House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was democracy.


Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON


That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to consider the advisability of instituting a single, preferential ballot for the election of the Speaker by replacing Standing Order 4 with the following:

“4. The election of a Speaker shall be conducted by secret ballot as follows:

(1) Any Member who does not wish to be considered for election to the Office of Speaker shall, not later than 6:00 p.m. on the day preceding the day on which the election of a Speaker is expected to take place, in writing, so inform the Clerk of the House who shall prepare a list of such Members’ names together with a list of all Ministers of the Crown and party leaders, and shall provide the same to the Member presiding prior to the taking of the ballot.

(2) Members present in the Chamber shall be provided by the Clerk of the House with ballot papers, on which shall be listed, in alphabetical order, the names of all the Members whose names have not been placed on the list provided pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order.

(3) The Member presiding shall announce from the Chair that the list provided pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order is available for consultation at the Table.

(4) Members wishing to indicate their choice for the Office of Speaker shall rank each candidate listed on the ballot in the Member’s order of preference by marking the number “1” in the space adjacent to the name of the candidate who is the Member’s first preference, the number “2” in the space adjacent to the name of the Member’s second preference and so on until the Member has completed the ranking of all the candidates for whom the Member wishes to vote.

(5) A ballot on which a Member has ranked one or more, but not all, of the candidates is valid only in respect of the candidate or candidates whom the member has ranked.

(6) Members shall deposit their completed ballot papers in a box provided for that purpose on the Table.

(7) The Clerk of the House shall, once all Members wishing to do so have deposited their ballot papers, count the number of first preferences recorded on the ballots for each candidate, and, if a candidate has received a majority of first preferences, provide the Member presiding with the name of that candidate, whereupon the Member presiding shall announce the name of the new Speaker.

(8) If, after the count referred to in section (7) of this Standing Order, no candidate has received a majority of first preferences, the Clerk of the House shall

(a) eliminate the candidate who received the least number of first preferences from any subsequent counts and, in the event that, at the conclusion of a count, there is an equality of votes between two or more candidates, both or all of whom have the fewest first preferences, eliminate all of the candidates for whom there is an equality of first preferences;

(b) in all subsequent counts, treat each second or lower preference as if it were a first preference for the next highest candidate in the order of preference who is not eliminated; and

(c) repeat the process of vote counting described in paragraphs (a) and (b) until one candidate has received a majority of first preferences, at which point the Clerk of the House shall provide the Member presiding with the name of that candidate, whereupon the Member presiding shall announce the name of the new Speaker.

(9) Every ballot shall be considered in every count, unless it is exhausted in accordance with section (10) of this Standing Order.

(10) A ballot is exhausted when all the candidates on that ballot in respect of which a preference has been made are eliminated.

(11) In the event that, after all other candidates have been eliminated, the process of vote counting has resulted in an equality of largest number of first preferences between two or more candidates, Members present in the Chamber shall be provided by the Clerk of the House with ballot papers, on which shall be listed, in alphabetical order, the names of all candidates who have not been eliminated, and the vote shall proceed in like manner as the first vote.

(12) After a Speaker has been declared elected, the Clerk of the House shall destroy the ballots together with all records of the number of preferences marked for each candidate and the Clerk of the House shall in no way divulge the number of preferences marked for any candidate.

(13) During the election of a Speaker there shall be no debate and the Member presiding shall not be permitted to entertain any question of privilege.”;

and report its finding to the House no later than six months following the adoption of this order.

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 489 proposes to change Standing Order 4, which governs the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons. If this motion is adopted by the House, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will be asked to review a proposed new method for electing Speakers, details of which are contained in the text of the motion.

Mr. Speaker, while you offered to read the entire motion for the benefit of the House, I think members would be happy to consult with the written copy that is available on today's order paper.

The committee would be required to report back to the House within six months, but it is free to do the following: (a), accept the new proposed voting method; (b), reject the proposed new method; or, (c), make amendments to the recommendation and report back to the House with the recommended amended version in place of the original. As things stand, the Speaker is currently elected by what is known technically as an exhaustive ballot. Each MP casts a single ballot for his or her preferred candidate. The candidate who has secured the smallest number of votes is dropped from the ballot. Then, new rounds of voting take place with candidates being dropped from the ballot, one per round of voting, until a single candidate finally secures 50% of the vote.

To those of us serving today, this system of voting may seem to have existed since “time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary”. In fact, the system was introduced in 1986 during the first term of the Mulroney government. It was based, in large measure, on the recommendations of the Lefebvre committee, which had reported on suggested changes to the Standing Orders in 1982, when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

Prior to that, Speakers were elected by an open show of hands; votes took place along partisan lines; and the Speaker was chosen, in practice, by the prime minister of the day. From 1953 until the 1980s, the Speaker had been chosen in consultation with the leader of the opposition, and one gets the impression that this was sometimes a perfunctory consultation. However, before the 1950s, even that did not happen. The Speaker was nominated in an entirely partisan manner, with the prime minister nominating the Speaker, and a senior minister seconding the nomination. Nominations were done by motion, which precluded a meaningful contest for the post, even in times of minority governments.

What we now have is clearly an improvement on the system that existed as recently as 20 years ago, but it is capable of being improved on, in several respects. For starters, it can be an interminably long process. Following the 2011 general election, six ballots were necessary to finally produce a majority for the winning candidate. As the rules require at least an hour to pass between ballots and the process of balloting takes some additional time, this consumed an entire day. It was not quite as long as the election of a Pope, but, at the time, the similarities did not escape some of the wittier members participating in the process.

We, in the 41st Parliament, were lucky. In 1986, Speaker Fraser was elected in an epic eleven-ballot process. Other highlights have been six ballots, in 1994; four ballots, in 1997; five ballots. in 2001; and five ballots, in 2008.

A second problem is that the current system can produce tie votes and there is no mechanism for resolving such ties. In 1994, there was a tie vote on the fifth ballot between the two remaining candidates, Gib Parent and Jean-Robert Gauthier. The solution that was jury-rigged at the time was to simply conduct the ballot all over again, with everybody voting as they had done before. Someone changed his or her vote, so it worked. However, such changes of heart cannot be regarded as being guaranteed to happen every time, as demonstrated, for example, by the 35 successive tie votes when the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to break a tie in 1800, between presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Therefore, formalized tie-breaking rules would be an improvement.

