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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.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I do appreciate how uncomfortable this must make the Liberal Party spokesperson for this broken promise.

The Liberals could at least recognize that a consensus did emerge on the committee struck by the government. The committee produced a report that stated that Canadians should be consulted through a referendum on a proportional system based on certain standards. That is the consensus.

Of the experts we heard from, 90% said that a proportional system is the best way to go, and 88% of ordinary Canadians who came to see us said the same thing. When we hosted town hall meetings, as the Liberals asked us to do, people told us they wanted a proportional system. In addition, in the parliamentary committee's online survey, 72% of respondents said they wanted a proportional system. That sounds like a consensus to me.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the NDP for bringing this motion forward. If we asked the government to explain itself, and if we had a vote every time it broke an electoral promise, we might not do anything else in this place. There is a website that is tracking the broken promises of the current government, which is up to 23 significant broken promises from the election that was held just 15 months ago.

I want to ask the member this. He and the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley were singled out by Gerald Butts after this decision came out. Gerald Butts is the most powerful person, elected or not, in the PMO. He said this member ran on an electoral promise of balancing the budget, so obviously that is similar to the Liberal Party breaking a promise to change the electoral system. Could the member talk about the bizarre nature of the response from the PMO following this clear broken promise?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

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

With respect to the attack by the Prime Minister's chief of staff, I would simply say that it is sometimes an honour to be a target. I do not have a problem with that because it means that we have done a good job.

I would also like to point out that my colleague is quite right about the government's broken promises piling up, whether it is home mail delivery, or Bill C-51, or the small deficit promised by the Liberals during the election campaign.

However, when it comes to our democratic institutions and how people vote, these are fundamental elements of our identity as a society that expects promises to be kept.

Today, people realize that they can no longer take the Liberals at their word. They are saying that if the Liberals can break this promise, they are capable of breaking the next promises they make.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP for having this very important debate today. I share my colleague's concern regarding the growing cynicism caused by this broken promise.

Does the member agree with me that it is not too late to still repair the damage and find a way forward based on the committee report?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Green Party for her question.

I would like to acknowledge her continued hope that it is possible to improve our system. I would like the Liberal members to share this hope, because they promised Canadians that they would improve our electoral system. I am asking them to keep their promise and to make the change that people wanted and that they voted for by putting them in office. Otherwise, this will increase voters' cynicism to the point that it will cause irreparable harm to our democracy in future years.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent and tireless work. I also thank members in the House, who took the Prime Minister on his word, in good faith, and consulted with all of their constituents about this most fundamental issue: how we vote and how we elect governments. I know many colleagues on all sides held town halls and consultations of various sorts.

I would like to start my comments today with a quote from the Prime Minister himself, who just a couple of months ago, said the following:

The fact is that Canadians expect that when someone behaves in a way that isn’t consistent with their expectations of themselves, or Canadians’ expectations of them, that they apologize.

I would argue that the expectation that Canadians had of the Prime Minister, the expectation that he placed on himself, was that he would be different, that when he made a commitment, he would keep it, that when he made a promise, it meant something to him.

Let us listen to what he had to say about his promises. He stated:

Canadians elect governments to do hard things and don’t expect us to throw up our hands when things are a little difficult.... No, I’m sorry, that’s not the way I was raised. That’s not the way I’m going to move forward on a broad range of issues, regardless of how difficult they may seem at a given point.

What was he talking about? He was talking about electoral reform. In December of this past year, he was talking about his commitment to electoral reform, which was as clear and as black and white as any promise that the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party made, not just during the campaign but repeated in the throne speech and repeated literally hundreds of times since. In those town halls that the Prime Minister held across the country, not in British Columbia, strangely enough, but across much of the country, when asked about electoral reform and his commitment, he put his hand on his heart, looked into the eyes of Canadians, and said he was deeply committed to it and they could bank on the promise that 2015 will be last election under first past the post.

One would think when the prime minister of a country says something, Canadians ought to believe it. They should have enough faith in that prime minister's integrity that, when he repeats a promise again and again with such great sincerity and emotion, it would mean something. If it does not, then it is that very cynicism to which the Prime Minister promised to be the antidote. He said that cynicism is killing our democracy, that people “lost faith” in the Harper government because it broke its promises. “We must and we will do better”. The Prime Minister stated that. The very cynicism he meant to be the antidote of, he is now being a new source of, for Canadians, particularly young Canadians.

I want to make this point. In the last election and since, many young Canadians were excited by the campaign the Prime Minister ran, because he said he was different, that he talks differently, thinks differently about issues, thinks like young Canadians, and that politics can be better, that the days of old Liberal leaders who would say one thing to get elected and then, once they were in office, realized that it would work for them to break their promises and that they could, without any consequences.

