House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.

Topics

Office of the Auditor General of CanadaRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour to lay upon the table the 2015-16 annual reports of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada on the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. These reports are deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Palliative CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from a number of my constituents in northwestern British Columbia calling upon the government to initiate a national palliative care strategy.

The petitioners have great concerns about the physician-assisted death legislation that, since the induction of this petition, has now passed through many stages of Parliament and in the Senate. They are concerned about the dignity of life. They are concerned that Canada still lacks a palliative care strategy so that we may care for our aged in their time of need.

41st General ElectionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to present two petitions.

The first is from petitioners across Canada calling on the government to pursue investigations to determine the illegal use of live calls or robocalls that interfered with Canada's electoral process in the 2011 election.

InsecticidesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from people across Canada who are calling for our government, in the interest of protecting pollinators on this continent and elsewhere, to ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand at this time.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

moved:

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.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Ajax Ontario

Liberal

Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his comments and for his efforts in bringing forward the opposition motion today.

In his comments he talked about the need for parties to work together on this issue. I could not agree more. I think when we are working on modernizing our electoral system and taking advantage of this opportunity to bring our electoral system into the 21st century, it will require the input and participation of all parties to get there. I commend the efforts of the member today to try to move this process forward.

I am interested in his comments. He talked about the importance of the committee reaching out to constituencies that are not traditionally engaged, people who feel disenfranchised currently within the existing system. He talked about seniors, the disabled, aboriginal people, people who were not seen voting in large numbers, young people.

What are his thoughts about how the committee might reach out to some of those groups, engage them in this process, and ensure their voices are heard?

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Ajax, the parliamentary secretary, for his comments and his efforts over the last number of months in trying to work with parliamentarians, as I do with my colleagues in the Conservative Party, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québécois to move this forward.

One of our challenges is that it has been a number of months. The electoral reform needs to work with some sense of urgency, simply because Elections Canada needs to have in place, well before the next election, any changes that are coming to the voting system in order first to inform Canadians and also to conduct the vote fairly.

To the specific question of the hon. member about those groups that are not often reached by parliamentarians in traditional politics, I think of social media. I think there should be reaching out and certainly the committee has to travel. The committee has to get out of Ottawa, get out of the bubble and hear from Canadians, and not just those with a vested interest in the voting system, but those who care to participate more fully in our democracy, a number of the groups that he and I both just mentioned.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, during the hon. member's speech, he said, “the heart of this country is conversation”. In his answer now he said that we need to get out of the Ottawa bubble and we need to hear from Canadians. I could not agree with the member more. We absolutely need to hear from Canadians.

In my estimation, the best way to hear from Canadians would be through holding a referendum. This seems like a way that we would be able to hear the voice of every single Canadian across this country from coast to coast to coast.

I am curious to hear whether or not the member would agree with me. Would he see the value in holding a national referendum?

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the sentiment for what many Conservatives and many others have called for, around the referendum. I think at its core it is a question about validity. Is what is produced valid and is it seen by Canadians as valid? A referendum is one instrument that can be used to validate or reject a proposal that is put forward by Parliament.

The challenge is that there is a notion of mandate. When governments get elected, as the previous Conservatives were elected, whenever they moved forward on a promise that was made in the election, they would say they had a mandate to do this and did not take it back to a referendum. Nor did the Conservatives go to a referendum when they moved their changes to the Electoral Act, so it is a little strange now that they are asking for a referendum.

I think if the process is sound, if Canadians see it and feel it is valid, then the energy around a referendum may shift. I have mused about this at various times because a referendum often faces the challenge of the fear of the unknown. People will reject an idea when they do not understand fully or are worried about what its consequences might be.

However, there could be a notion, as New Zealand did, for example, of running a new electoral system for a couple of elections and then giving people the option at that point to say they do not like what this has done for our Parliament, for the way we work, and they would like to return to what they had before. I think it is a valid option that other countries—

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for bringing forward a motion today that allows us to talk about how we can begin a process as we intend to continue a process in a non-partisan way, seeking what is best for all Canadians.

In his motion he suggests we will be looking at research. There is an astonishing amount of research that allows us to understand that changing our voting system is not a matter of opinion, that there is solid empirical evidence.

Arend Lijphart is a professor at the University of California, San Diego. In his research, 36 democracies were surveyed and he came to a conclusion. This conclusion was that those democracies that have consensus-based, such as proportional representation, voting systems, actually have a stronger, better record with “regard to effective policy making” and the quality of democracy compared to majoritarian systems.