A third consideration, which is a problem from my point of view, although not perhaps in the eyes of all members, stems from the fact that the current system discreetly calls for all ballot papers to be destroyed and for the results of each ballot to remain a secret. That is in order, one assumes, to prevent MPs from casting their ballots strategically rather than on the more austere considerations of the competence and character of the candidates who ought, in the eyes of those who wrote the rules, to more properly guide our votes. This is fair enough, but it obviates the chief merit of the exhaustive balloting system at party leadership conventions.

Where exhaustive balloting is used, knowledge as to which candidate has received what number of votes is key to the deal making that allows one candidate to supercede another. Some people regard this deal making as a key advantage, which is why the system survives in the constitutions of some parties, and also in the rules that govern the election of the Speaker in the British House of Commons, where vote totals are known. In fact, anybody can look up the Wikipedia article on the 2010 election of the Speaker there, to see how the balloting went.

Having experienced the divisiveness of the final ballot in party leadership runoff elections—and many of us have certainly experienced that, whether at a convention or whether the party membership is casting the ballots—I do not personally share this particular enthusiasm for deal making. I do share the austere preference expressed by those who have designed our rules and kept the results secret.

However, once the decision to keep the results secret has been written into the rules, I am at a loss to determine what advantage is served by dragging out the process through multiple ballots. They are being conducted in the presence of an information vacuum, and therefore cannot serve any purpose whatsoever, other than to take up time.

Why not allow MPs to simply indicate all of their preferences at once, on a single piece of paper, by ranking each of the candidates and placing a number beside that candidate's name on the ballot paper, and then have the clerks total up the preferences?

There is a final problem with the current system. One additional advantage of not revealing the vote totals for any of the candidates is to allow individuals to drop off the ballot with their egos relatively intact, since nobody can be certain whether the individual being dropped has finished in close contention to the next lowest-scoring candidate.

However, under the current rules, which were put in place after the eleven-ballot extravaganza in 1986, any candidate who receives fewer than 5% of the votes is removed from the ballot. In 2011, more than one candidate dropped off the ballot following the first vote, indicating that at least one person had received less than 5% of the vote, and making it pretty clear who had suffered this particular stigma. A preferential ballot would perhaps eliminate this minor problem.

I want to talk a little about consideration of timing. Although I did not plan it this way, the timing of this motion is perhaps fortuitous. The same committee, during the same time period, will be studying Motion No. 431, proposed by our colleague from Saskatoon—Humboldt. That deals with the related issue of how to elect committee chairs. Likewise, the committee on procedure and House affairs will be in a position to continue the review that was started earlier in the 41st Parliament, on the Standing Orders as a whole.

These subjects could perhaps be studied at the same time, thereby allowing a more efficient use of the committee's time than would be possible if they were dealt with discreetly over the four-year life of a Parliament.

Let me talk now about why the motion is structured as it is. In preparing this motion, I had two options. The first, which I did not choose, would have been to refer the subject matter to the committee, but only with a general instruction as to the outcome that I would have preferred.

This is the approach adopted by my colleague for Saskatoon—Humboldt. That motion, no. 431, states:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to:

(a) consider the election of committee chairs by means of a preferential ballot system by all the Members of the House of Commons, at the beginning of each session and prior to the establishment of the membership of the standing committees....

The motion gives no further instructions regarding the actual wording of the standing order that would result. Alternatively, I could have laid out a motion consisting of the finalized version of the Standing Orders and voting system. If I had done that, a vote in the House in favour of the motion would have resulted in a change to the Standing Orders to take place immediately, without any oversight or potential amendment taking place at the procedure and House affairs committee.

Both approaches seem to have drawbacks. In my view, the former approach would not lay out a clear enough instruction. The proposal might have been seen as impractical, if an actual formula were not in front of the committee. On the other hand, a specific formula might have put us in the position of adopting a suboptimal solution, or potentially even a very problematic solution that I simply have not recognized and that could have been identified and corrected in committee.

Let me talk a little about the substantive side of Motion No. 489. It makes three meaningful changes to Standing Order 4, which governs the election of Speaker. First and most significantly, it changes the electoral system by which Speakers are elected. Second, it creates a method of resolving tie votes. Just as our current system has on one occasion produced a tie vote, it is entirely possible that the process of counting and reassigning the second and third preferences of MPs could result in a situation in which the two remaining candidates would have an identical number of preferences.

In such an event, proposed rule 4(11) will apply, and a runoff election between the two remaining candidates would take place. Members will recognize that this is, in practice, a holdover of the existing system. Likewise, proposed rule 4(8)(a) provides that if two or more candidates are tied for the least number of votes in a given round of counting, they will both, or all, be dropped from the ballot, and their votes will be redistributed among the remaining candidates.

Third, the embarrassment that might occur if one or more candidates for the speakership are revealed to have had virtually no support will no longer be an issue, as it will no longer be evident which candidates dropped off the ballot and in which order.

An obvious question to ask when dealing with a proposal like this is whether it has been tried in any other jurisdiction or we are engaging in an experiment which has no precedent. In answering this question, I have turned to the parliaments of the Westminster model, that is to say, the parliaments of countries, which, like Canada, have drawn their model directly from the United Kingdom.

The mother of parliaments at Westminster is by far the most widely emulated legislative institution on the planet. The Commonwealth of Nations furnishes the world's largest laboratory of democracy. The British Parliament has spawned literally hundreds of imitations, on every continent and in islands of every ocean.

In addition to the countries of the Commonwealth, there is a legislature, often with two chambers, each of which has its own rules for electing its presiding officer. These are in every British colony, and in sub-national jurisdictions, such as Scotland and Wales, Canada's provinces, and the states of Australia and India.

I have not done a complete review of all the rules governing the election of the Speaker in each chamber of each parliament in every one of these jurisdictions. Some have been easier to locate than others. The researchers at the Library of Parliament are still trying to assist me in locating the rules used in some of the jurisdictions that are less easy to locate. The states of India, which in some cases seem not to have translated their rules into English or French, are proving at the moment to be the greatest challenge.

However, many other parliaments do have rules that are readily available. I would encourage any member, who has the interest, to consult with me prior to the vote on Motion No. 489 in order to see the list, by which time it may well be close to being exhaustive.

Based on the nearly 80 models with which I have been able to consult so far, I can say this. With regard to number one, the most common model, Commonwealth-wide, is the one used in Canada's House of Commons. The Speaker is elected by means of an exhaustive vote, which is a system similar to the one we use.

