Mr. Speaker, I will not be splitting my time. There is so much wrong with what is going on today that I will need the full 20 minutes.
First, will there be unanimous consent? Absolutely not. There was not unanimous consultation. The minister, who makes a fine line about the need to work together, did not work together with us. She made a deal unilaterally with the New Democratic Party. Maybe it was not unilateral; I do not know. Perhaps the Bloc and NDP were in on it. I have no idea, because the Conservative Party was not involved. So, it is “Let us all work together on a deal that we worked out behind their back”. In all honesty, that kind of disrespect is not the way to begin a discussion.
As well, this motion, as it was originally worded and as it is changed, is fundamentally flawed. I do not blame my colleague from the New Democratic Party for that. I blame the government for that, and I will explain what is wrong with the motion as I go through my comments.
The first thing to say here is that the mandate of the committee is in practice identical to what it was under the original government Motion No. 5. Its timeline is varied only slightly, and it is one of three consultation processes—a very important fact.
There are three consultation processes. One is this committee. The second one is town hall meetings, which are to take place in some unspecified way, produce results that will be collated in some unspecified way, and dealt with by the government in some unspecified way. Finally, there will be a third consultation process, not yet announced by the minister, although she announced that she would be announcing it way back in the middle of last month. The government will then take all this information and will do with it as it sees fit. The minister has not moved an inch from her position that once this committee is finished acting, the cabinet will exercise its monopoly over making a decision.
All right, the purpose of this committee was and is to put in place a part of the Liberal election promise, which I will quote, although I scarcely need to as the Prime Minister quotes it every single day in the House of Commons. The election promise stated, “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”. It goes on to state:
We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.
This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.
The problem with this promise is that it was a promise that the Prime Minister was not entitled to make. No one summarizes these things better than Rex Murphy. He said the following:
[The Prime Minster's] dramatic declaration before the election that it would be the last under first past the post was not a pledge he was then or now entitled to make.... But changing how Canadians vote is not within the competence of a candidate or a prime minister.
Rex Murphy goes on to say:
The power of the citizens' vote is the DNA of our democracy. It is not then in the Liberals' power...to alter the mechanism, play any parliamentary games to choose a [new] system without consulting the voters in a referendum with clear language on what they, the voters, prefer. No referendum, no change.
Because this is not a legislative committee—we are not dealing with a piece of legislation—the real purpose of this committee is to fritter away time. I came to the conclusion in mid-May, following the minister's announcement, that its sole purpose was to fritter away time so as to preclude other options. Let me read what I wrote in an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen on May 18. I said:
Naturally, the structure of the committee was widely panned. But the real problem has nothing to do with whether or not [the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands] gets a vote on committee.
By now it is clear that the purpose of the committee is not to find conclusions, but rather, to run out the clock. The longer the Liberals delay, the narrower the range of options for electoral reform.
First to vanish will be the ability to move to any system that involves riding redistribution. This will remove from the table the electoral systems that were proposed to voters in Prince Edward Island in 2005, in British Columbia in 2005, and in Ontario in 2007. Only the single-member, preferential ballot system, which [the Prime Minister] has indicated to be his favourite all along, will be left as an alternative to the status quo.
Then, with a bit more time, the option of holding a referendum on [the Prime Minister's] preferred option will also disappear.
Nothing that I said on May 18 is changed by the current proposal. I am very much regretful that my hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party did not see that he is falling into this Liberal trap.
If we go back to the minister's May 10 press conference, we see she is very explicit. Whatever the recommendations are from this committee, they will be sent to cabinet and cabinet will decide. I did not write it down, but I believe the direct quote is that the cabinet will decide. Therefore, the decision will be made not by this committee, not by Canadians at town hall meetings, not by this mystery process that the minister has not announced yet, and not by any combination of things. It will be made by Liberals in a room where only Liberals are present and where no minutes of those meetings are available. They will be made available in the year 2046, after the 30-year cabinet secrecy rule falls away. Therefore, a secret group, a non-inclusive group, will be making a decision, and of course it will be in that group's partisan interest. It will have total discretion in this regard.
