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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-02-07 15:39 [p.16912]
Madam Speaker, I could be wrong, but I understand the Minister of Democratic Institutions had some experience and expertise in democratic reform and looking at different kinds of electoral systems prior to getting into politics.
One of the things that has struck me about Bill C-50 is its lack of ambition in changing the landscape of Canadian elections. We are doing some tinkering at the margins with respect to transparency around political financing reform. However, prior to getting into politics, had she known she would have the opportunity to reform the Canadian electoral system, whether political financing or the way we vote, is this the extent of her ambition for changing Canada's electoral laws? If it is not, what does she think we should do in addition to this and why is it not in the bill?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-02-07 16:06 [p.16915]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise at third reading of Bill C-50 to offer some thoughts about the bill and about the issue of electoral reform, whether it is reforming finance, reforming the way we vote, or more generally.
I think it is important to start off with some reflections on why anyone listening at home might care about this debate, because if members looked at the bill, they would see it would not do a lot. It would add some measure of transparency to political fundraising events held by members of government in the formal sense, such as cabinet ministers, the prime minister, and party leaders.
Those Canadians who are on the Elections Canada website all the time and are interested in poring over these things, or those who watch political news shows with analysts who are more familiar with the names and data would benefit from understanding better some of the relationships around government, and understanding those things is not a bad thing. It is helpful to have more of that information in the public domain. However, I do not think that a lot of Canadians would think that Bill C-50 would make a big difference for them personally in terms of the way they relate to the political system.
The way a lot of Canadians relate to the political system is with a fair bit cynicism. They feel that it does not really matter whom they vote for as the issues of the day do not really get addressed. If they are going to see any kind of reform, it has to be big enough and bold enough to help them feel that their participation, even if it is only voting once every four years, is going to start to make them feel that it makes more of a difference than they feel that it does now.
I would say to a lot of Canadians that voting makes more of a difference than they know. They may not feel that it makes much of a difference, but it can make a lot more of a difference than they know. However, I would also forgive them for not feeling that way, particularly in light of a government that ran on a slogan of real change but is largely defending the status quo. We can see that with the bill before us.
The bill is not really about fundamentally changing the Canadian political system at all. A lot of Canadians who voted, and many more who do not ever bother to vote, would look at this and think that our political system is not working for them. They feel that it is hard for them to have their voice heard, and tinkering around the edges does not fix that.
A lot of Canadians voted for a government that promised real change, and not just real change generally, or real change on this or that, but it promised real change specifically on electoral reform. The big promise was that 2015 would be the last election fought under the first past the post system. Bill C-50 is really a status quo bill. It would not provide anything near the level of change that was promised in terms of electoral reform.
To the extent that I think all of us in this chamber have a stake in caring about how Canadians feel about the state of their democracy, and to the extent that some real change is required in order to get many Canadians who feel disaffected and disinterested in Canadian politics back to the table or to the table for the first time, we should be concerned that the bill, which was an opportunity for the Liberal Party and the government to present its vision on how we were going to bring some meaningful change to Canadian electoral politics, really is saying to let us keep on with the status quo.
Around 40% of Canadians do not find it is worth showing up to vote, and many feel that the system is, in some important way, broken. This is not a good status quo. It is not a status quo that the Liberals promised to defend in the last election. They said they were going to change it. They said that they heard that message, and that they were onside with Canadians who felt that way, and a reason to vote for them was that they understood that and they were going to bring meaningful reform.
When it comes to publishing the details of a fundraising event five days in advance, the lack of that information is not what has been driving Canadians away from the political process progressively more and more over the last 30 to 40 years. It was not that they did not get the five-day notice on the fundraiser. It was not that it did not apply to the leaders of political parties that are not currently in government. That is not what Canadians were calling for when they said that they wanted meaningful change in order to feel that the political process was working for them. However, that is all that is offered in the bill. That is fine. It is a step in the right direction. I do not have a problem supporting it. It is not that it is a bad measure because it is not enough, but it really does not meet the expectation that was set in the minds of Canadian voters for improving the electoral system.
Where are we four years from now regardless of who is elected as government in the next election? Well, we are in the same bloody place we were over two years ago when Canadians were dissatisfied and electoral reform was an election issue. How is it that we went through a whole election where that was a key election issue and there were key promises made on the part of the now governing party, and we end up in the same place with the same complaints and the same feelings of dissatisfaction? That is the problem with the bill. It is not a reason not to vote for it, but it is a real problem with the bill and it is a problem for Canadians who were rightly fed up with the status quo.
To some extent this does not just defend the status quo, but it actually legitimizes some of the worst aspects of the status quo that the Liberals have professionalized to an extent that no one foresaw or expected in terms of cash for access fundraising. Politicians of all stripes have always done fundraising and members of the governing party have always done fundraising. However, it was not until this Parliament that it became an issue. Believe me, it is not because we had more charitable opposition parties in former Parliaments that cash for access was not an issue; it is because there was not the same evidence of the professionalization by government of selling access to their ministers.
