House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was system.

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Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2017 / 1:05 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the first referendum in B.C., actually 58% of the people voted for change, but the government had set an artificial supermajority. That is why the first referendum in B.C. failed. The reason P.E.I. had such low thresholds, and the member is quoting people's first preference, was that it had an alternate ballot. The result of that referendum was a call for mixed member proportional representation, which the Liberal government in P.E.I. decided to ignore. There are some similarities. It is not in respect to what people want. It is the behaviour of Liberal governments.

Part of my speech, if the member had been listening, was the idea that somehow we need a unanimous consensus in order to proceed with electoral reform. That was not the promise of the government. The Liberals did not say they were going to get every Canadian to agree on the exact same system and then move forward with change. They said they were trying to build a mandate to change the system. They received it. Over 60% of Canadians voted for a party in the last election that said that we need to change the system.

Enough with the red herrings. Let us get on with the apology.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's passion on this issue. In the last election many people in my riding who traditionally vote NDP or Green Party voted Liberal because of a clear promise made by the Prime Minister on electoral reform. I would never say it or infer it in the House, but there are a lot of Canadians, including many in my riding, who feel that they were deliberately lied to.

Does the member think that the Prime Minister deliberately lied to Canadians?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this has been a tumultuous process since the last election and there have been times when it really did seem like the government was trying to manoeuvre out of its promise early on. Due to the good work of opposition parties who thought that the government should not be able to easily abandon its promises to Canadians, and even though there were some pretty serious disagreements, we were able to work together on a path forward to get a concrete proposal, one that respected what Canadians told the committee they want, one that respected what experts testified was best for Canada, and then we came up with a proposal on how to move forward on a process.

We have a situation here where the opposition parties together have provided far more leadership on the government's campaign promise than the government itself has. If in that context the government cannot find a way to keep its own promise, then I do not know in what context it possibly could.

I am not at liberty to say whether someone lied or not in the House, but Canadians can draw their own conclusions from the facts, and they are compelling.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Ajax Ontario

Liberal

Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to rise in this House and get an opportunity to speak.

I want to start by thanking all of the members in the House who were involved in the special committee and, indeed, all members who held town hall meetings and discussions about electoral reform with their constituents.

More than 170 members in this House did hold town halls, as well as the then minister of democratic reform and now Minister of Status of Women, and so did I when I was the parliamentary secretary. I had the occasion to go to more than 80 different town halls and events across the country to listen to Canadians on their ideas on electoral reform and what they wanted.

Certainly, we heard three things.

One was from a group of people who were extremely passionate about change, and that came in many different forms. They wanted MMP, STV, alternative vote, pure proportional, or some other system such as ranked pairs.

Second was from a group of people who were incredibly passionate for the status quo. These people believed that our existing democracy was working well. They were incredibly strident about the fact that change would be bad. They were concerned about a rise of extremist voices, particularly at this point in time, and were worried about even more power being given to parties and leaders, as often happens in some of the systems, and they were very opposed.

Third, there was a small subsection of the population that was incredibly engaged and did show up. In the case of the parliamentary committee, there was an organized effort to have those opinions brought in.

However, as I went into ridings and talked to folks, I heard that a lot of people were not engaged on this issue. They thought there were other issues that should be dominating the mind and attention of Parliament.

As we moved forward, it became clearer and clearer that consensus did not exist. It was certainly recognized that the effort to pull things together to create a national imperative on this issue would dominate the national attention, and it would do so, I think, to the detriment of a lot of other essential issues in front of this House.

A case in point would be the committee itself. The committee did phenomenal work. I think it worked exceptionally well in trying to bring together all the disparate ideas and views on changing our electoral system. Yet, when we look at the report of the committee itself, we see it could not get to the point of a recommendation. I know members will say that it did, but let us take a look at the recommendations that were made.

First, there was a recommendation that there be a referendum on whether or not proportionality should be pursued. I have yet to hear a Conservative in this House stand and speak in favour of a proportional system. They are not advocating on behalf of a proportional system, and I think it is fair to say that the Conservatives would campaign vociferously against a proportional system. The Conservatives said that they wanted a referendum, and we know where they would campaign on that referendum. On the NDP side, NDP members very reluctantly said that they wanted a referendum, but in their dissenting report, they said that they did not want a referendum, and I would actually agree with them on that.

