Mr. Speaker, the debate on Bill C-55 provides the opportunity for us to have a wider debate as well on democratic reform.
However we might support the bill, and I support it very strongly to give greater opportunities for individual electors to get to the polls and vote, there is a difficulty with the government's approach to democratic reform as a whole. This is one other example of issues being brought to the House in both a piecemeal fashion, instead of a comprehensive way, as well as in a way that has involved no consultation with the other parties, the provinces or the public in general.
It is passing strange that we have seen a series of piecemeal bills not dealing comprehensively with either Senate reform, electoral reform or parliamentary reform, but trying to nick them off one at a time. They are done in the name of greater public engagement, when the public, nor Parliament, nor the other parties and provinces are engaged in consultation beforehand to see what might be the best way to move forward to ensure that these various elements of electoral, parliamentary and Senate reform are going ahead in a comprehensive way that makes sense with each other and do not give rise to unintended or, even worse, intended consequences of the government.
Let us look at this approach with respect to other aspects of, in this case, electoral reform. Cooperation and collaboration is immensely important, especially in this complex federation in which are fortunate enough to live. We have many levels of government, constitutional divisions of power and high sensitivities to overlapping powers and impacts that actions and legislation in one level or order of government may have on another. That is why it is so important to have full consultation. Let me speak to a few.
Bill C-56 would attempt to better reflect the constitutional principle of representation by population by adding extra seats to British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. This sounds like, in constitutional principle, a very valid objective with which to go forward.
It can be said that this is something within the individual competence of the Parliament of Canada with which provincial and territorial governments do not have to give their consent. However, that completely misses the complex nature of our country and the need for collaboration among different levels of government to make things happen in a way that best reflects the interests of the whole country and does not lead to any unintended consequences.
Bill C-56 has been introduced and it sounds good. I am a member of Parliament from British Columbia and British Columbia is to get seven extra seats to bring it up to representation by population, as with the five extra seats in Alberta. However, almost immediately we get a unanimous vote in the motion condemning this by the National Assembly of Quebec. Within a week of that, we get both the Conservative leader in the Ontario legislature plus the Premier of Ontario saying that they are against it and are considering legal action on the basis that this is inappropriate.
Since the bill has been discussed, we have heard in the last two weeks concern expressed from members from the prairie provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They feel their relative influence in the House may be slipping even though their absolute numbers stay the same. We have also heard from MPs from Atlantic Canada who may be protected in certain ways from having their absolute numbers slip, but are worried about their declining influence in the House.
That is not to say they all have to be completely taken into full account. There may be, and obviously is in this case, some kind of negotiation and collaboration that has to go forward so the range of interests in the House, reflecting the interests of the different regions of the country, is properly protected and balanced. But that requires consultation.
That is why we would like Bill C-56 to go to committee before second reading, so there can be the fullest scope for the consultation to take place and that we in committee, as members of Parliament individually, can consult with the various provinces that have various information on it.
One of the most foundational issues of conflict resolution, and there seems to be conflict in this case, is that we involve everyone in the discussion who is affected by it. They will be interested in it and perhaps have the best information about it, without trying to prejudge that.
I raise that as an issue, as a bit of a paradox of putting forward legislation that is meant to make things more democratic, when in fact it is cutting off a prior consultation that would be effective in making the democracy more effective.
That takes me to issues of the Senate, and they were raised by the government House leader. He raised the issue of Bill S-4, which would limit the terms of senators. Let me take a step back and again reflect that this is piecemeal and without adequate consultation.
There is a complaint that this has been stuck in the Senate for a year. In fact, a very important motion was put before the Senate, which is very much related to this, by former Senator Jack Austin and the sole remaining Progressive Conservative senator, Senator Lowell Murray. It would look to the addition of seats to western Canada in the Senate, to bring some proportionality to the regions of Canada, which was intended by our founding fathers, the Fathers of Confederation.
That raises the issue of distribution again, which makes it very clear why piecemeal approaches to Senate reform, electoral reform and parliamentary reform are so inappropriate. If we look at the Senate, there are three critical areas of the other place that must be respected if we are to have change. I think we all agree, including members of the Senate, that a modern democracy should not have a legislative assembly which is non-elected. It is how we get there that is important. To get there, we have to deal with three things simultaneously in Senate reform.
One is the selection process, and that could be both the terms and the fixed dates that have been suggested in Bill S-4. It also could become the selection process and the consultative elections that have been suggested in Bill C-43. The problem is that this is only one of three categories.
Another category is the mandate of the other place. Is it to be, as it is now, a mirror image of the legislative authority, only altered by convention of this place, that creates the expectation of deference at some stage after full debate in both places, or is there to be something different?
