Mr. Speaker, it was clear from the minister's speech and his answers to the questions that his interpretation of representation for his constituents is actually representation for himself. He asks their permission to come here and then he does what he likes. To some of us that is offensive but I guess that is the way he operates. However to many of us that is not democracy and that is not democratic.
I would like to make further comments on some of the interventions made during the minister's speech when he said, for example, that he believes we already have the best system for this country, so he will not allow the people of Canada to let him know whether or not they agree with his opinion and that because he thinks it is too diverse and there are too many opinions here, he would not allow anybody else to contradict him. That is a very sad attitude.
Talk about Animal Farm, where some of the animals are more equal than others, that is exactly what we are hearing. The more equal animals, who sit on the front bench there, are making sure the other animals do not have any input at all into the way the government is running.
The minister's entire approach is based on, frankly, suppressing and burying public opinion in order that a program of social engineering can be carried out over there. It is like treating their constituents like mushrooms: keep them in the dark and feed them on that stuff that starts with B and ends with T.
The fact is that the minister's entire attitude is one of arrogance and superiority, where he decides what is best and then to hell, excuse my language, with the consequences. He will just impose his opinion on everyone else.
I think the real reason for his opposition is that a system of proportional representation would dramatically change the representation in the House, which was already mentioned by the sponsor of the motion today. The fact is, for example, in the last election here in Ontario, more than 1.1 million votes were cast for the Canadian Alliance. If there had been a system of proportional representation in place, for that 25% of the votes cast in Ontario, 25% of the seats would have been for the Canadian Alliance. What a difference that would have made. The Liberals would not be able to stand there and say that the Canadian Alliance is a regional party or give the impression that it is when it is not. We had healthy representation in this province and we could have had 25% of the seats here if every one of our votes had been properly represented.
Turning to the motion itself, I would like to start out by reminding the House that we debated a very similar motion to the one now before us during private members' business in May 2000. That motion was also sponsored by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I congratulated him at the time for having pretty much copied Canadian Alliance policy in terms of his suggested approach.
In fact, his party's policy has evolved somewhat over the years with respect to the issue, changing from being one of imposing a top down decision on the people of Canada that there should be proportional representation, to accepting the Canadian Alliance approach that we should give the people of Canada a say in this possible change to the electoral system.
The evolution of the NDP's policy has brought its position much closer to that of the Canadian Alliance model but there are still some small and very important differences when we compare our system with the NDP model.
Our suggested process would involve two referendums rather than one, with the first asking whether or not the people of Canada want a change. In that respect, it is the same as the NDP proposal. However we would then have a one year to eighteen month period of time when Elections Canada would take on the job of educating the people of Canada about the various options that would be available, because proportional representation comes in many different forms. Only by making the people aware of their options would we be able to go into our second referendum at the end of 12 or 18 months to choose the system that would replace this or to reintroduce first past the post. That was the process that was used in New Zealand.
I do not think we should assume automatically that we would have the same outcome here because, if the minister is correct, with a very large and diverse country like this, quite different from New Zealand, when we get into the public discussion, in which he has no confidence, we would probably find that people had some different ideas about how the proportionality should work and we could end up with a totally different choice at the end of that second referendum.
However it must be obvious to any neutral observer that anyone who opposes the right of taxpayers and voters to use referendums to take part in the decision making of government between elections--and I place Liberals in this category--typically argue without providing a scrap of evidence that referendums are divisive, when nothing could be more divisive than having a government with 100% of the power barely holding 40% of the popular vote. What is more divisive than when there is not proper representation in this place for the votes that were cast in the last election?
We only have to compare that to the use of referendums where we get a healthy public debate about an issue. Usually the emotions are very strong because the subjects are often controversial but at the end of the day there is a democratic vote and everybody accepts the outcome. Even the people who lose, generally speaking, will accept that democracy has overruled them for this time. It is a healthy exercise.
Plenty of countries allow that sort of process to occur. Switzerland obviously is the country that uses this tool the most. We do not see any wars or uprisings in Switzerland despite its multicultural and complex nature because referenda actually assist the public to air grievances, to hear other points of view and, in the end, to make the right decision for everybody.
