Motion No. 262
That a special committee of the House be created to continue the work on electoral reform as outlined in the 43rd Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from the 38th Parliament and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems; that the membership of the special committee be established by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House within five sitting days after the adoption of this motion; that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2); that the special committee have all of the powers granted to standing committees by Standing Order 108; that there be a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item; that the special committee be authorized to hold hearings across Canada; that the special committee be allowed to look into creating a citizens’ consultation group and issue an interim report to the House on this matter within six weeks of the special committee being struck; and that the special committee table its final report in the House of Commons no later than March 1, 2008.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a motion that seeks to continue the important work started in the last Parliament to follow up on the recommendations made in June 2005 by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and to move Canada forward on reforming our electoral system.
Motion No. 262 calls for the creation of a special committee of the House, as well as a citizens' consultation process to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral system of Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the former leader of the NDP and long-standing parliamentarian, Ed Broadbent, who has been working on electoral reform for more than 50 years. Ed Broadbent was instrumental in the procedure and House affairs committee that made recommendations to the House, recommendations that were unanimously passed with the support of parties but were never acted upon.
I want to publicly thank Ed for his perseverance on the issue of electoral reform, to bring our country in line with most of the world's democracies to make Parliament more accountable to voters.
In a speech at Queen's University in March 2005, Ed Broadbent gave the following summation of why electoral reform is so necessary.
The truth is that the most seriously flawed component of our democratic society is our profoundly undemocratic electoral system. We have impartial courts and the rule of law, a Charter of Rights & Freedoms, a vigorous independent civil society and an independent press, but our electoral system is an outdated, non-representative, conflict-prone, gender discriminating, regionally divisive mess, bestowed to us from a pre-democratic era. The good news is that governments in six provinces have begun to embrace this issue and are calling for major reforms in their electoral systems. And with a minority government in the House of Commons, federal electoral reform, initiated by the New Democratic Party, has at last been put on the Parliamentary agenda.
I am pleased to carry on the work of Ed Broadbent and other NDP MPs like Lorne Nystrom and, once again, also in a minority Parliament, place electoral reform on the parliamentary agenda. It is possible to get work done in a minority Parliament and the time for electoral reform is long overdue.
People in my riding of Vancouver Island North and all across Canada want the House to move forward and decide how to reform or modernize our electoral system because our current electoral system is outdated and unfair. It has been in place for more than 100 years. When it was created, there were only two major political parties and now there are five. It came into effect before we had electricity, before women were persons under the law and before first nations had the right to vote.
In 1974, we made changes to Canada's political financing laws. We introduced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the Access to Information Act in 1983. We changed parliamentary processes along the way, including the election of the Speaker by secret ballot and overhauled the Canada Elections Act in 1996. Further political financing reforms were passed in 2003, and in 2004 changes were made to candidate registration.
We have been studying the question of reforming our electoral system for over 25 years through various government task forces and royal commissions. We had the Pepin-Robarts task force in 1979, the Macdonald Royal Commission in 1985 and the Lortie Commission in 1992.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs did extensive study in 2004 and 2005, hearing many witnesses and travelling around the world to study other parliamentary systems. Its report to Parliament in June 2005 forms the basis of the motion I am presenting and that I am urging all parties to support.
In its Speech from the Throne in 2005, the previous Liberal government pledged:
To examine the need and options for reform our democratic institutions, including electoral reform.
In response to the 43rd report, the previous Liberal government said:
Nevertheless, it is essential for every democracy to take stock regularly, to ensure that all aspects of its system of governance meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens. The Government of Canada has a duty to build on Canada's strong democratic traditions by modernizing our democratic processes to ensure that they reflect the values and interests of Canadians.
Motion No. 262 calls upon the government to continue the work that was started in the last Parliament, to follow the recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee's 43rd report to Parliament to strike a special committee to hold hearings across the country and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing Canada's electoral system. However, the most important part of the motion is the creation of a citizens' consultation process.
Following the recommendations of the 43rd report, the citizens' consultation group would make recommendations on the values and principles desired in Canada's democratic and electoral systems. As Nathalie Des Rosiers, a witness at the 2005 procedure and House affairs committee, said:
There's a gap between Canadian values and results, and that troubles a lot of Canadians.