I think it became clear that the only path forward with that lack of consensus would have been entertaining something like a national referendum on electoral reform, and I have two fundamental concerns with that.

The first concern is not only how much time, energy, and money it would cost but how diverting it would be for the issues of the nation that are most pressing, be they the economy, trade, our relationship with the United States, or national security. To place a national referendum on this issue I think would have been incredibly irresponsible.

Second, and this to me is the bigger point, we have a democracy that is representative. We are elected to represent our constituents. In fact, the Referendum Act only contemplates referenda in a situation of constitutional change. Therefore, we would have to actually change the act in order to have a referendum in a different way. We have to be very careful about that and think if it would lead to other consequences.

In a referendum, a majority opinion on an issue such as minority rights, let us say, would be abhorrent to us, and I think it would be contradictory to the charter. The idea that we would have a referendum, for example, on whether or not women would have the right to vote or whether or not same-sex couples would be allowed to marry would make no sense.

When we look at a referendum in this context, we see that the majority deciding on minority voting rights or how the minority might be represented in a system would be incredibly problematic. We have to ask where it would go next.

In a broader sense, we have the opportunity here to look at how we can strengthen and improve our democracy—

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I just want to interrupt the hon. member for few moments. I just want to remind the members of the House again that there is a process. You wait until the hon. member finishes his speech, then you stand up, the Speaker recognizes you, and then you ask your questions. Shouting across the floor is not the method we use in the House. I just want to remind everyone, just in case they forgot.

The hon. member for Ajax.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, what I did find as I went across the country was, while there was not consensus on the idea of changing the system, there was enormous passion about our democracy and an enormous consensus that we need to do all we can to improve it.

On that basis, certainly we heard near unanimity on needing to repeal many of the measures that were found in the unfair elections act. Let me give some examples: the idea that the Chief Electoral Officer could not promote elections to adults, could not go out there and advocate for people getting to vote; the issue of people who were disenfranchised by not being able to use a voter information card; the issue around vouching; the issue of getting young people registered on the voters' list so that they are ready to vote when they become of age, so they are given the resources so they can turn out to vote. That was a particular issue, when we know the turnout for those who are under 30 is so low.

We also wanted to expand the rights of Canadians voting abroad. In many cases they were completely shut out from the ability to have a say in their own democracy. A citizen is a citizen is a citizen, and no matter where Canadians reside, certainly they should have the opportunity to have a say on the future of their democracy and how their nation is governed.

We know the issue of cybersecurity, particularly as we watched it unfold in the U.S. election, was of incredible import. Therefore the minister, in the new mandate letter, has been given specific authority to tackle that issue and ensure that our cybersecurity is in place to protect Canadian democracy and, indeed, the affairs of all parties.

The point is that, while there is not consensus on a change of system, there is a lot of area of common ground where we could work together to make our democracy stronger. I listened to those consultations that happened across the country and the voices that were there, to the people who passionately felt that they were not heard and the people passionately feeling that a change in system would push them away from being heard or create problems beyond what we have today, and this is the most prudent path forward.

For a responsible government, the objective should be to take a look at what the agenda is, do the research, do the work, do the engagement, and then ascertain the best path forward. In the next election, what is essential for me when I go and face my constituents for the sixth time—and I have been successful most of the time; I was not in 2011, and some members were excited about that, although I was not.

The reality is that I have to be able to go back and feel good about the decisions I made, feel that I listened to constituents, that I took an objective view of the facts, that I did what was expected of me in a representative democracy, which is to sit and deliberate, and to listen. To the best of my ability, I tried to do that.

I can say to this House that there was not a path forward for change. I lament that. I wish there was. What I can say is that we can do better and our democracy can be stronger. There are many areas where we can and will improve. As a government, we are firmly fixed on those. I feel very comfortable going back to my constituents and having that dialogue.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring the discussion back on track.

During the 2015 election, I attended 12 community debates and three high school debates, and my Liberal colleague sat beside me and at every one of those sessions talked about the importance of moving forward with democratic reform.

Last summer I went out and did a 14-community tour where I talked to constituents about democratic reform. A number of them asked me if I was sure this was actually going to happen. I said that the Liberals promised it was going to happen and that we were just talking about what it was going to look like, not whether or not we were going to get there.

