, his commitment, his dedication and, I might also add, the research he has done.

When we talk about proportional representation, most people do not know what that means. They know the current system does not work, that it stinks and that they are not represented but they do not necessarily know what is out there or what is already working in other places, as we heard from the member for Winnipeg--North Centre.

I also thank the member Regina--Qu'Appelle and his staff, in working with groups like Fair Vote Canada, for producing such a wealth of information that people are actually able to get into the discussion and talk in an informed, open way about the choices we have before us.

I also thank Fair Vote Canada. For those who do not know, this is a national organization with chapters across the country. It is a non-partisan group that represents people from all political parties. I just attended a Fair Vote Canada meeting in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago where there were people of every political stripe. What brought those Canadians together, along with our member for Regina--Qu'Appelle who is part of Fair Vote Canada, was the understanding that our current system has failed us and Canadians, and that we needed to produce a new kind of electoral system that would actually represent Canadians in terms of how they vote, where they live and how they want to be represented.

I listened to the debate today from the government House leader. He told us that the system works very well, and he is right. It works very well for the Liberal Party. It has worked very well for the Liberal Party and Liberal governments for many years. There is an old saying in politics that when one has power, one does not want to relinquish it or give it up. I understand that the government House leader would get up here and say very proudly that the current system works very well. Yes, it does work well for a small group in a very elite setting, but for the vast majority of Canadians this system does not work.

I want to reflect on some of the comments that have been made by other members in the debate today because they have opened up a broader discussion. People have said that the level of voting is at an all time low in terms of participation in voting in elections. What I find in my community and across Canada is a horrible cynicism about the political process. People feel really turned off. I always feel very distraught by that because I think each of us as MPs do the best we can, but the system has become so poisoned that people feel so far removed from what is going on that it does not affect them in their daily lives.

On the other hand, however, we actually see an increase in the level of political activism. We can go to many community and see young people involved in struggles around environmental issues and who are fighting globalization and the transferring of power to corporations. We only have to look at what happened during the World Trade Organization meetings in Cancun, Mexico to see the amazing level of political activism in that arena. I find it very inspiring.

We can look at the hundreds of thousands of people who came together in Quebec City a few years ago during the free trade agreement of the Americas meetings. What is ironic is that many of those activists, the people engaged in political work, do not feel a connection to the electoral system.

The challenge we have here today, no matter what party we are from, is we have to find the connection for people. We have to show leadership in this place to recognize what is wrong and what needs to be fixed.

That is what the NDP motion is about today. It is not about sorting out the whole situation. It is not about finding all of the answers. It is about saying that we want to engage in an open process, a democratic discussion and debate with Canadians about changing our electoral system so that it is more democratic and reflects what people are actually doing in terms of how they vote. That has to come from us. We have to be pushed from the outside. As I said, there are organizations doing that, but it has to come from us.

From that point of view, I am very disheartened to hear government members just strike out the possibility that the motion will be approved today. The motion would allow that discussion in terms of a legitimate process to begin to take place. However, it is not the end of the day yet and there is always hope.

I do want to say that in my own community of east Vancouver there has been a lot of interest in this matter. I had a meeting a couple of years ago. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle kindly came to the meeting. Several hundred people were packed into a room. There were representatives from the NDP, from the Green Party and from other political involvement. We had a very good debate. There was a very high level of interest from people in the community who wanted to press this issue forward in Parliament. I am so happy that the NDP has taken it up. I can say that we intend to make this an issue in the next election.

We know that the new leader of the Liberal Party, the guy who unfortunately we do not get to question in the House, the member for LaSalle—Émard, talks about democracy within his own party and the way the Liberal leadership vote was done, but where does the member, the future leader of the Liberal Party, stand on the fundamental question of democracy for Canadians? We have heard not a peep out of the member on that very fundamental question.

We certainly intend to pursue this in the federal election and make it absolutely clear where the various political parties stand on this question.

Again, it is not about crossing all the t 's and dotting all the i 's, it is about agreeing upon a democratic principle. That is what we should be doing in the House today.

Just for a moment I want to talk about the issues that my colleague from Winnipeg North Centre raised in response to the government member. Her comments were right on in terms of this also being an issue about promoting equality for women. She said it very well.

The fact is when we look at those of us who are here in the House of Commons, we do not reflect our communities. We do not reflect women in Canada; there is 20% of us here. We do not reflect first nations communities. We do not reflect visible minorities or people with disabilities. The House is very much a reflection of the established order. Here again we have to look at the systemic discrimination, the issues that are built into the system that present barriers to groups of people and preclude people who actually would make incredible representatives if ever they were able to get here.

Again, the motion before us today that would call for a referendum, would set up a commission and would begin a public process is a way to have that sort of debate about women's equality, about representation from all of the diverse communities that we represent in our local communities and in our regions.

I am not naive to suggest that the question of proportional representation will solve all of the problems we have around democracy. There are lots of other issues as well. However if we send out a signal today that Parliament was committed to this kind of openness and debate about how we ourselves are elected, we would give a real shot of confidence to the people out there who would say “Yes, let us have that discussion”. We would have a very exciting debate and there would be a very conclusion to it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to see if I can get an answer to the question I asked the member for Winnipeg North Centre on the issue of gender parity.

