Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the two democratic issues that are on the agenda at the moment. I suspect there will be more as time goes on in Parliament, but the two are electoral reform, changes to the House and lack of change, quite frankly, that the government is proposing in the other place with regard to the appointments process. Conservatives would like to see real change here, conducted in a manner that is fully reflective of the wishes of Canadians.
It has been the long-standing policy of the Conservative Party, going back to its inception, that no changes should be made to the electoral system without the consent of Canadians, as expressed in a referendum. That has been its policy for years. I had a hand in getting that policy adopted. It was a widely held sentiment among my colleagues at the convention where that was adopted. Conservatives have always believed that the electoral system ought never to be changed without the approval of the people. There are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, this is the practice in the other countries of the Commonwealth, nations that have systems similar to our own. It was the practice in New Zealand when New Zealand looked at changing its electoral system in the 1990s, and actually did so. It was the system used by the United Kingdom when it looked at adopting single-member preferential ridings in 2011, an option that ultimately was rejected by British voters. It was the practice as well in all provinces that have, within living memory, looked at changing their electoral systems. Prince Edward Island conducted a referendum, if memory serves, in 2006, but I could be wrong on the exact year. British Columbia conducted two referenda and Ontario had a referendum on electoral reform in 2007.
No province in Canada has changed its electoral system without a referendum since the early 1950s, when a Liberal government in British Columbia changed its electoral system without a referendum and, frankly, was punished for it by the voters in the next election, who tossed out that government and put in a new government, which then changed back to the prior system. I am not saying that is what will happen in this case if the government pushes ahead. Indeed, I anticipate that if the Liberals push ahead with their plan, as now expressed, to change the electoral system without a referendum, they will engineer that system to give them a partisan advantage.
One of the things that I have emphasized over and over again when addressing this issue over the years has been the fact that it is very difficult for governments, for members in this place, to objectively participate in a non-interested manner, a non-biased manner, in discussions over electoral reform. Each of us can figure out a system under which our parties would have done better than under the status quo system, and that includes the victorious party. We can all think of certain systems that we know would have been worse for us. We are all inevitably biased by that. Even if one titanic figure of such moral greatness that he or she could set all this aside found him or herself in the position of prime minister and another person of equal moral greatness sat as minister of democratic institutions, we are surrounded by a majority of people who are just ordinary people like you and me, Mr. Speaker, and they are going to want to have that which benefits them.
This is an insurmountable problem. I have written about this on a number of occasions. Those who go to my website can see an essay I wrote in 2001 and another in 2005 on this very subject, this very problem. How do we overcome this? What should be done is very simple. Whatever proposal the government designs should be taken to the people and the people, as a whole, have no bias. Some of them are Liberals, some are Conservatives, some are New Democrats, some are Greens, some are Bloc, and some vote for the Marijuana Party. All the bases are covered when people, as a whole, vote. The people themselves, as a whole, have no bias and they will accept a system if (a) they feel a need for a change and (b) they feel that the system that is being proposed is objectively better than that which exists. However, if they think it is objectively worse, then they will not support it.
This is very important. We talk about the alternatives to the system we have now. We talk about the single transferrable vote system, like Ireland has; the mixed member proportional system, like New Zealand has; and the single member district with preferential voting, like Australia has.
The fact is that there is more than one alternative under each of these rubrics, and it is not difficult to figure out how I or the minister could design a system under any of these rubrics that would have a predictably dramatically different effect. That is to say, it could affect one party beneficially and harm another party in a way that was demonstrable beforehand. Eventually, over a number of elections, patterns would change and that advantage to one party and disadvantage to the others would be lost. However, initially, that could be locked into the next election.
It is not difficult at all to imagine a system, and I invite Liberals to ask me a question about what I am talking about here, that would ensure their victory in 2019. Our point is simply this: designing a system that privileges the Liberals and the people who vote Liberal and takes away from those who would vote for others is not an acceptable alternative to the status quo. The Liberals were not given a mandate for that reform, obviously. They would never be given, through a referendum, a mandate for that kind of reform. They would be given a mandate for potentially a number of alternatives that were objectively better than the status quo if the Canadian people felt that the alternatives were objectively better than the status quo. How do we test that? We test that in a referendum.
I am just going to mention that I plan to divide my time with the hon. member for Markham—Unionville.
I have laid out the groundwork for explaining why a referendum is so important. Before turning to the issue of the proposed appointments process for the other place, I want to take a moment to deal with one last thing.
One of the arguments, and apparently some people on the other side regard this as the knockout argument against referendums, is this: referendums tend to fail. When the Prime Minister was explaining last June why he would not consider using a referendum, he said it is hard to get past the plebiscite; it is hard to get people to adopt these things. Therefore, the argument is that anyone who favours a referendum is really favouring the status quo and that it is really a way of trying to kill change.
I want to say for the record that, first of all, referendums on this succeed from time to time. In British Columbia, when they held a referendum on this subject in the early 2000s, about 57% of British Columbians voted in favour of changing their electoral system. The government had set an artificially high goal of 60%. That bar was not achieved, but a referendum in which the normal majority of 50% plus one was in place could be achieved. It was achieved in New Zealand in the 1990s, so the argument that it cannot be done is just not true. It cannot be done when the system is badly designed or unfair.
Second, if the Canadian people reject a reform, is that not their legitimate right? Are we allowed to have any right we want except the right to decide on retaining the status quo? I do not think so, especially when the status quo, if the alternatives suggested by the government were rejected, would effectively potentially be a placeholder while a better alternative was found. That is the point.
In my last minute I will turn to the question of the Senate. The minister and the government have proposed a system for suggesting appointments to the Prime Minister. This system, which is just starting to be in place now, is as minimal a reform as can be imagined. It is in fact no reform. A panel of five individuals, chosen by the Prime Minister, at the Prime Minister's sole discretion, makes recommendations to the Prime Minister as to who will be appointed to the Senate. The Prime Minister chooses from among those five individuals in secret. The names of the five individuals are never revealed. The reasons for the Prime Minister's choice of an individual over others is never revealed to us. If the Prime Minister decides to set aside that entire list and just chooses whoever he likes, that is permitted. In fact, the Liberal press release emphasizes that absolute discretion is a key component of this whole process. The absolute authority of the Prime Minister is a key component.
I did ask the parliamentary secretary why all the secrecy. I was told that people might be fired from their jobs if their employers learned that they had been considered for nomination to the Senate.
I just want to say that this is arguably the most preposterous argument I have ever heard in 16 years in politics. I cannot imagine an employer who would fire people because they had been considered by a panel for a potential appointment to the Senate. However, I am looking forward to hearing from him or the minister a more realistic argument, and perhaps that can be provided in the question and answer period.