That is why we did not hear about the term “cash for access” even under the Harper Conservatives. It was not because there was a benevolent opposition party that was willing to let the Conservatives get away with that. Believe me, if they had been doing that, the NDP as the official opposition would have been calling attention to it and the Liberals as the third party would have been calling attention to it too. I disagree with my Conservative colleagues on many things, but I am not going to make up that they were doing something that they were not doing.
Cash for access was not a theme of the Canadian political discourse until these particular Liberals came to power. There is a reason for it. Nobody was as organized in seeking out members of the Canadian business community or different communities that would have an interest in getting the ear of a minister until the current government was elected and members made a science of it. They recruited those people and offered them special time in smaller venues at a high price in order to get the ear of ministers. That is wrong. I do not care what the law says, that is wrong.
To be going through the motions of passing a bill on electoral financing and fundraising and not address that issue, not by making that practice, which is a repugnant practice, more transparent is not what we need to do. It is a practice we need to put an end to. To the extent that we do not see any sign from the government benches that the repugnant practice of selling access to ministers is not going to end as a result of Bill C-50, there are serious problems with the bill.
It is a great step in the right direction. We could pass a law that says anytime we meet someone in the grocery store we should smile at them. That would make the world a better place. It would make everyone feel good. It would be a step in the right direction, but it would not solve a lot of the real problems that are facing Canadians today.
The bill does not do that and it does not solve the real problems that Canadians are facing today with respect to how they feel about their own political system. At the very least, it should do that. We do not expect the bill to fix the problems with pensions in Canada. We do not expect it to fix the problems with health care, but surely we could have expected that it would fix some of the problems that Canadians experience in the way they relate to their politics.
I am concerned that the government sees the passage of this bill as legitimizing a new practice in Canadian politics in terms of the level of sophistication of going out and selling access to ministers based on interests that donors have in the ministers' portfolio area. The government's defence of this practice does not hold up at all. It says that this is not so bad because the Prime Minister gets out there and does town halls. He talks to people, and if they write him a letter he will get back to them.
It is an offence to the intelligence of Canadians to pretend that the little old lady who comes to a town hall with 3,000 people and has to sit in the back because she got there by Handi-Transit and gets to wave at the Prime Minister is the same as a high-powered corporative executive who pays $1,500 to go to a small dinner in somebody's condo, residence, or whatever, to talk about whatever he or she is going to talk about. This bill does not give us any more insight into what is talked about at those events, what is said or not said.
To compare those two scenarios and expect Canadians to believe that they are comparable is just ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous, and kind of offensive. It offends me, and I think it probably offends a lot of Canadians. “When I sign up to go to a town hall,” says Joe Canadian, “I get it that I am not going to get the kind of experience that a high-powered corporate exec is getting when he pays $1,500 to go meet the Prime Minister in a mansion somewhere. I get that it is not the same thing.” However, the Liberals are trying to say that it is the same thing. Canadians have to ask themselves whether they want people in government who think they are that stupid. This is a legitimate question for Canadians to be asking themselves.
That is the issue as I see it. We have a really repugnant practice of cash for access. We have a bit of window dressing here to try to make it seem a little better, maybe kind of okay. I do not think it accomplishes that at all. However, in the absence of real reform, it is not worth turning down.
What a missed opportunity this is. The Liberals actually built a mandate for meaningful reform. They said they were not a status quo party and wanted change. Instead of talking about the quality of this window dressing and the colour of the drapes, we could be talking about what kind of new voting system we are going to have.
We could be talking about other measures that would have done a lot for Canadian democracy. Some measures we have talked about, because they have been presented in the form of various private members' bills. I am thinking particularly of my colleague from Burnaby, who had a great idea. We talked a bit about how political parties are already subsidized publicly in two ways.
One is that when these high-powered corporate execs buy that $1,500 ticket, Canadian taxpayers actually reimburse them almost half the cost of the ticket. There is something particularly perverse about that. Corporate execs, who can pay the $1,500 with the money in their pocket, are able to climb over ordinary Canadians, who also want the ear of the government to get special attention, and then actually have those same ordinary Canadians pay them back about half the cost of the special access they are using to steamroll Canadians. One can pick any issue, whether it is big pharma and jacking up drug prices, or energy companies that want to build a pipeline through this community or that community and want the ear of the government instead of having to go to the communities to get their permission. There is something perverse about the fact that those same people who are the victims of those bad policy decisions are being made to pay for the corporate executives' access to those dinners.
That is one way in which Canadians already subsidize political parties. There is another way, in that the costs that Canadian political parties incur during an election are rebated, in part, by taxpayers as well. Therefore, we already have different forms of subsidy. I am trying not to go off on a tangent too much.
