House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rights.


The House resumed from February 19 consideration of the motion.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the important motion put forward by the member for Vancouver Island North. I am hopeful that all members will see their way clear to supporting the motion.

Motion No. 262 calls for the continuation of the work previously done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the 38th Parliament. It specifically calls on the House to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems and that we set up a special committee to hear from Canadians on what is important in terms of electoral reform.

The member for Vancouver Island North and a former member of this House, Mr. Ed Broadbent, have done considerable work in trying to bring this important issue around proportional representation before the House and Canadians. Mr. Broadbent said it far more eloquently than I could ever say it. In his speech at Queen's University on March 2005, he gave reasons why electoral reform was so necessary. He said:

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of Rights and Freedoms, a vigorous independent civil society and an independent press, but our electoral system is an outdated, non-representative, conflict-prone, gender discriminating, regionally divisive mess, bestowed to us from a pre-democratic era.

A number of points have been covered quite well about why we need proportional representation and electoral reform in this country but I will focus on one particular area, the under-representation of women in the House.

Equal Voice has done a good job of outlining the importance of electing more women and outlining the dismal state of affairs in Canada's Parliament. On its website, it says that once a leader, Canada, with just 64 women in Parliament, 20.8% of MPs, now ranks 47th in the world in terms of women's representation in the national legislature. Canada is far behind countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Portugal. Canada's international rankings in terms of women's representation has been falling. In 2002, Canada was 34th in the world and we have dropped to 47th. Our international standing is declining with every federal election.

Not a single country in the world has delivered more women to its national Parliament without undertaking action to make it happen. The under-representation of women in the national Parliament is not a problem that will fix itself, which is where the issue around proportional representation comes in. In countries that have looked at proportional representation, they have been able to increase the representation of women, visible minorities and aboriginal peoples in their Parliament. This is why it is such an urgent matter that we must consider.

When Equal Voice was doing the analysis on women in federal politics, it looked at political party representation. In this current sitting of the House, 64 of the 308 members who are women, the NDP has 41%, which is the highest percentage of any party, down to a dismal 11% for the Conservatives. This under-representation impacts on the kinds of policies and legislation that the House develops.

At its annual general meeting in 2004, Fair Vote Canada made a presentation on “Reaching Women About Proportional Representation”. Its presentation was entitled, “The Electoral Glass Ceiling” and it says:

An elite consensus -- that 20 to 25 per cent representation of women is 'good enough' -- provides the solid underpinnings of the electoral glass ceiling for women.

Given those kinds of numbers and the trends in Canada, it goes on to say:

One hundred and seventeen how long it will take for women to achieve equity in the Canadian House of Commons.


At the rate we are won't be until our great, great granddaughters are women that we'll have 50/50 in the House.


Given the fact that women represent over 50% of the population, I would argue that having only 20% sitting in the House is just not acceptable.

Fair Vote Canada talks about why it is important. It says that:

The absence of women from structures of governance inevitably means that national, regional and local priorities— i.e. how resources are allocated—are typically defined without meaningful input from women, whose life experience gives them a different awareness of the community’s needs, concerns and interests from that of men.

Why does proportional representation work? Fair Vote Canada states:

What studies of proportional representation reveal, however, is that it sufficiently alters the political structure to enable women to transcend the 'winner-takes-all' competition for votes one now witnesses in Canada.

Changing a country's electoral system often represents a far more realistic goal to work towards than dramatically changing the culture's view of women.

I would argue that if we had more women in the House that when employment insurance reform happened in 1995, we would not have seen women disproportionately impacted by the changes in that legislation. Women are now far less likely to quality for employment insurance under those rules and regulations. I would argue that we would have the national child care system. Instead, we have a family allowance system that does not remotely meet the needs of women and families in looking after their children.

There are any number of other pieces of legislation that disproportionately impact women. We do not even conduct an adequate gender based analysis on our budget process to determine how it affects women and men differently. If we had more women in the House, surely we would have policies and legislation that more reflected the needs of women and children and their families in this country.