I would appreciate if the member could explain in very basic terms how some method of proportional representation, and there are many, would achieve or facilitate gender parity. It did not exactly strike me that the argument being made answered the question. Maybe the member could help me with that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I encourage the hon. member to become part of Fair Vote Canada and participate in those discussions and debates that are taking place.

As the member for Winnipeg North Centre clearly said in response to an earlier question, and maybe the member just does not get it, but a system of proportional representation would allow the system to be opened up. It is a very closed system. It is a system that gives preference to traditional ways of doing politics, of traditional elites in this country.

Allowing proportional representation that is geographical and regional, that is based on communities of interest allows for more people to have that representation come forward. That would be a very significant victory for women who, through a system of PR as we have seen demonstrated in other countries, would have the option to become involved in representation and would be able to take their rightful place in this chamber and speak for their communities.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the reason there are more women and minorities in parliaments that have PR is that in a PR system every vote across the country counts equally. So parties are forced to have a team of candidates that reflects the country. If they do not, it invites a voter backlash because there is not a representative team.

In our first past the post system, there is not a party in the House that does not have a whole series of seats they cannot win. There tend to be minority candidates and women in a lot of seats that are unwinnable. Everybody gravitates toward the winnable seat so there is distortion in the system. In a PR system the team has to reflect the country, otherwise people will not vote for that team.

Would the member not think the same thing would likely happen here if we had a PR system? It would force all parties to have a more representative team of candidates and all these candidates would be winnable candidates because they had been elected through PR in some cases.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle for his question as well as his comment. He has really illuminated how a system of PR would promote the idea of equality.

If we had that system here in Canada, it would open up the process within political parties as well. Right now a very small number of Canadians belong to political parties. We have become very institutionalized in what we do. The NDP has taken very progressive steps to ensure that within our own party we abide by principles of affirmative action for women and for other equity-seeking groups. That has not been the case for other political parties.

To answer the member's question, in a system of PR wherein a party was forced to put the names on a ballot, and people of course still had the right to vote for their own local member, it would really open up that debate and provide a measure of accountability within political parties to be representative of Canadians at large. Who could disagree with that as a progressive step saying that it would actually produce a better democratic system?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier I do believe that this is an important debate to have because it is part of the process of informing Canadians. I would like to compliment the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle who has been a longstanding advocate of considering some form of proportional representation for the consideration of Canadians. It is very helpful.

I also want to thank him for answering the question that I asked about how PR enhances the achievement of the goal of gender parity. Neither of his colleagues could answer the question. Neither of them did answer the question. Neither of them understood it; neither of them could answer the question. It really surprises me to get platitudes without having the succinctness that the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle had.

The member for Winnipeg North Centre knows that I was one of the strongest advocates supporting her objectives on Bill C-13 for women's health issues and for women's representation on the board. I continue to work for that even though the member has abandoned her support for that already because she has some ulterior motives. I guess it shows that if one asks a straight question, sometimes one does not get a straight answer.

With regard to the motion, there are two elements. The first part calls for a referendum within a year to determine if Canadians wish to replace the current electoral system with a system of proportional representation. The second part is if it is the will of Canadians to look at a method of proportional representation, that there be a commission to consult with Canadians on the model, the process and the implementation.

The motion is probably in reverse of what it should be. It is extremely difficult to ask Canadians in a referendum to respond to a question, hopefully a clear question, if they do not have all the information they would need to be able to make an informed judgment. That can only come with public education and consultation with Canadians, et cetera, which is what is being proposed after a referendum. On that basis alone, it surprises me that they were in that order. I am not sure why, but I think that it is somewhat problematic.

Notwithstanding that, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has given a number of speeches over the years on this issue. The phrase that continues to stick is that every vote should count and no vote should be wasted. As a general premise, that is something with which Canadians would tend to agree. Every vote should count.

There are other problems. Some of those problems are with regard to people who do not respect their opportunity, their right and maybe their civic duty to exercise their franchise, to exercise that vote. That is another problem in itself. There is the issue of voter turnout. It has come up often in debate that my goodness, only 61% of people turned out to exercise their vote in the last election. The answer that has been given is it is because the system is bad. There is not a simple answer.

The House of Commons just received a report from the Chief Electoral Officer on the voter turnout by age. It addressed specifically the question of why youth have not been voting. The report showed that of youth 20 years of age and under who were eligible to vote, I believe it was only 18% of them actually voted. Eight-two per cent of the eligible voters 20 and 19 years of age did not vote in the last election. When it was plotted by age group, it was found that the per cent turnout went up very proportionately until it got to voters who were in excess of age 70, which had the highest turnout for an election.

It shows something, and I would like to think that it is reflective of another situation. Part of that situation is historically, and I know my colleagues are all going to be listening to this, the turnout pattern tends to be somewhat related to turning to our elders for wisdom. It is something attuned to that.