It is completely legitimate to talk about a per-vote subsidy, and maybe even look at cancelling some of those other subsidies in order to pay that money. Allocating already existing public subsidies on the basis of the parties that people actually want to support makes far more sense than rewarding certain parties for having donors who have more money to give, and then forcing all taxpayers across the country to rebate those donors simply because they are the ones with more money in the first place. There is something perverse about that, too.
However, I will digress on that point. The point I want to make comes back to the excellent point made by my colleague from Burnaby. Because we are rebating a certain portion of the costs to political parties for what they spend during an election, we could use that as a tool in order to encourage political parties to nominate more female candidates so we can start to correct the serious gender deficit we have in the House of Commons. We have 26% or 27% women in the House of Commons, even though women make up more than 50% of the Canadian population. That is a great idea. That is the kind of bold thinking that might actually do something to change the status quo of Canadian politics. That would be in keeping with the kinds of promises the Liberals made in the last election, when they said that they would not be defenders of the status quo.
That is not what we see in the bill. The bill is simply a reimagining and reinstituting of the status quo. We have heard good ideas about how to really increase the participation of women in Canadian politics, and not just to encourage them more. That is good too, and it is something that also needs to happen, but it ignores the fact that there are a lot of systemic barriers in the way of women participating in politics. It is not just about calling up our female friends more to see if we can get them to run. We also have to take more concrete measures.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the member for Burnaby South speak to this bill. He said that Canada has slid down to 65th in the world for participation of women in its House of Commons. That is not a very impressive number. It is certainly not an impressive number for a government that styles itself as a feminist government and says it is very committed to increasing the participation of women in politics.
We know that the Liberal Party has assured its incumbents of being able to run again, and it has a disproportionately small number of women in its caucus. This means that if the Liberal Party is successful in the next election, in re-electing most of its members who are here, that would be a bad day for women, because there are not a lot of women, proportionately, in the Liberal caucus.
There are no real policy ideas coming from those benches to address those issues in any real way. It has been unfortunate that when we have had real ideas come forward, they have been quashed. Who quashes new ideas like that?
They could be ideas that came out of an all-party committee on electoral reform, which many pundits predicted would not be able to come to a majority opinion on how to proceed with electoral reform, but it did. It recommended a referendum on proportional representation. That idea got quashed, even though it took many people across many different political fault lines working together to make it happen.
Here we have a great idea on how to concretely take a measure that would not cost Canadian taxpayers any money. In fact, it would save them money, because the way it was going to work was through the rebate I was talking about. Parties that did not run a slate with gender parity across the country would have their rebate reduced by a proportionate amount. That would actually save Canadian taxpayers money and incentivize political parties to get more women involved in politics at the same time.
If we want to talk about policy innovation and good ideas, that is a good one. A lot of good ideas we talk about that would move us in the right direction do cost money. That is money worth spending, in many cases. I do not apologize for that. However, this is one that is actually more likely to save Canadian taxpayers money, and certainly would not cost them any more. We saw it quashed. Who would quash those things? Only a party and a government that, frankly, are satisfied with the status quo would do that. Where this leaves us is largely with the status quo. We have changed the drapes, but the house is the same.
We need to do a heck of a lot better if we are going to address the real democratic deficit in Canada. I look forward to passing this bill and then moving on to those real questions.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-02-07 16:32 [p.16919]
Madam Speaker, the member is quite right. There are two roots to that cynicism. One is that what we are ultimately getting out of the government, certainly on the electoral reform issue but actually on a lot of other issues, is the defence of the status quo. That is not at all consistent with the main message of the Liberal campaign, which was change, real change, in fact.
If the Liberals promised real change and the upshot of a lot of their measures, and that is certainly the case here with Bill C-50 and it is the case on the electoral reform file, is a strong defence of the status quo, then people are going to feel disappointed and betrayed. I do not blame people for feeling that way with respect to the paucity of ambition of this bill and the total lack of movement on the larger electoral reform file.
The second root of the cynicism comes from the idea that those guys were bad and we are better so anything we do is okay. We see that in a lot of ways. We see that in the Prime Minister's remarks about electoral reform. We needed electoral reform when it was Stephen Harper, but now that it is him, we do not need to change it. The system is working again. The job of the system is to elect Liberals and, hallelujah, the good old days are back and we do not have to worry about making any changes.
We see it in the Prime Minister's behaviour with respect to being found to have broken the law on conflict of interest, and thinking that it is okay that there are no consequences for that. We see it from government ministers who are unapologetic about their cash for access fundraising and do not think it needs to change. In fact, the Liberals can pass a bill that kind of tweaks at the edges of some of the rules of this nefarious thing they are doing, and they think that is okay.
That is where cynicism lives and grows. It is unfortunate to see it all day, every day, in this place.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-06-14 18:29 [p.12702]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the main estimates tonight. I will pick up on a theme of the discussion so far, at least for part of the evening, on the topic of the estimates, particularly estimates reform and how we could do a better job of bringing financial transparency and therefore accountability to Parliament.