The lesson we have today in this motion is the most simple one. It is the one that we all learned as children and the one that we all, hopefully, teach our children. It is that when we make a promise, we should do everything in our power to keep it, and that if we break the promise, we should apologize. We should admit that it is broken and apologize, and then work our tail off to restore and regain the trust that has been lost.

This should not be hard for some of my Liberal colleagues, because they have already taken a couple of steps with their constituents, with open letters saying they apologize. “I apologize; we made a promise and we broke the promise”, say some of my Liberal colleagues. That is a good thing to do, to admit they made a mistake. Denial is a river in Egypt. Liberals cannot deny this one, and some of them have chosen not to.

We have not heard the Prime Minister apologize yet, which is strange to me, because it was he who made that commitment, he who broke that promise. Yet he did not find the courage to be the one to stand in this Parliament and tell Canadians, “Oh, by the way, all that good faith you placed in me, all those town halls you engaged in, that painful online survey, MyDemocracy.ca, that you suffered through, all of that was actually cynical”. All of that was some attempt to muddy the waters and arrive at this bizarre conclusion that the broad consensus that the Liberals invented halfway through the process, which is now required, does not exist. Some 333 pages from the electoral reform committee put truth to that lie.

The committee was able to listen to experts and listen to evidence. Was that not another promise from the Liberals? It was going to be an evidence-based government. Overwhelmingly, my Conservative colleagues, my Bloc colleagues, and my friend from the Green Party, everybody, paid attention. They realized that of all the experts who came forward, 90% said that if we were going to change the system, proportional was the one we should put on offer.

Eight-six percent of average Canadians who showed up at the open mics wrote to the committee. They completed our own survey, which had the audacity to ask questions like whether they would like to change the electoral system in Canada. It was a question the Liberals forgot to ask in theirs. It asked, if they would like to change it, what kind of system they were interested in.

Canadians were somehow able to handle those tough, mind-boggling questions; 23,000 of them responded to the committee and had no problem with them. There was no scandal.

The Liberals spent $4 million on their consultation process. The consensus is there. The only people who could not get consensus were my Liberal colleagues. Why? As the Prime Minister was breaking his promise, he told Canadians why. He has a preferred electoral system. Never mind that at the committee, there was no evidence to support his alternative vote, alternative facts, system, the system that says we will rank them.

The committee heard from Canadians and from experts that if we are trying to make every vote count, if we are trying to make the system of voting in Canada more fair, the alternative vote makes the problems in our current system worse, so we should not do it.

As the Prime Minister and his office, his “brain trust”, realized, when they said change the voting system, they wanted to change it their way. When they went out and consulted with Canadians in good faith, said the Liberals, they were sorry, but people did not give them the answer they were looking for.

Decision-based evidence-making is the new mantra coming from the Liberals. They are not going to use the evidence in front of them. If the evidence points in the wrong direction and might hurt Liberal prospects of having majority governments to the end of time, they will kill the entire process. If the Prime Minister's credibility takes a hit, well, he is very popular, he is a good-looking guy, and he will be able to survive this.

The Liberals said that people are not paying attention, that no one cares about this issue, about how we vote, or the Prime Minister's promise. There was a petition a Canadian asked me to endorse, and I said sure. It was an electronic petition. We have been doing them for a few years now in the House. Back in November, he read the Prime Minister's interview in Le Devoir.

The Prime Minister said that electoral reform was a big issue when it was Stephen Harper in office and Canadians were unhappy, but now they are happy, and therefore their interest in electoral reform is gone, because I am me, says the Prime Minister.

That Canadian heard that message and worried, properly, that the Liberals might be about to break their promise, so he sent us a petition. It did not get a lot of traction. A few thousand Canadians signed it online just a couple of weeks ago. Well, as of this morning, 92,500 Canadians have gone to the site and said, “Keep the promise. I like the promise. I want the promise”.

We have been hearing, particularly from Liberal supporters, when I have been on talk radio and in my inbox and on social media, some variance of total dismay. They thought this guy was different, or they are disgusted and say that this is exactly what they voted against. They did not want this anymore. They wanted something better, as the Prime Minister promised time and time again.

I will offer this. For those out there who say that Canadians did not wake up this morning concerned about mixed member proportional representation or STV, that this issue is too much in the weeds to matter in politics and that we have bigger issues to fight this day, this could very well be one of those forest fire issues. A lot of Canadians care about the integrity and the promise of a prime minister. They want to know they can trust it when he says it, and we cannot anymore.

This could be one of those forest fires that are the most dangerous kind. Although they burn bright and can be suppressed, and this happens in my region in British Columbia, when people think the fire is out and have moved on, actually it has gone into the roots. My friend from Prince George will know about these fires. These are the most dangerous, because they can pop up again at any time.

They burn so hot and burn so long. This will dog the government from now until the time it heads back to the polls and has the audacity to say that it did not tell the truth last time, it misled people, and it had other issues that were important, but now people can trust it again.

