Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour today to join this crucial debate on our democracy.
Today, we are witnessing a truly important event: the Liberal government has agreed to the NDP's proposal to create a committee in which the Liberals will not have the majority of the votes. That is truly extraordinary.
This parliamentary committee will have to study various ways of reforming the federal voting system and submit its recommendations by December 1. That is very important work, and I, for one, cannot wait to start.
I have been listening and watching our debates in this place since the hon. Minister of Democratic Institutions first put forward a version of this motion. For a while, it began to remind me of the 1969 peace talks in Paris to end the war in Vietnam, where the talks could not begin until they finished arguing over whether the table would be square or round. Although the issues are of very large significance to us as parliamentarians to ensure the committee will have legitimacy, I can imagine that those Canadians who are watching this are wondering when we are going to get on with the work of getting rid of a perverse voting system and stop discussing how many members and what rights we all have.
For myself, as the only member of Parliament here on behalf of the Green Party of Canada, I am, of course, here as a Green Party of Canada member of Parliament. I am not here as an independent, which is recognized, but as my hon. friend for Skeena—Bulkley Valley just pointed out, those of us in parties with fewer than 12 members are not considered, in the House process, as “recognized parties”. Therefore, it is a bit confusing. I am a recognized member of the Green Party in this place, but I am not a member of a recognized party.
It is not unheard of, and as a matter of fact it is quite common, for members of smaller parties to be admitted to committees. There was a time when the NDP went down to nine seats, and in that circumstance, many members of the New Democratic Party served as full members of various committees in this place. There have been independents who have also served as full members of committees.
I have been willing to serve, because the work of getting electoral reform is far more important than any other aspect of the committee. However, I knew this was actually a departure from tradition, and far from being an exception to allow the Bloc and the Greens a seat on the committee. In these circumstances of a commitment to an all-party committee, it really is important that it be all parties.
I believe it is a significant step forward for this committee. It is something for which I am deeply grateful to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, her parliamentary secretary, and to the member of Parliament for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for making the case that it makes sense that all members of the committee have full voting rights and full participatory rights, and I intend to exercise mine fully with the goal of serving the public good.
I know, given the partisanship in this place, it may be hard for people to believe, but I do think I am the most non-partisan leader of a federal political party. I absolutely commit to having an open mind to the various forms of voting that we will study on this committee. It is critical that we have a committee that inspires the confidence of Canadians by starting out in a non-partisan fashion with all parties willing to support the process. I hope our colleagues in the Conservative Party will support this motion.
We now know the Liberals will support the motion. It is the NDP's motion, and the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley accepted, quite graciously, the amendment put forward by the minister. Certainly, the Green Party supports the motion, and I hope my friends from the Bloc also support the motion. Therefore, it would be important for this committee to start out the way we intend to go, and for the Conservatives to set aside whatever qualms they may have.
I want to emphasis, particularly for my friends in the Conservative Party, that it is quite extraordinary for a governing party with a majority of votes to voluntarily relinquish that majority. I do not think that should go without mention.
We have a committee of 12 people, and this is the formula as put forward by the New Democratic Party. It puts this committee forward on the basis of what this Parliament would look like had we had fair voting in the last election. It is an essential point of principle. If we did not have the first past the post voting system, with its infamous reputation for perverse results and false majorities, such as the false majority of the previous Conservative majority at 39% of the vote, or the false majority of our current Liberal government with 39% of the vote, Parliament would not have the configuration it now has.
This is really historic and suggests that we could go forward in a spirit of non-partisanship. The governing majority party has voluntarily relinquished its majority on the committee so that it is five Liberals, three Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc Québécois member, and one Green Party member. That is a very good start.
Now we have a lot of work to do. I think our first job, as parliamentarians who passionately believe that we must ensure that the Liberal election promise, now enshrined in the Speech from the Throne, is actually achieved, is to ensure that 2015 was the last election held under first past the post.
Even as we go forward to study those methods of voting in the systems around the world that are far more democratic, far more inclusive, and that build consensus and have changed the way parliaments have functioned to achieve better results around the world, it is important to keep explaining why first past the post and any other majoritarian voting system, which includes ranked or preferential ballots, fall short of meeting the basic understanding that every Canadian has of what real democracy is. Surely, all Canadians have a right to know that their vote will count.
It is the perversity of the first past the post voting system that says that as soon as we have achieved 32% of the vote in some ridings, and in theory 25% of the vote, we win. We have been a multi-party democracy in this Parliament since around 1920. There has never been a time when we could say that there were fewer than three, four, or five parties. We have been a multi-party democracy with a two-party voting system for almost a century. That is a century too long.
What happens when we achieve 25%, 30% of the vote and are the winner in that riding, it is winner takes all. Therefore, 70% of the votes just do not count. This contributes to voters feeling that if they live in a so-called safe Liberal riding but are Conservatives or live in a safe Conservative riding but are New Democrats, there is really no point in voting because their vote just will not count. Everyone knows the sayings, “You could run a goat in a red sweater in that riding, it wouldn't matter, they'll win. You could run a dog in a blue sweater in that riding.” Taking it away from animal rights at this point and going back to people, the reality of this is that it contributes to lower voter turnout.
Therefore, not as a matter of opinion but as matter of empirical research, looking at democracies all around the world, we know that there is a significantly higher voter turnout when people realize their votes count. The effectiveness of a vote is not in question if voters are under mixed member proportional, single transferrable vote, or any one of a number of hybrids of those systems.
First past the post is the only voting system available to us, as well as ranked ballots, where a minority of the public can elect a majority of the seats. This is particularly dangerous in a Westminster parliamentary system, such as Canada's. It is actually more dangerous in Canada than in most Westminster parliamentary democracies, potentially more than any Westminster parliamentary democracy, as it allows extraordinary powers to be vested in the Office of the Prime Minister, more so than in the U.K. or Australia where their parliamentary caucus can replace the prime minister between elections. For some reason in Canada we have sort of aped the U.S. system of convention so that only members of the party can select the leader. As a result of this, in a majority parliament in Canada, a prime minister can fully control the executive and legislative branches and essentially become an elected dictator.
In a system like ours, it is essential that voting be fair and proportional.