Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 262, which proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. First, the motion recommends that a special committee of the House of Commons be created to make recommendations on democratic reform issues. Second, it proposes that a special committee look into creating a citizens' consultation group and to report on this matter within six weeks.
I intend to oppose this motion for reasons I will make clear in my remarks today. I would also encourage other members of the House to oppose it.
There appear to be some fundamental inconsistencies in the NDP's approach to electoral reform and public consultation on democratic reform and electoral reform in particular. In this regard I noticed that one of the opposition day motions put forward by the NDP is that we should move immediately to implement electoral reform but that we should implement a specific type of electoral reform, that of a mixed member proportional system.
At the same time the NDP is putting forward Motion No. 262 to study our electoral system, it is also suggesting that we immediately reform our electoral system, and not necessarily in a way that reflects what the Canadian public may wish, but rather in a way that reflects the interests of the New Democratic Party. We can, therefore, all be excused for being confused about what exactly is the plan of the NDP with regard to democratic reform in general and electoral reform specifically.
Does the NDP want us to move immediately to implement a mixed member system, as it has stated on many occasions, or does the NDP want us to consult Canadians on electoral reform in advance, as suggested by Motion No. 262, and find out whether Canadians believe electoral reform is an issue they wish to pursue?
It seems that the NDP has not only prejudged the need for electoral reform, but is also prescribing for Canadians exactly what type of electoral reform Canadians should pursue. I find this interesting because there are a number of electoral systems that could be pursued should it be decided that reform is an advisable course of action.
Personally, I do not believe it would be advisable to barrel ahead to change our electoral system and change it to a specific electoral system before we even have any indication from Canadians that this is what they want.
I note that the sponsor of Motion No. 262 in the first hour of debate made it quite clear that she wanted the consultations to focus solely on electoral reform. From her remarks it did not seem that she and indeed her party had anything but a narrow focus on one single issue.
The question again is, does the NDP want to hear the views of Canadians on electoral reform, or does it want to prescribe for Canadians the type of electoral reform that it has apparently already decided on without consultation?
The actions of this government in the area of democratic reform stand in stark contrast to those of the NDP. We recognize that democratic reform is not a single issue. It is not just about electoral reform, as the NDP would have everyone believe.
Democratic reform encompasses a wide range of issues from political financing to improvements to our electoral system and the modernization of our democratic institutions. This was a fact that was recognized in the 43rd report, which was released in June 2005 but not acted on by the previous government.
The report's conclusions underline a whole range of issues beyond electoral reform that should be the subject of consultation. We need to be clear about the conclusions of the 43rd report if we are to act on them.
Let me read for members exactly what the report said. The report states that a citizens' consultation group along with the parliamentary committee should:
--make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems.... [This] would take into account an examination of the role of Members of Parliament and political parties; citizen engagement and rates of voter participation, including youth and aboriginal communities; civic literacy; and how to foster a more representative House of Commons, including, but not limited to, increased representation of women and minorities, and questions of proportionality, community of interest and representation--
My question would be, why is the NDP focusing only on one aspect of democratic reform when there are so many other equally important issues?
For our part, this government is taking a much different approach. First, rather than just thinking about a consultation process as suggested by Motion No. 262, we have actually taken action to implement a process as the government announced it would do in January.
As a result of the government's actions, a citizens' consultation process is under way. The process consists of two key parts. The first is a series of 12 deliberative forums, one in each province, one for the territories and one youth forum, each with a participation of 40 to 50 citizens who are roughly representative of the Canadian population. The second part is a telephone survey on a range of issues related to our democratic institutions.
The deliberative consultation process is well under way. Consultations have already taken place in British Columbia, Alberta, the territories, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In contrast to the process recommended by Motion No. 262, the government sponsored process is consulting citizens on a broad range of issues. Each forum is addressing a common set of topics, including political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons, the Senate and the role of the citizen. It will be noted that this is very similar to the recommendation of the 43rd report. Unlike the NDP approach, we are not focusing only on a single issue and we are not prejudging the views of Canadians on these issues.
Once the process is over, a report on the process will be prepared for the government. The government intends to take the results of these consultations very seriously and parliamentarians will continue to be engaged on these important subjects.
It appears that the government is pursuing a much more comprehensive approach to consultation than is proposed in Motion No. 262. Since the process is well under way, Motion No. 262 has become redundant and has been for some time now.
Apart from the consultation process, the government has engaged parliamentarians on a wide range of important democratic reform initiatives, as we indicated we would do in our electoral platform. I dare say that no other government in history has accomplished so much in this important area. Allow me to review some of the initiatives we have taken so far on this issue.
First, we passed Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, which provides for some important political financing reforms, including a ban on corporate and union donations, and the reduction of contribution limits to $1,000. This will ensure that money and influence are not the determining factors in financing political parties and the parties can operate on a level playing field.
We have introduced practical and achievable legislation in the area of Senate reform, including Bill S-4, which would limit the tenure of senators to a period of eight years, and Bill C-43, which would establish a national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointments.
Of particular interest for this debate, the consultations proposed in Bill C-43 would not be carried out by means of a first past the post system. Rather, elections would be conducted using a proportional and preferential voting system called the single transferable vote, or STV system. It will be interesting to know the ultimate position of the New Democratic Party on Bill C-43 since the bill is proposing the introduction of a proportional electoral system which the NDP has been advocating for the House of Commons. Bill C-43 is an important initiative because for the first time Canadians will have the opportunity to have input into their selection of senators.
The government has also moved forward on an important initiative to improve the integrity of our electoral system. Bill C-31 includes important provisions to combat electoral system fraud, in particular through the introduction of requirements for voter ID. If passed, I believe the bill would make a tremendous contribution to ensuring that no election was tainted by the possibility of voter fraud.
The government is taking steps to increase electoral fairness through the introduction of Bill C-16 which establishes fixed dates for federal elections. If passed, this initiative would ensure that elections occurred once every four years and not just on the whim of a prime minister who might choose to call an election on the basis of whether or not his or her party was high in the polls.
The government has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to electoral reform. We are well on our way to meeting the commitments that we made to Canadians.
To conclude, I must encourage all members to vote against the motion for the reasons I have stated. Given that the government has already taken action to implement a public consultation process, Motion No. 262 is redundant. Not only that, but the government's process is much more comprehensive than was recommended by the NDP. It will not be focused only on electoral reform, contrary to the desire of the sponsor of the motion. It conforms largely to the recommendations of the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The New Democratic Party has already decided prior to consulting with Canadians that the mixed member proportional system is the way to go. This government does not want to prejudge the views of Canadians on this important matter.
Might I add that the previous speaker made mention of several changes that she feels need to be made to the way that Parliament works. It is important to point out that the previous Liberal government was in power for 13 years. The Liberals moved forward on none of these provisions. I find that extraordinary.
Quite frankly, as someone who has had a lifelong interest in democratic reform, I am proud of the initiatives that our government has launched. I encourage all members of all parties in the House to support them when they come forward.