Madam Speaker, the government is sending mixed messages with regard to Bill C-12. If we think about what it is saying, it is trying to emphasize how important it is for this bill to go to committee and ultimately to continue through the process to become law. One can reflect on the fact that the Conservative Party has been in government for a number of years, and many would argue too many years, but that is another debate for another time. From what I understand, the bill has been on the order paper since April, yet today is the first day that members are afforded the opportunity to participate in second reading debate. One has to question the rationale and why it is the bill is before us today.
Most, if not all, members would recognize the importance of democracy and the manner in which members of Parliament or other parliamentarians are elected. There is a responsibility. I am really disappointed in the government's style of approach in dealing with this issue.
There is a responsibility for ministers to do their homework. I do not believe the minister has done his homework. There is a responsibility for the minister to have consultations to try to build a consensus. Different types of legislation will come before the House. The type such as the bill before us today is one that should be done in a more apolitical fashion.
Either the government House leader or the minister should have been having discussions with members of all political entities in the chamber to get a better understanding as to how we move forward in order to achieve the necessary consensus to make the changes that will be beneficial for all Canadians. Had the government approached it in that fashion, I would argue there would have been a higher sense of co-operation among the different political entities in the House of Commons.
If the minister had done his homework, as he should have, I suspect that having the bill pass quickly in a couple of hours in order for it to go to committee would have been that much more achievable. There are aspects of legislation the government needs to think twice about in terms of the type of work that has been done.
Whether it is Bill C-12 or reforms to our electoral laws, the onus is on the government to work with all political parties and build on that consensus. That point has been lost.
I had the privilege of working on electoral reform and Senate reform in different capacities. In fact, I was part of an all party task force just over a year ago that dealt with Senate reform. Actually, it was indirectly mandated through the current Prime Minister.
I bring that up because there is a great deal of merit in the way in which Manitoba initially attempted to deal with the issue. It was recognized that, given the very nature of the issue, it was important that legislators meet with the public. Public meetings were set up all over the province of Manitoba and a committee of individuals was put together. I happened to be the one representing the Liberal Party.
The committee went to different communities to hear first-hand what the public had to say about Senate reform and what role Manitoba should play. The government would have done well had it used a similar approach of working with political parties and seeking the opinions and thoughts of Canadians about legislation such as this.
It would be good to draw upon some of the comparisons. There is the whole issue of why one province has x number of senators while another province with a far greater population only has y number of senators. There seems to be some injustice.
The public, as a whole, within the province of Manitoba recognized that. It was great to be able to get the feedback, in terms of what real people had to say about that issue.
I listened very carefully to members from the government caucus and the Liberal caucus with regard to rep by pop. In theory, yes, rep by pop is a great way to go. However, we are a nation of different regions. We have to be sensitive to the constitutional history of our country. We have to be sensitive to the needs of the different regions, the uniqueness of all of our provinces. Whether it be Manitoba, P.E.I., Quebec or British Columbia, all provinces are unique in their own way, I would ultimately argue. In listening to the presentations from the public with regard to this issue, I found that the public was very sympathetic to those arguments. They understand that representation by population is a positive thing. They also were sympathetic, as I believe a majority of Canadians would be, to the rationale that was being used to try to justify the numbers. It did not mean they agreed with the numbers, but it meant they were open to some sort of fluctuation.
Canadians as a whole are very reasonable people. The government had nothing to fear by working with opposition parties and listening to what the public might have to say. There has been a great deal of reluctance from the current government to engage the public.
When I reflect on the by-election, the different styles in leadership amaze me. The Liberal Party has a leader who is prepared to go out and engage with people, whether it is at town hall meetings, Internet town halls, or just getting out into the community unscripted. Compare that to the little glass bubble the current Prime Minister seems to be in and the amount of control he insists on. I suspect maybe it was the Prime Minister's Office that said to the minister, “No, no, no. Don't go out and consult with the public because we might not want to hear what they have to say. We have our script and that is the script that has to be”.
It is very clear that is the type of comment we hear with the current government, “Here is the course we are taking”. It does not matter what is actually happening and what people have to say about legislation the government is talking about. The government is determined that this is the direction in which we have to go.