An organization called Safer Futures looks at safety in communities and the fact that as communities are made safer for women and children they are also made safer for everybody. If we had more women in federal, provincial and municipal politics, we would be developing programs and policies that reflect the reality of women's lives.

In a newspaper recently was a stunning picture of the premiers and the representatives from the territories but none were woman. We need to change the face of politics so women feel it is an appropriate place for them. Besides looking at proportional representation, electoral reform must look at the larger issue of how we conduct ourselves as parliamentarians.

Mr. Broadbent not only talked about conduct in this House but also about the fact that we need to change many systems. In a speech that he gave to the NDP breakthrough conference in October 2005, he outlined a number of extremely important elements in electoral reform. I will not go through all of them but there are a couple that are really important.

He said that reforms were badly needed. He said that wherever we can, we must put an end to backroom wheeling and dealing in politics. He was referring to floor crossing. These days one never knows exactly which member will be sitting on which side of the House. We would argue that any member who chooses not to sit for the party that he or she was elected to represent should either sit as an independent or go back to the electorate for a vote to determine that the new party is actually the party the constituents supported.

Mr. Broadbent also said that election dates should be fixed. We know there is a bill that attempts to fix election dates in Canada. This would prevent governments from calling elections whenever its numbers took a bounce in the polls. In a minority government, there is still the option for governments to fall if there is a vote of confidence before the House.

Mr. Broadbent went on to talk about the need for democratic reform for our outmoded first past the post electoral system. He talked about 90% of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales having abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa.

I would urge all members of the House to support this important motion so we can ensure that when Canadians vote that every vote truly does count.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate today on Motion No. 262. The motion proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

First, the motion proposes that a special committee of the House of Commons be created to make recommendations on democratic reform issues and, second, that a special committee look into creating a citizens consultation group and to report on this matter within six weeks.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that I will be urging members to vote against this motion, not because involving parliamentarians and citizens in discussion about democratic reform is an unworthy exercise, but because the government has already taken such clear action in this important area and it will continue to do so.

After the 43rd report was released in the last Parliament, nothing happened in the area of democratic reform, consultations or otherwise. This stands in sharp contrast to the actions of this government. We have engaged and continue to engage parliamentarians in a number of important democratic reform initiatives. We have already started a process to consult Canadians on democratic reform issues. In short, I will demonstrate today that the motion before us has been overtaken by events.

First , in the area of engaging parliamentarians on democratic reform issues, I am confident in saying that this government has done more than any previous government in bringing forward democratic reform initiatives for consideration in Parliament. Parliament adopted Bill C-2, the Accountability Act, which included a number of political financing reforms, most notably a ban on union and corporate donations, a contribution limit of $1,000, a ban on cash donations and a ban on trust funds. These measures help to eliminate the perception that only those with money have an influence on politics. This, in turn, enhances confidence in the political process.

The government also introduced Bill C-16 to establish fixed dates for federal elections. This bill was passed unanimously with all party consent in the House. More recently, the House of Commons adopted a motion to reject an unnecessary amendment adopted by the Senate. We are hoping t the Senate will now accept the now twice expressed will of the members of the democratically elected House of Commons regarding this bill. The Senate should recognize the legitimacy of the House, in particular on matters relating to elections, and pass this bill as it was originally intended.

The implementation of fixed dates for elections will greatly improve the fairness of Canada's electoral system by eliminating the ability of the governing party to set the timing of a general election to its own advantage.

The government has also taken important steps in the area of Senate reform, with the introduction of practical and achievable measures. Last May, the government introduced Bill S-4 in the Senate, which would establish a term limit for senators of eight years. The adoption of this bill would eliminate the current situation where unelected, unaccountable senators can sit for up to 45 years.

An eight year term would allow senators to gain the experience necessary to fulfill the Senate's important role of legislative review, while ensuring that the Senate is refreshed by new perspectives and ideas. Despite widespread support for this initiative, the bill has, unfortunately, been held up in the Senate for almost a year now.