On my last point I would say this. In the current age we live in, with so much global uncertainty, with the rise of this populist and dangerous alt-right movement in the United States and in Europe, the very inoculation we need is a fair voting system. The irony is that a Prime Minister who was elected to diminish cynicism, to raise hope and expectations, and with the sacred bond and trust we have as elected people with those who elect us, is walking away from the very proposal that would inoculate this country against those very dangerous movements that are happening globally.

The Liberals must apologize. They must reconsider their decision, and they must do the right thing and keep their word. Canadians expect no less.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I believe there are many different ways we can change the Canada Elections Act that would allow more Canadians to participate and get engaged. I see that as positive.

I am hoping that through the debate today, we will actually hear ideas that go beyond that. No doubt the member will say there was no question, but I do not believe there was a consensus on this very important issue.

Does the member have any thoughts on other ways we can improve the system?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, one thing the Liberals could do that would be really easy is take this promise off Liberal.ca. It is still up there: “2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”. Talk about tone deaf. The Liberals are leaving the deception on the website that the Prime Minister just referenced earlier this week as he was making another promise about not taxing Canadians' health benefits. We remember the reaction the Prime Minister got when he said he made the promise and that it was on their website. The House of Commons laughed at him.

This is a terrible thing for a prime minister. We all have debates here, different points of view. That is fine, that is normal, but when it turns to mockery, when the words no longer mean anything, when the promises are held up and disregarded, that is when things turn. This is a dangerous game the Liberals are playing.

I expected my friend to at least apologize to his constituents in Winnipeg, because he campaigned on the same promise, which, by the way, is still sitting on their website.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think my friend is quite right to say that there are many Canadians for whom changes to the electoral system may not be a significant priority. However, I think for all Canadians, the integrity of government is a crucial priority. Even for those who may be very happy with the current system or who may have a range of other perspectives, they want to know that the government has integrity. That is obviously a big question essential to the discussion we are having today on this motion.

We had a promise that was indeed very clear, and it was not expressed in contingencies, such as if this happens and if that happens.

Can I ask the member to comment on the extensive cost of the consultations that were undertaken, ostensibly in a context where the government did not have any genuine intention of moving forward? It undertook these massive consultations. The same consultations could have been done on the jobs crisis we have in Alberta or on any number of pertinent economic issues, but instead, so much was spent in the way of time and resources on an issue it seems, in retrospect, the government did not have any serious intention of moving forward.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the current estimates of the bill so far for this ruse, this fake consultation process, is about $4 million, give or take.

However, the consultation process was real. The town halls people engaged in, the online forums, and the discussions, all that was real. Canadians truly took part in that.

My friend said correctly that the integrity of the Prime Minister and of the government is essential to everybody, and this consensus that the Liberals claim does not exist, even though it does, is a strange bar they set on no other issue so far. Did they seek that same consensus on pipelines, cuts to health care, or any other broken promise? Did they say that they were making this decision because they believed there was a consensus on issue X? No, they went ahead.

Let me read one more quote. This was when he became Prime Minister of this country:

Canadians are tired of the cynicism and mistrust that has characterized federal politics for far too long. They are ready to place their trust in government once again, but this will have a price. If we want Canadians to trust their government, the government must trust Canadians.

I agree with him. I just want him to do it. I want him to follow up those words with action. Is that so much to ask? That is what Canadians want too, by the way.

I look forward to the minister's comments, and hopefully she will find time in her speech to apologize, admit the promise was broken, and tell us her plan to fix the broken trust that has been established by the government.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the motion by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

This is an important debate. Many important affairs of state and issues that matter in the day-to-day lives of Canadians are debated thoughtfully in this chamber, but debating policies and ideas related to Canada's democratic institutions, to the very way we govern ourselves, are foundational to our democracy itself and are among the most important, and they should also be among the least partisan. That is what Canadians expect of their members of Parliament. Canadians want their parliamentarians to work with each other and to co-operate on policy. They want their government to be accountable. They want their MPs to act in the interests of their constituents.

Canadians also believe that major reforms to the electoral system should not be made if they lack broad support. We agree. That is why listening to Canadians is so important to us, to hear from Canadians about their democracy and to do all we can to make sure that as many Canadians as possible can participate in the conversation.

We entered the conversation a year ago with an open mind. We chose to listen to Canadians, to create opportunities for their voices, not ours and not narrow partisan interests, to dominate the discussion.

We said we would strike a parliamentary committee to study electoral reform, and we did. The all-party Special Committee on Electoral Reform was created in June 2016, and over the next six months, it dedicated itself to hearing from Canadians. There were 57 meetings, 196 witnesses, and 567 open-mic participants across Canada. Over 22,000 Canadians participated in the committee's online survey, and its thoughtful, detailed report was submitted to the House on December 1.

