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.