Madam Speaker, I move that the third report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform presented on Thursday, December 1, 2016, be concurred in.
At the outset, Madam Speaker, I will let you know that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who has done excellent work on this file and is joined by tens of thousands of Canadians who have also contributed their hearts, their ideas, and their hopes and aspirations into this issue, into this most fundamental idea that, when we vote for something, we would get it; that when we put our ballot in the ballot box expressing our wish for the future, which is what a vote is, and there has been a promise made, the promise will be kept.
We have watched the long and somewhat tortured saga of the story around electoral reform in the government for many months, 18 or 20 months or more, in which we had the opportunity to do something. We still have that opportunity to do something quite remarkable in restoring the hope and trust that Canadians have in their politics, in their governance, and in their way of doing things here in Parliament.
Perhaps what we are attempting to do here today with this vote on the electoral reform committee's work is to have Liberals keep their promise. Some have said that is one of the trickiest jobs in politics. The evidence is quite strong that this is a hard thing to do sometimes, yet I have a great amount of hope, shared by many Canadians, that this can be done. The reason many of us got into elected office in the first place was to be able to lift up our communities, to keep our word when it is made, and to not break promises casually.
That has not so far been the case with this particular issue, but let us walk through the timeline, because it is quite a story and it takes a bit to get through. The Prime Minister, as a candidate and then as Prime Minister, made a very clear commitment again and again—hundreds of times, in fact—that the 2015 election would be the last election under the first past the post system. He made it so many times that Canadians can recite it themselves, and it was not just the Prime Minister, but every Liberal who stood for office; and every Liberal who was elected was elected on that promise.
We in the New Democrats, the Conservatives, the Bloc, and the Green Party moved in good faith forward on this exercise not out of any sense of naivety or lack of information, but simply because a promise so clear, so black and white, repeated so often by the leader of a country ought to mean something. This issue is clearly about electoral reform itself, about the idea of making every vote count from all Canadians regardless of where they live in the country. That is an essential part of this conversation, so that people do not have to vote strategically or cynically or out of fear, but simply vote for what they want, vote for the candidate they want and have that vote mean something.
We know that virtually all successful democracies around the world have evolved their way of voting over time to make votes more effective, to not have situations like we did in the last election where 18 million votes were cast, but less half of them actually went toward electing anybody in this place. The average vote required to elect a Liberal MP was 38,000, another 20,000 to elect a Conservative, more than 20,000 to elect a New Democrat or Bloc, and 600,000-plus votes to elect a single Green member. Clearly, with a range of 38,000 to 600,000, even a small child can understand the unfairness of that system.
We moved ahead and struck the electoral reform committee, made up proportionally, by the way, of how Canadians actually voted in the last election. The committee worked well. It toured every province and territory in the country. It held open microphones and town halls, listening to every expert we could call here in Canada and around the world about the best way to move Canada forward to make that promise a reality, the promise the Prime Minister made, the campaign commitment that New Democrats had, that the Green Party ran on, that 63% of the members in the House ran on, a solemn commitment to Canadians. We produced the most comprehensive report on our democracy in this country's history. That is not bad.
Unfortunately, the government's first response to it was unbecoming, if we can say that; yet we persisted. Suddenly with a cabinet shuffle and a new minister there was somehow a mandate letter delivered from on high, breaking that promise, as if somehow mandates come out of the Prime Minister's Office as opposed to where they really come from, which is the electorate, which is voters. That is the only place, and it should only ever be that place. For all my friends in the Prime Minister's Office, it is good to remember that. It is good to remember who this place actually works for, not some unelected adviser to the Prime Minister, however long they have been friends, but the people who actually elected people to the House.
The evidence was overwhelming in support of proportional representation. Everybody on the committee could understand that because it was so clear. Ninety per cent of the experts who testified said that if we wanted to make every vote count, if we wanted to make the will of voters properly expressed in the House of Commons, we needed a proportional system.
There are many choices under that rubric of different systems that would work for Canada, rural and urban, making sure that our various geographies and our orientations as a country are respected. Eighty-eight per cent of Canadians who came to those open mikes, wrote to the committee, or filled out our online survey, also expressed support for a proportional system. Ninety per cent of experts and 88% of Canadians who came forward expressed support, yet when the promise was broken, quite cynically, the excuses that the Prime Minister then rolled out on the forthcoming days were extraordinary and somewhat disturbing.
First, there was the fearmongering. “Hope and hard work” was a slogan in the election. Now, the Prime Minister chooses to use more of a fear tactic on this, that extremists would get in if we allowed for a proportional system. The Dutch just proved that not to be the case. An extremist was running for the leadership of their country and it was proportional representation in that vote that kept him from seizing power in that alt-right fashion.
Then it was the global instability. Donald Trump, I think, is what he was referring to. I will remind my Liberal colleagues that Americans use first past the post.
Then there was this notion that there was not a broad consensus, because 90% of experts and 88% of Canadians was not enough. Then a fellow from Kitchener decided to start an e-petition, no. 616, which I sponsored and brought forward to the House. It contained 132,000 signatures, making it the largest petition in Canadian history to come forward, and it said that this was critical and needed to move forward.
After all this, a cabinet shuffle, a broken mandate, and a broken promise, the Prime Minister said, finally, “It was my choice to make and I chose to make it”. In an effort to, I think, appear strong, the Prime Minister proved himself to be fundamentally wrong. It is not his choice to make. It is Parliament's choice to make.
I know from my Liberal colleagues that many of them sent apology letters to their constituents, wrote op-eds in the local newspaper, saying, “It breaks my heart that we had to break this promise. I'm very sorry. I really wanted to see this happen.” I know my Liberal colleagues never had a vote on this. I do not think they ever stood in caucus and said, “Who's in favour of betraying this promise? Who wants to keep it?” Parliament has never had a vote on this. Parliament has never had the opportunity to weigh in on this initiative, on this effort, on this ability to keep a promise of the 63% of us who are in the House, and to make every vote count.
By moving this report, we allow that vote to take place. We allow the conversation to move ahead. We allow, finally, hopefully, a table to be established at which we can negotiate with the government, as negotiations have gone on in British Columbia recently, maybe successfully. We will find out in a few hours about the idea that when 60% or more of the electorate want to go in a certain direction, politicians who are smart and have that core ethic understand that they should listen.
Hope springs eternal. I was coming up the steps of Parliament today, passing all these school groups that are coming in, the thousands of young people who come to this place. We just saw a bill introduced through the “Create Your Canada” process from my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway. The Prime Minister, in the last campaign, I think very effectively, spoke to young people. He also spoke to Canadians who had grown cynical and tired with the last government. He said that we should hope for more, and we should expect more.
I was on liberal.ca this morning, seeing if the promise to make 2015 the last election under first past the post was still there. There it is, under the title of “Real Change”. It says that the Liberals would use evidence-based decision-making and that the Conservatives had lost the faith of Canadians because they had broken their promises.
Here is the opportunity for the government to make good. I held more than 20 town halls and events in the last six weeks, all across the country, coast to coast. We talked to Canadians. They are not as cynical as some of the people in the Prime Minister's Office. They are more hopeful. They expect and want more from their government. They want this to happen. They support the evidence that we, as a committee, heard: that we can make every vote count, that we can have integrity in our politics, and that we can hold ourselves up to a higher standard.
I look forward to the support of my Liberal colleagues because I know in their ridings that I visited over the last number of weeks, their constituents want this, as well.