I respect that the government members said that this is an important bill. However, what is really lacking is any recognition that Canadians have a role to play in terms of providing input. I do not believe the government has factored that in. And there are other things the government could have done.
At the end of the day, as I say, if the government is not prepared to have an all-party working group go into the communities to get the feedback, we can work with the different political parties to try to get that consensus. In this way, at least those other political entities have the option to do the consultation, which I believe is critically important when we are making changes of this nature.
In my opinion, that is a lost opportunity, which is unfortunate. It could have taken advantage of that opportunity to go out and consult. I will go back to the task force. When we went into the community, often the media would take an interest and there would be a report in different media outlets. People were better informed and more in the loop in terms of what it is that the legislators were talking about. There was no big surprise at the end of the day.
The government caucus has lost that opportunity. There was an opportunity to go out in a fair and open fashion to engage people, perhaps in town hall meetings. In that way there would be a better understanding in terms of what it is the government is trying to do.
Instead, it is almost as if the government wanted to try to build on wedge issues, issues that would cause a division. That causes concern. I do not believe that is in the long-term national best interest. I would have much preferred a government that was prepared to work with the parties in the House of Commons and with the public in dealing with bills of this nature.
Representation is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. I expected better from the government of the day. I am disappointed that it did not do its homework. To add insult to injury, after waiting, as one of my colleagues said, 160 days or since April or however long it has been, the Conservative government expects everyone to give it a pat on the back and say, “Good job”.
We know that the government has dropped the ball in terms of doing what it could have done to really improve democratic reform in the country. This is a very important issue. One of the great challenges we have as parliamentarians is trying to get more people engaged in the democratic process.
I had an opportunity a number of years ago in a different task force to deal with democratic reform at the grassroots level. Some interesting things came out of that.
We should be looking for ways in which we can have a healthier system. One of the recommendations that was brought forward was the idea allowing individuals to vote in malls. Generally speaking, it was felt that we need to make voting more accessible. In the last provincial election that is in fact what was done. Elections Manitoba allowed people to vote in locations where people were going to be, to make it more convenient. The system worked. People appreciated that.
There is so much more we could be doing to make our system that much better. Ultimately, I would argue that there is no such thing as perfect system. I think it was Winston Churchill who once commented on the overall ugliness in terms of how the parliamentary system works, but at the end of the day it was the best system in the world.
I believe, as many do, that we need to stand on guard and look at ways in which we can make our system work better. We need to look at ways in which we can improve the system. We need to look at ways in which we can engage people.
The more we engage people in a process like this one, the more interest they are going to have and the more they are going to want to participate in the process.
It always saddens me when I think of the number of young people who, for whatever reason, do not get out to vote. We could be doing so much more to engage our young people in the system. I suspect that if we brought a bill of this nature to a university campus or to a town hall meeting and young people were invited to provide their views on the kind of representation they want in our country, they would participate in the process. That is what we are missing. The government does not see the value of getting engaged with the public. It is good to see legislation that recognizes the need and tries to address that need but we could do so much more.
I encourage the government to step outside the box, step outside the Prime Minister's Office. The government needs to start thinking of ways to better serve Canadians as a whole.
Canadians should be engaged with respect to this legislation. A political party does not have the right to hijack legislation of this type and say that it is the only party that understands democracy and the way in which it works. All political parties have a vested interest in ensuring we have the best system in the world and in looking at ways in which we can improve upon it.
The government was wrong not to engage the different political parties. The government was wrong not to engage the public. As a result, I suspect the legislation is not as good as it could have been or as it should have been.
I am partial to this legislation but I personally appeal to government members that when they bring forward legislation in general that they look at better ways to get people involved in the process.
I would challenge the government to give serious thought to how we can improve the wonderful system that we currently have and to approach it with an open mind. By approaching it with an open mind and working within the system and engaging the people of our country, the system can be improved. We must never take it for granted.
One of the most touching things I have ever experienced happened one day inside the Manitoba legislature. As we were sitting on the front benches giving speeches, some vets were sitting behind us. It prompted me to remember that our veterans gave us the right to be where we are today. We should never take them for granted.
When it comes to issues such as this, it is important that we provide the best type of legislation we can so we can all feel good about the democracy in which we live and the democracy which we are proud to be a part of in this chamber, as I am.