Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise to talk about a very important issue for all Canadians.
I have had the opportunity and good fortune to be a parliamentarian for many years, as have you, Mr. Speaker. I have had the privilege of having my name on the ballot 11 or 12 times, either as a provincial or federal candidate. I truly appreciate the important role everyone plays in making our democracy work in Canada.
I have argued, on both sides of the House, that we should never take that for granted. We truly appreciate the value of the trust Canadians have put in us, jointly and collectively as one body, to make good decisions on their behalf.
Today is a very positive day. I have heard discussions about electoral reform for years. In fact, I believe it was in the mid-1990s when I was asked to go around the province of Manitoba to canvass opinions and gather the thoughts of people on electoral reform.
I remember talking about the idea of whether we should reduce the age to vote from 18 to 16, or have leaders elected at large as opposed to being elected in constituencies, or the issue of multi-member wards. There are endless ideas out there.
Throughout my parliamentarian years, I have noted that there always seems to be some level of interest, at varying times, whether it is right after a federal election or after the observation of another election that has taken in place in Canada. At times, the issue really comes to the table. When that happens, there is a great deal of interest to talk about it. There have been endless discussions about it.
I was quite pleased when our current Prime Minister clearly indicated over a year ago, in an election platform, that if the Liberals were to form government, it would be the last federal election based on first past the post. No one inside this chamber can question that statement from the leader of the third party at the time. It was very well publicized. It was included in the party's election platform.
The Liberal Party of Canada was not the only party that talked about electoral reform. The New Democrats and the Green Party have also talked about it fairly extensively. In fact, I have heard the leader of the Green Party talk extensively about it for many years. I said to her the other day that I was somewhat sympathetic. When I was in the Manitoba legislature, we did not have party recognition. Many of the things she aspires to try to change and reform, I can reflect on and recall my desires on those very important issues.
I raise it because it is important to note that even though the Liberal Party of Canada garnered the most support in the last federal election at 39% and that garnered the majority government, on this issue, more than 50% of Canadians voted for the need for change on our electoral system.
I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the degree to which he has recognized this as an important issue for Canadians. Many would say that there are all sorts of other things we could and should talk about. However, I will go back to my opening comments on the importance of democracy to each and every one of us.
We always talk about Canada being one of the best countries in the world to live. Whether we talk about our democratic process, or our rights and freedoms, or our rule of law, these are all so fundamentally important to who we are as Canadians and as a nation.
Let us fast-forward a bit. I have in recent years seen many discussions on changes to the Canada Elections Act. We have been through those difficult committee hearings. I remember standing up at second reading on the fair elections bill, and there was a great deal of concern in terms of the lack of consultation that was taking place. I remember sitting in committee, and the Chief Electoral Officer had no sense in terms of what the government actually wanted to do with the Elections Act. There was no goodwill at all in terms of accepting any amendments from opposition parties.
That is why it is a bit much, day after day, hearing members from the Conservative Party at times talking about wanting a more open system with more consultations. The Minister of Democratic Institutions has been talking about that ever since she was appointed the minister responsible for democratic initiatives here. It is all about consultations, trying to extend the olive branch, trying to get other members engaged on this issue. I know how passionate she has been on it, and how the Prime Minister, in appointing this particular individual, felt very strongly that it was of critical importance that we get it done and we get it done right.
The Conservatives seem to be fixated on the issue of the process. That is in regard to wanting to have the referendum, as if that is the only tool in the toolbox that can deliver what Canadians want to see, which is genuine electoral reform. I would suggest that the referendum is not the only tool that is in the toolbox. We do not have to recreate the wheel in order to be able to understand or appreciate that.
Major initiatives have taken place in terms of reforming our democratic system where there was no referendum. Rather, it was through consultation that took place in bringing parties together that ultimately led to the changes. One just needs to look at the enfranchising of women or first nations. Those are two that come to mind for which there were no referendums, but rather there were other ways by which we were able to successfully implement reform.
I look forward to the challenge that this current minister has in essence given to each and every one of us in terms of reaching out to our constituents and bringing that all into the debate. That is something which I am committed to, and that is why it is nice when we get a sense of co-operation taking place inside the House. Like the Prime Minister, I wish we could see more of that taking place. I am the type of person who does look at the glass as half full. I do believe that where there is goodwill, there will be opportunities to make things happen in a more apolitical fashion.
We saw that being demonstrated in the last 24 hours, or maybe even a bit longer than that, with respect to this particular issue. We have an opposition party in the House that stated it had an idea for opposition day, shared that idea with the government, and allowed the government the opportunity to take a look at it. Given the very nature of the motion, the government stated it was a motion that it could potentially support. The government did what a good government should do, and that was to look into the matter to see if there was a way we could get behind what we believe Canadians would want to see, more unity inside this chamber.
