Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by complimenting my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan for making such an exceptional maiden speech reflecting the long traditions of her own area, going back and including, but not restricted to, Tommy Douglas who was a distinguished member and leader of our party coming from the same region. It was a great speech, reflecting not only the great variety of her own riding but also concerns which she made clearcut right across the country. I congratulate her.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to briefly address the issue of electoral reform, something we have implemented in five provinces in Canada. Once again, the provinces have led the way. I must say that I am very glad to see that a federal government has, for the first time, referred to this important topic in the Speech from the Throne.
I want to note in my brief comments that my party and I have been advocating an electoral system for Canada that would combine single member constituencies with members elected on the basis of proportionality since the 1970s. I want to emphasize that such a system or a variety of systems like this is in place in the large majority of stable democracies around the world.
The evidence clearly indicates that a mixed system, combining single member with proportionality, does the following. It elects more women than we do in Canada. It elects more minorities than we do in Canada. It produces a generally higher level of voter participation than exists in Canada. It also allows new parties to gain a place in the electoral system and then grow if they have support. It is, I would add, profoundly democratic because the vote of every citizen, wherever that vote takes place, counts in some sense in shaping the government, which our voting system does not do.
Because I am going on to other matters, I want to conclude with this brief list of advantages of such an electoral system by saying that such a system is long overdue in a country called Canada. In my limited comments I want to concentrate exclusively on another of its advantages, namely its contribution to national unity.
The first time I noticed that the Canadian electoral system was obsolete, pre-democratic, regionalist, fractionary and non-inclusive was after the 1980 federal elections.
In doing so I want to illustrate why our present system is profoundly divisive, deeply harmful for national unity and alienating in its effect on border participation throughout the land.
After the 1980 election, the then prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, asked to meet with me as the leader of a minority party to discuss our participation in the government. I found this strange because he had just obtained a substantial majority and we were a minority party. In spite of the 25% of the vote his party won in western Canada, if we were to look at the results of the seats, we would see a completely different percentage. No Liberal was elected in British Columbia, none in Alberta, none in Saskatchewan and only two in Manitoba. The Liberals won two seats out of 25% of the vote and became the governing party.
The New Democratic Party had 26 seats in western Canada. Mr. Trudeau told me of his intention to bring in what was to amount to the national energy program and the repatriation of the constitution and he definitely felt his party was a so-called eastern party and, with the NDP being strong in the west, he wanted our participation because, in broad outline, he knew we were sympathetic philosophically to the directions on those issues in which he was going, although we differed in some details.
The point I want to make is that here is a party that has governed in Canada for most of my lifetime and yet systematically our system produces a set of MPs in the governing caucus that nowhere represents the strength that they got in western Canada.
The same pattern prevailed in the three elections that took place since I left the House in 1989. We have a governing party that does not reflect at all the very nature of the country. I would submit that if it did then the national energy program would almost certainly have been different if the governing party had elected members actually from the west proportional to its strength as well as other legislation at the time.
The other point I want to make is that our electoral system and its impact on governing is counterproductive in terms of the opposition parties. I want to mention the Reform Party, not exactly one ideologically to which I am sympathetic but the Reform, the Alliance and the Conservatives had negative impacts comparable to the Liberals in terms of vote.
Preston Manning was said to have been blanked out in Ontario. Mr. Manning received 20% of the vote in Ontario. In the large majority of democracies he would have had seats proportionate to his vote as a democracy should do. In spite of that 20% of the vote, no seats and his party was then regarded as simply “in the east a western party”.
Also, the 20% of people in Ontario who actually voted, not by political friends but they were equal citizens who actually voted for his party, became more alienated from the system because they did not see their desires reflected in the outcome.
I am deliberately choosing parties different from my own. I will just say in passing that if we had seats today proportionate to our vote we would be in excess of 40 seats in the House of Commons. However I am talking about other parties.
The point I want to make is that our system, as the Pepin-Robarts documented very clearly, is counterproductive to national unity. Our national caucuses, whether on the government side or on the opposition side, do not reflect accurately where their votes come from and therefore they see Canada through highly distorted, highly conflictual lenses that almost always come into the debates.
I want to stress this as a key point to leave with governing members and opposition members in the House as we approach the subject, and we will, of electoral reform in this session. I want to use my concluding moments to give particular praise, not to a government of my party but to a government in British Columbia that did introduce a citizens assembly process that has worked remarkably. It is one that my party would like to see duplicated at the national level. It is one that has involved in that province two citizens from each constituency, plus two aboriginal peoples. They have met for over a year, met in their communities, have professional experts so-called and real who give them advice, and have had systematic deliberation. Not one of the 160 citizens of British Columbia participating in this process has dropped out.
It has been inspiring and empowering for them and it has generated support wherever they have held meetings in the province of British Columbia. They are making electoral reform an issue that is engaging people throughout the length of that province.
I and my party believe that we should have this process at the national level. It could become exciting and it could engage Canadians.
In Canada's provinces, not all Canadians can directly take part in a process that is supposed to provide a fair system for everyone.
I deeply believe that if we were to engage our citizens, have them deliberate, think seriously about it and make a recommendation for a new equitable electoral system, we would finally get the electoral system the people of Canada deserve. Let us get on with it.