My question to the member is this. When is a promise not a promise? If a promise is broken, should there not be an apology?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, this was indicative of part of the challenge that we faced as we went around the country. There certainly were constituencies where there was passionate support for some form of change, often at a very broad level, something like proportionality. However, then there was enormous difference even inside of that about what the proportionality would mean. The problem was that, as I went to other constituencies, including my own, there were very strong voices that said they had no interest in moving to any form of proportionality and if we went in that direction, it would be detrimental to our democracy; they said it is a bad idea, so do not do it.

I think that what a responsible government, a responsible legislator, does is listen. When we apply legislation, it is not a battering ram. We do not say damn the torpedoes and do no listen to anything but just ram it through. I do not think that is being responsible.

The idea of being responsible is taking a look at what the field of opportunity is to act. How much are we going to have to expend on other issues in terms of political capital to get it done, and how much does the population want it relative to other issues? I do not think spending the next three years talking about electoral reform would serve my constituents or the nation more broadly. The answer is to make the system the best we can without engaging in an all-out divisive fight over what system we are going to go with. That is why we landed here.

There is much we can do, and we should focus on that, but the major attention of the House has to be on trade, jobs, the border, and national security. I would have faced an enormous backlash if we had done any differently.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must say that constituents in Thornhill, like those in Ajax, before the 2015 election showed very little interest in electoral reform, and during the committee's work over the roller coaster ride of the last year, waiting for a majority recommendation, were only conditional in hoping that there would be a referendum for whatever system was recommended.

The mood in my riding at least and from media across the country, is that of anger, disappointment, and disillusionment that the promise has been broken, among all the other promises. This broken electoral reform promise would seem to be emblematic of the way voters are feeling about the government.

It would seem from talking to those in my riding that I lost about 4% of my popular vote. It slipped down to 59% due to voter crossover to the Liberals in the last election. They are angry and disappointed, but more so are the large numbers of NDP voters who believed the government on a number of issues, electoral reform included, and the young voters. There is a strong possibility that the Liberals will see electoral revenge wreaked upon them in the 2019 election.

Some members of the government have apologized. The member for Spadina—Fort York has apologized and is taking quite a beating on Facebook. However, the government House leader and the Prime Minister have refused. I wonder if the member for Ajax would apologize to his constituents and to all Canadians on behalf of the government for breaking the promise on electoral reform.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, I lament that a path forward was not possible, but responsible leadership is taking a look at the facts and making a decision that is best for constituents. I absolutely feel that is what we have done.

It is a bit confusing. The member is saying his constituents are not in favour of electoral reform, do not want it, but then he wants a referendum so he can, what, campaign against it? That does not make sense. It is divisive. It is unnecessarily costly and it would pull us away from the matters on which we should be focusing.

When the Conservatives say they want a referendum, but they do not want change, do they want a referendum so they can campaign against it? It is an illogical supposition.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate. I want to thank my hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for introducing today's motion.

For me, it is always important to join the debate, particularly on issues of democracy. When I became a member of Parliament, I deliberately chose this topic for my inaugural speech in this place. Therefore, it is always a pleasure to come back to this topic, which I hold quite dearly. I have always tried to contribute to this place by having an engaged debate with my colleagues, and to contemplate the many different points of view that are reflected in debates that relate to our democratic practices.

I want to stress to colleagues that, at the core of this issue that is before us, and as part of this government, one of the things that is central for us is our ambitious agenda. We have been very ambitious in terms of our expectations for ourselves and for Canadians. This was also reflected in the aggressive platform we advanced in 2015. I recognize that when we are dealing with something as ambitious as what we were attempting to put forth, sometimes when we get into government there is the practical reality of some of the issues we have to face, and we have to look at the evidence before us and then to reconsider whether there is an appropriate path forward.

I want to get my comments out to those who are concerned about the recent decision we made that there is no path forward with respect to changes to the voting system, and make some recommendations as to how we could do this in a different way, and how we can create a process that depoliticizes what has become a highly politicized conversation.

First and foremost, when we are talking about something as fundamental as changing the voting system, we have to create a timeline and a process that can be achieved. It has to be done in such a way that it makes it less partisan. To some degree I acknowledge that from the government side there was probably a flaw in the process. In trying to do this within one electoral cycle, and the fact that we did it through a process of consultation and a committee of parliamentarians, it has become a highly charged partisan process. That is not helpful in getting to a consensus position on a change to our elections system.