In a relatively short period of time, there was hopefully going to be an agreement when the minister responsible moved the amendment, and I will get into the amendment shortly. However, after the motion was initially moved, the minister then moved an amendment. It had to be accepted as a friendly amendment. Had it not been accepted as a friendly amendment, then we would be voting on the original motion, which has a lot of merit to it. However, it would have been a mistake, in the sense that if we can build on consensus, that is something we should do. The member across the way recognized that and accepted it as a friendly amendment. As a result, I believe the NDP will see widespread support on its original motion as amended by the minister responsible.
Let me highlight what we are actually talking about when I make reference to the motion. There is one part of the motion that I truly appreciate from a personal perspective. It is the second statement, where it says:
...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;
With the exception of the date, and that is addressed, I thought that was a fantastic request being advocated by the New Democrats. We should be engaging as much as possible, and we can all engage in different ways.
Allow me to share how I will be engaging my constituents on this issue. On July 6, we are going to be having a public meeting at the Maples Community Centre in the riding of Winnipeg North. By different means, via telephone and by letters, I will make sure it is very clear that I am having this meeting. We will probably even do a bit of advertising for it, if we can allocate a little budget from my member's office budget. We will make room for it, given the importance of the issue.
I hope to see a good number of people come out for the public meeting. We will try to get a better sense of what my constituents have to say. I am not going to that meeting with a predetermined position. I am approaching the meeting with an open mind. I genuinely would like to hear from individuals who have an interest in the subject matter. I would like them to come forward and share their thoughts are on the issue.
Realizing that I represent over 90,000 constituents, and many of my colleagues in the House represent well over 100,000, we are not going to get that kind of number into a community centre. I do not think demand will be quite that high. Typically, I suspect it will likely be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 to 250 people. I am not really sure, but whatever it is, if the demand is super high, we will have two meetings if necessary. That is one of the mechanisms I will be using.
Another mechanism I will use will be through social media, whether it is through my email list, Facebook, Twitter, or other ways that I can engage constituents I represent to provide their input on the issue.
As parliamentarians, we also have a wonderful privilege. I thank God for Canada Post and those who work for Canada Post. They are indirectly able to help me represent my constituents. I am so appreciative of Canada Post because that is one of the mechanisms I will be using to garner feedback on this issue.
These are the types of ideas that will help me make my presentation on the importance of this legislation in the debate we are having. However, there are others some might say, such as the age 55-plus bloc. We might end up going this way also. We should see if there is specific interest in going into some of those blocs.
What about community centres? How do we engage young people? I was part of a task force back in the 1990s. I think it was the 1990s. I sometimes get lost in the context of time. When I canvassed on democratic reform, I went into high schools. We found that young people were very interested in this issue. I would suggest, where possible, that others should go to the high schools. The point is that there are many different ways of doing it.
I want to highlight what we have actually witnessed here today. I believe it is a good reason for all of us to appreciate the gestures of goodwill coming from not one or two political parties, but three or four, though it would be nice to say all five parties. The proposed motion indicates that a committee be composed of 12 members, of which five shall be government members, three shall be official opposition members, two shall be from the New Democratic Party, one member from the Bloc, and the leader of the Green Party, all of which would be voting members.
This would be exceptionally rare, and I cannot recall a time offhand. Meech Lake, in the 1990s, when I was in the Manitoba legislature might have been one time. We would have the government of the day saying that it is prepared to forfeit its majority on the committee in order for other political parties to feel as though they are—because they are in reality—part of a very important process.
That is a very significant signal that is being sent not only from the government of the day, but from the New Democrats and the leader of the Green Party. They are prepared to put party politics aside in the hope of delivering an electoral system that is best able to serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast. I genuinely appreciate that and believe that Canadians will reflect very positively on that. I would encourage all members who will sit on this very important committee to approach it with a very open mind.
I would like to see a system that is modern, that enables people to feel as though their votes are not being wasted, a system that makes it easier for people to get engaged and actually vote. These are all important fundamental values that all of us share. In my 20-plus years of being a parliamentarian, it is very rare that we have been afforded the opportunity we have been given by different political parties in the House today.
My suggestion is that we take advantage of that recommendation and read through the resolution that has been introduced and the amendment that was brought forward. There are a couple of important aspects of the amendment that I would encourage people to read. The amendment states, “options identified could advance the following principles for electoral reform”, and there are five of them. I do not have time to read the five. We need to realize that this is time sensitive. We do not want to lose the opportunity, and that is the reason we are saying October 14.
I know that as parliamentarians, we are not scared to work through the summer and will do whatever work is necessary to make things happen for Canadians. I suggest that we have the time to do something really good in terms of making our democratic system a better institution in Canada.
Around the world, parliamentarians and others look to Canada to demonstrate leadership on this issue, as we are a country that is envied by many. I think we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference, and I highly recommend that everyone vote in favour of the amendment and resolution.