That a Special Committee on electoral reform be appointed to identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting;
that the Committee be directed to issue an invitation to each Member of Parliament to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents to be filed with the Clerk of the Committee no later than November 1, 2016;
that the Committee be directed to take into account the applicable constitutional, legal and implementation parameters in the development of its recommendations; accordingly, the Committee should seek out expert testimony on these matters;
that the Committee be directed to consult broadly with relevant experts and organizations, take into consideration consultations that have been undertaken on the issue, examine relevant research studies and literature, and review models being used or developed in other jurisdictions;
that the Committee be directed to develop its consultation agenda, working methods, and recommendations on electoral reform with the goal of strengthening the inclusion of all Canadians in our diverse society, including women, Indigenous Peoples, youth, seniors, Canadians with disabilities, new Canadians, and residents of rural and remote communities;
that the Committee be directed to conduct a national engagement process that includes a comprehensive and inclusive consultation with Canadians, including through written submissions and online engagement tools;
that the Committee be composed of twelve (12) members of which five (5) shall be government members, three (3) shall be from the Official Opposition, two (2) shall be from the New Democratic Party, one (1) member shall be from the Bloc Québécois, and the Member for Saanich—Gulf Islands;
that changes in the membership of the Committee be effective immediately after notification by the Whip has been filed with the Clerk of the House;
that membership substitutions be permitted, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2);
that, with the exception of the Member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, all other members shall be named by their respective Whip by depositing with the Clerk of the House the list of their members to serve on the Committee no later than ten (10) sitting days following the adoption of this motion;
that the Committee be chaired by a member of the government party; that, in addition to the Chair, there be one (1) Vice-Chair from the Official Opposition and one (1) Vice-Chair from the New Democratic Party, and that, notwithstanding Standing Order 106(3), all candidates for the position of Chair or Vice-Chair from the Official Opposition shall be elected by secret ballot, and that each candidate be permitted to address the Committee for not more than three (3) minutes;
that the quorum of the Committee be as provided for in Standing Order 118, provided that at least four (4) members are present and provided that one (1) member from the government party and one (1) member from an opposition party are present;
that the Committee be granted all of the powers of a standing committee, as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada;
that the Committee have the power to authorize video and audio broadcasting of any or all of its proceedings; and
that the Committee present its final report no later than December 1, 2016.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly today.
It is also a pleasure for me to speak to the motion. It is lengthy, but it is important, for many reasons. It is because of all of the issues that parliaments and governments face. Whether it is the economy, the environment, first nations, international relations, or war and peace, they all rest upon the foundation of our democracy, which is how Canadians vote governments in and out.
The motion that New Democrats have put forward today is to begin a process, in a fair and constructive way, to allow us to come to a fair and constructive result for Canadians, to modify it in an historic fashion. We have not to this point ever altered our democracy or changed the way that Canadians go forward and express their hopes and wishes to this fundamental nature.
The commitment from the Prime Minister after the last election was that it would be the last one run under the unfair first past the post system. New Democrats have long advocated for this position, as have our colleagues from the Green Party. We believe this is an opportunity that we must take and we must get right.
The essence of what New Democrats have proposed, and we put this to the government and to the public back in February, was to construct a committee that is charged with this historic task based essentially on the will of Canadians. It was to take the results of the last election, which was just eight months ago, and construct the committee based on how Canadians expressed their desire for how Parliament would look.
May I be so bold as to suggest that a good electoral system would also be somewhat proportional, in that it would reflect the will of Canadians. This is the case in most successful democracies around the world. They use some element of proportionality in their voting, so that when a party acquires approximately 20% of the vote, their parliament is made up of about 20% of people from that party. If the party gets 40%, then it is 40%, and so on.
What we have right now under first past the post is a system whereby this majority government, the previous majority government, and many in our past, were able to essentially obtain 100% of the power while acquiring less than 40% of support from Canadians, and that is of those who participated. When we look at the broad section of Canadians writ large, it can actually come down to 25%, or less, of voting-age Canadians voting in a government that then acquires 100% of the ability to pass whatever legislation it wants. It can do that sometimes in a draconian manner, by instituting closure on debate, shutting down committees, or by using quite a bit of force in the Westminister parliamentary system that we have adopted.