I have read this exhaustive, nuanced report. Great effort went into preparing this report, and I encourage every member of the House to read it.

The government listened to Canadians through its own concurrent consultations. Town halls and roundtables were held in every province and territory last spring, summer, and fall. Thousands of Canadians took part and shared their views on our democratic values and other important issues related to Canadian democracy.

We encouraged members of Parliament to hold town halls in their own constituencies as well, and we are so thankful that so many hon. members did just that. Some members of the House even held more than one. I held one in my riding of Burlington, and I am grateful to the more than 90 residents who joined me at Mainway arena for a thoughtful discussion.

It is important to recognize that these town halls were held by members representing every party in the House: the Conservatives, such as the member for Sarnia—Lambton, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, and the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; the New Democratic Party, such as the member for Hamilton Centre; the Bloc Quebecois, such as the member for Rivière-du-Nord; and the Green Party, represented by the leader, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

This process was non-partisan and important to members of all parties in the House.

The members of the official opposition presented a joint brief to the special committee. They decided to engage 81,000 Canadians in 59 ridings. They sent mail to their constituents, including polling data, a letter from their MP, and other documents. Members from the third party also presented a joint brief to the special committee.

According to that brief, 37,000 Canadians made comments about electoral reform through 40 town halls, telephone surveys, mail-in surveys, and petitions.

We hired Vox Pop Labs, who created MyDemocracy.ca, in order to give as many Canadians as possible the opportunity to take part in this conversation. We are extremely grateful to the more than 360,000 Canadians who took part. Whether by phone or online, Canadians from every province and territory accepted our invitation.

The consultations launched on electoral reform made it one of the largest and farthest-reaching consultations ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I thank those many thousands of Canadians. I thank them for spending the evening with their neighbours at town halls, because they wanted a chance to ask a question or share their opinion about our democracy.

I thank them for filling out an online survey, for taking the time to tell us what they believe. I thank them for getting involved, and for their honest participation. Their opinion matters, and their perspectives are valid.

Canadians have given us a lot to think about, and we will continue to respond to their concerns and perspectives. For example, Canadians shared their valuable ideas about online voting, mandatory voting, and how we can make voting more accessible for persons with disabilities. I am looking forward to formally responding to the special committee's report on these and other issues soon.

Above all, we learned the passionate, personal connection Canadians have to their democratic institutions, and how important it is to them that the government and their members of Parliament focus on strengthening and protecting those institutions. That is exactly what we are going to do.

If we want to improve our country's democracy, we need to ensure that the political parties are more transparent when it comes to fundraising. We currently have strict federal legislation governing fundraising. Contributions from corporations and unions are banned. There is a limit for individual contributions and there are strict rules regarding lobbyists.

Our government intends to introduce legislation to make political fundraising more open and transparent. If passed, it would apply to fundraising events attended by the prime minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates.

These fundraising activities cannot be private events. They must be publicly announced. It is also important that these activities be transparent. After these types of events take place, the political parties and leadership candidates must quickly make information about them public.

I look forward to working with the members of every party to debate and discuss this legislation.

Our government will also take steps to protect the integrity of Canada's democracy by defending the Canadian electoral process from hacking and cyber-threats.

If the political parties' computer systems are hacked or compromised, it could jeopardize our democratic system. Political parties constitute vital democratic infrastructure.

We will ensure that Canada's democracy is better protected by helping the parties protect their information. We will ask the Communications Security Establishment to analyze the risk that Canada's political parties' computer systems could be hacked and to make the results of that analysis public. This plan will help us better protect Canada's democracy by helping the political parties protect themselves.

As well, CSE will reach out to political parties to share best practices on how to guard against hacking.

These new initiatives will build on the important work that our government is doing to strengthen our democracy. We introduced Bill C-33. If it is passed, we will break down barriers to voting and strengthen the integrity of our electoral system. We will also give more than a million Canadians living abroad the right to vote.

We are keeping our commitment to Canadians to bring this legislation forward, and listening to the Canadians who called on us to take this action.

If passed, Bill C-33 would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, and new Canadians, about voting, elections, and related issues. Restoring the mandate that was in place prior to 2014 would allow public information and education programs for all Canadians. Studies show that the more electors know about their electoral system, the more likely they are to vote. We trust Elections Canada to help inform Canadians about their democracy.

While more youth voted in the 2015 election than ever before, we cannot take it for granted. Bill C-33, if passed, would provide Canadian youth from age 14 to 17 the ability to opt in to a new register as future electors, so that when they turn 18 they would already be registered to vote. Many countries around the world allow youth to preregister to vote. It is an opportunity to learn about our democratic process and would promote democratic engagement among our future generations.

Bill C-33 represents positive, progressive reform to the way we vote. There are many examples that highlight our dedication and commitment to improving and strengthening our democracy within Bill C-33. I hope I can count on all members of this House to support our legislation.

