Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-586 and discuss exactly what measures this reform act contains.
The NDP has been talking about Canada's democratic deficit for a long time. What does that mean? The term democratic deficit involves two major constructs. One of them is more concrete and pertains to the exercise of democracy, while the other is more abstract and deals with the perception that voters have of that exercise.
Canada has 150 years of experience with democracy. Canadian democracy is well-established, reliable and, in some ways, sine qua non. We can no longer envision our lives in this country without our democracy. Even if we criticize it, and sometimes with good reason, it serves us well.
Over the years, we improved the democratic process whenever we felt as though something was not quite right. As challenges arose and mores, demographics and regional cares changed, we quietly shaped and changed the House to reflect our great country and its people.
What I am trying to say is that when real problems arise, we solve them. The major exception, and we will continue to speak out against it, is the unfair elections act that was introduced last spring. It will cause serious problems in upcoming elections.
While we are witnessing an alarming increase in democratic apathy and while strong and informed action should be taken to rouse voters and get them interested, a repressive elections act reminiscent of East Germany's received the enthusiastic approval of the Conservative government.
The democratic deficit that I am talking about is caused by obvious social and cultural circumstances. Accustomed to democracy, a growing proportion of Canadians no longer sense how fragile it is and they forget that they have a duty as voters. This is a very worrisome trend for which the NDP has been seeking solutions for a long time.
The government, on the other hand, is pleased with this decline in interest. It is sad, but that is the way it is. However, our platform is clear and sound. We are going to do everything we can to overcome this lack of interest. That is what Canadians expect and we will not let them down.
The deficit is caused by actual practices, which need constant adjustments in order to remain effective, and by the widespread false perception that our democracy is elitist and lacks transparency.
Bill C-586 is not the great reform that it claims to be, and for this very simple reason: although it says it addresses a concrete problem, that problem is first and foremost a problem of perception. A bill is a proposed solution to a problem. If Bill C-586 is meant to tighten up a specific mechanism that is part of our democracy, where is the problem? If the answer is 42, does anyone know the question?
Here is the problem this bill is meant to fix. Party leaders and decision makers have too much power regarding the nomination process and how their members vote in the House. The way these powers are used dilutes the democratic voices of the people and affects the transparency of the system that governs us.
To fix that, and this is what Bill C-586 proposes, riding associations, the grassroots, the partisan base, must be allowed to select candidates without any interference.
Once elected, these candidates should have greater flexibility when voting in the House. This all seems fine and dandy, but in reality, what we are really dealing with is a very abstract problem. In fact, the opportunity to work to improve the concrete aspect of the issue was buried last spring along with the government's democratic credibility in a communal grave.
Candidates are not chosen the same way as party leaders. There are no major debates or massive conventions. In most cases, candidates are nominated without any opposition.
Bill C-586 is therefore meant to change the electorate's somewhat false perception that everything is decided ahead of time and the party steamrolls over Canada right before an election, imposing its own will.
That is not the case, but it could actually become the reality, which is why I am supporting this bill. We can prevent this risk right away. It will regenerate a certain partisan fervour and force parties to be more accountable during the nomination process in the ridings.
Bill C-586 contains another very interesting and very telling aspect regarding what happens in the Conservative ranks. Usually no information ever leaks out, except when a member gets fed up with the black hole atmosphere and ditches the party.
The bill aims to reform certain aspects of what is known as the party line culture. The preamble of the bill includes a very important sentence:
Whereas the leadership of political parties must maintain the confidence of their caucuses;
Once again, we have a slight shift in meaning. At conventions, the people who make up a political party's partisan base fine-tune and reassert the resolutions that become their party's ideological base.
Party leaders lead elected members with their own strategic vision of the issues that are important to the partisan base. The leaders are the ones who decide which of these wants take precedence, who do the calculations and who take all the risks. Members of Parliament must support their leader and his or her decisions, since together, they form a molecule of public support.
The party line is the agreement between the leader and the members of Parliament. That is what the party offers to the electorate that has put its confidence in the party. The electorate is not partisan; the parties in the House must respect the diversity of public opinion. The party leaders have the confidence of the partisan base. The base has the opportunity to confirm or deny that confidence during votes at national conventions.
When a person runs as a candidate in an election, they announce that they are supporting a leader. The election platform is a compromise. The candidate may not be pleased with all of the aspects, but they decide to focus on certain key aspects. At the end of the day, small crises of confidence are not part of the democratic deficit, since that person knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed up. I am sorry, but it is simply a reality that we must face.
I have a problem with some other aspects of the bill regarding a party's internal practices. For example, I understand that including the election of the caucus chair could seem like an excellent idea for a party that does not already do that. However, for the NDP, electing a caucus chair once every four years would be a step backwards from our current practice of holding a yearly election. Furthermore, our party has a gender parity system that works very well. Obviously, if this bill forced us to regress in these areas, I would have a hard time supporting it. However, the bill's sponsor has assured us that these changes would become suggestions instead of requirements.
Now that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has indicated that he is prepared to change some aspects of his bill through amendments in committee, I think that the best decision is to vote in favour of this bill, send it to committee and study the impact or effect of this reform. That is why I will support this bill, in the hopes that something good will come out of it.