Another aspect I found very interesting in that report about the turnout situation was that in recent years Canada depended heavily on immigration policy to sustain the need for a growing population in Canada because the birthrate had gone down.

Many people who come to Canada come from countries where their political experiences have been negative. Their involvement in the political process has been discouraged. They have come from Communist countries, dictatorial countries, places where they have not had the nurturing of the civic duty, the civic pride and the openness to participate without having some sort of reaction. In fact some of the research has shown that many new Canadians are reluctant to participate in the electoral process and this is continuing to grow. I think very slowly we are seeing more and more new Canadians starting to get involved in the political process but it will take time.

It is not just cynicism about government. It is not just cynicism about politics. Part of the reason, I think most would admit in this place, is the fact that there is no government in waiting, and there has not been a government in waiting since 1993. No other party in this place, other than the government party, had enough people or enough representation to form a government in which the people of Canada would have confidence. If the people feel they have no choice of who their government will be, I would expect that that would have a negative impact on turnout. They would feel their vote would not matter because there was no alternative to the Liberal Party.

We do have some situations which will sustain this kind of a situation. We have the Alliance Party, which is predominantly a western party and which continually favours western issues over national issues. We have the Bloc Quebecois, which is exclusively dedicated to Quebec issues and the provincial sovereignty issue. That focuses an awful lot of attention away from the national issues.

I was looking back at a prior speech of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. One of the assertions he made was that proportional representation would force parties to have a more national vision. He may recall that. It would promote national vision. However, it has not.

In fact the experience of New Zealand, as one of our colleagues relayed to us, was that the system of proportional representation was bringing out more parties with more special interests, more regionalist views and less national views. There are many countries in which they have some sort of proportional representation, but I think we should look at it and maybe get the facts about whether it has created a system whereby many people have tried to move away from the nationalist vision and have tried to create a situation in which there are governments in waiting, people who can actually govern the country.

People could come to this place and argue as strenuously as they could for their narrow views on certain restricted issues. However when asked to participate in this place, to comment and to vote on issues of national importance, they would have no platform. They have no direction but they could be in a position to affect votes. We know that from a recent vote in the House when there was a tie. There is a problem.

I would not summarily dismiss proportional representation as being irrelevant for Canada and not applicable or not possible. However I would also say that I do not think that there is a system that will be perfect. I do not think there is a system that will satisfy all, that will ensure that 50% of the people in this place are women, and that all other interest groups, such as the member for Winnipeg North Centre said, aboriginal groups, are appropriately represented in this place.

Yes, we need to show a balanced team, a representation of the constituency and that is very important. However it is not something that can be legislated, mandated or forced because a democracy is about real choices.

If we said that we needed quotas for this group and that group, it would in fact be an anti-democratic philosophy. It does not recognize that any member in this place can speak credibly and effectively on behalf minorities or special interests or whatever. We are Canadians first. If we do have this national vision, then obviously it is important that we have a sensitivity to all interests of Canadians at large, even though those interests may in fact be regionally based.

Any party that is not sensitive to the regionalization in our system today makes a fatal error. I think it is being experienced by the Canadian Alliance now and it is endemic in the Bloc Quebecois.

This place was operating much better without a pizza Parliament, without five parties. Three parties were better. The NDP played important roles in past governments, whether it was a minority or majority government. There was this focus on being a national party with a national vision and trying to balance the interests of Canadians, which sometimes come into conflict.

There are many aspects to this. It is an important question to look at. It is not as simple to totally dismiss our current British parliamentary system of electing candidates in 301 ridings and have those people in the riding. We know Canadians do not all vote for the same reason. Some people will vote for the party. I think that dyed-in-the-wool, “I am this party and I have been that way all my life”, has been diminishing substantially. I think the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle would agree that dyed-in-the-wool any party is an archaic term which probably is not terribly applicable today.

On leadership, who is the leader, who shall be the spokesperson for Canadians on the national stage and on the international stage? For some people, “who is my spokesman” is very important and they will give weighting to that. For some people, it is the platform. It has to be a national platform. It has to be a national vision. It has to address regional imbalances. It has to represent what we will do for those who are unable to help themselves and care for themselves. What will we do to have intergenerational equity? What will we do to deal with the gap between the rich and the poor? What will we do to ensure child poverty is a thing of the past? What will we do about so many of our social issues?

These are the things that Canadians want to hear. I do not think it is a valid argument to suggest that by changing the method of voting or election will somehow solve some of these problems. It may change the mix in this place. We have to think about it, and I think the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle had made an argument and an example that we could possibly have a mixed proportional representation system.

It would be a system whereby there would be perhaps 200 ridings in Canada instead of the current 301, as an example. Every party would run a candidate in each of those 200. The balance of the seats, approximately 100, would then be filled based on the party preference of the people who had voted on the riding basis, by lists of people who were submitted by each of the parties, however those lists were created, whether the party elected them in its own internal processes or they were simply appointed by the party. I do not know exactly. There would be these people who did not run in the election, did not have their name on a ballot but would be eligible to become members of Parliament because they were on someone's list.