I put to the member, can we bring such experts to the committee?

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, many members of Parliament have come to this place with some of their own experience and opinions, and that we have to value. There have been 10 major studies by the law society on down in Canada looking at electoral reform in this place. All 10, the most significant ones, have all recommended systems that require proportionality. One came out STV, others had a mixed proportionality system.

One thing we have also learned from that research, both globally and looking at countries that would be comparable to Canada, is that despite rumours, the facts show that there is actually an increase in stability when moving to a proportional system.

I believe in a direct link, by the way, between constituents and members of Parliament. That is a principle that we want to maintain. That way people can always rely on who to call to complain or to congratulate, as happens from time to time, when seeking out their members of Parliament. That is an important element that we should maintain.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for moving this motion and sharing his time with me.

I would like to begin with a confession. When I first got involved in politics, I did not really think that democratic reform was of much interest to regular people. That is true some of the time. As MPs, we knock on doors and listen to people talk about the economy, health, education, and other issues. Sometimes they even talk about issues that, while not within federal jurisdiction, concern them nonetheless.

In 2013, I was pleasantly surprised when the Conservatives introduced Bill C-23, which made significant changes to our electoral system. Unfortunately, the changes sometimes caused serious problems for our system. Local people outside the Ottawa bubble took an interest. Constituents came to see my colleagues and me in our riding offices about this because they were concerned. People also sent us letters and petitions.

It became clear to me that it was not always the top priority. Still, when a government proposes major changes in the area of democratic reform, people realize that these are significant changes to how they vote for their MPs.

The same thing is happening now. Since the Liberals came to power following the 2015 election, they have been proposing to change the status quo. The electoral system is fundamental to our democracy, and people are concerned about the changes that are being proposed to the system. They want to know how this is going to happen. Unfortunately, what the government has proposed so far is not what Canadians were hoping to see. If the proposed changes were to be accepted, this would allow the party in power to unilaterally decide how to go about changing something that is so important to our democracy.

What we are proposing today is very interesting. The minister repeated several times that what is important is hearing the opposition's proposals. She also said that she is open to those proposals. That is good, because here we are with a proposal that I hope will be supported by the minister and her party. The proposal aims to change how the committee is formed in order to require that any changes made to our democracy have the support of at least one opposition party.

At this time, the Liberals have a majority on the committee. They can go ahead with a unilateral change and come back to the House with a proposal that would very likely pass with the Liberal majority here.

Obviously, the Liberals still have the majority of the seats in the House of Commons, but they should also get the support of an opposition party. As proposed in the motion by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the committee's composition would reflect the percentage of votes, based on how Canadians voted in the last election. That way, our Bloc Québécois colleagues and our Green Party colleague would have a vote.

As a result, we believe that the way the committee is composed would help in achieving consensus and making changes to our electoral system that are acceptable to Canadians. They would know that a parliamentary consensus was reached on the changes. The composition of the committee would be more proportional and more representative of how Canadians voted in the election.

The committee's work will be very important. It is an opportunity for us to break out of the Ottawa bubble.

The minister is proposing that every member hold consultations in his or her riding. I am not saying that consultations are not important. In fact, consultations on various issues are at the heart of an MP's work. Holding consultations, going door to door, and collecting signatures for petitions are central to an MP's work. However, this could never replace the work of Parliament or a committee.

The Standing Orders generally establish the makeup of the other existing House of Commons committees. The government's reasoning was that it was using the normal proportions. However, the normal proportions are based on what they themselves called a false majority. If the government truly wants to reach a consensus and hear from the opposition parties, it should not use that false majority to determine the committee's makeup. That is very important.

Unlike individual members, a committee has the ability to call witnesses and benefit from the expertise of all parliamentarians. Earlier, my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands spoke about the findings of an expert study. That is the essence of what a committee does.

My constituents and I have our own knowledge, opinions, and expertise. However, that can never replace a consensus. We must consult Canadians, experts, and parliamentarians from the other parties to reach a consensus that reflects what Canadians want and need in a 21st-century electoral system.

This is an interesting conversation to have, since the first past the post system is several centuries old. It is not bad just because it is old, but we must always keep an eye on how our electoral systems are designed.

For example, many people are following the primaries in the United States. It is very interesting, since this process dates back to a time when people like farmers, for example, sent delegates because they did not necessarily have the time, resources, or ability to travel to a political party's convention.