Number two, some jurisdictions, including New Zealand's House of Representatives, continue to elect the Speaker in the traditional way: by means of an open vote on a motion that x be named as Speaker, or by an election conducted by a show of hands.

Three, in some jurisdictions, the process of balloting is sped up by accepting that if balloting continues for multiple rounds, the winner need not have more than a plurality of the vote. For example, in Cyprus, nobody can win on the first ballot with less than half the votes cast. On the second ballot, 40% will do, and on the third ballot, simply having more votes than anyone else will suffice. This means that, in practice, these jurisdictions have adopted a first past the post system for the third ballot. That is similar to the one that let me take my own seat in the 37th Parliament with only 38% of the votes cast by the electors of Lanark Carleton.

Finally, there is a single major jurisdiction in which a single preferential ballot is used. The chair of India's upper house, the Rajya Sabha, or Council of States, is elected by all members of both the upper and lower houses using a single transferrable vote. The chair is also the vice president of India, which explains why both houses participate in the vote. I do not recommend that we copy this aspect of the model, but I want to make it clear that the system has functioned well for over half a century in the largest democracy on earth.

On a final note regarding the merits of preferential ballots, the system of using preferential ballots in elections where only one candidate can win is known as the alternative ballot. A record of this system in producing winners who represent the consensus of the electorate is impressive. It has been employed at the federal level in Australia since the 1940s, and it is so well loved in that country that every Australian state and territory has adopted the model for its own elections. Some Canadian parties, including my own, have adopted this model for electing their leaders. Likewise, many local nominations are now conducted this way. It was through this system that I was first nominated, in October 2000, and dozens of other members here today have had the same experience.

Mr. Speaker, I will not go through the merits beyond this.

However, I do ask for your support when this motion comes to a vote, so that it may go to the committee for further debate and analysis.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for his presentation. His motion is certainly interesting, and I think it merits more debate. I will support it so that it can go to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further discussion.

This House has a tradition, certainly a recent tradition, of fairly high turnover, unlike many of the Houses that he indicated have this preferential vote. I give, as an example, the House of Lords, in Britain, which is probably known for having one of the least number of turnovers of all the Houses he mentioned.

If it is a number of new members who are sitting in this House, whose first order of business would be to select a Speaker, would there not be undue influence by their party in this case, considering the rapidity with which the proposal would bring us to a choice of a Speaker? Would there not be undue influence by the party, which would bring us back to exactly the same problem he seems to be criticizing and is the reason we seem to be needing this change, as proposed in his motion?

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, the turnover in the House of Lords has improved in recent decades. I am happy to say that they no longer have to have their necks separated from their bodies in order to leave the House of Lords, as used to be the case. There is progress everywhere in democracy.

However, the member has a good point. We do have an unusually high turnover. He might well have compared us, simply, with the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, where turnover is actually much lower.

We tend to have these cataclysms. We had one in the last election, producing an entirely new slate of New Democrats from Quebec, for example. The years 1993 and 1984 come to mind. These things happen, so he has a good point.

He also brought this question to my attention at the last sitting of the House, and I undertook to do a review to see what other institutions have done.

In the British House of Commons, they have what they call a hustings beforehand, which is essentially an all-candidates debate, which allows members to hear what the different candidates have to say. I do not know if that is written into their rules or if is something they do informally, but it is a practice that would have some merit and should be considered here.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member made reference to another motion, Motion No. 431, which is before the procedure and House affairs committee, which deals with how chairs should be selected at our committees.

Is the member suggesting that if this motion were to pass, and I suspect that there is a fairly strong likelihood of its passage, that both of those motions be considered as one in going through the process? For example, in calling for witnesses, we would have them deal with both motions. Is that how he sees this particular motion carrying forward, given the time constraints? When I comment on the motion itself, I plan to talk a bit about the time constraints now before the procedure and House affairs committee.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, although they superficially have a great deal of resemblance, they are actually different in their practical impact. What is being attempted in the other motion to which the member referred, Motion No. 431, is actually a more substantial change. It is quite a bit more substantial. It talks about the chairs being voted for by preferential ballot but selected from among the entire membership of the House. Therefore, we are talking about quite a substantial difference. I would hope that each of the two motions would be considered substantively on its own merits and not as two sides of the same coin.

However, in answer to the question about witnesses, I think the same witnesses would have the same kind of expertise on both systems, where they have been tried, and the success they have had.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Motion No. 489, concerning the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that the Speaker of the House of Commons is to be elected by majority vote as quickly as possible and with the utmost diligence. Therefore, electing a Speaker is the House of Commons' first order of business following a general election. It is the top priority, so much so that it supersedes any other business. No motions, adjournment or otherwise, are received until the choice is made.

Between 1867 and 1985, the Speaker of the House of Commons was appointed by a motion moved by the Prime Minister. Since 1985, the members of the House of Commons have chosen their Speaker themselves, by secret ballot. Members indicate their choice for Speaker from the candidates on the ballot. The candidate who obtains a majority of the votes is appointed Speaker. If none of the candidates wins a majority during the first ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, as are all other candidates who receive less than 5% of the votes. A new round of voting begins, and the process is repeated until one candidate obtains a majority.

What about the Senate? Throughout the Senate of Canada's history, the Speaker has been appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, under section 34 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Fortunately, here in the House of Commons, we have far more autonomy. However, as we have seen, that has not always been the case. The secret ballot system was instituted only very recently in the House of Commons.

The motion before us is asking us to go even further by mandating the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to consider the advisability of instituting a single, preferential ballot. In short, we are being asked to conduct a study to determine whether a single round of voting would suffice. Rather than voting a number of times, as they do now, MPs would rank all the candidates in order of preference on a single ballot.

I am therefore wondering whether the existing system is inadequate. Would a preferential voting system benefit members of the House of Commons? To answer these questions, I would like to briefly explain the Speaker's role.

According to O'Brien and Bosc:

The duties of the Speaker of the House of Commons require the balancing of the rights and interests of the majority and minority in the House to ensure that public business is transacted efficiently and that the interests of all parts of the House are advocated and protected against the use of arbitrary authority.

They go on to say:

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.

As a result, our Speaker does not uphold the will of the party in power. In theory, he upholds the will of the House of Commons as a whole. The Speaker's role as the guardian of the rights and privileges therefore requires him to be completely impartial.