At its core, the idea for us is to include a notion of sanctity in what we are doing. It is that no one party in this place can act unilaterally when changing our voting system. We think that would be a very bad thing. There were some precedents in Canadian history that the government would never change the voting system in any fundamental way without the support of another party in Parliament. We do not want those changes to be partisan in nature, in a sense favouring one party over another. Canadians would look upon that with suspicion. When the previous government moved what it called the fair, we called it unfair, elections act, it moved it without the support of any other party in the House. In fact, in our view and in the view of many Canadians, it sought to disenfranchise very particular groups of Canadians from voting by requiring new voter identification, which Elections Canada said was not necessary. That was an unfortunate breaking of precedents. We do not want to repeat that.
The new government has said it does not wish to go down that path. The committee, as we proposed it, would ensure that would not be possible. The original proposal from the Liberals in striking this committee would have allowed them to have a majority of seats on the committee, and therefore a majority ability to pass any reforms they want without the support of any opposition party.
The committee, as we have constructed it, based upon the will of Canadians, would require the parties to work together. I know that might be a radical concept. There is often a lot of division and partisanship. Partisanship is a part of the House of Commons. It is a part of electoral politics, and, if done well, with passion and integrity, it can be of benefit to the country.
However, partisanship for its own sake often undermines good ideas. It often undermines the integrity of this place. What we hope for, and what we have constructed in this committee, is to allow other parties to require other parties to seek support from one another, to say that no one party in this place has all of the right ideas for the problems that we are seeking to fix, and that the challenges that are in our electoral system will be fixed by us collectively, together. That is what Canadians want, that is what we believe Canadians need. The committee system that we have put forward allows us that, because if the process is fair it greatly improves the chances that the outcome will be fair, but if the process is skewed and biased, then unfortunately there is too great a chance that outcome would also be skewed and biased.
There are so many groups across the country that have been working diligently, some of them for decades, on improving our electoral system in Canada. I am thinking of Fair Vote Canada, Leadnow, the Broadbent Institute, the Dogwood Initiative, and Avaaz. Even columnists from The Globe and Mail, to Andrew Coyne, to other left wing radicals as the Conservatives like to say, have been long urging us to evolve our electoral system into this century, even evolve it from the last century.
It seems to me that there is an opportunity in front of us to do something novel, to be innovative, and to be courageous about the way we go about this conversation, while recognizing our own interests in this conversation, to put the interests of Canadians first, and to allow Canadians to have a greater voice in this. The committee would seek to hear from traditionally unrepresented and under-represented groups, such as first nations, women, young people, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities, who have almost in all cases in every election been dramatically under-represented at the polls and in the representation that we have in the House of Commons.
There is no silver bullet in this conversation. There is no perfect voting system out there that will achieve all things for all people. We understand that. However, certainly we can improve on a voting system that was invented before we invented the lightbulb and on a voting system that allows 39% of voters to produce 100% of the power. Certainly we can diminish that when voters go into the ballot box they are told they simply have to vote strategically, that they should not choose their first choice but their second or third choice in order to stop the thing they fear most. We believe that when voters step into the ballot box it is an expression of hope for the future, it is their will for the future, that they want to express to themselves, to their neighbours, and to their family what they want to see in the world, what kind of government they would like to see. A good electoral system and a good voting process allows that connection to be much stronger than what we have here today.
I represent northwestern British Columbia, an incredibly beautiful and powerful place. One of the great advantages I have in this honour of representing Skeena—Bulkley Valley is I often get to attend first nations events, ceremonies, and traditions. At one event, I was with the Haisla in Kitimat. During the course of this very long, important naming feast when a number of Haisla were acquiring important names, one of the elders got up to speak. Slowly, as he was progressing through his comments, one after another Haisla from his house group got up to stand very quietly and respectfully behind him. After a certain amount of time there must have been more than 100 or so folks standing behind this elder. I turned to a friend of mine who is Haisla and said, “I don't understand fully what's happening here, what this represents.” She said, “In our tradition, when his house stands behind him, what they're saying is that all of the words he speaks, it is as if they have spoken. The commitments he is making, they also make.”
I often think what if we held that type of tradition here in this place, that first and foremost we always sought to represent the voices of those who stand behind us from all of the parts of this country that we represent, with the divergent views that we represent, those of us wishing to express the best of ourselves, the best of this country? I think that would allow us to avoid some of the traps we fall into as politicians, as members of Parliament, where that high road is so hard to maintain, that road of speaking with integrity as our friends, our families, and neighbours would like to speak with and do speak with, because that is at the heart of what this country is: a conversation about respect and about differences. The committee process we have put forward today, and the eventual result in a better electoral system, is an effort to honour that, to respect the very best of this country.