I will leave members with one more example.

Statistics Canada found that an estimated 172,700 electors did not vote in the 2015 election because of a lack of adequate identity documents. The lack of these documents disproportionately affects groups with traditionally low participation rates, such as seniors, youth, indigenous Canadians, Canadians with disabilities, and the homeless.

Vouching is one way that we can reduce barriers and include more Canadians in our democracy. Our government committed to making voting more accessible, and if passed, Bill C-33 would deliver on the commitment by restoring vouching.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is continuing to examine the recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 election. As I said earlier this week when I appeared before the committee, I recognize the work that the committee members are doing and I look forward to reading the committee's report.

As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, I will also work on recommending options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders debates, reviewing the limits of the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections, proposing measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits, as well as supporting the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice in reviewing the Access to Information Act. I am confident that members share a desire to work on these important matters with us.

I will also continue to work with all members of this House on Senate reform. We have already introduced new measures and reforms for Canadians, including the non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process to fill Senate vacancies.

These are important issues, and by taking action on them we will ensure our democratic system is ready to face the challenges of the future, ready to face those who would undermine our system's legitimacy to threaten the very underpinning of who we are. Taking action in these areas will build public confidence in our democratic institutions and ensure Canadian democracy and democratic institutions remain examples to the world.

Over 922,000 young people participated in the student vote program in their schools during the last federal election. In fact, I remember organizing the first student vote at M.M. Robinson in Burlington when I was in high school. I am sure there are many hon. members in this House who took part in their local campaigns. In the 2015 election, I participated in all the debates organized by Aldershot School as part of its student vote initiative.

Our democratic principles and values are being sparked today in the hearts and minds of young people all across Canada. Democracy is alive and well in this country, and I am optimistic and hopeful about our democracy's future. It is our job as leaders in our communities to do all that we can to ensure that young people, indeed all Canadians, whether we agree or disagree, embrace that proud Canadian democratic tradition.

Debates on any subject in the House of Commons are an essential component of our democracy.

I will vote against this motion, but I do respect the fact that we are having this debate today. We may not always agree, but when we do and we work together, we can make great progress.

This House can reflect and embody the very best of Canada and can accomplish great work, such as universal health care, the Charter of Rights, peacekeeping, old age security, and even expanding the franchise. Those who were in this House before we were put aside partisanship, listened to Canadians, and did the hard work the public demands of us.

Important work lies ahead of us to strengthen, to safeguard, to improve our democratic institutions. I look forward to doing it together.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will reflect back to the minister. She mentioned the expansion of franchise. In one of the few speeches she gave in the last year of Parliament, she gave a historical review of how franchise has been expanded in Canada, and she actually related those bold efforts by previous Parliaments to this effort around electoral reform. I will quote her:

I strongly believe that stepping away from the first past the post system and embracing a new system that can reflect these values...would be another milestone in the history of Canada's elections.

After talking about those historic milestones and moments in Canada of granting women the right to vote, and granting first nations people, Inuit, and Métis that right, she equated it to this historic milestone when she was not minister of democratic reform.

What is amazing to me, and I really must reflect this back to the minister, is she keeps using words like “respect” and “we listened to Canadians”. Canadians told the government that they wanted this changed. Canadians came to those town halls which she cited and quoted, and said that they wanted this changed. To listen means to listen and understand what people are saying. When the minister says that we all need to be examples, what example exactly is the Prime Minister setting for all those young Canadians when he says, “I can make a promise and I can break it because I'm the Prime Minister”?

I want to believe that the minister believes in the words that she just said. How is not simply admitting that the Liberals broke a promise and that that deserves an apology going to restore any faith in anyone young or old?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important first to set the record straight. I am in fact the Minister of Democratic Institutions, and that has been the title of this portfolio for the past several years.

It is also important to recognize that we took the time to engage with Canadians, and I do stand by my words in this House before and today. What is incredibly important for us as a government is that we listen to Canadians and we listen to many different perspectives.

I know what the definition of “to listen” is, but I am not sure the member opposite does, because when we listen, we actually hear all of the perspectives. That is what we did over the past year. We went out and engaged and consulted. We heard from Canadians and we listened to many of them.

The member is correct in stating that there are some Canadians who want electoral reform and want a particular system. There are many Canadians who also cherish the system that we have, and right now, we have listened to them. This is why we are moving forward. Quite frankly, I am very excited in my mandate to move forward on this portfolio, because there is much work to be done to make sure that all Canadians have access to the vote and that we continue to do what we can to improve that access.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister's predecessor in that portfolio said she believed that the first past the post system was outdated. I wonder what this minister's view of the first past the post system is.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, there are pluses and minuses to any political system. The system that we have right now is one in which Canadians have confidence, in which Canadians believe, and in which Canadians trust. We as a democracy must continually look to improve, to strengthen, and to understand what our system is. Over the past year, that was an incredibly important conversation upon which we engaged with Canadians.