Again according to O'Brien and Bosc:

[The Speaker] must at all times show, and be seen to show, the impartiality required to sustain the trust and goodwill of the House. The actions of the Speaker may not be criticized in debate or by any means except by way of a substantive motion.

Clearly, the Speaker has a great deal of authority in the House. When we make our choice, we must be very aware of the Speaker's capacity and powers, as well as the obligations imposed on him or her.

Whether we use the voting methods being proposed today or the one used thus far, we are making a very important decision with serious consequences. It is crucial that the Speaker maintain a non-partisan role. We must not avoid the change if it will allow the Speaker to be more independent from the government.

Fortunately, there is a recent example of the introduction of preferential voting in order to improve democracy. My Conservative colleague mentioned it in his speech. I am talking about the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, which adopted such a measure in 2005. It went into effect in 2006. That house went through an impressive democratic shift under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labour Party. Electing the Speaker by preferential ballot, as we are proposing here today, was an important part of reforming the House of Lords. However, the United Kingdom's House of Commons kept the secret ballot method for electing its Speaker, which is the method currently used in the Canadian House of Commons.

Australia's Senate and House of Representatives also elect their Speakers as we do here. However, the Australian Senate does it differently than we do; it does not allow the Prime Minister, through the Governor General, to make the selection for members.

New Zealand uses a similar system, except that it does not use a secret ballot. Members vote by recorded division to elect their Speaker. Of all the methods mentioned, that is the only one that could eliminate the possibility of electing a Speaker independently.

Clearly, there is no unanimity among Commonwealth parliaments when it comes to the method for electing Speakers. However, all of those voting systems have one thing in common: the chosen candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast by the elected members, whether it is done by several rounds of voting by secret ballot or a single, preferential secret ballot. Both systems also allow members to have their say without any fear of undue pressure, since the vote is secret.

The advantage of successive balloting, or voting until a candidate has received an absolute majority of the vote, the method currently used by the House, is that it allows voters to elect a single preferred candidate. If more than one round of voting is needed, the members are able to adjust their preference, if they want, based on the remaining candidates. They have time to think about it.

Multi-round balloting has also been used by a number of other entities in Canada, such as unions and community groups, which might lead some believe that this system is the traditional way of voting for a candidate. However, the downside of this system is the time it takes to elect the speaker. The vote generally takes several hours and is longer if more than one ballot is necessary. In short, the more candidates there are, the longer it takes.

The advantage of the proposed preferential voting system is that it reduces the time needed for electing a speaker. However, in this case, it is hard for new MPs to become well acquainted with the process and the candidates. The candidates for speaker can take the floor for five minutes before the election, but that does not leave enough time for MPs to ask questions.

There is a rather impressive turnover in the House of Commons. Last time there were a lot of new Conservative and NDP MPs. New MPs should have the time and opportunity to get to know the candidates.

Both systems have their advantages and the proposed system deserves a closer look. I support the motion and I will read with interest the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed interesting that we are debating this particular motion at this time. One of the things I have noticed in sitting on the PROC committee is that there is a great desire from individual members to talk about principled issues related to democracy.

I made reference to a different motion, Motion No. 431, in the form of a question to the mover, which I did to highlight the fact that we have another motion dealing with another issue, but they are all about the idea of change and how we can improve the system. It makes me wonder what else we could be doing and having the PROC committee take a look at.

We are talking about the important principle of electing a Speaker, and how the Speaker should ultimately assume the responsibilities of the chair. After we debate that this morning, later on today we will be debating Bill C-23. Tomorrow morning, I will sit in the PROC committee, and we will debate Bill C-23.

I say that because, at the end of the day, I do not question the level of interest members have with regard to the important issue of the Speaker and how the Speaker assumes the responsibilities of the chair. However, we have to recognize that the interest in this goes beyond the chamber. There are many academics, other stakeholders, and average Canadians who take an interest, because it has a significant impact.

One member made reference to the fact that this is, in essence, one of the fundamental principles of our democracy. The legislation we have in Bill C-23 is a greater piece of legislation, I would argue, in terms of the responsibility of members of the House before the PROC committee today. Members need to be aware of what is taking place in the PROC committee today because of the profound negative overall impact it would have, and because of everything that has taken place in the bill's coming before the committee. This is something members need to note.

I just wanted to highlight this issue before I made my comments related to the Speaker, because it is important for us to recognize this whenever we can.

Having said that, as part of a provincial legislature I have had the opportunity to go through both worlds. These are the world where a Speaker is appointed and the world where the Speaker is elected by peers. I would like to share a little bit on that point.

I can go back to 1989 and 1990, when we had an appointed Speaker in the Manitoba legislature. Denis Rocan was the Speaker. Gary Filmon was the premier who appointed him. One of the early decisions that had to be made was with regard to Meech Lake. Members of the chamber might recall how important that decision was. It had a profound impact on the entire country. In essence, it defeated the Speaker recognizing an individual who sat in a third party. By using the word “no”, he was ultimately able to prevent the Meech Lake accord from passing, denying Canada that constitutional reform.

I was there at the time. Speaker Rocan, in looking over and watching Mr. Harper because it was a very difficult situation at the time, played a critical role—

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Why would you mention the Prime Minister's name?

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

He is not referring to the Prime Minister.

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg North has the floor.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the situation Elijah Harper was in was fairly profound. There was a great deal of stress and anxiety about what was taking place in the Manitoba chamber back then, and the Speaker played a critical role in that.

I recall the privatization of the Manitoba telephone system. Again, it was under an appointed Speaker. There were allegations. I must admit I was one of those who levelled allegations that the government used the Speaker's chair to manipulate its own personal agenda. It was felt that, because he was an appointed Speaker, the Speaker was giving favour to the government's agenda in regard to Manitoba telephone system. That was one of the driving factors in the minds of many members of the legislature who said we needed to change the system in the Province of Manitoba. Ultimately, it was one of the reasons that led to our having an elected Speaker in the Manitoba legislature.

We need to recognize just how important a role the Speaker of the House plays. I have witnessed that today in the House of Commons. We have seen how the Speaker will gather clauses in a particular substantial piece of legislation, categorize them, and put them into one vote as opposed to a number of votes. Think of the actual impact that Speaker's decision had on the proceedings of this House. At the very least, any creative member could have had literally dozens of hours of valuable House time being consumed by huge numbers of votes. We saw that before, when a Speaker's ruling on an issue had us virtually sitting around the clock, plus. It was a ruling made by the Speaker of the House.