Also in the area of Senate reform, the government introduced Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, which would provide a process whereby voters may be consulted on potential appointments to the Senate in their respective provinces. Debate on this bill began last week. For the first time ever, legislation will provide Canadians with a voice on who represents them in the Senate.

The government has also introduced Bill C-31, which includes a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring the integrity of the electoral system, including a new system of voter identification. Bill C-31 would implement most of the recommendations of the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The passage of this bill will reduce the opportunities for fraud and promote fairness in our electoral system. I hope Bill C-31 will soon be passed in the Senate.

In summary, this government has demonstrated the most extensive commitment ever to the modernization of Canada's national democratic institutions.

In the area of public consultations, we are not just looking into the issue, as proposed in Motion No. 262, we are acting.

On January 9, 2007, the government announced that it was launching a public consultation process on democratic reform issues. In particular, the process would engage Canadians in a dialogue to identify the priorities, values and principles that should underpin Canada's democratic institutions and practices.

The process consists of two main elements, both organized by independent contractors.

First, there is a deliberative process to consult Canadians in 12 citizens' forums, one held in each province, one in the Territories, and also in one national youth forum. The process is more than half complete, with the forums in British Columbia, Alberta, the Territories, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island already completed. Each forum includes approximately 40 to 50 citizens who are roughly representative of the Canadian population.

In that regard, it is worth noting that by the time we are finished approximately 500 Canadians will have participated in the deliberative discussions, all of them giving up a few days of their time, not to mention studying the issues in advance.

The response so far has been very enthusiastic. Participants are examining a whole range of issues, including: political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the role of the citizen.

In the youth forum, which will take place in Ottawa, participants will take a close look at why there is low voter turnout among Canada's youth and why a significant number of young people appear to be disengaged from the political process.

The second element is a large scale national survey that will be administered to a representative sample of Canadians across the country.

We will learn in the forums and the survey and they will be combined into a final report that will be ready by June of this year.

I very much look forward to the report and what it will tell us about the views of Canadians and our democratic institutions and practices. The government intends to take the results of these consultations very seriously.

In conclusion, I urge all members to vote no on Motion No. 262. While the member undoubtedly had honourable intentions in bringing the motion forward, passing this initiative would not serve any useful purpose. The government has engaged and will continue to engage parliamentarians on democratic reform issues; witness the extensive legislative agenda we have introduced in this important area.

The comprehensive process to hear the views of Canadians on democratic reform issues, which we announced in January, is well under way. We will be listening to the views of Canadians and deciding the next steps in the reform of our democratic institutions.

Parliamentarians will play a role in that process. Having the information from the consultation process will mean that parliamentarians are better informed when considering further improvements to our democratic process.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this very important motion. I am very supportive of it and I thank the member for bringing it forward. I thank her, too, for her focus this morning on the issue of how this House does not represent the face of Canada and how we had hoped that by a tiny incrementalism we could do better. I think it is quite clear to most of us and most political observers that without a dramatic change in our electoral system we will not reach a House of Commons that reflects the people of Canada.

As for our journey in this, I was blessed to have the unbelievable force of Doris Anderson teaching me at every moment, with her hope that we would be able to do this and then her realization that only with electoral reform would we actually make the necessary changes. With her death on March 2, I think all of us felt that we had a moral obligation to carry on her fight for electoral reform and for a House of Commons that would more truly represent the people of Canada.

It is interesting that Equal Voice has set up a fund in her name to do just this job of carrying on the fight for electoral reform and a more representative Parliament. At the April 15 tea held to honour her and to raise money for this fund, it was interesting to note that it was the very day that the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform chose and voted to suggest to the Government of Ontario, and put to the people of Ontario in a referendum this fall, a mixed member proportional system, which was indeed Doris's ideal system and the one that she thought would be fairest for women.

There is an increasing appetite, I believe, for Canadians to understand that part of their cynicism in terms of politics and Parliament is that their vote does not count. The distortion that can happen in elections means that their votes are not really reflected in the people who come to this chamber. It was interesting in recent visits to Alberta to note that even in Alberta the appetite for this, particularly among Liberals, is very acute in terms of the recent electoral outcome of 15% of the people of Alberta voting Liberal yet not one member being sent to this House.