It was a theme of the President of the Treasury Board early on in his mandate. He reached out to other parties to talk about it. He even presented a briefing package on some ideas he had for reform and how to address some of the problems, which had to do with a number of things. In some cases it is the alignment, as we have discussed tonight, between the budget document and the estimates documents. There is also a difference in the way the accounting is performed for each document. The budget is done under accrual based accounting, whereas we have cash accounting in the main estimates. There is sometimes confusion for parliamentarians around some of the line items because they are not attached to particular programs.
All these issues were identified by the President of the Treasury Board, with some proposals to fix them. I, along with my fellow Treasury Board critic from the Conservative Party, noted that a lot of these reforms really were things that needed to be done administratively by government. They were not things that required a legislative fix.
In the beginning of this reform, if we looked at the President of the Treasury Board's reform package as a whole, it really was not a bad package. It is fair to say that if we could adopt it holus-bolus, it would move us in the right direction for parliamentarians and Canadians to better understand Parliament's financial documents and therefore provide more openness and transparency. The proposal for moving forward ended up being not the kinds of things a government could do administratively, which are ultimately required for those reforms to be a success.
However, the first ask was that we change the Standing Orders to simply allow the main estimates documents to be tabled later. That, in and of itself, does not provide any guarantee of better financial documents, financial documents that are easier to read. It does not provide a guarantee that the budget and the estimates will align. It simply allows the government to take more time to table the main estimates, which may well be used by a sincere well-meaning government to make those documents cohere. However, it may be abused by other kinds of governments we have seen in this place from time to time.
It is hard to understand why, with a well-outlined program for reform, the only thing the government seemed to be trying to aggressively advance, and in some ways it was putting the cart before the horse, was the one thing that would diminish accountability unless there was a lot of serious follow-up from the government.
We have cause to be skeptical at this point in the government's term about its good faith with respect to these kinds of things. The mood here, rightly, is far more skeptical about its commitment to openness and transparency than it was at the beginning of the term.
I offer up the example of Glen McGregor, a reporter from CTV. He recently asked, under an access to information request, to get an itemized list of the overall number of staff, not the particular staff, in the Prime Minister's office and their salary range. What he got was a list with every name blacked out. That is hardly a step in the direction of accountability and transparency.
When the President of the Treasury Board comes forward and asks us to trust the government and consent to backing up the date for the tabling of the main estimates, because it believes in being more open and transparent, and then a reporter wants to know how many people are employed by the Prime Minister's office and what their pay range is, not the specific people and the specific pay, and receives an answer that clearly flies in the face of openness and accountability, we have a reasonable cause to doubt the sincerity of the government and its proposed change.
This was the same tactic used by the Harper government when it was asked similar questions about the PMO.
When the Liberals were elected, they said they were going to make changes, that they were going to be more transparent and provide more accountability. Now the Liberals are asking us to change the Standing Orders in a way that would allow an insincere government to simply reduce time for scrutiny, and then they pull stunts like that, not providing legitimate information about their staffing and their spending when they easily could. It becomes hard to trust them.
The government is also becoming notorious for making big funding announcements but back-ending the funding. The Liberals talk about big numbers, such as $180 billion being invested in infrastructure, but just a tiny fraction of it will actually be spent in this Parliament, never mind this budget year.
The government says we should trust it when it wants to change the tabling date of the main estimates. It claims to be sincere. It says it wants more openness and more transparency, yet every day in question period ministers get up and misrepresent the amount of money the government is actually investing. We could pick any issue. The government is doing this with respect to defence, to housing, to child care, and it has done it with a number of other issues. I could spend a full 20 minutes just listing the policy areas where the government is daily misrepresenting information and executing a lack of transparency.
It makes me wonder, and I think fairly, whether we can trust the Liberals when they present their big shiny package of reforms to make the estimates better. They just want to do this one little thing for themselves first, and then they expect us to trust them that the rest will come.
We heard that from the President of the Treasury Board apparently quite sincerely at the beginning of his mandate. He came to the access to information, privacy and ethics committee many times to say that he wanted to reform access to information laws in this country. He said he wanted a government that was open by default and that the Prime Minister shared his views. He stated it was in his mandate letter. He told us at committee that the government was going to move forward with its reforms to access to information and it was going to be done in a two-stage process. Incidentally, no reform is needed for access to information requests in order to disclose of the number of staff in the Prime Minister's Office and their salary ranges. They can just do it. They do not need to wait on reform for that.
If the Liberals wanted to model the kind of open and transparent government that they foresee by changing the Standing Orders and by changing the law, they could do it tomorrow. In fact, they should have started doing it well before yesterday, but they did not.
In terms of the commitment by the President of the Treasury Board to have a two-stage reform to access to information, he made a couple of administrative reforms, but nothing in the law itself. We have waited a long time. In fact, we were supposed to be debating legislation in the House by now that would have changed the access to information regime, but we are not. Not only are we not debating it now, but we are not going to be debating it any time soon. That announcement was made by the minister himself. He announced that the changes will not be coming, at least not any time soon.