I can recall shortly after I won the by-election in Winnipeg North, there was a decision in regard to an individual minister's correspondence that dealt with foreign aid and whether or not she had intentionally misled the House by adding the word “not”. It came to be known, in fact, that there was some misrepresentation going on.

I believe each and every one of us will recognize how critically important it is that, in moving forward, we get it right as much as possible. We have made significant progress over the years in regard to having the Speaker become elected. Wherever we go from here, whether it is a preferential ballot—or the member even made reference to a first past the post, third time around—or under our current system, we need to take a more holistic approach to the types of changes and reforms that are necessary in the House to allow a better sense of democracy that goes even beyond the Speaker. We could talk about issues of time allocation, committee functions, and the roles they play.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

February 24th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act.

I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Thank you.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in today's discussion on Motion No. 489 on the process for electing the Speaker of the House of Commons.

My colleague, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, has a keen interest in the functioning of this chamber and the rules and processes that govern the House of Commons. I believe he has brought forward the motion with the objective of strengthening one of the key processes in which we participate as members of the House of Commons; that is, the election of our Speaker.

For nearly all of us, voting for the Speaker at the beginning of a Parliament is the very first task we perform as parliamentarians. I thank the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for bringing forward this motion for debate. While my colleague's motion is quite detailed, I think it is worth summarizing some of the key elements of the motion.

First, for the benefit of those who may be following the debate, it is worth reiterating the present secret ballot system that is used to elect the Speaker as it is currently set out in Standing Order 4. Essentially the process starts with a list of candidates, which includes all members except ministers, party leaders, and those members who have withdrawn their names from consideration.

When it comes time to vote, members of the House write the name of the candidate of their choice on the ballot. After the first round of voting, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes and all candidates who receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from the ballot, and a second round of voting takes place. The rounds of voting continue until one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

Motion No. 489 would instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study and, within six months of the adoption of this motion, table a report regarding the advisability of implementing a preferential ballot for the election of the Speaker.

I should probably also acknowledge my support as far as the preferential ballot is concerned, because I was elected in my own nomination through a preferential ballot.

To give the committee something to study and work from, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington has kindly set out in his motion a very specific and comprehensive proposal to replace Standing Order 4 with a new process for electing the Speaker. Being an independent entity, the procedure and House affairs committee would be free to recommend any changes to the proposal, I am sure.

It is worth noting that my colleague's proposal does not do away with every aspect of the current system. The ability of MPs to not put their names forward for consideration to be Speaker and the rule that no debate or questions of privilege are allowed during the election of Speaker would be retained.

The key elements of the proposed preferential ballot system are as follows. Members would be provided with a ballot paper that contains the full list, in alphabetical order, of the names of those members who are to be considered for the position of Speaker. Rather than voting for a single candidate, members would be able to rank their preferred candidate, their second preferred candidate, and so on.

After the single round of voting, the Clerk would count the number of first preferences recorded in the ballots, and if a candidate had received a majority of first preference votes, then that person would be declared elected. If, after the first count, no candidate had received a majority of first preference votes, the Clerk would eliminate the candidate who received the least number of first preference votes from further counts. For these ballots, the Clerk would treat each second or lower preference as if it were a first preference for the next highest candidate in the order of preference who is not eliminated. This process would be continued until a candidate had obtained a majority of the votes.

The motion sets out further details, but what I have just highlighted is the crux of the proposal of the new system. It would allow for a single ballot to be cast by each member, and eliminate the need for multiple rounds of voting. I believe the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington made it quite clear about the amount of time in history that many of these votes have taken and the exhaustive process.

While I would not want to speak for the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, I see a simple question in the motion. Is there a benefit to be gained by eliminating the potential for multiple rounds of voting and possible jockeying for the position of Speaker? Quite frankly, as I mentioned just a moment ago, historically there has been quite a bit of time consumed by that very action.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to address the importance of the motion that we are debating today.

As we all know, the role of the Speaker is key to the proper functioning of this place; therefore, the election of the Speaker should not be taken lightly in any way, shape, or form.

With regard to the importance of the Speaker, it is worth quoting from a source that the Speaker would know all too well, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states on page 307:

It is in this spirit that the Speaker, as the chief servant of the House, applies the rules. The Speaker is the servant, neither of any part of the House nor of any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and serves the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.

Bearing the significance of this quote in mind and the key question at the heart of the motion, we must decide whether the current system for electing the Speaker needs replacing, and specifically whether it should be replaced by the proposed preferential ballot system.

Again, the key question is whether this is a study that procedure and House affairs committee should undertake.

It is worth noting that already in this session members have decided to adopt two motions that would require the procedure and House affairs committee to study potential changes to the Standing Orders. Motion No. 431, regarding the election of committee chairs, was passed by the House on February 5, 2014. Similarly, Motion No. 428, which calls on the procedure and House affairs committee to recommend changes to the Standing Orders to permit electronic petitions, was passed by the House on January 29, 2014.

On top of those studies, the procedure and House affairs committee is also undertaking a general review of the Standing Orders, both under its own initiative as well as under a motion passed by the House in October 2013.

If Motion No. 489 were to join these other motions at the procedure and House affairs committee for study and the committee ultimately recommended changes to the Standing Orders, I feel it is worth reiterating a key message that came up during the previous debates on Motions Nos. 431 and 428.

The rules of the House are carefully balanced, based on parliamentary principles and traditions, and reflect the interests of all members. Changing these rules should not be a trivial matter. Rather, prudence, due diligence, and wide support among members are needed before making any significant changes to the Standing Orders.

Today's discussion is an important part of the consideration of the motion. I know that all members will take any proposed changes to the Standing Orders seriously. No doubt we will hear members from all sides bring forward their own questions and comments that will eventually shape the debate on Motion No. 489.

In closing, I go back one last time to what I see as the key question that arises when I compare the current secret ballot system for electing the Speaker and the proposed single preferential ballot system set out in Motion No. 489: is there a benefit to be gained by eliminating multiple rounds of voting? I believe that a preferential ballot would greatly increase efficiency over the present exhaustive ballot process we now use.

The next question, though, is whether the system would be strengthened by members' casting a single ballot that contains a clear ranking of their preferred candidates. Although I am clearly in support of Motion No. 489, I am not sure I can stand here today and give a definitive answer to that question. However, if today's motion were to be adopted, then the procedure and House affairs committee could undertake a closer examination of the proposed preferential ballot system and other related considerations and make that determination as a committee that is the master of its own destiny.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise along with my colleagues to speak to Motion No. 489, which I also will be supporting to go to committee.