We have seen this many times. Almost 20% of Canadians voted for the Conservative Party in 1993, yet only two seats--

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Progressive Conservative.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

It was the Progressive Conservative Party. I thank the member from Kings--Hants for the correction. Only two seats were Progressive Conservative.

As well, many times we have seen a Quebec government with a separatist majority in spite of the fact that most of the people of Quebec voted for a federalist party.

We have seen a very impressive report from the Law Reform Commission of Canada. My only caution with this motion today is that the timelines may be too brisk. We have learned the hard way what happens when we hurry this process. Indeed, it is countries such as Switzerland that are best at doing bottom-up citizen engagement and that look down their noses at the proposition system in California, which is only six months. Countries such as Switzerland know that it takes at least four years to drill down so that individual citizens actually understand what is being discussed.

I think the cynicism is really that people are worried that their votes do not count. I believe that for any prescription for a democratic deficit we have to move on all four fronts. We need to move to a true democracy between elections, true parliamentary reform, and true party reform, as well as what is being discussed today in terms of electoral reform.

Democracy between elections will require a two-way accountability between citizens and their elected representatives, an understanding of assured listening, and a real representative democracy, which requires meaningful citizen engagement.

Canada has led the OECD in some experiments in citizen engagement. The OECD paper, “Citizens as Partners”, which separates out the differences among information, consultation and deliberation, is something that all members of the House would find extraordinarily interesting.

On parliamentary reform, I think that we have to see a much better use of committees, particularly in this House. I have to say that the rehearsing of government members before committee appearances and using motions for work plans is appalling. It is the worst I have seen in my 10 years here.

The idea is that non-geographic constituencies must be utilized and that we must do a much better job of using technology in the House in terms of the kind of study that we did on the subcommittee on persons with disabilities.

In order for any sort of electoral reform and any sort of proportional representation that involves political parties to take place, we need to make sure that the parties themselves have good governance in terms of fairness, transparency and taking people seriously, such as what the decisions taken in terms of the makeup of a party list would represent and again would indeed be democratic themselves.

I think that most of us do believe that in terms of moving toward electoral reform we would need some sort of blended proportional system. This is a big country in which geographic representatives are still extraordinarily important. I have been very interested in some of the Green Party proposals. It has what it calls the “best losers” system, wherein the party list would be made up only of defeated candidates, people who have chosen to put their names on the ballot and who have been able to knock on doors and know what that really means.

I think we have to learn from processes that did not work. The B.C. citizens' assembly was run, as one American observer noted, like a university tutorial. People knew from the time that Ken Carty was appointed as the researcher that the single transferable vote would probably preside. Instead of actually engaging citizens, the process was about creating experts and, in some ways, almost lobbying for a certain method.

I believe that the Ontario process was much improved compared to that one, but without the media attention and without grassroots involvement we still are at risk of having the people of Ontario not really knowing what is going on before they come to what now is really a very short time to the referendum. I call upon the government of Ontario to actually put the resources into a communications strategy and plan so that people will actually be able to have the information with which to cast that very important vote in October.

The process really does matter. I believe and have believed that we need a step way of process. We have to begin not by spending our time picking which system would be better; we need to have a conversation with Canadians about how the present system is not fair. Until they can understand that this is not fair, I think we will end up in trouble if we then confuse the picture with nitpicking about which system is better instead of actually having a consensus arrived at in this country that this present electoral system is not fair. None of the emerging democracies are picking our system. We are left with England and the United States in terms of this very antiquated system.

I hope we will understand that from that decision of a consensus on the fairness of this system we need to move into a true deliberative democracy, a true deliberative dialogue that then would explore all of the options for a made in Canada solution. I am worried that the forum the government member referred to is really just again creating 40 little expert groups across the country instead of having a real online conversation with Canadians.

We then need a communication plan. We need to be able to have a referendum. We then need the legislation. I believe it will take all five steps, but the first step must be creating the case for change.

