Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Hull—Aylmer.
I strongly believe that every Liberal MP came to the House in 2015 believing that that year's election results really would be the last time first past the post would be used in a general election. We believed, naively perhaps, that we could have an honest conversation across the country about an incremental change that everyone would accept, knowing that the system we have has significant failings.
In a spirit of compromise and to see what the electoral reform would look like, we agreed to strike a committee along proportional rather than representative lines, giving the majority to the combined opposition, a committee mandated to talk to the country’s population and propose a real path forward. The solution that the committee finally arrived at consisted in bartering a referendum that would be contrary to proportional representation.
I am first and foremost a rural member of Parliament. I grew up in a rural community and I live in a rural community. My family largely lives off the bounty of the land. Anyone looking for my house on Google Maps—which cannot really be done from my house because we don’t have much in terms of Internet connection—has to zoom far out to find any roads. It goes without saying that, over my lifetime, not a lot of politicians have come knocking at my door, although we are only two hours from here.
My riding is large, but not the largest. There are 45 ridings larger than mine, and even under the most elementary proportional models, my riding would have to be partially or totally merged with the neighbouring ridings. There are many communities of 400 or even only 40 people in my riding, and they are already having trouble getting adequate representation. I visit all of them as often as I can. It is a lot of work, representing over 60,000 kilometres a year in travel for my wife and me, not to mention for my staff in the riding.
To merge my riding with an adjacent riding, will we be merging with the one that is a suburb of Montréal, will we be going north to Rouyn-Noranda, or maybe east to Trois-Rivières or west to Gatineau? If the bordering ridings are merged and I am asked to share representation with four MPs, where do you think the MPs are going to go? To the towns with populations of 400 or 40, or to the big urban centres?
Proportional representation is inevitably bad for rural Canada, whether we are talking about merged ridings, lists or additional seats. One sometimes sees a drawing of three persons of different heights trying to look over a fence, and there are three boxes. That which is equal is not equitable. Let us ask ourselves: do we want equal representation or equitable representation?
Everywhere in the world electoral reform is a fight between those who tend to win and those who tend not to. It is not a left-versus-right issue, it is not a progressive issue. In this country, progressives would be more likely to be upset. In another country having a similar debate, it may be the conservatives. In proportional countries, the parties that perform poorly want single member plurality; in single member plurality countries, the parties that perform poorly want proportional. The demand for reform the world over has less to do with democratic principles than it does pursuing an advantage on the path to power.
Princeton political scientist Carles Boix has shown that, historically, political parties, whether of the left or the right, almost always support the electoral system that most benefits them. That the NDP has governed six provinces and a territory under single member plurality and never once brought forward electoral reform is proof positive of this paradox.
We hear sometimes that first past the post resulted in the current situation south of the border and, therefore, we must switch to proportional. We can look at France, that has had two-round elections since the 1950s, except for a single election in 1986, where the socialists thought they would benefit from a proportional system. Those who benefited most were the Holocaust-denying Front National, that went from zero seats to 35 and gained the credibility it needed to become a real contender for power.
The point is that every system can be manipulated. Mixed member proportional is a very rare system, and for good reason. Albania, Italy, Venezuela, Lesotho, and Romania have all experimented with it and then abandoned it because it is the easiest system of all electoral systems to manipulate.
By using two votes, one for the candidate and one for the party, particularly manipulative parties split into two registered parties. Sub-party A focuses its efforts on the candidate ballot and sub-party B focuses its efforts on the list ballot. The two parties, respectively, win, say, 40% of the constituency seats, with 30% of the popular vote, and because the list party in the partnership did not win any constituency seats, it is granted 30% of the seats through the top-up system. The two together now have around 60% of the seats, with only 30% of the vote. Of all of the systems available, mixed member proportional takes all that is bad about the two leading electoral systems and combines them.
We are often directed to other countries for examples, so let us take a quick look at a few more of them. Australia is the only country to use both mandatory voting and a preferential ballot, but nobody can tell me with a straight face that this has resulted in a permanent, stable, centrist government. It has a government that alternates between a left-wing party and a right-wing coalition, with no centrist party ever doing well. Finland and Israel use very similar pure proportional systems and these produce very different outcomes. The political culture is more important than the electoral system.