I think there is continuous work to be done. That is what being a democracy is: ideas, debating ideas, thinking about them, having that battle of where we sit and where we believe, and how we continue to engage people.

That is why I am here in this place, because I believe in the democracy that we have, and I believe in Canadians' trust in all of us on all sides of this House to represent Canadians' views. That is exactly what we are doing today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to stand here to have this conversation and continually reflect on what we can do to always be better.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was kind of dumbfounded by the minister's speech. I sincerely hope that she never expected to find herself in this position as Minister of Democratic Institutions when she decided to get into politics and offer her services to the Canadian people. Seriously, this is a real shame.

The Liberals campaigned on a promise of new environmental assessments. They did not deliver. They promised to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but they are keeping the previous government's targets. They promised to defend our rights and freedoms by repealing Bill C-51. They did not deliver. They promised to restore home mail delivery. They have not delivered. They promised to change our voting system. They broke that promise.

Is that how they plan to regain the people's trust? Are they really trying to fight cynicism, or are they just doing politics the way it has always been done?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague perhaps to clarify what he means about the situation I am in right now. With respect to what I have heard from opposition members on this, I am quite dismayed with the narrative they have been trying to build. I am incredibly proud to be serving Canadians. I am incredibly proud to be serving the constituents of Burlington who have the confidence and the trust in me to represent their voices in the House. I am incredibly proud to have the confidence of the Prime Minister to serve as a minister in his cabinet.

I hope all of us in the House feel the same way and that we are all here with integrity, with purpose, and with the commitment to democracy, which we should share.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to congratulate the minister on her recent appointment as Minister of Democratic Institutions. I also want to congratulate her on the quality of her French. That is important, and she expressed herself well in her speech. Well done.

I wonder if the minister agrees with her colleague from Fleetwood—Port Kells, in British Columbia, who was quoted in today's Le Devoir as saying:

We could have said that our promise that 2015 would be the last election held using the first-past-the-post system cannot be kept because we ran out of time and the timeframe was too short....Perhaps we could have held a referendum in 2019 to really gauge how Canadians feel about electoral reform.

Does the minister agree with her colleague, who, for his part, seems to support the main recommendation that the parliamentary committee has been making all year long?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his compliments on my French. I am always working to improve it, and I must say that I was in French immersion in Burlington. That is Canadian bilingualism.

Of course it is important for our government and for all members of the House to be able to express their opinions and represent their constituents.

We have said that a referendum would not be in the interests of Canadians at this time. I believe that what the Special Committee on Electoral Reform said is that if we were to change the system, a referendum should be held, but since that is not the path we will be taking, it would not be in the interests of Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment

Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that I have not read the entire report, but I have read the summary of it, and the debate today has been very helpful and useful.

For the information of the minister, my colleague from Sydney—Victoria and I hosted an event. We did two events back to back. We did one meeting on the environment, took a break and then went into electoral reform meeting. A number of constituents had voiced interest in both. We had around 100 people for the environment and about 25 to 30 people stayed for the other meeting.

The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, whom I have a world of respect for as a parliamentarian, says that people want a change. This is not what we heard at our meeting. This came out in the debate. Two or three people really wanted a movement to proportional representation, but there were very strong opinions held by others. They believed in the first past the post system.

I want to ask the minister a question about mandatory voting. I have not read the entire report, but we know mandatory voting takes place in several countries. Where did it fit in with the overall scheme? Was that something that came out during the course of the discussions? In her responsibilities as minister, will it be something she will look at going forward?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for sharing his experience with the town hall process. As I mentioned in my speech, I really appreciate all the members who took the time to engage on this issue and, of course, every Canadian who came forward with many different points of view. That is what we do in a democracy; we listen to different points of view.

With regard to mandatory voting, that is an interesting question. As we know, over the past number of years, we have felt that we have not had the highest voter turnout when it has come to our general elections. Some have proposed that mandatory voting could be a way to deal with this issue. The special committee report recommends against mandatory voting. On the MyDemocracy.ca survey, Canadians came out heavily against mandatory voting.

I look forward to responding to the special committee's report in due course and will be confirming our position on that moving forward.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

February 9th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the previous speakers, in particular my two hon. colleagues from the New Democratic Party, who brought forward the motion today. They both have been at the forefront of this debate. Having served on committee with them has been a real pleasure. I should add that it was also a pleasure to serve with the Liberal, Bloc and Green members. As well, the awesome work we received from the Conservative members of the committee was very much appreciated.

Before I say anything else, I must stop and remember that I am splitting my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who has done yeoman service on the committee and has a lot of very intelligent things to say.

The motion before us today is:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government misled Canadians on its platform and Throne Speech commitment “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”, and that the House call on the government to apologize to Canadians for breaking its promise.