I raise this point because it is important. If we are being given the “just trust us” line by a government that wants to change the estimates process in a way that would ultimately reduce scrutiny unless the government was acting in very good faith, then as an opposition party it is our duty on behalf of Canadians to ask if we can trust the government on this proposal.
When we take into account the Liberals' behaviour in disclosing information under the current access to information regime, which they could do much more readily than they do, and when we take into account their record on other issues where they have said they were going to do something and then reneged, any right-thinking Canadian would look at their record and say we need to stick with what we have until they are ready to bring in more of the package at the same time so that some of the other elements that introduce more accountability and more transparency come with the change. That change would be tolerable if the other measures were in place. What is not tolerable is to move ahead with that alone and expect to get openness and transparency from the government later.
We just saw today a vote on a way to make appointment processes more open and more transparent. That did not come out of nowhere. That came out of a catastrophe on the government's part, in trying to nominate a candidate to become an independent officer of Parliament and failing miserably to select a candidate who could perform that function, because in order to be an independent officer of Parliament, the person has to enjoy the confidence not just of the government but of all the parties in Parliament.
There are ways of establishing processes that would allow them to nominate candidates that could hold the respect of all the parties in Parliament. We suggested one yesterday in our opposition day motion. After they criticized it, they said, “Everything else is good, but there is one thing we cannot agree to”, so we amended it to solve that problem for them. They still would not support that motion.
Again we hear, “Just trust us on the estimates reform. We are going to move ahead with this one tiny piece of the whole package.” The package together actually makes a lot of sense, but they are asking us to just trust them that they are going to follow up. It is simply not believable. On access to information, for instance, we just heard recently that in the Liberals' first 18 months in government, their track record on access to information is worse than the previous government's track record in its last 18 months of government. We are just not at the point anymore where the “just trust us” line is adequate.
It is important to try to understand these documents better, because significant things end up happening within the context of the main estimates. One of the consequences from these estimates in my home province is that the Coast Guard facilities in Gimli, Manitoba, and in Kenora are going to be shut down. An open and transparent government that was serious about having people understand what it was doing when it came to the finances of the country and the financial decisions that it was making would have gone out and consulted with people in the community and made it clear. It would not have buried it in a line item in the main estimates or in the budget. Government members would have gone out and talked to people in the community about the reasons for the closures.
It could be that the government felt those services were not effective. That is not what we hear if we talk to people in the community, who, with respect, know better than people here in Ottawa. I have asked before in this House, and I will ask again: how many of the seven Liberal MPs from Manitoba knew before it was announced that those Coast Guard stations were going to be closed, and what lobbying did they do to prevent it from happening? Clearly they failed, if they made any effort at all, but it would be nice for people back home to know what the Liberals are doing to represent people back home.
There is a story that just broke in the Winnipeg Free Press about Canada 150 money. A reporter who has followed the money said that Manitoba is clearly not getting its fair share of the Canada 150 funding. Again, where are the seven Liberals from Manitoba who ought to be advocating for us to make sure that we are getting our fair share? It was not until I raised the issue of the post-secondary institution strategic investment fund here in the House that we started to see at least some announcements being made in Manitoba under that fund. When we are talking about how the government spends its money, it is right to ask where the Manitoba Liberals are on those files and why it is that in a number of cases Manitoba has been consistently under-represented in terms of its fair share of funding.
It is another fair question to ask where is the federal government is when it comes to meaningfully dealing with OmniTrax, which has not been doing its fair share in terms of the community in Churchill. OmniTrax, after getting a sweetheart deal to take over the railway, has been getting a lot of money in public subsidies, and that money has been going to Denver, Colorado. It has not been reinvested in that railway. Now that there is a flood, the rail infrastructure is inadequate and the town of Churchill is in crisis because the people cannot get food and other supplies to town. We just have not heard the quick response that is needed to provide assurance to people in Churchill that they are not going to be left out in the cold by the current government. I say again, where are they and where is the money when we are talking about estimates and we are talking about a budget?
Those are just some of the problems.
I appreciate my colleague from the Conservative Party bringing up the issue of estimates reform, because it is an important issue and it is something we have to tackle. However, I emphasize that what it comes down to when we talk about reform is sequencing that reform properly to ensure that members of this House who are not in the government have the appropriate tools they need to hold the government to account all the way along. Otherwise, we are in a position of having to press them on reform.
Another important reform issue in this Parliament was the government's commitment on electoral reform. I think that speaks quite clearly to the character of the government and why people on this side of the House cannot trust it.
The government made a black-and-white promise that 2015 would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. The Liberals spent a lot of money to break that promise. They struck a special committee that travelled across the country. It took up the time of Canadians who were calling for action and who were not paid to go to testify at that committee. If they had been paid for their time, because their time also matters, the bill would have been that much higher. The committee came back and put the report together, and it was tossed aside by the minister at the time.