Belgium is credited with creating proportional and is principally known in this respect for its inability to get anything done, setting a world record of 589 days without a government just a few years ago as the parties could not reach a compromise to even form a government.
Ireland uses multi-member STV similar to what was proposed in B.C., but its reality is vastly different from Canada's. The whole country is only three times the size of my riding.
If our problem is that our local representatives are too often elected on the basis of a strategic or split vote, then let us tackle that problem. If voting for a candidate who has our tepid support in order to prevent a candidate we cannot accept at the expense of the candidate who best reflects our actual views is the normal situation in Canada today, then let us solve that issue.
A preferential vote would do that. It would give us the option to vote for who we legitimately want, without benefiting the candidate we cannot accept to see as our representative. It would empower voters to empower their MPs, because they would have a genuine representative. Giving voters the right to specify second, third and fourth choices takes away the horse race narrative and makes the conversation about who will actually represent us as electors.
It is also most ironic that a movement to change the electoral system should arise from a belief that votes cast for everyone but the winner do not really count. As soon as a threshold is established beneath which no seat is awarded, the same fallacious argument suggests that those votes are wasted. Consider how hypocritical that is. Why should his vote count but not mine?
At the national level, according to MyDemocracy.ca, two thirds of Canadians are satisfied with our democracy, and of all the priorities presented, increasing the presence of small parties in Parliament garnered the least votes by far.
Out of the 70,000 or so surveys sent to all the households in my riding, we received about 100 responses to the question on electoral reform: 46.5% of respondents preferred the current system or a preferential system, 37.9% of them wanted a partially or totally proportional system, and 43% of respondents would like voting to be made compulsory.
Clearly, there is no more of a consensus in my riding than there is anywhere else, and the low response rate is a clear indication that this is simply not a priority for the people in my constituency. They are faced with far more important issues, and they are certainly making me aware of that fact.
In their daily lives, Internet access, lake management and related environmental concerns, and the infrastructure investment rate are much more important to them than checking a box on their ballot.
I personally believe that voting should be nominally mandatory; that is, a symbolic enforcement mechanism such as a $20 tax credit for voting or tax penalty for not doing so. Our campaign strategies now, across party lines, are to identify our voters and ensure they go out and vote. Low turnout advantages one candidate and high turnout advantages another.
Elections should be concerned with choosing among philosophies, ideas and the planning of our future, rather than with tactics and strategy. It is said that politics is war using different weapons, and that is true.
When political parties spend money defining and attacking other parties' leaders instead of debating the direction of our country, that is when the system moves away from democracy and enters a state of conflict, a war waged with different weapons.
When I was very young, I read an article which said that, if Wendy's announced that McDonald's hamburgers are made of mouse meat and if McDonald's responded that Wendy’s hamburgers are made of worms, in the end, people just would stop eating hamburgers. That is an excellent metaphor, and one that accurately represents our current political process.
In a post-truth, strategy-driven era rather than one guided by facts and philosophy, those whose ideas are the least saleable are working hard to suppress the vote. This is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon, in spite of the unmitigated attack on our democracy that was deliberately and ironically called the “fair elections act”.
Making voting mandatory puts the onus on the state to ensure every citizen has the ability to do so. It is one of Canada's great democratic ironies that, of all the pieces of identification available for Canadian citizens to identify themselves at a voting booth in a federal election, it is virtually impossible to use only documentation issued, without charge, by the federal government in order to vote.
That there is no consensus on electoral reform is clear for all to see and I will strongly and unequivocally defend the decision of our government to abandon it unless and until all parties put their narrow partisan interests aside and figure out what is genuinely best for the voters rather than the party leaders of our country.
Indeed, there is tremendous irony to telling Canadians that we need to change our electoral system because some votes cast do not, in some ways of measuring, count, and that we therefore need to change the electoral system to accommodate these votes without the consent of the near unanimity of Canadians. Why would an election reform advocate's vote count more than one who is satisfied with the status quo?
If the problem is that some voters' opinions are seen not to count, it must be the case that any change not leave anyone's opinions out. That is the very essence of consensus.