Delegates were therefore sent to choose Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidential election. However, because technology has advanced and travel has become easier, cutting travel time between states, some Americans think it is time to reconsider this system.

That is exactly what we are doing here in Canada. Our system dates back to when there were just two parties. Now there are several more. Three parties are recognized in Parliament, and five parties are represented here, so we can and should be asking ourselves this question.

I know what the government members mean when they say that 65% of Canadians voted for parties that want to revisit the status quo, even though they do not always say it in good faith. Let us have that conversation.

In closing, I know that some of my Conservative colleagues will say there is nothing wrong with the status quo. All the more reason for them to participate in the conversation and support our proposal to give them a greater voice in the committee, a voice that reflects the number of people who voted for them. That is exactly why this proposal is so important. It is designed to ensure that all MPs in the House have a voice and that we engage in this very important conversation.

We must not fear change, but if we proceed, we must do so properly. We must not exclude those whose voices may not be as loud but are nevertheless just as valid. That was the challenge with Bill C-23. The Conservatives' changes had a negative impact on people who tend not to vote or who find it harder to do so.

When making such a major change, we have to listen to people and ensure that we find the right solution. We have to do it properly. If we do it thoughtlessly, we will realize later on that we made mistakes. This is about our democracy.

I am proud to support my colleague's motion, and I invite all members to join me. Their voices are at stake.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

James Maloney Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the two members opposite. I have read the text of this motion. In principle, I agree with the concept. My concern is this. Both of the speakers have talked about listening to Canadians, doing consultation, making sure we express Canadians' interests. One of the speakers said that members need to work together, which is a novel idea. I have only been here for eight months and I am still sort of idealistic; I think we do work together.

My concern is that this motion is essentially to change the structure of the committee. We cannot forget that the NDP campaigned on a very specific reform, which does not require consultation. My question is this. Are the New Democrats now prepared to entertain other alternative systems rather than the one they specifically campaigned on in the election?

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

I want to reassure him that I have been here for five years and I am still a bit idealistic. There is a chance that he will not lose his idealism. I can reassure him of that.

The motion before us today does not predetermine the outcome of the committee's work. Yes, the NDP has a position on this. It is based on what we think is the best system for making sure that Canadians' voices are heard.

However, if my colleague is concerned about other parties' proposals, whether it be the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, the Conservative Party, or even his own Liberal Party, it is important to understand that all we are trying to do with this motion is not to ensure that the outcome of the committee's work is predetermined, but rather to ensure that any proposal brought forward requires the support of at least one opposition party and that the composition of the committee allows parliamentarians to be heard and reflects the percentage of votes won by the various parties in the House.

Let us do this work and make sure that we find the right solution, a solution that is obtained through consensus.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, for the member who just spoke, I find it kind of ironic that a couple of days ago we were discussing Bill C-7, and the members of the NDP were very emphatic that the RCMP could not have a secret vote. Yet one of the first parts of their motion is that they have a secret vote to elect a chair. I do not understand why it is good for them and bad for our government agencies, which are recognized worldwide, to have a secret vote. Maybe their learned members could answer that question for me.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to bring workers' ability to seek union representation into this. It has nothing to do with the motion before us today; it is like saying that we vote by secret ballot during an election. We are talking about a different situation here. The member is really clouding the issue and that is unfortunate.

The important thing is to ensure that the composition of the committee is such that a consensus can be reached, that all members from all parties in the House of Commons can be heard, and that the Liberal Party has the support of another party.

In my opinion, that is at the very heart of democracy, and I would even venture to say that the right of workers to seek union representation is too.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Louis Plamondon Bloc Bécancour—Nicolet—Saurel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief question for my colleague. I listened very carefully to what he said. He is quite interesting.

Once the committee completes its work and reaches a conclusion, should that conclusion be put to a referendum so that all Quebeckers and Canadians can weigh in?

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

We certainly hope that the membership of that committee will allow for a consensus to be reached so that Canadians will be prepared to accept what is proposed. Nevertheless, the question of whether to go ahead with a referendum or not would be an excellent thing for the committee to examine and determine whether that is the best way forward.

Although, to start with, we hope that the consensus reached by the committee will justify not choosing that way forward, we are nevertheless open to anything.