Then the Liberals had the gall, I think knowing already they had no intention of keeping that promise, to go out and spend literally millions of dollars on a bogus survey that was designed to obfuscate the issue and give them an out, which was the special committee, because the Liberals, despite saying that they wanted Parliament to be a place where people would work together, were hoping that the opposition parties would not work together. The opposition parties went out, did that, and showed them a way to keep their own promise.
It is pretty wild when the opposition parties are working harder to keep government promises than the government itself. However, that was the situation. Not only were opposition parties working hard, but they were also willing to compromise in order to help the government keep its promise. Instead, the Liberals threw that out. They spent millions of dollars on a survey trying to hide the fact that there was the potential for consensus if the government would show leadership.
How can we have a government that shows leadership? I imagine the process looks something like having the leader of a party promising something during an election, putting it in the party platform, and having candidates across the country repeat that promise ad nauseam. Then that party would be elected and follow through on that commitment. That is how it would be done, and that is exactly what Canadians did. To say there was no consensus or that the government did not have a mandate to provide leadership on democratic reform is just obviously false.
Nevertheless, the Liberals broke that promise. They let down all the many Canadians who elected them for that express purpose. Then, when it comes to something as important as the scrutiny of their spending, they ask us to trust them to get around to the rest of the program if we do this one thing that could reduce the scrutiny of a government if it is not acting in good faith in the face of all of the broken promises and everything else. That is what the Liberals are asking us to do, and they should not be surprised if the answer is no, we do not believe we can.
It is for at least those reasons, and those that I have not had time to get into, that the NDP will be opposing the main estimates.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-05-30 14:38 [p.11666]
Mr. Speaker, after promising more times than we can count to get rid of our unfair voting system, the Prime Minister abandoned that promise. He would not let members of the House decide whether to move forward. Instead he said it was his choice alone. Well, he is wrong, and tomorrow every MP will get to make that choice for themselves.
Will the Prime Minister get out of the way and promise not to punish Liberals who, unlike him, choose to keep their promise?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-04-03 16:20 [p.10077]
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to concurrence in the committee's report, as well as the amendment to send it back to committee, and importantly to affirm and clarify that, in all of its reviews of the procedures and practices of the House, the committee will only make recommendations to the House that enjoy the support of all members of the committee. As I am sure all members know, that has been the subject of some debate pertaining to some other issues before the committee.
It may be that, at various times, some members in the past in Parliament may have made arguments as to why it might not make sense to always proceed on the basis of all-party support. I am not sure I would agree with those arguments. However, I want to speak to them because it is important both to this motion and to other matters at PROC. In the particular circumstances of this Parliament and where we have come from October 2015 until now, it is important that if parties are to engage in discussions, whether it is about family friendly or other rules about the House and changing them, opposition members have some assurances from the government that before setting out on that discussion it will have a proper decision-making process for the end of that discussion. What we do not want to do is create a pretext for the government to ram through whatever changes it would like, whether with respect to family friendly or other changes to the rules of the House.
That is why, notwithstanding any general arguments about why we may not in every case want all-party support for this or that or the other thing, in this Parliament it is important we have those reassurances. Whatever good faith or trust the government might have asked for at the beginning of its mandate has been burned up by the government. It took a serious hit about a year ago when it decided to introduce Motion No. 6, which was an ugly motion that sought to handcuff Parliament and make it a creature essentially of the government. Whenever something was going on that the government did not like, it would simply be able to shut down debate or adjourn the House, and to do it at will. That is why we see arguments from the government on some issues about programming bills, for instance, because it wants more predictability in the House.
Motion No. 6 had nothing to do with a predictable schedule. It had nothing to do with making the hours that we stay or leave predictable for the sake of members with young families or for the staff of members with young families. Therefore, there is good cause to suspect that when the government talks about making the House more predictable for the sake of families, really what it is doing is using the arguments of predictability and using young families as a screen for doing whatever is convenient to it at the time.
Because I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton Centre, he will have more to say on that, so I will leave that alone for now.
I do not think predictability is a real value that the government is promoting. It is cherry-picking when it talks about predictability. It is cherry-picking when it is convenient for it to have concern for members with young families and when it will not. That was part of Motion No. 6. I raise that argument just as one example. If people are just listening through the news and are not in this place every day, they do not see the way the government operates on a daily basis, so it sounds like a reasonable argument. If they have a family, it would be nice to know whether they would leave at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. When the government had Motion No. 6 in its mind, it had nothing to do with that.
Another issue that pertains to this, because it has to do with democracy and how we set the rules for democracy, was on electoral reform. Again the government said that it needed opposition members to engage it in good faith. It even went so far as to tell members what they should or should not do, which the government ought never do. They were told to go into their constituencies, hold town halls, and then report those findings back to government. Many MPs on this side of the House did that in good faith. The results that came through that process and through the extended travelling of the committee, which heard from a number of experts and ordinary Canadians themselves, was they wanted a change in the voting system.