Since last December, I have been maintaining that the fix is in. Nothing here changes that. Nothing takes away from the ability of the Liberal government to create a version of what occurred in Australia in 1918. It is a wonderful country. I used to live there.
I want to read this to the House. It is from a paper I wrote in 2005, in which I warned of the dangers of pursuing this kind of legislated change or parliamentary-based change to an electoral system without having a referendum as a safeguard.
Here is what I wrote:
Australia provides the best example of how this can happen. Here is how the Australian Electoral Commission describes that country’s shift from FPTP to AV for elections to its lower House:
“AV” is the preferential system that the Prime Minister prefers.
I will now quote directly from the Australian Electoral Commission.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act was comprehensively rewritten in 1918...and the new Act among other things introduced alternative (“preferential”) voting for the House of Representatives;
That is Australia's equivalent to the House of Commons.
...this was in response to the rise of the Country Party in the aftermath of the First World War, and the consequent prospect of loss of seats to Labor through a split in the non-Labor vote.
I will return to my paper, which states:
In short, a governing party with a majority mandate realized that a clearly-defined change to the electoral system would suit its own partisan interests, and therefore it enacted that change.
I will now depart from my text and add that it won the Liberals the next election.
Returning to my text, it states:
Australia repeated this process when it introduced STV to its Senate in 1948. This time, it was Labor that was in power but facing imminent defeat. Recognizing that the existing electoral system would exaggerate its decline in popular support, and not believing that it could win the coming election, the Labor government enacted changes to the electoral system that it concluded would help to “consolidate its parliamentary power base in the Senate”.
In the last part of my quote, I am quoting from a paper on how Australia wound up with its current electoral system in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The argument being presented as to why this is okay in the absence of a safeguard like a referendum, which was initiated by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley and has now been accepted by the government, at least for the purpose of this committee, is that we have legitimacy if we have the support of at least one other party. Those are words that I think my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley will live to regret.
That one other party, in the end, I think is unlikely to be his party. I predict that it will be the Green Party, that the Liberals will cut a deal with the Green Party member. That still will not give them a majority of votes on this committee, but who cares who has a majority of votes in this committee? Its purpose is just to rag the puck for six months before the decision gets made by cabinet. That is what will happen. To say it is a travesty of democracy is an understatement. Let me make the point that the support of one other party is insufficient to legitimize a profound change, an epoch-making change, a de facto constitutional change to the way a country operates.
In 2008 we had an election that the Conservatives won. The Liberal Party, New Democrats, and the Bloc Québécois got together to form a coalition government, and we got to watch how the people of Canada reacted to that. In the end they backed off—and they could have defeated the government—because of the massive public opposition to changing our government without an election, a de facto constitutional change from the Westminster system to the kind of system we see in some countries that have proportional representation, like Israel, for example, where governments change regularly without there being an intervening election.
Canadians did not want that kind of change. I am not sure how we could have a referendum on that kind of change, but maybe if we had done that, had a referendum, people would have said it was legitimate, but that never happened. They simply tried to impose it on Canadians, and Canadians did not want it, and there was the support not of one other party but of two other parties.
The fact is that having the support of some of the parties, even having support of all of the parties is insufficient. There have been cases where everybody, all the parties, agree to something and it is still voted down in a referendum, or at least where no party is in opposition and it still gets voted down in a referendum, indicating that the people are not on side.
The only answers we ever hear from the government on this issue is that the people are wrong, the people are too stupid, the people are too ill-informed, the right people are not turning out at elections, and referendums are not inclusive enough. This has been the minister's answer all along: referendums are not inclusive. Apparently she just chooses to ignore, for example, the referendum in 1995 in which a high turnout, a 92% turnout, is what saved this country. The reason this country still exists is because of a high turnout in a referendum, but she does not care about that. She cares about the inclusiveness of a decision being made in a cabinet room where only Liberals are present and only Liberal partisan interests will be considered. That is what she cares about.
Returning to the issues. Given that this issue is effectively all about how to rig the next election so Liberals can win, I want to explain exactly how this will work—