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.