I believe that the principles matter and that whatever system we pick must indeed have Doris Anderson's ultimate goal of having a Parliament that reflects the people of Canada. We know that has not been possible in any country that has not moved to electoral reform. It is the legacy of Doris that moves us forward. We know that the bigger parties have always ended up particularly--she always called it the seduction of the big win, which is what has always allowed governments to perhaps resist the--

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 262, which proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. First, the motion recommends that a special committee of the House of Commons be created to make recommendations on democratic reform issues. Second, it proposes that a special committee look into creating a citizens' consultation group and to report on this matter within six weeks.

I intend to oppose this motion for reasons I will make clear in my remarks today. I would also encourage other members of the House to oppose it.

There appear to be some fundamental inconsistencies in the NDP's approach to electoral reform and public consultation on democratic reform and electoral reform in particular. In this regard I noticed that one of the opposition day motions put forward by the NDP is that we should move immediately to implement electoral reform but that we should implement a specific type of electoral reform, that of a mixed member proportional system.

At the same time the NDP is putting forward Motion No. 262 to study our electoral system, it is also suggesting that we immediately reform our electoral system, and not necessarily in a way that reflects what the Canadian public may wish, but rather in a way that reflects the interests of the New Democratic Party. We can, therefore, all be excused for being confused about what exactly is the plan of the NDP with regard to democratic reform in general and electoral reform specifically.

Does the NDP want us to move immediately to implement a mixed member system, as it has stated on many occasions, or does the NDP want us to consult Canadians on electoral reform in advance, as suggested by Motion No. 262, and find out whether Canadians believe electoral reform is an issue they wish to pursue?

It seems that the NDP has not only prejudged the need for electoral reform, but is also prescribing for Canadians exactly what type of electoral reform Canadians should pursue. I find this interesting because there are a number of electoral systems that could be pursued should it be decided that reform is an advisable course of action.

Personally, I do not believe it would be advisable to barrel ahead to change our electoral system and change it to a specific electoral system before we even have any indication from Canadians that this is what they want.

I note that the sponsor of Motion No. 262 in the first hour of debate made it quite clear that she wanted the consultations to focus solely on electoral reform. From her remarks it did not seem that she and indeed her party had anything but a narrow focus on one single issue.

The question again is, does the NDP want to hear the views of Canadians on electoral reform, or does it want to prescribe for Canadians the type of electoral reform that it has apparently already decided on without consultation?

The actions of this government in the area of democratic reform stand in stark contrast to those of the NDP. We recognize that democratic reform is not a single issue. It is not just about electoral reform, as the NDP would have everyone believe.

Democratic reform encompasses a wide range of issues from political financing to improvements to our electoral system and the modernization of our democratic institutions. This was a fact that was recognized in the 43rd report, which was released in June 2005 but not acted on by the previous government.

The report's conclusions underline a whole range of issues beyond electoral reform that should be the subject of consultation. We need to be clear about the conclusions of the 43rd report if we are to act on them.

Let me read for members exactly what the report said. The report states that a citizens' consultation group along with the parliamentary committee should:

--make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems.... [This] would take into account an examination of the role of Members of Parliament and political parties; citizen engagement and rates of voter participation, including youth and aboriginal communities; civic literacy; and how to foster a more representative House of Commons, including, but not limited to, increased representation of women and minorities, and questions of proportionality, community of interest and representation--

My question would be, why is the NDP focusing only on one aspect of democratic reform when there are so many other equally important issues?

For our part, this government is taking a much different approach. First, rather than just thinking about a consultation process as suggested by Motion No. 262, we have actually taken action to implement a process as the government announced it would do in January.

As a result of the government's actions, a citizens' consultation process is under way. The process consists of two key parts. The first is a series of 12 deliberative forums, one in each province, one for the territories and one youth forum, each with a participation of 40 to 50 citizens who are roughly representative of the Canadian population. The second part is a telephone survey on a range of issues related to our democratic institutions.

