Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Montcalm.
I want to open my remarks by paying some due respect to a number of people and parties in the House. It is something that I think Canadians would like to see us do more of. My first kudos have to go to my hon. colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who from the inception of his appointment as the New Democratic critic for democratic reform has been a voice of reason, fairness, and co-operation on a matter that transcends partisan values in this place, and more important, among Canadians.
We are dealing here with something that is fundamental to our democratic fabric, and that is our electoral system. This is the foundation of our democracy. While we may disagree on matters like tax policy, social policy, or health policy and take partisan positions on those issues, our electoral system is something that transcends that kind of partisanship.
The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley has been, I think, a model of the kind of parliamentarianism that Canadians both expect and appreciate, in carrying the message that we need to approach this not from a partisan point of view but in a way that serves Canadians from coast to coast.
I also want to give kudos to the Liberal government, my colleagues on the other side. The genesis of the motion today started from a position where, in striking the committee that would look at changing the fundamental nature of our electoral system, the government's proposition was to establish a committee that was patently, fundamentally, and clearly unfair. It was a committee that ironically reflected the very illegitimacy of the first past the post system that the government has identified as a flawed system.
Quite ironically, the government has acknowledged, and I think properly so, that the first past the post system almost all the time produces results in legislatures that are vastly disproportionate to the actual will of the voters. In the last case, of course, as the government has admitted, they received 39% of the vote of Canadians and they were rewarded with about 54% of the votes in the House. The Liberals themselves have called that an illegitimate result, yet the government's first proposal to look at change was to establish a committee where the government had 60% of the seats on that committee, notwithstanding the fact that they only have 39%.
It was quite ironic that the government, in calling the present system an illegitimate and skewed system that needed to be changed, would then strike a committee process that would replicate the exact same flaws that were inherent in that system.
Where I give them credit is, due to the hard work of my hon. colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley who put forward a committee structure that corrected those flaws, the government has done something that I think is very commendable and worthy of praise, and that is they altered their position. I give the government full credit for that, because the proposal before the House now is to make the committee that will represent Canadians and look at this very foundational and profoundly important issue proportional, or roughly proportional, to the votes of Canadians in the last federal election. It also, more importantly, requires the support of more than just the governing party in order to get any recommendation to come before the House.
That is as it should be, because any change to the electoral system of Canada should either have broad, cross-party support in the House, or in lieu of that, it should have the broad support of the majority of Canadians.
What is never acceptable is for one party, particularly a party that received a minority of votes in an election, to change the electoral system on its own without the agreement or support of anybody else. I think Canadians, over the last few months, have reflected that message loudly and clearly, and I give credit to the government for listening to that and making the necessary change.
I can tell the House that is something I did not see in the last Parliament under the Conservative government, which instead brought in elections act changes that were not consulted with or agreed to by any other party or Canadians. I think in fact in many ways that created the context for the current situation.
Before I leave this, I want to just say that the other reason it is important for the government to agree to this important motion today is because it was the same position that the Liberals took prior to being elected as government. The Liberal caucus chair and member for Lac-Saint-Louis, when he was in opposition, said, “As members who are in touch with our constituents' values, we know that Canadians have a very keen sense of fair play....Canadians recognize that we should not change the rules of the game without the consensus of all parties involved”.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Liberal government, when he was in opposition, said, “A solid democratic tradition in Canada requires the largest possible consensus for the law that sets out election rules. This time it is a complete failure.” The minister said that when the previous government wanted to change the rules unilaterally.
The government House leader had said similar things. The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, when he was in opposition, said the same thing. Senior leadership of the present government, when they were in opposition, said publicly that we cannot change the electoral system in this country without the broad support of a majority of parties or at least the broad support of Canadians.
The reason that this is important to set out is because Canadians should still note that the first instinct of the current government, when it set out this committee, was to try to establish a unilateral ability to change this system. It was only through the hard work of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Green Party, and the Bloc Québécois, when we rallied Canadians to the notion that it is unacceptable that the government changed. While I give the Liberals credit for the change, I also think it is important that Canadians know that the Liberals tried to establish a process that would have allowed them unilaterally to change the system, probably toward a system that favoured them.
I want to talk for a few moments about democratic reform itself. It has been commented by many people across the spectrum of this country that Canadian politics have been marked by a certain amount of cynicism about our Canadian voting structure. We have low turnouts, decreasing turnouts in federal elections over the last several decades. I will venture a guess as to why that is. It is because under the present first past the post system, most Canadians realize that their votes do not count, that their votes often do not matter. The reason is that the first past the post system very commonly produces false majorities.
We know that the current Liberal government was elected by only 39% of Canadians. Sixty-one per cent of Canadians did not vote for it. The majority of Canadians did not vote for the Liberals, yet the government has been awarded with 54% to 55% of the seats and a majority government. That is not a partisan attack on the Liberals, because the exact same thing happened to the Conservative government in the last Parliament: 39% of the vote, 55% of the seats.
Democracy is supposed to be about government by the majority. We solve disputes in a democracy by taking a vote, and the majority wins. When we have perversely an electoral system where the majority of votes do not win and it is a minority of votes that determine policy, with 100% of the power going to a majority government with less than a majority of votes, that creates cynicism.
Other problems with the first past the post system are that it minimizes or eliminates the motivation for co-operation and compromise in Parliament and discourages parties from working together; it encourages under-representation in Parliament, with fewer women, fewer minorities, and fewer disabled representatives. The first past the post system encourages and inflames strategic voting, which is toxic because it is the opposite of democracy. We should be encouraging people to vote for the party and candidate that they believe in, not the one they like less than the person they think is going to win. That is what strategic voting encourages. It is perverse in the system, where we have a system where people are encouraged to vote for someone they do not really believe in but they do it to avoid a bigger evil. First past the post was invented before the lightbulb, before women could vote, before minorities could vote, and before first nations could vote. It is an outdated, outmoded, and deeply flawed system.
I am going to advocate, as I have for the last 30 years, in this House and to Canadians as we move forward that we develop a system based on three principles: one, that every vote should count; two, that the parties' representation in Parliament should reflect the actual votes they get; and, three, where Canadians do not give any party a majority support, that parties should have to work together to produce policies that enjoy broad majority agreement in this country. That is proportional representation, specifically a mixed-member system where Canadians will elect a representative directly accountable to them as they do now, plus enjoy the benefit of proportionality.