This motion makes sense, in the sense that it would effectively create an efficiency-based change to our current system to elect Speakers. We currently do it through an exhaustive ballot approach, with multiple ballots. The alternative vote, or preferential voting approach, effectively compresses all of that and asks individual members to indicate in advance whom they would prefer as people fall off the list, until somebody acquires 50% of all of these votes.

I obviously accept, as my colleague who is introducing the motion noted, that there are differences. The mere fact that we vote ballot by ballot gives us time to talk to others and perhaps change our views, even though that is affected by the fact that the ballots are secret, and so the very purpose of multiple ballots seems to be defeated in our current system.

I see this as, effectively, an efficiency measure that makes a great deal of sense from that perspective. The other points that my colleague mentioned on clarifying such things as tie-breaking are also valuable.

I would like to also emphasize that the use of alternative vote—and I will use “alternative vote” and “preferential ballot” rather interchangeably—is not uncommon when it comes to electing individuals who have a functional role to play that is meant to bring together disparate elements within a given organizational setting. Examples are party leaders, presidents of associations, and Speakers of Houses. Lots of examples were given about how this method is also used in other countries, either the multiple ballot approach or the preferential ballot.

The key point that was brought up by my colleague is that we should not be thinking about this as a majority vote system; it is actually a consensus system. It is all about achieving broad support and allowing somebody to cross the 50% threshold, but with a whole series of votes that are second, third, and fourth choices. Therefore, it is a falsehood for us to say this is a majority system in any strong sense; it is all about creating consensus, even though almost always the people who are elected in this system probably have more of a plurality of votes than other candidates, but it is possible for somebody with fewer initial votes to leapfrog them. Nonetheless, it is erroneous to be referring to this as a “majority system”. It is first past the post, whoever gets past that 50% mark, but the 50% is actually not about first choices, and that is important for us to know.

The reason I want to make that clarification is that my colleague whose motion this is ended with a few references outside of the context where I said it is not unusual to have this. He gave the example of Australia, where the House of Representatives is elected according to an alternative vote or preferential ballot. That drags us into the realm of whether alternative vote is a valid way to elect multi-party legislatures, and here I just wanted to spend a bit of time explaining why support for this method in electing a Speaker in no way, from my perspective, translates into support for alternative vote as a way of electing, for example, members of Parliament, unless alternative vote is built into a broader system that accommodates the other needs of a fair voting system.

From my perspective and that of the NDP, obviously that would mean proportional representation. Alternative vote on its own, which currently is the policy of one other party in this House, is actually a regressive way to change our electoral system, and I will not even use the word “reform”. I want to ensure that we stay within the firm boundaries of electing Speakers as why we are open to AV here.

It is very important to note that in 1998 the Jenkins Commission in the United Kingdom made a number of findings. It basically said that alternative vote in the setting of multi-party legislatures, where members are elected in order to serve within a party system as well as represent their constituents, actually can produce and often does produce greater disproportionality than our already problematic single-member plurality system.

I want to be on record as saying that the alternative vote support that I have here is for the idea of electing leaders of parties for Speaker in this context, but I honestly think that there are so many other reasons that AV is not appropriate in other settings that we should confine it to the current context.

Election of the SpeakerPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders



David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON


That it be an instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that, during its consideration of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, the Committee shall: (a) hear witnesses from, but not limited to, Elections Canada, political parties as defined under the Canada Elections Act, the Minister of State who introduced the Bill, representatives of First Nations, anti-poverty groups, groups representing persons with disabilities, groups representing youth advocates and students, as well as specific groups which have been active in society on elections rules; (b) have the power to travel to all regions of Canada, (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Northern Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia and the North), including downtown urban settings, rural and remote settings, and that the Committee request that this travel take place in March and April 2014; and (c) only proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill after these hearings have been completed, with a goal to commence clause-by-clause consideration on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

Mr. Speaker, I rise as much in sorrow as in anger: sorrow in terms of the state of affairs of our democracy. We have been watching, drip by drip, the democracy that we love and respect, and that is respected around the world, being deteriorated, removed, and changed.

I will be splitting my time with the member for Hull—Aylmer.

The government brought in a bill that proposed massive sweeping changes to the way we conduct elections here in Canada. However, not long after we began discussing it, the government moved a motion to shut down debate. During the course of that debate, the government said, “Well, this is not all that important because it is the House discussion, and we want to get this to the committee to do some real work and get things done”.

We did not buy that necessarily. We wanted a good, strong, thorough opening debate here so that the committee would have a strong foundation to begin its work. However, the Conservatives have a majority and win votes ten times out of ten when they collectively stay together.

Members will appreciate that in a healthy, mature democracy there are two pieces in dealing with legislation. One is the process by which it is analyzed: who gets input, who gets a say, and what the process is for final determination. The other is the substantive part of the bill.

We put a motion on the floor at the committee to say that we would like to have certain witnesses. It is pretty motherhood, quite frankly, in terms of the witnesses we had; there was no shock there, no games, no twist. It was straightforward.

Also, given that there has been no consultation with the opposition parties or the Chief Electoral Officer, we said we would like to make sure the bill had a review that went beyond what would sort of be regular procedures here: we should get this committee out on the road, into the communities and to the people who would be affected by the proposed changes to the election laws, and give them their say.

The government, early on, indicated it might be open to that. There were actually some off-line discussions that lasted about two or three hours. However, in moving forward, as we were setting out how long we had and beginning to lay the foundations of getting negotiations, I was advised on the floor of the House of Commons that the iron curtain had come down from on high and, no; there would not be any public hearings outside the safety and security of the Ottawa bubble.

Our motion is not only reasonable, it also provides a target starting gate for clause-by-clause. Opposition parties do not normally do this. Why? It is because it would box in the timeframe and manoeuvrability.

However, we were trying to instill in the mind of the public, and most importantly in the government, that we really do want to have a negotiated process that involves getting outside the security of the safety bubble in Ottawa. Give people a chance to have their say, give us an adequate number of days and hours to discuss this properly, and then we could reach an agreement. We could then move on and begin to fill in the days we have identified. We could get speakers lined up, do the usual sorts of things, identify the communities we would be going to, and then start talking about who we would see there. All of that should be happening right now.