I started to think about that and it struck me that if we have 301 seats now and I have 110,000 constituents, then all of a sudden, under the proportional representation system which the member suggests might be appropriate for Canada, I now have 50% more constituents. Instead of having 110, I am up at 165. I now have 50% more constituents with whom I must deal.

Then there is this other group, about one-third of the House of Commons, who would be people who were not elected specifically but were basically the designates or appointees of a particular party so we could achieve a seat level that was distributed in proportion to the votes the various parties received.

Look at this place then. All of a sudden, we have two classes of members of Parliament. We would have those who now have a riding that is 50% larger, 50% more workload for the member of Parliament. That means one-third to one-half less time to address the specific or individual needs of constituents simply because of the 50% increase. It would mean our job, our ability to deal with our constituents would be impaired to the extent that we can service people now.

On the other hand we would have another group, one-third of this place, of people who simply would be appointed. They could be the elite, the backbench hacks. They could be on the list for a particular party for a variety of reasons. There are many reasons why somebody might be on the list.

Is this democracy? No, it is not. We would have people in this place who would be elitist. Because they were on the list, they would automatically be in the House of Commons. They would not have to take care of constituents. What would they do? They would do other things. They would ensure that they were organized in a way which would polarize. It might put us in a situation where this place would not only physically two classes but in terms of thinking and collaboration, we would have a polarization of those who were elected by people and those who were appointed by parties.

This is proportional representation. It is not exactly a pure model of democracy. It is quasi-democracy but it does achieve the objective that the member is proposing, which is every vote would count. It would not count for every elector because it helped to get their person elected. Where it would help though, is the party for which the person they voted for belonged would at least get a proportional number of the seats. The member presumes and the system presumes that Canadians voting for candidates of a particular party prefer that party as opposed to them voting for candidates because they are a darned good and they are the people they want to represent them.

There is this slippage or leakage in terms of the logic. It is not perfect and our current system is not perfect. However I would suggest that it is probably better than the alternative. I used the example of Italy, and I was not aware that it was a bad example, that it has had 48 elections out of the last 50 years under proportional representation. Maybe that is an extreme case.

Let us look at another case. How about the Nazis in Germany. They came to power under a proportional representation. They could not have under any other system. It really does come to that.

I see my time is almost up now. I would simply like to close with a further statement with regard to the issue of gender parity. I am not sure that proportional representation is the only solution, but I want to again be on the record that I believe that this place would be a better place with a more equitable balance of men and women in this chamber.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my comments I guess I have to use the word unbelievable to sum up the comments of my colleague across the way in this regard. He had the audacity to suggest that he was opposed to proportional representation because in his words it would produce a quasi-democracy.

The very government that we have in place today has been described, I would say erroneously, as a benevolent dictatorship. Some days I question the benevolent part, but definitely it is a dictatorship under our existing system with the archaic party discipline that is exercised under our system.

Does this system need to be reformed? Absolutely. Canadians from coast to coast recognize that it needs to be changed.

We can argue and debate the merits of proportional representation, preferential balloting, first past the post and any other system we want to bring forward. However we will never change our system--and I would suggest for the better--and reform our system for the better to allow free votes in this place, what a concept. We would allow for an elected upper chamber, what a concept. We will not allow for a different way of electing our members of Parliament unless there is that debate not just in this place for one day, but out in the real world among the real people who should be deciding this issue.

Therefore I ask my colleague from the Liberal Party, when he casts his vote tonight on this motion, to carefully consider the merits of having that debate in Canada culminating with a referendum.

The Canadian Alliance has long advocated the use of referendums coinciding with national elections. We all know that the turnout in national elections has been declining over the last several elections. We should have a referendum to decide this type of issue, by the people for the people.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the debate has been going on for years. I do not know where the member has been.

The member said that we should consult Canadians and have a referendum. However, if the member were to read the motion, it states to have a referendum and then for a commission to consult Canadians. It is in reverse. For that reason I will vote against the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions. If someone were to move an amendment to strike out the reference to the first referendum, would the member then support the motion? The important thing is to have a parliamentary committee or commission to study the idea of proportional representation and then put that proposition to Canadians where they can choose between the new system and the status quo. That is all we are asking for and that is what we should be doing. That is what happened in New Zealand.

I also want the member to answer a second question. If one were to look around the world at the OECD, it is only the Americans and ourselves who have the first past the post system. Even the British are moving away from first past the post as evidenced by what happened in terms of the election of the Welsh parliament and the Scottish parliament.

All the MPs in the European Community were elected by proportional representation. After the fall of the Soviet Union all the emerging democracies have a form of proportional representation.

Why have any of these new democracies and new emerging countries not adopted our voting system? Why have none of them adopted the first past the post system? If it is so good, why does everyone turn away from it?

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a couple of good points. I am sorry that his party did not word the motion correctly in the first place. It probably would have facilitated the process a little better.

First, referendums are just like an election. It costs in the neighbourhood of about $30 million to conduct a referendum, plus the cost of educating Canadians about the question. Canadians just cannot be sent to the ballot box, et cetera. There has to be public exposure of the issue. It is a very expensive process. I am sure that many members would vote against this resolution simply on the basis that we should not be holding referendums when we cannot make decisions ourselves.