The deliberative consultation process is well under way. Consultations have already taken place in British Columbia, Alberta, the territories, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In contrast to the process recommended by Motion No. 262, the government sponsored process is consulting citizens on a broad range of issues. Each forum is addressing a common set of topics, including political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons, the Senate and the role of the citizen. It will be noted that this is very similar to the recommendation of the 43rd report. Unlike the NDP approach, we are not focusing only on a single issue and we are not prejudging the views of Canadians on these issues.

Once the process is over, a report on the process will be prepared for the government. The government intends to take the results of these consultations very seriously and parliamentarians will continue to be engaged on these important subjects.

It appears that the government is pursuing a much more comprehensive approach to consultation than is proposed in Motion No. 262. Since the process is well under way, Motion No. 262 has become redundant and has been for some time now.

Apart from the consultation process, the government has engaged parliamentarians on a wide range of important democratic reform initiatives, as we indicated we would do in our electoral platform. I dare say that no other government in history has accomplished so much in this important area. Allow me to review some of the initiatives we have taken so far on this issue.

First, we passed Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, which provides for some important political financing reforms, including a ban on corporate and union donations, and the reduction of contribution limits to $1,000. This will ensure that money and influence are not the determining factors in financing political parties and the parties can operate on a level playing field.

We have introduced practical and achievable legislation in the area of Senate reform, including Bill S-4, which would limit the tenure of senators to a period of eight years, and Bill C-43, which would establish a national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointments.

Of particular interest for this debate, the consultations proposed in Bill C-43 would not be carried out by means of a first past the post system. Rather, elections would be conducted using a proportional and preferential voting system called the single transferable vote, or STV system. It will be interesting to know the ultimate position of the New Democratic Party on Bill C-43 since the bill is proposing the introduction of a proportional electoral system which the NDP has been advocating for the House of Commons. Bill C-43 is an important initiative because for the first time Canadians will have the opportunity to have input into their selection of senators.

The government has also moved forward on an important initiative to improve the integrity of our electoral system. Bill C-31 includes important provisions to combat electoral system fraud, in particular through the introduction of requirements for voter ID. If passed, I believe the bill would make a tremendous contribution to ensuring that no election was tainted by the possibility of voter fraud.

The government is taking steps to increase electoral fairness through the introduction of Bill C-16 which establishes fixed dates for federal elections. If passed, this initiative would ensure that elections occurred once every four years and not just on the whim of a prime minister who might choose to call an election on the basis of whether or not his or her party was high in the polls.

The government has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to electoral reform. We are well on our way to meeting the commitments that we made to Canadians.

To conclude, I must encourage all members to vote against the motion for the reasons I have stated. Given that the government has already taken action to implement a public consultation process, Motion No. 262 is redundant. Not only that, but the government's process is much more comprehensive than was recommended by the NDP. It will not be focused only on electoral reform, contrary to the desire of the sponsor of the motion. It conforms largely to the recommendations of the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The New Democratic Party has already decided prior to consulting with Canadians that the mixed member proportional system is the way to go. This government does not want to prejudge the views of Canadians on this important matter.

Might I add that the previous speaker made mention of several changes that she feels need to be made to the way that Parliament works. It is important to point out that the previous Liberal government was in power for 13 years. The Liberals moved forward on none of these provisions. I find that extraordinary.

Quite frankly, as someone who has had a lifelong interest in democratic reform, I am proud of the initiatives that our government has launched. I encourage all members of all parties in the House to support them when they come forward.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Motion No. 262, which proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The motion proposes that we strike a special committee of the House of Commons to make recommendations on democratic reform. The motion also proposes the creation of a citizens' consultation group to report on the matter.

This is the type of motion the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London made at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The member proposed to do a study on democratic reform. What I find interesting is that the member's proposal was voted down by the committee, which included the NDP member on the committee at that time.

I am curious as to why the NDP member would bring forward Motion No. 262 at this time, based on the fact that this was something that one of our members had earlier proposed. Also this is an initiative that as a government we have been looking at as well. Therefore, I find that the motion is redundant.

