That: (a) the House recognize the undemocratic nature of the current form of representation in the Parliament of Canada, specifically the unnecessary Senate and a House of Commons that does not accurately reflect the political preferences of Canadians;
(b) the House call on the government to (i) propose amendments to the Referendum Act in order to allow the holding of a special referendum at the same time as the next general election, (ii) put a simple question, as written by the Special Committee for Democratic Improvement, which would allow Canadians to vote to abolish the Senate;
(c) the House appoint a Special Committee for Democratic Improvement, whose mandate is to (i) engage with Canadians, and make recommendations to the House, on how best to achieve a House of Commons that more accurately reflects the votes of Canadians by combining direct election by electoral district and proportional representation, (ii) advise the government on the wording of a referendum question to abolish the Senate; and
(d) the Special Committee for Democratic Improvement shall consist of 12 members which shall include six members from the government party, three members from the Official Opposition, two members from the Bloc Québécois and one member from the New Democratic Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party, and
(1) that in addition to the Chair, there shall be one Vice-Chair elected by committee members, who shall be from an opposition party;
(2) that the members to serve on the said Committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the Committee no later than three days from the passage of this motion;
(3) that the quorum of the Special Committee be seven members for any proceedings;
(4) that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
(5) that the Committee have all of the powers of a standing committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and
(6) that the Committee shall report its recommendations to this House no later than one year from the passage of this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to not only move my motion but also to debate it.
New Democrats, and probably most members of the House if they were to admit it, accept the fact that Canadians believe that our Parliament is broken and that we need to do something about it rather than tinkering around the edges. We need to make profound changes that will actually bring modern, true democracy to Parliament Hill.
The current Prime Minister has quite a track record of commenting on the Senate. Prior to the current position he holds, it had been his position that the Senate is a relic of the 19th century. We agree with the Prime Minister on that.
However, it is a relic that was put in place for a very specific purpose. It was created to ensure that Canada's elite, the power brokers of the day, those that have, are protected from whatever the unwashed masses might do should we actually give them control of this country, control of the economy, and control over the laws that govern our day-to-day activities. The Senate was put there to keep this place in check. We believe it is time to remove that, get rid of the Senate, and focus on making this place as democratic as it can be. That is the solution as far as we are concerned.
Citizens in this country go from rage to laughter at the situation that we have in our current Senate. That is why it has been known for many years as the “taskless thanks”. Under our Constitution, the Senate is a body that is actually superior to this place. However, there is one little missing piece in that place, the absence of democracy.
I would like to say upfront that there is one exception to the comments that will be made, and that I will make, about unelected senators. In fact, there is one who was elected. Although I acknowledge the exception of the one senator who was elected, I do remind the House that that senator will never have the word “re-elected” appearing after the word “elected” because there is no requirement for that senator to go back to the people and ask, “Am I doing a good job? Am I doing the right thing? Are you happy with what I've done?” I accept that there is an exception there, but it only goes to a certain degree. The whole issue of accountability and reporting to the very people who provided the mandate to be there in the first place is missing.
I also want to say that there are independent senators in that place. Although not many, there are independent senators who go out of their way to maintain that independence and try to keep at arm's length from the partisan aspects. However, that is a very small minority.
An important comment I would make at the outset is that this is not about individual senators. There will be comments made about them. To some degree, they have to be accountable for their actions and what they are doing over there.
However, today is not about individual senators. In fact, I have the greatest admiration for most of the ones with whom I have worked. In particular, a certain senator from Saskatchewan who is a lawyer, a former judge and ambassador, and the co-chair of our Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association, does a magnificent job and is a great Canadian. I am very proud to represent Canada with her and the others on that team. That does not change the fact that this hon. senator still does not have the democratic mandate to be affecting our laws and deciding on whether or not this country will have laws that protect people or whether we have an economy that represents ordinary working people. Senators do not have that mandate. As good as that Canadian is that I am talking about, she still does not have that mandate.
There are some who would argue that by going to an elected Senate, we will solve that entire problem. However, we are arguing here today that if Canadians focused on this issue, we could convince them that the best thing to do is to abolish the Senate completely and focus on bringing proportional representation to the House of Commons to more accurately reflect the political will and decisions of the Canadian people. That is what this is all about.