Second, with regard to the fact that other countries have not adopted the British parliamentary system, I have never suggested that we would never change our system. But, quite frankly, the premise of the member's question is that a country is a country and we are all the same. We are not all the same.

In fact, we are so different and our system is so lousy that for about seven years running Canada was identified as the best country in the world in which to work and live. That is not reflective of a country that is falling apart in its political governance system.

Our standing, in terms of the UN index, continues to be very high. We are still in the top three or five.

I do not think we should aspire to abandon a governance model, a political framework, which in fact has led to Canada becoming one of the strongest, most cherished democracies in the world.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate supply day motion put forward by the NDP.

The motion under consideration today calls upon the government to hold a referendum within one year 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, with an implementation date no later than July 1, 2006.

The motion deals with two things: the electoral reform process and whether to replace the current system.

I agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with our current electoral system. As a result of our current first past the post system of electing representatives, both in provincial and federal elections, millions of votes do not count.

Let us look at the 1997 election results. With only 38% of the popular vote, the smallest mandate in Canadian history for a majority government, the Liberals clung to government and the power to rule. In the last election in 2000, with a minority of popular vote, that is 40.8%, the Liberals won 172 out of 301 seats in the House of Commons. With just 40.8% of the votes, they won 57% of the seats.

During the last election, the Canadian Alliance received more than one million votes in Ontario. That is 24% of the total votes. One out of four people in Ontario voted for the Canadian Alliance. What did we get? We got 2 seats out of 103 total seats in Ontario. Something is fundamentally wrong.

Meanwhile, the Liberals got 2.3 million votes, about twice as many as Canadian Alliance votes in Ontario but 50 times as many seats as the Canadian Alliance. Based upon the total vote, there should be about 25% Alliance MPs from Ontario.

In a fair voting system, no one could credibly say that the Alliance is merely a western party. In our system, some votes count more than others. The Liberals received 5.2 million votes to win 172 seats in Parliament. That is an average of 30,000 votes per MP for the Liberals. The Alliance on the other hand needed an average of 49,000 votes to get one MP elected.

The cost of seats was even higher for the NDP and the Conservatives, the smaller parties in the House. They needed on average about 84,000 votes for an NDP MP and 130,000 votes for a Conservative MP to win their 13 and 12 seats in the House respectively.

If seats from the 2000 election were allocated based upon a pure proportional model that we are debating today, the Commons seat tally today would be: Liberals, 123 seats instead of 172; Alliance, 77 seats instead of 66, we would gain 11 and they would lose many; Conservatives, 37 seats instead of 12; Bloc, 32 instead of the 38 they have now; and the NDP, 26 instead of 13. Other smaller parties would have won some seats in the House. The composition of this House would certainly change if we had a modern proportional representative system in place.

Since World War I or, let us say, out of the 16 majority governments in Canada, only four of them were legitimate majority governments. The remaining received a minority of votes but a majority of members in the House. As a result, they have held unchallenged and unaccountable power even though the majority of Canadians voted against them. The last election again represented a dramatic distortion of what voters said at the ballot box and created yet another phony majority government for Canadians.

In the single member plurality system, also called the SMP system, parliamentary seats go to the party that receives the most votes in a riding. Votes cast for losing candidates become completely irrelevant, no matter that they expressed the democratic wishes of, very likely, the majority of voters in that riding. They will not be represented. In effect, some people win the right to have their voices represented and everybody else loses.

It is the same story in the provinces. In British Columbia, the previous NDP government had a majority even though it received fewer votes than the opposition Liberals. Similarly, Mr. Lucien Bouchard became Premier of Quebec in 1998 with an overwhelming majority of seats although the Parti Québécois got fewer votes than Jean Charest's Liberals.

Internationally, 33 of the world's 36 major democracies use forms of proportional representation for national elections. Only Canada, the United States and India do not use such systems. Proportional elections have taken place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In fact, Canada, the United States and India right now are the only holdouts in the move to have some form of proportional representation.

Suddenly, proportional representation has become all the rage. B.C. is in the process of appointing a citizens committee to examine ways to better translate votes into seats in the legislature. Similarly, the new Quebec provincial government has announced plans to introduce proportional representation legislation next year. The front-runner in the current Ontario provincial election is promising a referendum on proportional representation. We also know that the idea is being considered by the newly re-elected Premiers of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. It is the federal government that does not have the will to reform the current electoral system because that will not favour it anymore.

The worst aspect of our electoral system is that it exacerbates regional differences. If we look at an electoral map, we will see that everybody in the west seems to be Alliance supporters, which I am proud of. Everybody in Ontario is perceived to be Liberal. Everybody in Quebec is perceived to support the Bloc, but that of course is not true.

As I said earlier, Canada is one of few modern industrial democracies, so-called democracies, that still uses this outdated system. This system was invented even before the telephone was invented. We can imagine how much we are lagging behind. Even Great Britain has started to abandon the old system, which we have been following.

