Madam Speaker, I am so proud to participate in today's very important debate. I am also very proud of our report, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform's report entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Processes and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform”.
We worked very hard on this report. There were 12 of us, and our approach and the spirit our our discussions throughout was very collegial.
We worked really well together, as I have just said, as a committee of 12 members of Parliament from five parties, a uniquely comprised committee. I commend the former minister of democratic institutions, current Minister of Status of Women and hon. member for Peterborough—Kawartha, who made the decision that it would be fair to ensure that the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party each participated as full members of the committee. She went further—and this was a step that I never thought the Liberals would take—and conceded to an NDP request that the Liberals give one seat of theirs on the committee to allow the NDP to have two full members, so that we were a committee of five Liberals, one of whom served as chair. I have to say our chair, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, did an extraordinary job. There were then four voting Liberals, three voting Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc member, and one Green member.
We heard from witnesses across Canada. We fulfilled our mandate, and I think we fulfilled our mandate admirably. We had, between late June and December 1 when our report was due, more than 60 meetings. We heard from experts. We heard from the leading experts on electoral reform, not only in Canada but from around the world. Many world-leading experts participated by video conference with us. We also heard from hundreds, in fact thousands, and tens of thousands of Canadians. That process led to an overwhelming consensus, which was that it was time for Canada to move away from first past the post.
I want to touch briefly on the substance of the issue before moving to the politics, but the politics are clearly important.
I have worked on electoral reform for a very long time. For much longer than I have been a member of the Green Party, I have been committed to seeing the end of the first-past-the-post voting system because of its perverse results. On the substance of the issue, we learned in this committee process that it is clear it is a voting system that allows the popular vote to diverge from the seat count. That is the easiest way to understand what is wrong with first past the post. The popular vote can say there is a minority Parliament, but the seat count can say there is a majority. Democracy is not well served when the popular vote is not reflected in the seat count.
As I said, I have worked on this issue for years, but there is always a lot to learn and I learned a lot as a member of the parliamentary Special Committee on Electoral Reform. For instance, I never knew how it was that Ireland had single transferrable vote. Ireland got their voting because in 1921 when the British Parliament of Westminster decided that Ireland should be allowed its own parliament, the British were concerned for the minority rights of Protestants so they did not want Ireland to have first past the post. They did not want Ireland to have the same system Westminster had so they gave Ireland single transferrable vote, a system of proportional representation that works well in Ireland to this day.
It had something to do with that decision in Ireland in 1921 that 1921 was the first year in which this Parliament, the Parliament of Canada, struck a committee to study our voting system. That committee in 1921 concluded that first past the post does not work for Canada. That is right. Since 1921, we have known this. That was when a committee said that as long as we have a democracy with more than two parties—and since the 1920s Canada has always historically in this place been a multi-party system—first past the post did not serve Canadian democracy.
We worked hard to then decide what would serve Canadian democracy, and that is why this report is so historic. We worked to deliver on the promise of the Speech from the Throne and of our Prime Minister that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. We wanted to provide, as we were mandated to do, the answer of what is next.
We concluded that a system of proportional representation was appropriate for Canada, that it could be tailored specifically to Canada's needs, and we specifically precluded the kind of PR used in Israel or Italy. We said that we did not recommend a system where we have only lists by party and voters only vote for a party list. We want to maintain that crucial link with the local MP as well as proportionality. At the end of the day, we want the popular vote to be reflected in the seat count and we want to make sure that members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituents and have a local connection. It is important that voters know that. We can have both. That is what our committee recommended. Our committee also recommended that this be tested by a referendum.
Now we are going to have for the first time, and we are having today for the first time, a debate. I wish more MPs were participating in this debate. This is the first chance we have had as a Parliament to really discuss what kind of voting system would work best for Canada. We know that every single Liberal MP in this place was elected on a platform that said we would be moving away from first past the past. My plea to them is, do not let the promise fade away. Too much rides on it.
For a very long time now, Canadians have known that first past the post has this perverse result of separating the seat count from the popular vote. It is possible to have, and in fact two times in Canada we have had, what political scientists call the “wrong winner problem”. The wrong winner problem is when the party that got the most votes loses the election. It has happened twice in Canada. It has not happened recently. However, it can and does happen under first-past-the-post voting systems.
How do we ensure that the way the popular vote is cast is reflected in the Parliament we get and we still have the advantage of MPs being elected after going door to door in their own community where people know them?
There are a number of solutions, and there are a number of compromises. This is the only place where I regret how our committee worked together. It comes to this. We ran out of time. We had a hard deadline of getting the report in by December 1. I believe, and I am firmly committed to this belief because I know every single one of those individual 12 MPs, all of them, are excellent people, if we had more time, if we had been allowed to work to consensus, we would have had that discussion of, “What if we give a little here? Is the problem that by 2019 we have full PR? What if we did it incrementally, a bit more fairness in our voting system by 2019, a bit more the election after that? Would that work for you?” We never got to have that discussion of what could work if we compromised.
However, it is not too late to compromise. In voting for this concurrence motion, I certainly hope that the Liberal benches will be given a free vote so Liberal MPs can go back to their constituents and tell them they actually voted for what their constituents wanted. We know that the four MPs from P.E.I. just had a plebiscite that called for electoral reform in P.E.I. We know that in British Columbia 40% of the voters just voted NDP and 17% just voted Green, and that 57% of voters voted for parties, once again, that called very clearly for getting rid of first past the post.
MPs know what their constituents would want them to do on the motion. What I want to urge people to consider is that in voting for concurrence, we will not be forcing a referendum to happen and we will not be forcing the government to move to PR. We will be keeping the debate alive and creating that opportunity to find the middle ground. There is middle ground here to be found. Whether it is having a referendum in 2019 concurrent with the voting day that we have next, whether it is saying we move to a single transferable vote system as our former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, recommended, that we cluster those ridings in the vast areas of Canada where that works and exclude those areas that are remote or where the ridings are too large, or if we move to the Fair Vote Canada approach of one set of voting rules that work for rural Canadians and another set that work for where we are more concentrated in our ridings, there are compromises here that can be found.
What is unacceptable is to break the promise and leave it broken. That will break people's faith with democracy itself, those young people who voted for the first time and who believed the Prime Minister's promise. I frankly believe he fully intended to keep it when he made it, and it will be better for the health of democracy if we work to allow that promise to be kept.
It is time to keep that promise. I urge the members to vote in favour of this motion.