Those who study the history of this place and our democracy will know that any attempt to change the rules of the election needs to have the buy-in of all those who participate. We just finished the Olympics. Did the host country decide all of the Olympic rules? No; there is equal input from all the participants because it is the rules of the game, and then we enjoy the games.

That is what used to happen in Canada. It blows my mind that I even have to make the statement, and then the government refused to meet with the Chief Electoral Officer. It is ridiculous. We took one of their reports, and it took over two Parliaments for us to go through every clause and talk about it, have give and take, bring in experts, review the idea, and bring back the experts. However, that was a minority government. That was when there was a much stronger sense of the real Canadian democracy that we know.

We have the floor at committee, call it a filibuster. It is not much of a filibuster; it has only gone one meeting. Nonetheless, we have the floor and we are not relinquishing it. We have sent a message: we are not going to allow any committee travel that we have a say in, in terms of fast-tracking it with unanimous consent. The government members can still do things by motion, but they will have to take the time. We are not giving them the unanimous consent, the way we normally would.

It is not because we are being petulant, but because we believe this is important. As the official opposition, it is our job, our responsibility to Canadians, to put up resistance as a matter of course and in particular when we think something wrong is happening.

With what is at stake here, these are some of the concerns we have. I want to get this on the record. We are concerned that this new legislation will block tens of thousands of students, seniors, aboriginal people, and low-income Canadians from exercising their right to vote.

It is bad enough that most of them are being left out of the economy of Canada, now there are folks who want to keep them out of the elections of Canada. Why? One does not have to stretch their imagination to guess why the government would like those folks to stay home.

It will create loopholes that will allow big money back into Canadian politics. We know, and all Canadians know, that the Conservatives have more money than probably all the other political parties put together, but certainly more than all the other political parties. Money, in and of itself, in a democracy does not outright buy an election, but in a tight one only a few seats need to be bought.

Let us remember, we live in a country with a system right now, as proud as we are of our democracy, in which a party can get less than 40% of the vote and it still gets 100% of the power. That is why this system fails Canadians. At the end of the day, we need to move to proportional representation. That is another debate. That debate will become a reality when the NDP forms the government in 2015 and brings in proportional representation. Then we will be back on the cutting edge of modern democracies.

Lastly, we in the official opposition are concerned that the bill, and we think it says so straight out, will ban Elections Canada from teaching kids about our democracy.

We have these concerns. The government will say that they are not legitimate. Fair enough. Let us go ask the Canadian people what they say. It is their elections. It is their Canada. It is their democracy. They are the ones who stand to be disenfranchised. We need to go to those communities and give them an opportunity not to only say why this bill affects their rights but also to show us. We should go to the far north.

Those of us who have international election observation missions know the extreme differences between voting in cities and in rural villages and mountains. It is the same here in Canada. People in the far north have a very different political election experience than those who are in cities. We have concerns about what is going to happen in the cities. Let us get out there.

My last comment is this: we can solve this in 30 minutes. I said that I rise more in sorry than in anger. We want to get off the process and get on to the substance of the bill. I believe within 30 minutes we could sit down and negotiate with the government a process that is a fair compromise. We are not going to get everything we want, but neither should the government. Let us negotiate, compromise, come up with a process that we can all live with, give Canadians their say, and then we can get on with debating the actual details of the bill.

However, until the government stops ramming things through, believing it has the right to deny Canadians their voice, we will continue to fight and use every tool we have to bring democracy to this place, even if the Conservatives do not believe in democracy.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry you had to suffer that speech by being in the chair.

The reality is that this particular piece of legislation has yet to have a minute in committee. We know that when Bill C-23 was first introduced, the New Democrats, before even reading the bill, had said they would not support it. That was painfully obvious when the critic for democratic reform admitted in front of the press that he had not read the bill and said the NDP was still not going to support it.

Moreover, we had some debate in the House and heard two areas of concern. One was with respect to vouching. I note that on page 25 of the bill, it states that subsection 143(3) would be modified but still provides some leeway for the polling officer with respect to people's addresses. I have yet to hear from the NDP what it would propose. We also know the Minister of State for Democratic Reform has clearly stated that the Chief Electoral Officer would still have the mandate to go out and speak to people.

In the absence of hearing anything from the NDP on what it would do differently in the bill, outside of those two areas, would the hon. member agree that we should start committee hearings on this and get further debate going?

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand to be corrected, but I do not recall hearing in those remarks any mention of the Canadian people or of giving citizens their say. No, the Conservatives want to make this about another battle in the bubble between the government and the opposition and to have people say, after looking at it, that it is just a political squabble and it does not matter. That is exactly what their game plan is.

The member did not talk one bit about why it is okay to deny Canadians their right to have a say on their election in the places they live. That is the issue before us. This motion is exactly the one we made in committee. We are not getting the results we need at committee, so we brought it to the highest authority in Canada, the Parliament of Canada, because we want Canadians to have their say. The member did not address that and that is the issue before us: Canadians have a right to have a say about their democracy and their elections, and we are not letting go.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party has been very clear on this issue. At the end of the day, Liberals believe that the manner this legislation has been brought in is an absolute and total disgrace. The government should have worked not only with Canadians but also with Elections Canada officials and had proper consultation. Many, including myself, would argue that it should have consulted Canadians prior to introducing the bill. The government brought it in with time allocation, limiting members on both sides of the House from being able to contribute to the debate. Now the bill is stuck in committee. Hopefully, it will be stuck in committee for a long time.

What Liberals take great umbrage with is that the government feels it does not have to do any form of real, genuine consultations outside of Ottawa. We too have argued that we need to go into all regions of our country.

Maybe the member could further explain the time limitations he has put in the motion.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Winnipeg North, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is the committee seized with this bill.

I want to say that the third party has been very supportive of ensuring that we push the government to bring Canadians in. I would also underscore the hon. member's comment that we would all be better served not only had the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada been consulted but also had Canadians been given the opportunity to provide input at the front end of this.

The whole idea of the government is that it can just ram this through. During the Olympics, it brought in massive overhauls and, New Democrats think, problematic changes that are going to hurt Canadians' right to vote. At the same time, it dropped a budget and brought in a full overhaul of the immigration system. This is not coincidence.

The process that New Democrats have outlined gives us two months to travel the country and an opportunity to start doing clause-by-clause before May 1. That is ample time to give Canadians their say, allow the committee to do its work, and have the bill, if it is good enough, in place for the next election.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support the excellent motion moved by my colleague from Hamilton Centre. This motion would allow Canadians to express their views on a bill that, in its present form, is anti-democratic.