The government has put forward some bills and it looks like its ideas are not going very far. People are asking why they are doing this now. The government is trying to do something and people can see that it is not getting anywhere, and so what is the point? Why are they wasting their time trying to do that? It is too complicated.
Why do we not just go ahead and elect senators and keep the Senate there? It is because we all know that going to an elected Senate, first, would be just as complicated and just as difficult as abolishing it. We also know that it would create gridlock in this place. It was a real eye opener for the Canadian people, and certainly for this party, when Bill C-311 was unilaterally killed without debate, or at least not much if there was any, after being passed by the House twice.
We believe, rather than setting up a system that would complicate things even more by creating permanent gridlock, we ought to abolish that place completely.
How do we go about that, because it is so complex? We could stand up a fleet of constitutional lawyers who would tell us how difficult that would be to do. Agreed. Anything to do with the constitution and this place and that place is complicated. That is a given, but running away from the problem will not solve it.
We in the New Democratic Party are saying that if we have a big problem like this that is so important to the future of the country, why do we not go to the “bosses” and ask them what they think. The bosses in this case are the Canadian people.
We are suggesting that we put a referendum before the Canadian people, a simple question. We believe the first question that needs to be asked if we are to look at changing things is, “Do you still want a Senate, yes or no?” If the answer is yes, then we can move on and start talking about what that would look like and engage Canadians in that discussion. We believe that in an open and fair political battle, we could win that one, because the number of people in Canada who believe that it should be abolished is growing. However, if we put that question to the Canadian people and they said, “No, we do not want the Senate any more”, we believe we could move very quickly to implement the will of the Canadian people, because that is where all power derives from in this country, in the will of the Canadian people.
The Prime Minister said he would not appoint anybody who was not elected to the Senate. Let me just give a brief description of some of the people the Prime Minister has appointed, without mentioning names, as that is not my thing. I do not have much time, and so I will just list some of them: a Tory organizer was appointed to sit in cabinet as a Quebec representative, which we all remember; a former director of the PC fund and chair of Tory leadership and policy conventions was appointed senator; as were a Tory campaign director for 2006 and 2008; a former chair of the Conservative Party's fundraising; a former chief of staff to Preston Manning; and an unsuccessful candidate in 1993 and 1997.
That is one of the problems here. The Prime Minister said he would not appoint anyone and then turned around and only appointed, for the most part, with a couple of exceptions, good, loyal Conservatives. That may make the Conservative benches happy, but all it does is put the lie to the claim that the other place is non-partisan. That is not true.
To continue, a former Conservative MP, defeated in the 2008 election, and another unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the 2008 election were also appointed. What is it with the Conservatives who cannot get into Parliament through the front door, but as long as they are good buddies with the Prime Minister of the day, they get to come into Parliament through the back door? Of course, the nice thing about that is they never have to go back to anybody. One bended knee request, and it is over.
There are a few more. We have another unsuccessful Canadian Alliance candidate, and yet another. We have a former president of the Conservative Party, the Quebec co-chair of the Prime Minister's own 2004 leadership campaign, and the Prime Minister's former press secretary. We have a former Newfoundland Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, a former Ontario Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, a New Brunswick Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, another unsuccessful Conservative candidate and yet another, and the list goes on and on.
The Liberals are no better. The Liberals right now, to the best of my knowledge, and if I am wrong I will correct it publicly, have their national campaign co-chair as a senator, their Nova Scotia campaign co-chair as a senator, their New Brunswick campaign co-chair as a senator, and their leader's Alberta and British Columbia outreach coordinators as senators too.
What is interesting about that is that it speaks to the leader's Alberta and British Columbia outreach, but if a senator is to provide a sober second independent thought, how can it be that a senator can also somehow be tied to the leader of the official opposition? There is no politics over there, though: they are all just good Canadians, reflecting soberly with sober second thoughts.
Why do they have a whip? When did we need to start whipping independents? They have a government House leader. We know that a government House leader's job is to shepherd government legislation through the Senate, yet government legislation is partisan. How can that be? There is the leader of the official opposition. How can that be? How can all of these things exist and yet at the same time we can have this independent sober second thought? How?