Under proportional representation, the distribution of seats and power is a function of the popular vote cast for respective candidates and/or their political parties. Different versions of proportional representation systems are employed in more than 90 jurisdictions and can be tailored to reflect the needs of different countries. There should be no hesitation in having an electoral system that will work for Canadians and will work for Canada.

The most common suggestion is that proportional representation would be a mix of the existing and new systems where members of Parliament elected in ridings across the country would be joined by a number of “at large” MPs, or “top-up seats”, chosen on the basis of the number of votes parties received and nominated by their parties.

A party that wins far less than its fair proportion of seats through the first past the post system would be entitled to extra compensatory seats. This is the type of system being considered for British Columbia and Quebec, which I mentioned earlier and which looks to a smaller model that has worked well in the Greater London Assembly in Britain, where 11 of the 25 members are elected at large.

We call Great Britain's parliamentary system the mother of parliaments. If Great Britain has adopted that system, what is the problem with adopting a similar system in Canada?

The principle of allocating proportional representative seats on a compensatory basis is also already in use in New Zealand, Germany and many other countries. It allows parties to flourish that have a national appeal but suffer from being too regionally dispersed.

Proportional systems are employed around the world. With the possible exceptions of Israel and Italy, they produce governments that are no less stable than our own. We have had elections after three and a half years for the last three elections. We know that the government is using political opportunity to call elections rather than have a fixed election date. There is the argument that proportional representation does not produce a stable government as good as the system we currently have; parties have to combine forces in order to rule, some people say, but it yields governments that are both more representative and more accountable. Moreover, there would be more representation from women and minorities depending on the percentage and population.

In proportional representation, there is no such thing as a wasted vote since even small parties can make their presence felt. Strategic voting is of much less interest. There is more opportunity to vote for a political party rather than against a political party.

Perhaps the greatest proof of the success of proportional representation is in voter turnout. Voter turnout is very important. It is a significant problem, a major problem, of our electoral system. Canada has seen a disturbing decline in voter turnout over at least the past four elections.

Canada's voter turnout in federal elections is among the lowest in all western democracies. In 1984 and 1988, about 75% of eligible voters cast ballots. In 1993, the number dropped to 69.6% and, in 1997, it fell again to 67%. In the 2000 election, it fell further to 61%. It is very discouraging.

Even the 61% figure is an inflated figure. I will explain how. In Canada we count those who vote as a share of people on the voting list. The list misses a fair number of Canadians, perhaps about 10% to 15% of eligible voters. If we counted those who vote as a share of all those eligible to vote, turnout would be around 53%. It is shameful that in a democracy the turnout is something like 50% to 60%. The biggest drop has been among the youngest voters.

While more than 3 million Canadian voters, mostly young, clogged the telephone lines to vote for our new Canadian idol, few seem to place the same importance on selecting our prime minister. Only 25% of people between the ages of 18 to 24 voted in the last federal election.

The chief electoral officer, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, is so concerned about low voter turnout among young Canadians that his office has commissioned a number of studies and has begun holding forums to examine the problem. If political scientists are right, a new electoral system such as proportional representation may not entice completely uninterested young people into voting. However, it will certainly help, judging from international experience, where countries using variations on proportional representation have slightly higher voter turnouts than those using Canadian style, first past the post systems.

Opponents of proportional representation argue that it encourages the creation of small parties and makes it very hard to elect a majority government. They say that politicians end up deciding after the voting is over which parties should combine to form a coalition government.

After 20 years of arrogant majority rule by Liberal and PC governments, we think a little uncertainty in those holding the reins would be a good thing. Canada desperately needs a new voting system. In proportional systems, coalition governments are more common. Successful coalitions respect the diversity of opinion articulated by voters on election day. Once the Liberals, the governing party in this case, win by the first past the post system, they are loath to change it.

The Canadian Alliance and the NDP are two different parties from opposite ends of the political spectrum. They disagree on most issues but they agree on one thing: that changing our electoral system to better represent the wishes of voters is an urgent necessity.

With this motion, the NDP has almost taken a page out of the Canadian Alliance policy manual. Canadian Alliance policy number 85 states that “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”, where each Parliament is elected four years from the previous federal election, except when it is defeated by a confidence motion. We will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.

To conclude, the principle of proportional voting is simple: that like-minded voters should be able to win seats in proportion to their share of votes they get. Its mechanisms range from party based systems, which allow small parties to win seats, to candidate based systems such as cumulative voting, which would simply widen the big tent of the major parties.

Either way, proportional voting would help to reinvigorate Canadian politics, encouraging more policy making and giving voters a greater range of choice and of course more accountability and transparency in the way we govern ourselves.

Therefore, I would like to state that I support electoral reform. As to whether it should be proportional representation or some other form of reform such as the single transferable ballot, we need to debate that.

Of course we know that the electoral system is not fair now, as we see in the redistribution of ridings across Canada. I made a presentation before the procedure and House affairs committee. In its report it had the strongest recommendation for the proposal I made to the committee and it sent that recommendation to the B.C. elections commission. But that commission ignored the recommendation, the strongest recommendation from the procedure and House affairs committee. Therefore, we know that the system is not working perfectly.