In light of the irregularities that occurred in the last election, it is obvious today that serious reform is needed to guarantee the integrity of our electoral process.

Considering what we have seen over the past two years with the party in power, I am not surprised, but I am very disappointed that the Conservatives did not seize this opportunity to strengthen our democracy. Instead, they have chosen to use this reform to serve their own election interests. Even worse, they are trying to sneak their bill through without consulting anyone.

Why cut debate short only one hour after introducing the bill? Is that democracy?

My colleague's motion is quite simple. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should be allowed to do its job and make recommendations after consulting experts, the groups concerned and especially Canadians. That is true democracy.

In a democracy, the people are part of the discussion, organizations working in the field are given a chance to express their views and the opinions of experts are taken into account in order to make an informed decision.

To achieve this goal, the members of the parliamentary committee have no choice but to meet with Canadians in every region of our country. That is an obligation and a responsibility for us as representatives of the people. Why is the Conservative government putting up obstacles? This type of travel is commonplace. Parliamentary committees must meet with witnesses who are unable to come to Ottawa.

If the Standing Committee on International Trade can travel to Belgium and France—which is fine by me—for its study of the Canada-European Union free trade agreement, then I really do not see why the government would be against this committee leaving Ottawa to hold hearings on an issue as important as electoral reform.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the Minister of State for Democratic Reform did not think it would be a good idea to consult the experts before proposing changes to the Canada Elections Act. He did not even ask the top official at Elections Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer, for his opinion. That is just unbelievable. We are fortunate to have so many experts within the public service and society in general, so why did the government choose to do without their expertise?

This botched approach strongly suggests that the government is not in fact seeking the best possible electoral reform for Canadians, but the best possible electoral reform, or should I say deformation, for the Conservative Party.

Canadians will gain nothing if the government reduces the Chief Electoral Officer's powers.

After the robocall scandal and the whole “Pierre Poutine” affair, dozens of my constituents emailed me to say they wanted us to find out what really happened with that sordid story. The people of Hull—Aylmer and the rest of Canada want to have confidence in their electoral system. They want Parliament to take real action to ensure that such fraud never happens again.

That is the same reason the Chief Electoral Officer asked for more power, including the power to request financial documents related to elections and to compel witnesses to testify.

What does this bill actually do? The opposite. It removes a number of Elections Canada's powers. It even prohibits Elections Canada from promoting voter participation. That is shameful.

Canadians will gain nothing if the government makes the voting process more difficult for vulnerable individuals. Democracy is founded on the fact that each vote counts. Social status, age and occupation have no bearing; we are all equal. Canadians take that principle to heart.

We cannot accept that the government is putting up roadblocks for seniors, students and members of aboriginal communities when they wish to exercise their right to vote. However, that is exactly what this bill does by proposing to eliminate vouching and the use of voter ID cards as proof of identity. This measure does nothing more than impede thousands of voters.

In 2011, more than 100,000 people used vouching in order to vote because they did not have a valid ID card. I would like to provide at least example of this.

Take, for example, an 85-year-old woman who has always voted, from the time she was 18. She has no photo identification, she does not drive, she has no ID that proves her address and the electricity bills, heating bills and so on are all in her husband's name. In 2011, her husband vouched for her. Under this bill, she will not be able to vote in 2015. Seniors are being put at a disadvantage, and their access to democracy is being restricted. That is very important to note. It is happening. Their voices count and they need to be defended.

Canadians will gain nothing if the government changes funding rules and increases the influence money has on Canadian politics. By increasing the maximum threshold for individual donations, allowing candidates to pump significant amounts of money into their own campaigns, and amending the list of election expenses that count towards spending limits, the Conservative Party is simply going through the back door to give itself the right to spend more than its adversaries. The Conservatives are putting their interests ahead of concern for an electoral process that is based on the quality of ideas, not wallet size.

What do Canadians have to gain from this electoral reform? The response is quite simple: nothing. They have nothing to gain, since this is a partisan bill designed by and for the Conservative Party. This bill is an affront to the democracy we know and love in Canada. Those are not my words, nor are they the words of an opposition member. Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, called this bill an affront to democracy.

Our democracy is worth protecting. As I said at the beginning, I am very honoured to support my colleague's motion, since protecting our democracy starts with getting back to the basics: listening to the public we are here to represent.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get some clarification from the member regarding the NDP motion. Could she expand on why the motion reads that the New Democrats want to go through it clause by clause by May 1?

The idea that we consult broadly across Canada is truly important to the Liberals. We would like to get a commitment from the government that would see us go to all of the different regions of Canada, thereby allowing Canadians to have their say on a very important law the Conservatives are proposing to change.

The Conservatives have not done their homework. They have not consulted prior to debate. They have not consulted with Canadians or the Chief Electoral Officer. They have not worked in co-operation with opposition parties, given the fundamental importance of democracy and how critically important our election laws are.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his support of this motion and for raising some very important points.

He mentioned the goal of doing a clause-by-clause study by May 1. It is very clear, and Mr. Mayrand has also expressed this. He said that we must absolutely conclude our consultations before May 1, 2014, to be ready for 2015.

Our motion was very clear about the best way to go about that. We identified places where we could go to hear what Canadians have to say and to have time to explain to them the shortcomings of this bill.

I appreciate the opportunity to clarify that point.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, the form and substance of the motion before the House today appear to be a matter for committee business, and so I wonder why my colleague has decided to put the motion forward. To me, it seems that we should just get on with business at committee, hear witnesses, and start examining the bill.

I really do not understand the purpose of the motion, given that the committee is the master of its own business and that, from my understanding, there have been a lot of a discussions about what witnesses should be coming forward and allowing the clerk to be do so. To me this seems like a big delaying tactic preventing the committee from getting going.

I wonder whether she would respond to that.

Opposition Motion—Instruction to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs Regarding Bill C-23Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised to hear that question.

First, over the past two years, we have seen nothing but gag orders to prevent us from discussing bills in depth.

Second, since our country is so large and we are talking about major democratic electoral reform, it is very important that Canadians have both the opportunity to share their opinions and the time to do so.

As for the deadline, we were very clear. We did not ask for a one- or two-year extension, but instead suggested that this be done in the next three months, to meet the needs of the Chief Electoral Officer. We will be prepared to discuss it on May 1. That gives ample time to carry out the reform, which will be done in a democratic fashion.