Then the government went further. In supplementary estimates, it asked for over $3 million extra to conduct a survey. As we found out later, that was the cost of the Liberals breaking a promise they never intended to keep, but not before they caused Canadians to have to pay a considerable amount of money for them to get to where they felt comfortable breaking that promise, not because of what they heard from Canadians, but simply because they realized they would not be able to blame it on someone else.
Those kinds of moves, whether it is Motion No. 6 or whether it is on electoral reform, really undermine the sense of trust that is necessary to move forward with democratic reforms in a country. Whether it is changing the way we vote or whether it is changing the rules in this place, members want to know they are dealing with a government that is actually negotiating in good faith. I put to the House that those two examples go a long way in explaining why all opposition parties are not prepared to extend the benefit of the doubt to the government, as we did on the electoral reform file. It only gets so many chances to engage in those processes in good faith.
What the opposition parties are asking for when it comes to reforming the rules of this place is quite reasonable, particularly in light of that lack of trust and good faith. We want the government simply to commit to what has been done many times in the past. When we are to change the rules of the House, we sit down with the other parties and say that whatever the government goes forward with will be something all parties of this place agree to, and that is it. That is not a lot to ask for.
There are a number of examples where that has been done before. That includes the McGrath committee. If anyone wondered if all-party consent would lead to gridlock and not being able to get anything done, I would remind the House that it was on the McGrath committee that we had a Speaker elected by secret ballot for the first time, which was interesting. It was a major reform of the House. That was not the case before the McGrath committee. It was out of the McGrath committee that we got votable private members' business, granted not in the form that we do it now where every PMB becomes votable if it makes it to the floor of the House. It was out of the McGrath committee, which required all-party consent, that we actually got some of those first reforms.
There is the idea that we cannot make substantive, meaningful reform to the rules of the House because we require all-party consent. On the other side of the coin is that somehow the only way to make meaningful and substantive changes to the rules of the House and to improve the functioning of this place is to have a government come in with less than 40% of the vote, steamroll the opposition parties and make whatever rules it wants, whether it is with respect for what we are talking about today, which is some of the proposals around family-friendly things, or other rules of the House.
If anyone gets up and says that the only way to make the House more modern, more efficient and substantially change the way we do business here is by having a strong-handed government come in and whip this place into shape, it is not true. Members of all parties traditionally have been willing and able to get together and hammer out new ways of going forward that represent the changing trends of society and work-life balance and everything else. It has been done.
The idea that somehow it will take a strongman government to come in and make things right in a place that has its challenges but overall operates pretty well is not on the table. It is particularly funny coming from a government that has one of the most meagre legislative agendas we have seen in a long time. The Liberals have been in government for a year and a half, and they have only seen fit to introduce about 40-some bills. Most of those are just regular procedural bills that have to do with the estimates process. Some of those are bills that were because of decisions of the Supreme Court, which required the government to make a decision. Then a third major category of those bills is simple repeals of Harper-era legislation. It is not like it took a lot of time to prepare, and with the exception of some of my colleagues on the opposition benches from the Conservative Party itself, those repeals tend to have pretty widespread support here in the House of Commons. When we take those three categories of bills together, what is left in terms of an authentic legislative proposal of the government is not very much.
The idea that we somehow have to overhaul the rules of the House to make it easier for government to ram things through, which I submit is a good part of what is really going on, for a government that cannot bring itself to write any legislation of its own is just laughable. Of all the governments, at least if we are to change things to make it “more efficient” around here, it should be for a government that is actually presenting a lot of legislation.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-02-09 12:58 [p.8725]
Mr. Speaker, for the benefit of those who may be listening at home, I will remind the House that the motion we are debating today states:
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.
It is a simple motion in response to a simple act. The Liberals announced last Wednesday that they simply would not be following through on their commitment. It was a clear commitment and it clearly demands an apology to the House and Canadians.
I rose in the House last spring on an optimistic note. The Liberals made that commitment in the election campaign, repeated it in the throne speech, and then proceeded to drag their heels in getting the process started. Incidentally, they later argued that they did not have enough time to change the voting system, but they burned up six months sitting around to come up with the lame idea of having an ordinary committee study the issue. How it takes six months to come up with the idea of establishing a regular committee with a government majority, I do not know. Neither did Canadians nor the media, and that is why it was panned broadly.
Last spring, I was pleased to rise when the government saw fit to act on a good idea, which was the NDP idea to have an all-party committee where the government would not have a majority. It seemed that maybe this was a step forward, that maybe the government after all was serious about following through on that election and throne speech commitment. That was an optimistic time, but since then, a lot has happened. It seemed at times that we were moving in the right direction and then there were setbacks.
For instance, last October, it felt like a setback when, all of a sudden, the Prime Minister, who had said many times in the House that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post, said in an interview, “Under Mr. Harper, there were so many people who were unhappy with the government and his approach that people said, ‘We need electoral reform in order to stop having governments we don’t like’.”