The statement that the promise had been broken and Canadians were misled is a statement of fact, so it is hard to disagree with that.

I share the view expressed by Rex Murphy that this was not a promise the Prime Minister was qualified to make.

I will read what Rex Murphy said in the spring of 2016. He stated:

[The Prime Minster's] dramatic declaration before the election that it would be the last under first past the post was not a pledge he was then or now entitled to make....changing how Canadians vote is not within the competence of a candidate or a prime minister.

Murphy goes on to say:

The power of the citizens' vote is the DNA of our democracy. It is not then in the Liberals' power...to alter the mechanism, play any parliamentary games to choose a [new] system without consulting the voters in a referendum with clear language on what they, the voters, prefer. No referendum, no change.

I agree 100% with Rex Murphy. That has been the position the Conservative Party has held from the beginning of this debate, indeed for a decade before this debate started to the present time, and it will continue to be our position into the future.

It is not unreasonable for a government to try to change the electoral system, as long as it gives voters the final say. Just as this was not the Prime Minister's promise to make, it was also not his promise to break.

What would have been responsible? What would be the normal course of a government acting on any other kind of promise? What should have been the course taken on that promise? It would have been for the government to sit down in a business-like manner after the election, following the normal legislative process, and not after waiting for eight months, set up a committee to look at the legislation that it had proposed. It could be any model the government wanted, including its preferential model, although clearly that model would not have found public acceptance. Then, that model, once coming into legislation, would have been pitted against the status quo in a referendum. That is what should have happened. The government rejects all of these things, a referendum, or any alternative other than its preferred alternative, but that would have been the preferred option.

Recognizing this was the responsible course of action, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform tried to assist the Prime Minister to achieve this goal, the reasonable policy process I have outlined, in order to allow him to fulfill the meat of his election promise.

First, we proposed there be a referendum on a system that would stand a realistic chance of actually winning a referendum. There is no point having a referendum question that is guaranteed to lose. It would be on something that could potentially find the support of the Canadian people, a fair and reasonable system. The second point was, based on the testimony we heard, that it be a proportional system. The last point was that it could be implemented by election 2019.

I was obsessive in pursuing answers from the Chief Electoral Officer as to the amount of time he needed to change the system of Elections Canada to allow the government's promise to be met. The committee, then, in a brave and business-like way, made sure its recommendations reflected the timelines so the Prime Minister's oft-repeated promise could be met, even as steps one and two as described had also been met. We achieved the recommendations, which I will come to in a second.

The Prime Minister's excuse for bailing out on his promise was that there was no consensus, which we have heard over and over again, but there were actually three separate levels of consensus reflected in the special committee's report. Let me now emphasize what those are.

First, four out of five parties on the committee supported the recommendation to hold a referendum on a proportional system versus the status quo.

Second, we included the referendum component, in part, because the Conservatives insisted on it, but also because poll after poll over the course of the last year showed that a strong majority of Canadians wanted a referendum before they would accept a change to the system. They wanted the final say. Poll after poll, about a dozen over the course of the last year, indicated that, depending how the poll was done, between 65% and 75% of Canadians wanted a referendum, wanted to reserve for themselves that final say, and as low as 17% thought that passing a new system in the House of Commons was sufficient.

Let me provide some comments from some of the pollsters to give everyone an idea of just how strong this consensus among Canadians is.

Mario Canseco at Insights West told the special committee, “This majority of Canadians encompasses both genders, all age groups, every region and supporters of the three main political parties...”

Lorne Bozinoff from Forum Research said of his firm's data, “This is a very conclusive finding. There is a strong majority opinion in favour of a referendum...and it spreads across all regions and socioeconomic groups”.

Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs told the special committee, “A majority in every demographic category we looked at supported a referendum—by gender, age, education level, income, and whether or not you had kids in your house”.

There we are, there is a second level of consensus.

Third, those who wanted a change came before the committee as witnesses, went to the open mikes, and advocated change. The overwhelming majority, and I am told it was around 80%, advocated for proportional representation as the alternative. Therefore, the committee, taking these things into account, made a recommendation, from which I am going to read. This is the recommendation, including a little preamble in the report. Recommendation 12 stated:

Observation: The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation. The Committee recognizes the utility of the Gallagher Index, a tool that has been developed to measure an electoral system’s relative disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature, as a means of assessing the proportionality of different electoral system options.

The Committee recommends that:

The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system is on the ballot;

That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less; and

That the Government complete the design of the alternate electoral system that is proposed on the referendum ballot prior to the start of the referendum campaign period.

The last recommendation was designed to allow the government to have a free hand, as any government ought to have, to design the actual legislation, to put forward the system. There were, in fact, three proportional systems, which advocates of proportional representation indicated would suit them equally well. One is the multi-member proportional system, similar to what Germany and New Zealand have. The second is the single transferable vote system, similar to what Ireland and Malta have. The third is something that has been described as the rural urban model designed by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, our former chief electoral officer.