I appreciate what the member for Vancouver Island North is trying to do. I think we all agree that it makes sense to look at the democratic process from time to time and see if there are ways that we can change it to make it better.

It is for all of these reasons I will not be supporting the motion. Certainly, as I have said before, it is very worthwhile to look at ways to make the democratic process better, but the government has already taken action. Our government has already initiated a process to start looking at this issue.

The previous government did not do a whole lot about the democratic process over the 13 years that the Liberals were in power. They certainly talked about doing something about the democratic process, but unfortunately it never materialized under the previous government.

One thing our government has definitely been looking at is how we consult with Canadians and how we can do a better job on democratic reform issues. With that in mind I would like to talk about what the government is looking at doing over the next little while.

We certainly want to engage parliamentarians. We have initiated a number of legislative issues. Public consultation is also very important to make this process work. We should engage all Canadians.

The work the government has been doing has been noted by other members, but it bears repeating.

The government enacted Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. This is one of the most notable things this government has done. The act bans union as well as corporate donations, and limits contributions to $1,100, and makes sure that no cash donations are accepted. In terms of the democratic process we have seen what happens in other parts of the world where there is not a limit on donations. People seem to have more influence with the more money that they are able to spend on elections. Limiting the amount will work in our democratic process. It is important regardless of where Canadians come from that they be able to have a say in government and not just be able to influence the government with money.

Bill C-16 was introduced by the Conservative government. The bill looks at establishing fixed election dates. The bill passed unanimously by the House. The Senate recently attempted to add an amendment that the government rejects. We are hoping that the Senate will move forward and put the bill back to the way it was originally.

What is important with fixed election dates is that we would not just worry about what is going on in the polls. Whatever party was in government would have an opportunity for more stability. People would know that every four years an election would be held on a certain date. This has worked in some provinces. This is something that we could look at federally as well.

The third initiative that the government has introduced in terms of legislation is Bill S-4 which was introduced in the Senate. That bill limits the terms for senators. It would eliminate the current situation where unelected and unaccountable senators can sit for up to 45 years. An eight year term would allow senators to get the kind of experience they need when looking at legislative initiatives and ensure they would get new perspectives.

Even though that bill was introduced in the Senate, we are stuck. It has been sitting in the other place for almost a year now, which is kind of surprising. It may be a bit of a concern if a bill was introduced to limit a term from 45 years to 8 years, but we would encourage that unelected, majority-driven Liberal Senate to pass that bill.

There are also other areas that we have looked at. The government introduced Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, which we will be debating next week. This bill would enable us to talk to people about how senators should be appointed.

These are all great initiatives that will help make the democratic process better.

We have also introduced Bill C-31 which looks at a number of different measures in terms of the electoral system and voter ID. This is important based on all the recommendations that were contained in the 13th report of the procedure and House affairs committee. The government is looking for a way to implement those recommendations through Bill C-31. We are trying to make the electoral system more fair. We are trying to reduce fraud. The bill has the support of all parties and we are certainly hoping that it will be passed very shortly in the Senate.

The second issue that I would like to address today is public consultations. It is important that not only elected representatives participate in the system, but individuals from across the country participate as well. The government is already engaged in this. We started the process back on January 9.

We want to set up citizen forum groups across the country, so we could deal with all the provinces and territories. We are midway in this process. We have been able to talk to people. At each of these forums somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 individuals have represented the Canadian population. We are hoping that when we are done with this process, we will have spoken to some 400 or 500 Canadians.

In this way, we really believe that we can get some impartial views. One of the members talked about the fact that certain parties were already leaning toward one certain system. In this way, we have a chance not to bias the process but give Canadians an opportunity to participate. So far the participation and the response has been very enthusiastic. This is good to see as we look at a whole range of individuals from different parties, from across all electoral systems, as well as the House of Commons, the Senate and citizens.

We are also looking at a youth forum that would take place in Ottawa. This forum would try to establish why there is such low voter turnout among young people. We realize that young people are disengaged and sometimes frustrated with the system. It is important that we look at ways to engage young people, so they can be part of the political process and look at making a difference.