My recommendation for those who continue to advocate for that change would be to do so through a process that takes it out of our hands as politicians and puts it in the hands of a panel of constitutional experts or possibly a constituent assembly, as was suggested for Ontario, and was the process that was followed in 2007, to come up with a binary question, such as, “We have the current system, and this is the other system that we are proposing to consider”, and to do so in such a way that it has a timeline and a time frame that takes it out of our hands as politicians, who have a vested interest in the outcome, whether there is a change or no change. That would be my recommendation for those who are very passionate about changing our voting system.

I have not had the opportunity to catch all of the debates. I sit on the Standing Committee for Procedure and House Affairs, which is charged with looking at changes to the Canada Elections Act. However, prior to us meeting as a committee, I had the opportunity to listen to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, who stressed what I think was a really important point, and which I said at the beginning of my debate: here will be times where we will have strong disagreement on particular points of view, including on the path to move democratic change forward.

The point of this place is to have those kinds of conversations, and from my perspective, we have to distill those kinds of conversations. At the end of the day, when it comes to democratic reform, we should still be driven by what is in the public interest, to the benefit of all Canadians.

I want to do a shout-out to all my colleagues on the procedure and House affairs committee. We generally work very well, on a consensus basis, moving forward on most items, where we are trying to make participation in our democratic process better, and trying to remove barriers to democratic participation, where possible. Of course, there are going to be instances where we do not agree. We have done so. We set those kinds of issues aside. However, we will ultimately come with the lens of what do we have to do and what will it take to make Canadians, or our citizens as a whole, feel that this place and our democracy belong to all of us, not to a particular set of narrow partisan interests.

I apply that particular lens to moving forward on democratic change. My friend from Ajax, the parliamentary secretary for public safety, most aptly noted we have moved forward on Bill C-33 with a number of changes to undo some of the aspects of the so-called Fair Elections Act of the previous Parliament that made it more difficult for citizens to more fully participate in the democratic process. He has already laid out what those elements happen to be, so I will not repeat them, but that is exactly the kind of work we are doing. It is difficult work, but it is work that we have to continue to push forward at all times. It is work that I know the Minister of Democratic Institutions will continue to do on further aspects of strengthening our democracy and looking at continuing challenges to our democratic practices. Whether it is with respect to our fundraising rules or the possibility of external threats to our democratic system, we have to constantly work at it together in order to further strengthen our democracy.

As the member for Ajax noted, many of us held town hall meetings. I held a town hall in the electoral district of Scarborough—Agincourt, where I heard from constituents on a wide range of concerns they had with the democratic system and with the potential changes to our voting regime. Like him, I heard divergent views. There were those who wanted to keep the current system, those who wanted proportional representation, and those who wanted a different system, like a mixed member proportional system that we might see in places like Switzerland or Germany. As we can see, there is a wide range of possible electoral systems that are available to us. The only caution I would add to that is, regardless of what system someone wants to advance, we need to keep it within the context that we operate within a British parliamentary Westminster model.

I am going to table my particular bias. I have always strongly favoured the democratic accountability that each of us as members has to the single member constituency model that we have. A number of the other systems, whether they are blended systems, or proportional representation systems, particularly in closed list systems, would erode that level of accountability if we were to adopt those particular systems. It would be highly detrimental to the system of democracy that we have developed here, following the Westminster model. Regardless of the changes we try to make to make things better and more participatory for our citizens in the democratic process, I have always believed strongly in a system that has myself, as an elected representative, accountable to a specific constituency or body of individuals I have to answer to in an election. That is my bias, and that is the frame from which I come.

At the end of the day, it is that level of accountability that holds us each in this place, and I would be, and continue to be, of the view that model is still one that serves us well.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

He talked about our accountability as the people's representatives. That is why I rise today: I speak for the disappointed people of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot. They are disappointed because many of them participated in the consultation. The vast majority of them said they want a system in which every vote counts.

They are also disappointed because, even though they chose me, in the weeks and months following the election, they were happy to have a government that prided itself on its new way of governing and doing politics. I rise today to tell the House that they are disappointed about the broken promises and the throne speech commitments that have been cast aside.