All of these models would have met with the ambitions of the advocates of proportional representation. They might not all have met with the ambitions of those who were concerned with issues relating to local representation, limits on party discipline, and other concerns that Canadians legitimately had. However, it would have been up to the government to try to design a system that would have accomplished the best of those objectives while, at the same time, meeting with the Gallagher index measure of proportionality.

All of this was done. There was a consensus every way we sliced it. A majority of parties in the House, a majority of Canadians, and a majority of advocates for change were all incorporated and the final recommendation allowed those who had reticence about change to potentially have their concerns met in the proposal the government could and should have brought forward for this May, allowing the Liberals to meet their promise, thereby bringing into the consensus even the government, up until the moment it changed its tune because the government believed there should be change regardless of whether it was popular.

Let me quote the Prime Minister. This is from an interview in April. He said:

A lot of people I've talked to have said, 'Oh yes, we really, really wanted electoral reform because we had to get rid of Stephen Harper, but now we have a government we sort of like so electoral reform just doesn't seem as much of a priority anymore....

Well, it's a priority to me. It's a priority to a lot of Canadians....

Later on he said that Canadians did not want it so much and neither did he, but let us notice how committed he was until he decided that it did not serve his own partisan interests.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, with great respect and fondness, I thank my colleague for his comments.

For those Canadians who were not watching closely, the electoral reform committee got along incredibly well. We criss-crossed the country. I can look to a number of Conservative and Liberal colleagues, my friend from the Green Party, and friends from the Bloc who all participated. While Canadians might be somewhat suspicious thinking that if there were a bunch of politicians around a table that all that would happen is partisan back and forth, we got into this issue.

It is incredibly important, how we elect and un-elect governments; it is fundamental to everything that we do, our economic policy, our environment policy, every policy is based on this. It is also something that can unite us as parliamentarians in our listening and engaging with Canadians. The evidence was fascinating. This report on Canadian democracy, by the way, is the most thorough and comprehensive in Parliament's history.

I have a question for my friend. It has been almost 100 years since Parliament first started studying electoral reform, almost a century. Parliamentarians have been engaging with each other and with Canadians on this topic, because the system that we first had when the country was formed worked for two parties but it is not so great when there is more than two.

Here is the Liberal recommendation, and I would like my friend's comment on this:

...regarding alternative electoral systems are [too] rushed, and are too radical to impose at this time....

Too rushed? Will it be another 100 years? How much more time do we need, how many more pages, and how many more Canadians do we need to talk to before it is not too rushed anymore? Is that actually not the barrier that stopped the Liberals from signing on to the consensus that was available to them?

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the obvious comment to make is that the sense of hurry was entirely imposed by the Liberals themselves.

It was never clear. I think it has become clear actually, but it was never stated clearly which system the Liberals preferred. There was this fiction that their minds were open, that they had not yet made up their minds, or the Prime Minister, as the former minister said, had a preferred system and so did she, but that that could be changed by the testimony they heard. The minister said that in a meeting in Victoria.

The bottom line the Liberals kept restating was that it must be ready to go by 2019. That was the sense of rush.

I have a theory, and I have shared this with my colleague in the past but let me share it with the House, that the Prime Minister had intended to run out the clock on electoral reform. First it would be too tight a timeline to have a referendum, then it would be too tight a timeline to have anything that involved redistribution or the addition of extra seats, one or the other of which is required if we go to any kind of proportional system, and finally all we have left is preferential ballot, a minor change after all, just changing the structure of the ballot itself, not the ridings or anything else. At least that was the story we would hear. However, because the promise of 2019 was sacred, the Liberals would move forward.

I think the testimony of Canadians so overwhelmingly demonstrated a lack of interest, indeed a strong opposition to a system that so clearly, methodically, election after election, favoured the Liberal Party, that it took the wind out of those sails and made it effectively impossible to move forward in that direction.

Finally, what the committee did was to demonstrate that it was possible to move forward by 2019 with a referendum on a proportional system. That point, I suspect, is when the Prime Minister said that they had to bail out of it.

Opposition Motion—Commitments Regarding Electoral ReformBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate a number of the comments the member across the way has put on the record today. I do value, and very much so, the standing committee on electoral reform, its fantastic work, and the report that was ultimately brought forward.

However, I want to emphasize another point the Prime Minister has talked a great deal about. He wants to see members of this House not representing what Ottawa has to say to their constituents, but rather what their constituents have to say to Ottawa. I had town halls on his particular issue.

I would like to get the member's feedback on what he believes his constituents wanted with respect to electoral reform. For me, first past the post was in fact quite popular. There was no consensus within Winnipeg North that I could detect on the different systems.

Which system does the member believe his constituents would like to see? Is the member in a position to tell us?