Having a referendum would be a good way to approach this. It would overcome the so-called problems the minister has tried to invent where the diverse nature of this country would prevent us from choosing anything better than first past the post.
However the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has already discovered that it is highly unlikely that the government today will support his motion. Once the minister has spoken, of course, everyone over there will fall into line and there is probably no hope at all that the vote will be in favour of this motion tonight.
I also would bring to the attention of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle the fact that I cannot think of a single example anywhere where there has been a major change to the electoral system of a country without some sort of crisis, usually a financial, fiscal or political crisis.
New Zealand is an example the member has used and likes to use. The change to the electoral system only happened after a fiscal crisis, near bankruptcy of the country, which resulted in a huge reorganization of the government. That was what led to the two referenda culminating in the introduction of MMP, mixed member proportional, in New Zealand.
I might add that it was also the catalyst for the rejection of Socialist policies in New Zealand and an aggressive switch to a free market economy. Perhaps still more distressing for the NDP would be that it was a left wing government, the Labour Party in New Zealand, that actually introduced the sweeping changes to the market system in New Zealand. It was also the Labour Party that eliminated compulsory unionism and allowed workers to bargain directly with their employers for their wages in every industry, even those regulated by unions.
Unions in New Zealand now have to advertise for members and convince people that it is worth joining the union. When I was there last Christmas, I heard advertisements on radio from one union advertising a free toaster and free cable TV hook-up to try to entice members to join the union. What a healthy thing to happen. Unions are being put in the same category as any other business venture, charity or special interest. They have to convince the people that they are doing something worthwhile, that there is a value in joining them, instead of just having a compulsory extraction from the wages of a worker passed on to a union with no accountability. In New Zealand now the unions have to pay bold attention to the real needs of the members.
In terms of the topic under discussion, the only thing I can think of in recent times, which here in Canada would have constituted a crisis big enough to cause some sort of change in our electoral system, would be the cliff-hanger Quebec separation vote we had a few years ago. Had that vote succeeded it would have caused such an upheaval in our electoral system that even the Liberals would have had to face the reality that an overhaul of the electoral system was necessary. There would have been a very high probability of change at that time.
Thanks to the efforts of the official opposition pushing the government in directions it did not want to go, I think that crisis has been eliminated, at least for a while. We now have a much better business environment in Canada and even some lower taxes despite increases in fees in other areas. We probably will not have an opportunity for a major change to the electoral system in the near future.
As I said earlier, the motion before us today is similar to the Canadian Alliance policy except that we would allow all stages of the process to be controlled by the public. Instead of a committee of the House or some other committee being set up to determine which would be the best voting system, we would put that task to Elections Canada to educate the people of Canada about their options and then let them decide the system they wanted for their country. After all, it is their country. They are the people who pay our salaries and the salary of the minister over there who thinks he is here to represent himself.
Surely the people of Canada, whether we think they are right or wrong when they make their final decisions, have the right, because they pay the bills, to have a country formed in the image they desire. Surely they have the right to determine how they want their country run. This would be a great opportunity for them to tell us how we should be running this place.
The reason we, in the former Reform Party and now the Canadian Alliance, reached our position on how to approach this whole issue was that at our policy conventions in past years people have always come forward with suggestions that we should promote a specific policy on proportional representation. The problem is that because there are so many different methods, people get very wedded and set on a particular system. It was difficult to have a debate in the convention atmosphere and actually make a decision about the kind of system we should take as policy.
We set about setting up a task force to study the issue within our party. We called all the people with different views before that task force. In the end, we decided that the best process was the one that was used in New Zealand where the people actually wanted the system changed. Maybe the minister is right, maybe people do not want it changed, in which case we finish the exercise, but if the people of Canada were to decide in a referendum that they wanted the system changed, then the next step would be to allow all the people who think they have the best system to promote that system in a widespread public discussion with the assistance of Elections Canada, and then we would see what the people of Canada would choose. Of course, first past the post would still be on the ballot at that time.