When my colleague talks about our accountability to voters, does that extend to apologizing for breaking promises and dishonouring commitments?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have tremendous respect for my colleague on the other side.

Let me also express that there is a measure of disappointment that we could not find a pathway forward. Governments are always faced with new information, new challenges, and new evidence that comes before it, and has to ultimately make certain choices.

Getting back to my earlier point about our ambitious agenda and our ambition for Canadians, we have made it very clear that we would consult broadly with Canadians, and that is exactly what we have done. I cannot think of more engagement on a particular topic than on this particular topic, whether it was with respect to the 170-odd members who had town halls, the consultation, the minister and the parliamentary secretary travelling across the country, or the special parliamentary committee that was formed to consult with Canadians on this particular issue.

As has been noted, we could not find an ultimate consensus. All the political parties have particularly driven views on what type of reform they would like to see, or lack thereof, and we have a particular partisan concern or perspective on the pathway forward. From my perspective, we saw a huge divergence of views. That does not necessarily, though, diminish our intent to still move forward on so many other aspects that would enfranchise our citizens in participating in our democracy.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal Humber River—Black Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for his excellent comments and my colleague from Ajax who did an immense amount of work on this issue for quite a long time.

It was disappointing to many of us that there was not consensus, but clearly, there was not consensus as to which way we should go on such an important project as changing the way we cast our votes in this country.

I do not see this as the end. We looked for consensus at this particular time; it was not there. If there are opportunities to strengthen the democratic process, I would like to hear some of those ideas from a member. I know that we are looking into those things as well, and I would like to hear from my colleague on some of those thoughts to go forward to strengthen the democratic process.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Humber River—Black Creek has been a mentor to me since I have had the privilege of joining her in the House.

The procedure and House affairs, the committee on which I sit, will be dealing with many things moving forward. As we know, we already have Bill C-33 before the House, and there are important elements in that which would certainly strengthen participation among our citizenry. In the minister's mandate letter are issues with respect to fundraising. That issue will likely emerge in legislation. We already have some of the toughest laws in the world on political fundraising, but this would make them even more stringent. We are going to be bringing forward other changes, for example, with respect to dealing with cybersecurity threats, again which is found in the minister's mandate letter.

Those are important issues that Canadians should have confidence in and will help address and alleviate any of the concerns they have about their participation.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

I am hearing a lot from the government side of the House yet again trying to change the channel, saying that we should forget about what was promised during the election and forget about what was promised in the throne speech, and talk about something else.

This is about a promise that was given. It is about a campaign focus. It is about what was written in the throne speech. I have heard from my constituents, and they want the Prime Minister to live up to that promise.

The Prime Minister repeated that promise hundreds of times in forums in communities across the nation. The media, since this change in course, this breaking of the promise, has been playing those back to Canadians. It is clear, over and over again, that this was to be the last “first past the post” election. It was heard over and over like a broken record. He committed in the last election, when a majority government was elected with less than 40% of the vote, that this would be the last election with first past the post. He officially committed that same promise December 2015 in the throne speech, which stated:

To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

He could not have been more definitive if he tried. This was not a promise, this was not an undertaking in a throne speech to reach out to Canadians and talk about what they thought about the democratic process. It was not an undertaking to reach out and maybe think about a couple of things, and maybe replace first past the post or maybe not. It was a clear, definitive commitment in the throne speech.

He then appointed a minister specifically mandated to deliver this charge. It was common knowledge that to deliver on this promise, the government had to expedite the necessary legislative reforms so the new voting system could be enacted, debated, and in place before the next election. The Chief Electoral Officer was very clear about when that deadline was.

The government stalled. Despite calls by the New Democrats to expedite the promised reforms, the committed reforms, finally, in May, eight months into her mandate, the minister struck a committee of members of Parliament to “identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting”, and to “report no later than December 1, 2016”.

While the committee was originally composed of a majority of Liberal MPs, saying we are all in this together but not exactly, in the end the government caved and agreed to a New Democrat proposal to have the representatives based on votes.

As Fair Vote Canada said on December 1 of last year, the first example of how the proportional representation system could work was the constitution of the electoral reform committee that was struck to end the first past the post system. In fact, they members worked together very well. They travelled together very well. They heard from a lot of experts and citizens. This is a prime example of how when there is actually a fair, proper system of selecting representations, good work is done.