There are 190,000 people living in my riding whereas the average riding in Canada has 95,000 electors. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you will not allow me to, but I should have two votes in the House based on the number of people I represent. If we compare it to Prince Edward Island, maybe I should have five votes in the House.

I know the system is not working. The voice of my constituents is not represented as much as the voice of the constituents of a member of Parliament who is representing 40,000 people. Therefore, I am the right person to state here in the House that we need electoral reform to completely reform the system that exists. Therefore, this evening I will be voting in support of this motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

There is not enough time to indulge in questions or comments. I will suggest that after question period the hon. member for Surrey Central will be entitled to his 10 minutes of questions or comments.

Firearms RegistryStatements by Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, an April 2003 report by the justice department's own evaluators found major weaknesses in the ability of the billion dollar gun registry to provide crucial information to firearms officers and police.

Last week when I raised this matter in the House, the Solicitor General said that his February action plan addressed all 90 problems identified by the April evaluation of the firearms program, but in today's newspapers the Solicitor General is being contradicted by an official in his own department.

Last week, one of my 380 access to information requests revealed that the RCMP failed to check CPIC before they registered thousands of stolen guns.

Why does the new minister of this mess continue the culture of secrecy? Where is the openness and transparency we were promised last December? When will the minister finally tell this House how much it will cost to fully implement the gun registry and how much it will cost to maintain?

Wilfrid LemoineStatements by Members

September 30th, 2003 / 1:55 p.m.


Gilbert Barrette Liberal Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that we learned this weekend of the death of Wilfrid Lemoine, one of Quebec's finest reporters. Mr. Lemoine passed away Saturday night, at the hospital centre in Granby. He was 76.

A culture buff, Wilfrid Lemoine had taken on the mission, so to speak, of bringing the big names of his generation into the homes of millions of Canadians. He interviewed such illustrious people as Salvador Dali, Simone Signoret, Georges Simenon and Juliette Gréco.

He is considered by many as the inventor of the television interview in Canada. His secret was to keep in the background, giving the interviewee the prominent place he or she deserved. In fact, his style remains as influential as always.

I take this opportunity to extend my most sincere condolences to Mr. Lemoine's family and loved ones.

Police and Peace OfficersStatements by Members

2 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, this past year, six Canadian police and peace officers were killed in the line of duty.

They are Senior Constable Alan G. Kuzmich, of the South Simcoe Police; RCMP Constable Jimmy Ng, of Richmond, B.C.; Corporal Antonio Arseneault, of the Sûreté du Québec in Laval; Walter Ceolin, a conservation officer from Ontario; Senior Constable Phil Shrive, of the Ontario Provincial Police in Renfrew; and RCMP Constable Ghislain Maurice, from Alberta.

Yesterday, it was with compassion that thousands of police officers, civilians and parliamentarians honoured them on Parliament Hill. To attest to their courage and dedication, their names will be added to the Memorial Honour Roll.

On behalf of myself and all the citizens of the riding of Laval West, I acknowledge their sacrifice and extend my deepest sympathy to their families.

National DefenceStatements by Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, time has run out for Canada. The 100 days are up. Canada must move our defence policy beyond a series of talking points to one of serious commitment to the collective security of the western hemisphere.

The indecision by Canada on whether or not to participate in the North American missile defence program has jeopardized 13,000 to 20,000 jobs in Ontario and Quebec. The benefit of restoring the Canada-U.S. relationship goes beyond the safety and security of the continent.

Between the U.S. ban on our export of live cattle to penalties on U.S. imports of our softwood lumber, it is time to repair the relationship with our largest trading partner.

The U.S. house of representatives and senate are currently in conference over defence spending bill 1588 for the fiscal year beginning October 1, which if passed as is will mean the loss of thousands of Canadian jobs.

In the interest of Canadian sovereignty and security, jobs investment, it is time the government made a clear decision regarding missile defence.

Ethnic Diversity SurveyStatements by Members

2 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday Statistics Canada officially released the results of the ethnic diversity survey which was conducted by Statistics Canada in 2002.

The survey represents an important milestone in the study of ethnicity in Canada. The survey provides policy makers and researchers with unique information on ethnocultural minorities and will allow researchers and policy makers to better understand these communities and therefore Canada. The survey provides us with groundbreaking research about people living in Canada, especially ethnocultural minorities, with respect to their cultural heritage, their family background, their knowledge and use of languages, their participation in Canadian society and their economic activities.

It also provides information about perceived discrimination and unfair treatment based on ethnocultural and ethnoracial background.

Initiatives such as the ethnic diversity survey will give us a better understanding of the role diversity plays in Canadian society and how it affects the lives of Canadians. It will also assist decision makers in developing policies and programs that better meet the needs of all Canadians.

Winter SportsStatements by Members

2 p.m.


Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, inspired by a love of winter sports, an appetite for international competition, a pride in community and a commitment to the state of Israel, many Winnipeggers gathered at a hall in Winnipeg on Thursday, September 25, in support of the Israeli bobsled team; certainly not the first thing one thinks of when one thinks of Israel.