What matters today is that a committee be able to study these questions, that a decision be made with the consent of at least one opposition party, and that his party have the right to vote along with his colleague from the Green Party.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we go to resuming debate and the hon. parliamentary secretary for democratic institutions, members have noted that there is a lot of interest in participating in the questions and comments period today. I suspect perhaps that is because of the subject that is before the House. We will do our very best to get as many members included in that as possible. I might just add to hon. members that if they could keep their arguments succinct that will give more members the opportunity to participate.

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions.

Opposition Motion—Special Committee on Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Ajax Ontario

Liberal

Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the Minister of Democratic Institutions.

I rise today to speak in favour of creating a special committee on electoral reform.

It is an important occasion, because if we are going to move forward on the issue of electoral reform, then as I mentioned earlier in the question I posed, it is essential that we work collaboratively, that we listen to one another in this place, and that we find room to move together.

There really is a historic opportunity for us to modernize our electoral system. We have had the same electoral system since Confederation and while the world has changed around us, the way in which we vote has not.

Leading up to the last election Canadians increasingly said that they want to ensure there is a better way for their voices to be heard, that they are better enfranchised in our system, and that they are given a stronger voice in our democratic process. In the last election, more than 60% of Canadians voted for parties that said that the next election in 2019 must be under a new system and that the last election should be the last one we have under the existing system.

This opportunity to create of a better system is informed by a world of choices. The reality is that Canada is one of the few nations in the world that continues to exist on a first past the post system. Most of the world has evolved to other systems and have demonstrated there is a greater way to engage citizenry in the electoral process and ensure they have a voice.

I am struck, as I am sure all members are, when I get an opportunity to go into classrooms and talk to students about our voting system and about their rights as voters, by the enthusiasm of grade 5 students in particular. There is probably no one more excited in this world about our democracy than a grade 5 student. As they get older they unfortunately seem to lose that. When I talk to grade 10 students, they are not as tuned in. They do do not believe as much in their ability to impact change in the world around them. Fundamentally we have to change that. We have to ensure the enthusiasm of younger students carries forward and is felt by the entire citizenry. That is why this issue is so important.

Whether or not we are talking about the economy, national defence, the environment, or any issue that is germane to this institution, what underpins it is that we represent the people who sent us here. What underpins it is that the people who vote feel that the system that they are participating in reflects their will, that they are given a proper and fair voice in that process. That is why it is so important that we take this opportunity to modernize this institution.

The work of the committee specifically is going to be challenging. The committee is going to have to travel across this country. It is going to have to engage with every corner of this country. It presents a really incredible opportunity to ensure that Canadians are included in this dialogue in a meaningful way.

I talked earlier about many of the groups that have been traditionally disenfranchised in our process: young people, seniors, the disabled, aboriginal Canadians. Many different groups have found that the current system does not give them a voice, and they are disconnected from it. As the committee works and listens to Canadians and to these groups and engages them, there is an opportunity to not only change our voting system but to look at other issues, whether or not those issues be mandatory voting or electronic voting, or other means that might meaningfully engage Canadians. I hope in the process of dialogue that we also take an opportunity to look specifically at those groups that are disenfranchised and ask them hard questions about how we can ensure they are better included in our process, even if that change does not necessarily always reflect a differing policy but simply a differing approach.

The role of the minister who has been leading this file, and my own role, will be to reach out to those groups as well and to engage them on a pan-Canadian basis, to work and to listen with the committee. One thing I cannot emphasize enough is that it is going to require the participation of every member of the House not just in conducting town halls or listening to constituents, but also in the debate that is going to occur, either directly in committee or in the House. We are excited that all parties are going to be represented at the table, not just recognized parties in the House but those that are not recognized as well, and given the opportunity to have a voice in that process and participate. That input process will be essential to us getting the result that Canadians want to see and that will demonstrably improve their system.

I also think there is an opportunity through this process for parties to be able to form exactly what the outcome is, and frankly, today is an example of that. I commend the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for bringing forward the motion and for seeking a way for the parties to work collaboratively to try to move this process forward.

If we are going to be successful, then compromise, working together, and finding middle ground will be essential to getting us there. This is the type of goodwill that is essential to demonstrate in this process. As we move forward, it is this type of work and collaboration that is going to make change possible.

We are entering into the 150th anniversary of this country. I can think of no better time than now to seize this opportunity to modernize our institutions and give Canadians a stronger voice in their democracy.

I am excited for the debate ahead, I am excited to work with all members of the House, and I am very excited to see what this committee is going to do.