We are also looking at sending a survey out across the country. This could be part of our final report.

We have consultations going on with members of the House and with the Senate. We have surveys, citizen groups and youth forums. All of these things will be important as we look at delivering the final report some time in June of this year. I certainly look forward to seeing it.

As we look at introducing legislation in the House, it is important that we consult with people. This gives us a better understanding obviously as we look at different parts of the country with different needs. I have sat in on a few meetings of the procedure and House Affairs, and I know there are concerns given the fact that we have large urban ridings and rural ridings. Because of the uniqueness of this country, I believe this consultation process is important.

Once again, I am going to urge all members to vote against this motion because of what we already having going on in the House. I want to thank parliamentarians for their participation in this process.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Vancouver Island North is the mover of Motion No. 262 and I am about to recognize her. This will be her five minutes right of reply. The hon. member for Vancouver Island North.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know I only get five minutes, but I think I need at least half an hour to counter some of the inane arguments that I have heard on this issue.

Just to talk about the single issue that the Conservatives repeatedly brought up, they talked about Senate reform. We are talking about electoral reform, our electoral system that gets us to the House of Commons, but they repeatedly talked about Senate reform in their remarks. Therefore, I would counter that single issue argument.

The Conservatives put together a series of focus groups. Those focus groups as we know are designed mainly to look at Senate reform. They threw electoral reform into the mix hastily, I might add, after I put my Motion No. 262 forward. They basically hijacked that motion. They hired a biased think tank, a special interest group, to have one meeting in each province across the country with hand-picked attendees at these meetings.

I have heard from some of those attendees. What they are telling me is that 45 minutes of each day of these focus groups was spent discussing electoral reform. The Conservatives call that broad consultation.

Consultation takes time and the member who previously spoke said that the Conservatives want to have consultation. Here is the way to do it: support Motion No. 262 and have that consultation process go across the country and involve citizens, have full participation and citizen engagement.

The Conservatives say a report will be written and that report is supposed to go to the minister, to the government, but I ask: will Parliament ever see that report? We are not so sure.

The Conservatives also said that the NDP has put forward some ideas on electoral reform. That is just what they are: ideas. I thought that was our job in Parliament, to put forward ideas, to have fulsome debate on those ideas. For the member to say that we put something forward is quite ludicrous as well as to speak against putting ideas forward in the House. We have been putting them forward for years.

Motion No. 262 is a specific motion. It is calling for broad consultation, something that all members of the House say they want to hear. Over a period of time we want a full discussion by asking Canadians about the values and the principles that they want to see in an electoral system and then have that report come back to Parliament, to the members of the House, so that we can continue the work that was started in the last Parliament by Ed Broadbent and others in the House.

Every one matters and every vote should count. However, over the past 10 years we have seen a decrease in voter turnout. Why is that? It is because more and more Canadians feel that their vote does not count. That is especially true among young voters. They need to be engaged in a fulsome debate as well, not just in one province, in one town, to have a one day discussion, but across this broad country to involve them at every level.

We look around the House and we see less than 30% of the members are women. We should be plus 52% if we had equality in this country. My colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, talked about the need for electoral reform to ensure a more gender equal representation and I thank her for those comments.

I also want to honour the work that was done previously by our former leader and member for Ottawa Centre, Mr. Ed Broadbent, who worked tirelessly on the issue of electoral reform so we could have gender equity in the House.

I also want to thank the member for St. Paul's for her comments. She spoke about Doris Anderson and her work to bring electoral reform to this country. Doris never gave up on that subject. Right until the day she died, she was fighting for electoral reform.

Our voting system is outdated. Most other older European nations use a voting system developed in the 20th century, while Canada uses a voting system that was developed in the 12th century. It is outrageous.

Canadians know their system is outdated and unfair. They are ahead of the government on this issue. Canadians are ready for a change and the government knows this or it would not have put electoral reform into its Senate reform debates. Canadian need to be heard.

I call on all parties to support this motion and let us move forward so everyone's vote will count.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members



Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Electoral Reform
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members