Why was this important? Because how we elect representatives is a profound decision, impacting all voters, so the views of all voters would be considered and reflected in examination of any reforms in addition to this one.

The Prime Minister's minister implored all members of Parliament to reach out to our constituents and discuss how to proceed on this electoral reform to replace first past the post, and we did. We were co-operative little members of Parliament and we responded to the beck and call of the minister. We went across the country and held forums, had surveys, ten percenters, and we sought the input of Canadians.

This dedicated committee also spent the entire summer break and most of the fall diligently travelling to communities, consulting, listening to experts on alternative electoral voting reforms, and summarizing their findings. Many members of Parliament took it a step further and sought further written feedback.

The meeting I held in Edmonton on electoral reform was a standing room only event, with close to 300 participants. This is hardly an example of lack of interest in reforming the system to replace the first past the post.

I then reached out to constituents with a survey. More 280 took the time to respond, in depth, to our extensive survey on electoral reform. A large majority supported a system where every vote must count. A little over half called the adoption of a proportional representation system the route they would like to go. A lot of people also said that they would also like to have a referendum, and we agreed to a referendum but a referendum on proposals to actually replace first past the post. That was another promise broken.

Right up until February 1 this year, the Prime Minister and his minister claimed to still be committed to delivering on this promise and commitment.

On February 1, the Prime Minister sent his newest democratic reform minister out to break the news that he had decided to break this commitment. Worse, it was revealed that he had gone further and actually deleted an important part of the mandate for the Minister of Democratic Institutions, specifically saying that she would not pursue electoral reform. That was simply astounding.

The Prime Minister now claims that Canadians suddenly do not want electoral reform. Why did they come out to all those meetings? Why did they write those letters? Why did they call for reform if there were no consensus? How does he explain the hundreds who came out to the very town halls for which his minister called?

How does the Prime Minister explain the hundreds of Canadians who participated in the special committee consultation process? Again, how much did that cost? How does he explain his broken promise after 80% of the public and 90% of the experts called for proportional representation? How does he explain the hundreds of Canadians who took the time to send written views? Does he still believe that suggests a lack of interest? How does he explain the over 90,000 Canadians to date signing a petition calling for him to deliver on his promise for electoral reform to end first past the post?

The only conclusion Canadians can draw is that because the Prime Minister's preferred reform, which incidentally would ensure a Liberal majority into the future, was not supported by by Canadians, he decided to break his throne speech commitment. There is no other conclusion that anyone can draw.

It is well known that many came out to vote specifically and to vote Liberal based on the good faith that the Prime Minister would keep his word that he would end first past the post. With the little time I have left, I would like to share what some Edmontonians have said since this decision was made.

Here is a letter to the Edmonton Journal, February 3:

What a betrayal of the 9,093,630 (51.8 per cent) voters who elected no one in the October 2015 election. You must believe that 39 per cent of the votes is a legitimate majority. I guess I am expected to pay all my taxes, but elect no one. Some democracy.

We already see the cynicism building, and it is unfortunate.

An editorial in the Edmonton Journal on February 3 said:

Breaking your signature election promise to “make every vote count” is bad enough. But for Prime Minister...to announce he was breaking his vow to overhaul how Canadians vote by slipping the announcement into the mandate letter he sent to his new Minister of Democratic Institutions -- suddenly a lame-duck portfolio -- smacks of a cowardly breakup by text message.

Do the members of the government not understand how Canadians feel about how they are now being treated? Where are we supposed to find the continuing trust in any of the promises and commitments by the Prime Minister and the government?

We first saw the breaking of the promise of providing comparable, equal access to services to first nations children and families. We will get to it eventually. Then we see the breaking of this promise, which is written in black and white.

I look forward, as do my colleagues, to an apology for this break of faith.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before we go on to questions and comments, I want to remind hon. members that debate is taking place and it is nice to see everyone getting along, but the conversation level is getting a little high. We want to keep it down out of respect.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Guelph.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we look forward toward a pathway to continue our discussions, I am working with my constituents who are working on a paper for me to present to the minister on their specific electoral reform suggestions. Also I am looking at presenting a petition in the House on their behalf, as members of Parliament do on a number of issues.