I must say that I am a bit troubled by the NDP proposal to have a committee actually decide which system would be more appropriate. What is the motivation for taking away the decision making ability of the public in this respect? Surely true believers in a democracy would trust the people to choose their own system to replace first past the post.
On balance, we can probably support the motion because if there is openness at that committee, we could probably convince it to create a situation where it could put its decisions out to the people in a second referendum. The opportunity is still available even with the type of motion before us today.
While I have time I should mention an interesting spinoff effect of what happened in New Zealand. The voters in New Zealand chose a mixed member proportional system where the House is divided in two. Half the members are elected using a first past the post system and the other half are selected from a list based on the proportion of the vote received by each party. The parties have to get 5% of the vote in order to get any members in the house. In the last two elections in New Zealand there were 30 or more parties on the ballot but only four or five managed to get 5% of the vote and actually become members in the house.
The interesting sidebar spinoff that I was going to mention is that with mixed member proportional representation some of the members of that house do not actually represent ridings because they are selected from a list provided by the party. As a result, the standing orders in the house in New Zealand had to be changed to refer to members by their names rather than their ridings.
It really begs the question why we have to refer to one another by our ridings, as I did earlier with the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. There was no good reason to retain that rule in New Zealand, so it was scrapped. Everybody there calls other members directly by their names. I often have wondered why we need to persist with the archaic rule here.
Let me give a brief description of some of the options that New Zealanders had on the ballot.
Straight proportional is where everyone is elected based on a proportional percentage of the vote.
Then there is the supplementary member system, which is quite complex, under which most of the members, perhaps about four-fifths, are still elected on the first past the post and one-fifth, maybe one-quarter, of the total would be elected based on a proportion of the overall share of the votes.
It can be a very complicated system in terms of allocating the votes to the parties because how do they decide who will get on the list of members and who will be on the proportional list or who will have to go before the electorate to be voted in first past the post. It could be a party list selected by party leaders. It could be a party list selected by the members of the party. It could be some sort of public selection process. There are numerous ways of doing that and it really becomes very complicated indeed.
Under the supplementary member system, usually there is a very small representation from smaller parties, so they still tend to get larger, dominant party structures in those types of governments.
Then there is preferential voting, which is not truly proportional but ensures that winning candidates get more than 50% of the vote.
The minister talked about the high percentage that he got and how he felt he was equal to somebody who maybe got 38% and won the seat in a first past the post.
Preferential voting would allow the voter to mark a first choice, second choice and third choice on the ballot. When all the votes are counted, if the first choice on the ballot does not get more than 50%, all the second choice ballots are counted and added to the totals of the candidates. Then, if somebody got 50% of the vote, that candidate wins.
I guess that gives some sort of certainty for voters that if they do not get their first choice, at least they get their second choice, in most cases, because usually by the second counting of the ballot someone has more than 50% of the vote.
Another system that is pretty complicated is the single transferable vote system. It is similar to preferential voting but it involves having numbers of members representing one riding. It could be anything form three to seven members in one riding. Therefore the ridings are much larger but they often give a representation of different parties in the one riding. For those constituents who feel a little uncomfortable perhaps dealing with a member from one party or the other, they have the option within the same riding to go to some other member. That system is used in Tasmania.
Then there is mixed member proportional which, I mentioned, was finally chosen in New Zealand. Under that system, it is actually the party brass who have chosen who will be on the list of members.
I guess there is a good argument for having a party chosen list for that group because the party obviously wants the opportunity to ensure that it has skilled people able to come to parliament. I will give an example. My colleague who was here in the first Parliament after 1993, Herb Grubel who was the member for West Vancouver, was an internationally recognized and very accomplished economist. He might for example be put on a party list so that the party would be certain that type of skill would come to the House after an election.
I guess the bottom line here though is whether I would recommend to my colleagues that they support the motion presently before us. I pointed out that one flaw perhaps is the decision on the type of system would be given to a committee. We would prefer the final decision to be made by the people of Canada rather than by a committee.
However, in reading the motion carefully, I get the impression that there might be flexibility for the committee to actually decide that there should be a second referendum and that the people should make the final decision.
Overall there are so many advantages to having this type of exercise, to having this type of discussion, that I am recommending support of this motion.