For the first time in history Israel has such a team, sanctioned by the Israeli Olympic committee and the Federation of International Bobsled and Tobogganing.

It is a team composed of two Americans, John Frank and Aaron Zeff, and one Canadian, David Greaves of Winnipeg. All three have dual Israeli citizenship. They are coached by the former captain of the New Zealand bobsled team, Ross Dominikovich. It is truly a global partnership.

The team is now focusing on next season's world cup, with the ultimate goal to be selected to represent Israel and compete among the elite teams of the world at the 2006 Olympics.

The team will showcase new options for the youth of Israel. It hopes, in the manner of the Olympic tradition, “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport”.

This is indeed a story of hope and inspiration for a beleaguered country. We offer our best wishes to these ambitious and purposeful pioneers.

Royal Canadian Army CadetsStatements by Members

2 p.m.


Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, this year the Royal Canadian Army Cadets are celebrating their 125th anniversary.

The cadet program is the largest federally sponsored youth program in Canada. Some 55,000 young men and women are members in 1,100 corps and squadrons across Canada, including three in my riding of Cambridge.

Cadets participate in a number of activities, including ceremonial drills, marksmanship, map and compass reading, first aid, sports and citizenship events.

The program fosters leadership, responsibility, discipline, good citizenship, physical fitness, communication skills and an interest in the Canadian Forces.

I encourage all members to actively support the cadet movement as it evolves and adapts to meet the needs of our youth and prepares them to become the leaders of tomorrow.

International Day of Older PersonsStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, October 1, we will celebrate the International Day of Older Persons.

Older people play an important role in our lives and their contributions enrich our communities. They are present in all our local volunteer organizations and are always ready to reach out a helping hand. They are the foundations of our families and the embodiment of wisdom and, as such, deserve society's gratitude.

It is essential that the government ensure that all rights of the men and women who have built our society are respected.

I invite all Quebeckers and all Canadians to take this occasion to celebrate the important contribution of older persons to our society and to encourage relationships based on respect and mutual assistance between the generations.

Canadian Women's Soccer TeamStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Saturday the Canadian women's world cup soccer team scored a crucial victory over the team from Japan to become the first Canadian team, men's or women's, to make it out of the first round of a world cup. The Canadian team played a fast paced, hard-hitting game to win three to one over Japan.

The women's world cup team has now won nine out of its last ten games. Now that they have advanced to the quarter finals of the world cup, the Canadian women's team will play China on Thursday.

Veteran player, Charmaine Hooper, thinks the team can go all the way. As she said after the game on Saturday, “If we have such a great goal in our minds, I feel we can go far”.

I am sure the House will join in wishing the players and coach, Even Pellerud, the best of luck for their second round game on Thursday.

Veterans' WidowsStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to believe that a country as wealthy as Canada could turn a deaf ear to some 23,000 war veterans' widows who are crying out to the government to restore their independence program. This small monthly amount would bring a tremendous measure of financial relief to these destitute and often lonely people.

My offices have received hundreds of tragic stories that depict the hardship as well as the injustice caused by the loss of the veterans independence program. This is a national plea from our war widows from coast to coast.

This House has been told that there is no money for these aging veterans' widows but Canadians will not accept that because they know there is lots of money, and it shows up in incompetence and even fraud, that would more than meet the daily needs of these widows to whom we owe so much.

Hurricane JuanStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, now that Hurricane Juan has passed through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, it is time to assess the damage and clean up.

Hurricane Juan reached the eastern shore of Nova Scotia Sunday night, bringing with it heavy rain and winds up to 139 km per hour.

Worse yet, Juan took two lives. First, a paramedic who was responding to an emergency call died when a tree fell on his vehicle near the Halifax hospital. Later, at Enfield, another person died. These are very sad events.

I invite the House to join with me in thinking of the victims and their families and everyone who has suffered in the storm.

Progressive Conservative PartyStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is a great day to be a Tory.

I want to congratulate Premier Pat Binns and the PC Party of Prince Edward Island on the election of their third majority government. Obviously the PC Party is alive and well in Atlantic Canada.

I also want to wish Danny Williams and the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador success in the general election called for October 21. The PCs have held a solid lead in public opinion polls since Danny Williams became party leader a couple of years ago. I have every confidence we will soon see another PC government take the helm in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Obviously, reports of the PC Party's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Day Care ProgramStatements by Members

2:05 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, in recent years the Government of Quebec has had a $5 a day day care program, which makes Quebec the envy of all of the Canadian provinces.

The federal government did not contribute to it, but has managed to deprive the taxpayers in Quebec of pretty close to $1 billion since the program was inaugurated in 1998.

Since families pay only $5 daily per child, rather than $25 or $30, their child care tax deductions are reduced accordingly.

Who is mainly responsible for this injustice? The former finance minister, the very same one who masterminded the 1993 Liberal platform and proposed major investments in daycare. A promise that was not kept.

The masks are beginning to fall away, and we can now see that, despite his efforts to show he is different, the future Liberal leader is no more than a carbon copy of the present Prime Minister.