If it exactly the same, and electoral legitimacy is equal by elected senators or consultatively elected senators, however Bill C-43 puts it, then we will risk gridlock and that we must avoid. To deal with that, we must have either different mandates or offset mandates or a dispute resolution clause to deal with problems that might arise between the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, a second stage is neglected in just dealing with Bill S-4 or Bill C-43.
A third area, and perhaps in many ways in terms of the health of our Confederation the most important, is the distribution of Senate seats across the country. I notice in Bill C-56 there is an attempt to arrange for better representation. I say attempt because, as I have mentioned, the government has not done the proper consultation to get the very best answer for that. There is no enthusiasm whatsoever to contemporaneously, in looking for Senate elections or Senate set terms, look at distribution, and most important, the extraordinarily inequitable distribution across the country with respect to western Canada.
It is hard to imagine that members of the government, who represent ridings in western Canada, could possibly be in favour, including the Prime Minister, of trying to give more status, more validity to the other place as a legislative body without first fixing the inequitable distribution across the west. That is passing strange, but it is another example of doing things piecemeal without proper consultation and without dealing with them comprehensively.
Let us look for a moment at electoral reform, because this is immensely important to members of the House. It is part of the old Bill C-55, which attempts to address a small corner of electoral reform.
We have a suggested consultative process by the government, which put out tenders to hire a polling firm and then hire, some would say, a think tank. In fact, it turns out to be Frontier Centre in Winnipeg, which has published works against notions of proportionality to amend, improve and reform our electoral system. It is to hold so-called deliberative, closed door meetings in a few centres in the country, which is somehow some kind of a substitute for a meaningful public discussion on the very desperately needed electoral reform in our country.
It is worse than that, because it is in the face of two other clear opportunities, one is an exercise and another is before us, to do this properly. Again, in reverse order, we do not pretend to consult and then bring in some kind of response to that without going to the people and to the opposition and looking to parliamentary committees and other expert bodies first. This is a jury-rigged, false consultation, which will do nothing for the health of our elective democracy.
Let us look at what the other options are. The Law Commission of Canada is highly respected internationally as one of the foremost law reform bodies in the Commonwealth. Its reports are watched and followed in many other countries. After extensive real public consultation and extensive research here and internationally on electoral reform, in 2004 it published a very thoughtful deliberative piece on a mixed member proportional system. This is an independent statutory body with the responsibility to consult, to do research and to report publicly to Parliament and the Minister of Justice. It reported more than three years ago now and there has been no response, no reflection of any attention being given to that good work.
In 2004 we also had the Speech from the Throne, which was amended in the sense of its application to include electoral reform as a prime objective of the 38th Parliament. Unfortunately and unnecessarily it was interrupted by an election that was commenced in 2005. The work of a special committee to do the proper consultation on behalf of all the House of Commons was cut short.
We should be working with the opposition parties, and I hope with the government, to have a legislative committee, perhaps the procedure and House affairs committee, hold those consultations, rather than the closed door, jury-rigged type of consultation that has been set forward. That is important. Let us have the House involved. Let us look to real public consultation and let us get moving on real electoral reform.
Maybe in the wisdom of that deliberative discussion with Canadians, we can reaffirm the first past the post system we have now, but let us do it when we know there are real strains and real non-representative aspects to it. Let us have that conversation and make it a real deliberative one.
Let me turn to another aspect of democratic reform. This is one about which we have heard so much rhetoric from the government, and that is the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-2. It is almost Orwellian in the way that aspects of this act, and aspects that certainly this side of the House supported, are actually damaging and non-democratic.
I start with observing that Bill C-2, the accountability act, got royal assent on December 14, 2006. Members will recall that this was following a number of months of very careful deliberations and amendments passed by the Senate and then accepted by the House. I think there were more than 50 of them.
There was constant deriding of the other place for having delayed that important piece of democratic legislation and yet one of the absolutely most important foundational parts of the accountability act was the appointments commission. This would apply the same principles around public service appointments that the Public Service Commission applies: objective criteria, competitive processes, transparence, real accountability. That appointments commission which was part of the act in a form that in fact the NDP put forward, a form that I put forward as an amendment were not accepted. That was five months ago .
I will end with this reflection on non-accountability. After five months, there is no appointments commission and yet every week there are dozens and dozens and dozens of order in council appointments that should have been subject to that merit based, objective, non-partisan appointments commission. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of democratic reform is that?
While I have no difficulty supporting the idea of greater advance opportunities for people to vote to increase voter opportunity and therefore voter turnout, we have to look at the whole picture and, if we are to be taken seriously as a modern democracy, deal with this in a comprehensive way.