Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to an issue that is incredibly important. I really want to thank the member for Burnaby South for his work with his private member's bill and generally for raising the issue of gender parity, which is so important.
When we think how far we have come since Agnes Macphail was first elected to this place and the progress we made, when we think this is the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canada's history, and when we see the largest number of women ever elected to the House of Commons, that is indeed phenomenal progress. However, the member is absolutely right that it is not enough.
I often get the opportunity, as most members do, to go into schools and talk with students. I ask them to reflect on the name of the place in which we serve, the House of Commons. It is the house of the common people. It is so important that this place reflect and look like the people we represent.
Historically, we have done a poor job, as the member for Kingston and the Islands mentioned, not just in representation of women in this place, but also other demographics and so, thinking about the processes we can engage in to ensure that this is a place that is truly reflective of the Canadian population is essential.
There are a number of processes we are engaged in right now to do precisely that: look at some of the underlying reasons why it is, as an example, women are not participating to the degree that we would like them to participate. What are the impediments? What are the things we can change to make this place more friendly to the Canadian populace as a whole?
We are also certainly engaging in a process that I am very excited to be part of to change our electoral system in looking at the way we vote and how that process engages and enfranchises Canadians. I think that process will no doubt inform this question of gender parity and equality.
Notwithstanding all of that and notwithstanding a deep appreciation for the efforts of the member for Burnaby South, I have a number of concerns with the bill.
I will start with the issue of small parties. In the last election, there were six parties which only ran one candidate. By definition, each of those parties would be in a state of gender imbalance because they only had one person that ran for them. We may say to just have another person run, but the reality for a political party that is small is that it can be a monumental feat to get somebody else to run.
We know in the decision that was passed in Figueroa the importance that courts, and I think Canadians generally, place on the participation of smaller parties. They have a very important role in our democratic process. While I appreciate the member might be willing to do that at committee, it is certainly one big problem that I have today which I think is important to point out.
I also want to think about freedom of expression, generally.
Let us conceive for a moment a situation where a party decided that it wanted all female candidates, as an example. That party would actually be penalized under this mechanism by not being able to run all female candidates.
In general, parties should have the ability to organize their affairs as they see fit. There are many parties, including in this House, which have positions that I disagree with or that conduct a nomination process in a way that I would not concur with, but that is their democratic prerogative. We have to ask what the implications of the bill and these penalties would put on that process.
We also have to think about, as was raised earlier in the debate, the potentiality of where this might lead. If we put in penalties for parties that do not meet certain quotas or certain targets, would we do that across the spectrum to ensure there is equality in representation of all of the different faces that populate Canada? If we do that, what is the implication?
There is an issue of constitutionality, I think, that very much remains. We could imagine a scenario where a local riding association is having a nomination meeting and where there is enormous pressure to hit a target and the question on the minds of the people voting in that nomination meeting could be torn between, on the one hand, voting for the person most qualified and, on the other hand, having to meet a quota so that their party is not punished. Could there be a situation where maybe the best person is not chosen as a result? That certainly is a serious concern.
As an extension of that and nominations generally, we want to ensure that the process is set up so all people are encouraged to run, that we not only look at the barriers that stop them from running, but also that we do not build into the system ways that shut down our nomination process or shut out certain individuals because of the structures we put in place.
On that basis, notwithstanding this bill succeeding or not succeeding, we have a lot of work to do. We need to look at the barriers stopping women or other individuals who want to come forward, who are under-represented in this Parliament, and work to fix those barriers. They need to work with us in the upcoming process to reform our democratic institutions and our voting. At the end of it, we want to ensure we have a House of Commons that is truly reflective of its name.