If we are to hear what Canadians want, then we must engage them at the grassroots level on the values that they want to see represented and design a system that meets those goals. Everyone counts and so should our votes but, more and more, Canadians feel that their voices and choices are not heard.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, in its report to Parliament in 2005, found that:
A major source of worry for many Canadians, and many Parliamentarians, is decreasing voter turnout in Canadian elections. It is a particular concern that young people, and certain ethnic and social groups, are less likely than others to vote.
Between 1988 and 2004, voter turnout dropped dramatically in federal elections. In 1988, it was 75.3%. In 1993, it fell to 69.9%. In 1997, we saw a further drop to 67%. In 2000, it was 61.2%. In 2004, only 60.9% of Canadians bothered to vote. Last year, in 2006, the turnout rose slightly to 64.7% but this is still not anywhere near acceptable.
The Law Commission of Canada, in its 2004 report “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”, states:
For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics.
It contributes to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples. Critics maintain that countries with first-past-the-post systems routinely under-represent women and minority candidates.
It prevents diversity within the House of Commons. As a result of regional concentration, disproportionate votes to seats, and an under-representation of women and minority candidates, legislatures within this system lack a diversity of voices in political decision-making processes.
This system favours an adversarial style of politics.
That is something that we see daily in this House.
The Law Commission further states:
--many citizens want to be involved, want to have a real voice in decision making, and would like to see more responsive, accountable, and effective political institutions.
This is something I have heard from many of my constituents and from people all across the country. Canadians are telling us that every vote should count. However, in the last election, 665,940 votes for the Green Party elected zero MPs, while only 475,114 votes in Atlantic Canada elected 22 Liberals. It took 89,296 votes to elect each NDP MP, 43,339 votes for each Conservative member, 43,490 for each Liberal and 30,455 for each Bloc MP to get elected.
When ordinary citizens feel disenfranchised from the process, they tend to not participate. They feel their votes do not count.
When we look around the world, we see that other industrialized countries have embraced a fairer system of electing their representatives. We can look at the example of other Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, a longstanding Westminster democracy that adopted proportional representation in 1993. Nigel Roberts, in New Zealand: A Westminster Democracy Switches to PR, said:
--the change can be regarded as a good example of how to move from one voting system to another. It was done only after a great deal of research, debate and public consultation. Most experts on electoral reform would agree that major electoral reforms should not be undertaken lightly, and the move to...PR in New Zealand was certainly not undertaken likely.
New Zealand's Royal Commission on the Electoral System sat for over a year before releasing a detailed report in which it defined the following criteria for testing both first past the post and other voting systems: fairness between political parties; effective representation of minority and special interest groups; effective Maori representation, the Maori being New Zealand's indigenous ethnic minority; political integration; representation of constituents; voter participation; effective government; effective parliament; effective parties; and legitimacy.
At the same time, however, the royal commission stressed that no voting system can fully meet the ideal standards set by the criteria and pointed out that the criteria were not all of equal weight. New Zealand's parliament is an example of how we can have diversity. As Nigel Roberts again points out:
Six parties are represented in the [New Zealand] new Parliament, each in close accord with the share of the votes it won throughout the country as a whole; the system is highly proportional. There are now 15 Maori in the House of Representatives, and Maori are represented in the New Zealand Parliament in rough proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. The same is true of Pacific Islanders, and the country's first PR election also saw the election of the country's first Asian MP. In addition, the overall proportion of women in Parliament rose from 21 per cent in 1993 to 29 per cent in 1996...Furthermore, voter turnout in New Zealand was even higher in 1996 than it had been in either 1990 or 1993.
There are many members of Parliament who know it is time to change our electoral system. In its throne speech, the current government talked about electoral reform, saying:
--this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.
The Law Commission of Canada agrees:
While there is no single magic bullet that will instantaneously stimulate Canadians' involvement in the political system, a consensus appears to be emerging among political parties of all stripes, experts in electoral behaviour, and grassroots organizations that electoral system reform is a good starting point for energizing and strengthening Canadian democracy.
I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the 43rd report of the procedure and House affairs committee to have open, meaningful engagement with the citizens of Canada and have their values and principles reflected in an electoral system that works for all Canadians.
The people of Canada are concerned about many issues: climate change and the environment, fairness and affordability for working families, and the war in Afghanistan, to name but a few. I share their concerns and I believe that a fairer, more representative voting system will give us a government that is more responsive and accountable to their concerns.
The makeup of our Parliament should reflect the will of the voters and the diversity that is Canada. The time has come to change our electoral system for the better. Everyone matters. Every vote should count.