Does the hon. member feel her hands are tied in terms of continuing to work with her local constituents on their behalf under normal means within our parliamentary system?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I never feel that my hands are tied in trying to represent my constituents. That is why I took the time to share here how exasperated my constituents are with the breaking of this promise.

I would ask the member if he is also making available to his constituents the petition that more than 90,000 Canadians have already signed that says that the Prime Minister broke his promise and needs to deliver on that promise to end first past the post.

What are we going to continue to discuss? I am sure that we, on this side of the House, feel free to continue to discuss, but on the other side, are they going to defy their Prime Minister? Are they going to stand up in this place and say that the Prime Minister, their leader, broke his promise and they want him to change his mind and deliver on that promise?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I agree with almost everything my colleague said, particularly the observation that this was a commitment made by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign and that the commitment was broken.

The statement the Prime Minister made when he said that 2015 would be the last election under the first past the post system was not aspirational in nature. It was a firm commitment. It was something he made a definitive promise on. That is why so many people feel betrayed.

I would like to ask my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona if she is experiencing the same reaction in her riding that I am in mine. That seems to be that the voters who seem to feel most betrayed by this breaking of a commitment are the millennials, the young people who felt that finally they were going to be seeing a system they could actually engage in. They could have a voice in changing a fundamental system of our democracy. They are the ones I am finding feel most betrayed. I am wondering if my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona could comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in all honesty, I am hearing not just from millennials. I am hearing from all constituents. People of all ages came out to my forums, and people of all ages took the time to write to me.

I am deeply concerned. Of course, we know that a lot of millennials came out this time, not just to vote but to actually get involved in campaigns and to endorse candidates. They believed the Prime Minister, and they have to be broken-hearted. It is really going to break their faith in getting involved in the process ever again.

When the Liberals say they are going to talk about something else on democracy, who is going to want to be involved? This is a serious break with the faith of Canadians, and particularly young Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for stressing the issue of a solemn promise that was broken. It was not just a solemn promise that was broken. It was a declaration in a throne speech. It has led to a deep dissatisfaction that is already causing people to come to us in office. They are telling us how disengaged they are now. If they were cynical before, there is deeper cynicism now.

More than that, I want to mention a constituent in my riding who demonstrates the depth of that cynicism. If we are going to move forward now, as some members from the governing party have suggested, and look at electoral reform, this constituent would like to see us consider demonstrating in this House the number of people who abstain from voting. That would mean that people who abstain from voting would be recognized by having vacant seats in this House. That to me demonstrates the understanding and conviction that every voice matters.

I wonder if the hon. member can respond.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give a broader response to my colleague's question.

Right now, the Liberals are out there encouraging Canadians to consult on a broad array of topics, including, finally, on another promise they made, to immediately restore federal environmental laws. Who on earth out there who cares about that is going to take seriously that the government actually intends to respond and make substantive changes?

This has had a much more serious effect on the attitude of Canadians toward the federal government than people may have considered.

QuebecStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Beaulieu Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, je me souviens; I remember.

On February 5, 6, and 7, 1968, an important constitutional conference took place in Ottawa, where two conflicting visions clashed. The Premier of Quebec at the time, Daniel Johnson, stated: “Everyone here knows that French Canada is decidedly unhappy about its place in Confederation.” He said “equality or independence”.

The other vision was that of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau's view was that French Canadians were not a nation; they were a minority among other minorities. They were not a founding nation, but rather a minority. It was not the rights of the Quebec nation that needed to be respected, but rather individual rights. Quebec, well, it is just a minority, a province like all the others.

In the words of Pierre Bourgault, we no longer want to be a province that is unlike the others; we want to be a country that will be like the others.

Black History MonthStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

James Maloney Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, February 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month. I rise today to pay homage to the person who was instrumental in making this a reality, the hon. Jean Augustine.

In December 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, thanks to Jean and her motion. Jean is the queen of many firsts. She was the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament and the first black Canadian woman appointed to cabinet. She served as a minister to prime ministers Chrétien and Martin and sat in the House of Commons as the MP for Etobicoke—Lakeshore from 1993 until 2005.

This trailblazer and educator is also an activist for women's rights and has worked tirelessly on anti-poverty initiatives and violence against women issues. This only begins to touch on the amazing things this Order of Canada recipient has given to the community and our country.

I have the honour to call her a mentor and friend. We thank Jean for her service. She is a tough act to follow.