It is time to give the Canadian people their chance to kill that undemocratic chamber and make this place more democratic. That is what this is about.
As for the other piece of this, it is not as sexy and will not get all the headlines. We knew that. However, in many ways, the proportional representation aspect of this is arguably even more important than the Senate, because the decision about what happens with the Senate will be taken here. We need to make sure that everywhere here is democratically elected and actually reflects the will of the people. This House does not do that right now.
We have a system, and we believe it is time to end it, where if a party goes into a general election and gets 40% of the vote, it gets 100% of the power. What kind of democracy says that 40% of the vote gives a party 100% of the power? Right now, ours does. Right now, that is the way that first past the post works.
Some people are saying that the reason we want proportional representation is that we are one of the smaller parties, that it is the only way we will get into power, et cetera, all of which may or may not be true. However, I would remind the government members who may want to use that argument that in Germany, where they have proportional representation, it is the right wing that has formed a coalition to reach a majority government. So if it is a plot, a secret conspiracy, to help the left and the NDP, we need to rethink our strategy here. That does not seem to be a guarantee with this system.
What is a guarantee, though, is having people's votes reflected. Right now there are hundreds of thousands of votes cast in a general election that virtually do not count. In my own riding, I hope that all of those who voted for me are happy but all of the people who voted against me are unhappy, and where is what they wanted reflected? Where is it? It is legitimate, too.
Just because one's favoured candidate does not win, does not mean that one's vote is worth less than somebody else's vote. Yet that is what our current system does.
If we had proportional representation, under one of the more prevalent models, here is how it would help the Conservatives. Granted, the Conservatives would have fewer seats. They would have 119. However, in terms of democracy and representing the will of the Canadian people, the 26% of the votes they received in Toronto would have elected members for them. The Conservative Party received 26% of the votes cast in Toronto but did not get one seat. That is not an accurate reflection of the entire electorate in Toronto.
The Liberals would have won 83 seats. They would have gained a few. However, more importantly, in the 2008 election, the Liberals had 28% of the votes in south central Ontario but did not get a single seat. That is not right.
The NDP would have won 56 seats. Granted, that would be an increase. Fair enough, but the important thing is that 25% of the vote that it got in Saskatchewan would have been reflected in a seat from Saskatchewan. How can a party get a quarter, a full 25%, of the votes cast and have nothing to show for it?
The Bloc would have had 31 seats. What is interesting is that in 2008 the Bloc received 38% of the Quebec vote but got 65% of the Quebec seats.
The Green Party I want to mention. Based on the last vote, the Greens would have had 17 seats, because they received 6.8% of the vote, and yet there is no Green voice here. Yet the Bloc got 10% of the national vote and got 49 seats. Think about it: the Green Party got 6.8% and no seats, and the Bloc got 10% and 49 seats.
The system just does not work. It does not work for Canadians. It certainly does not work for women, aboriginals and minorities.
People are somewhat concerned about how complicated the system might be. Well, it is certainly no more complicated than trying to figure out what is going on between here and that place over there. We know that Canadians are pretty good at dealing with strategic voting, so they are not going to have any problem, in the NDP's opinion, mastering proportional representation. It is in 74 other countries already.
When people vote, they will get two votes. One will be for their local candidate in their geographical riding. People will cast their votes for the person they want to be their MP for their area, just like now, except there is a way that we can polish the first past the post system. Then people will get a second vote, allowing them to pick their party preference. Then, at the end of the day, there will be a calculation made.
One of the models that has been looked at is the two-thirds/one-third system. Two-thirds of the seats would be like these, and one-third would come from the PR lists. Then the proportion of everybody's vote, as I have already said, would be reflected in the House. There would be the candidate of people's choice and a reflection of the party weight in the House, thereby giving people the democracy they are craving, demanding and looking for.
I urge my colleagues to look at adopting this motion. It is a bite-sized measure. It is saying that we should take one step at a time, that we should put the question about whether the Senate should exist to the Canadian people and that a committee should engage Canadians in modernizing our democracy and bringing proportional representation to this place we love.