Essentially, he was saying that if it works for him, it must be working for Canadians, and when it works for people he does not like, then there is a problem. That felt like a setback. That felt like the Prime Minister was moving away from his commitment.
Later, on December 2, hope sprang again, because the Prime Minister stated, “I make promises because I believe in them. I’ve heard loudly and clearly that Canadians want a better system of governance, a better system of choosing our governments, and I’m working very hard so that 2015 is indeed the last election under first past the post.”
The Liberals have since said that there was no consensus. That sounds to me like the Prime Minister was saying there was a consensus that we need to make a change. When there is that kind of consensus for a change which, granted, is not the same as consensus on a solution, what people expect from their government is leadership to put forward a proposal that might actually move us forward. We are still waiting on the proposal. They have announced they are not keeping the promise and we never even heard what the proposal would be.
It surely was not for lack of consultation, because members on all sides of the House went into their own constituencies and talked to their constituents. The committee travelled across the country and talked to Canadians and experts. Over 80% of Canadians who spoke to the committee said they wanted a proportional system and over 90% of the experts said that a proportional system was the best for Canada.
Then we heard all sorts of possible solutions, possible voting systems, and possible proposals. The government had but to pick one and put it to Canadians, but before it could be bothered to do that, it said it simply was not going to go ahead with its promise. That is pretty sad, particularly coming from a Prime Minister who, in the last election, said he was the one who was going to ride into the House of Commons on his white horse, clean up the cynicism in Canadian politics, that he would be the one to show Canadians there is a better way, that he would inspire young people to get involved in politics and affirm the value of electing different governments, because different governments could behave differently. Believe me, that is not the only example.
Last Wednesday was the most cut and dried example of the Prime Minister walking away from that message of hope. In a week, well over 90,000 Canadians have signed an online petition calling on the government to keep its promise. That is not 90,000 people in the rinky-dink way that they set up the My Democracy survey, where we do not know if they live in Canada, and do not know if they signed up many times, because the e-petition system, unlike the government's lame survey, actually has integrity.
We know that over 90,000 individual Canadians have signed that e-petition and are calling on the government to keep its promise. Instead, today the Liberals are standing up and shamefully saying that not only are they going ahead with breaking that promise, but they do not even have what it takes to apologize for going ahead with that. Then we are told that it is the government that is going to bring an end to cynicism.
Let us look at the Liberals' excuses for breaking that promise. At the time that they decided to break it last week, the initial answer was that there is not consensus. We certainly heard that from Liberals here today, although I say they cannot have consensus on a proposal they never made, so there is something structurally wrong with that argument. If they had actually proposed something and could not reach a consensus on that, then they might have a case, although we do not even know what the threshold for consensus is. Is it a vote in the House of Commons? Is it a referendum? Is it how many retweets they get when they put it out on Twitter? We do not know. The government has not said.
There is an issue with saying that they do not have consensus when they have not tried, but there is also an issue with a government that says it needs to have consensus, whatever that means. I do not know if that means every Canadian in the country has to agree on one thing before we go ahead with it. The Liberals certainly did not think they needed consensus to break promises, so it is an interesting inversion. If they were to go and talk to most Canadians, they would say that a government can go ahead and implement the election promises that it has a mandate to implement, and if it wants to break those promises, then it should be looking for consensus from Canadians, who could say that something has changed since the election, something has changed since they decided to cast their ballot for the Liberals and so they agree that the government needs to break this promise. Instead the Liberals are going around breaking promises all over the place without consensus, and then saying they need consensus just to keep the promises they made during the election. I cannot be the only one who thinks that is completely backwards.
For instance, when the Liberals said they would not approve new pipelines without a new process and then went ahead and approved at least three pipelines under the old Harper process which they ran against, that to me seems like something they might have sought consensus on. I do not think they would have found it if they had sought consensus on that. But the Liberals do not think they need consensus to break their promises, only to keep them. They did not seek consensus when they launched an attack on defined benefit pensions in this country by tabling Bill C-27, and that was not even an election commitment.
The idea that somehow the Liberals are bound by consensus is ridiculous. If they really felt that they needed consensus from Canadians to move forward with important initiatives, they would do that particularly in the context where they are breaking promises. That was laughable. I do not think anyone in Canada is buying the idea that simply because there was not consensus, when the government never even so much as tried to build it around a particular proposal, somehow that is an excuse for breaking a cut and dried promise.
Then there was the leak to the Huffington Post that maybe this was not about the lack of consensus; maybe this was about the growing threat of the alt-right and this was really about Prime Minister Trudeau standing up against the alt-right and making sure it could not sneak in. But the fact of the matter is, and members have said it before—
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-02-09 13:06 [p.8726]
My apologies, Mr. Speaker. My passion for the issue got the better of me on that. If the government kept its promises, I would be less inclined to name them in the House.
We heard that this was really about defending Canadians, about the alt-right. Except we know that in the south they just got one of the alt-right guys in there under a first past the post system. We also know that the government that the Prime Minister was so keen to say that Canadians did not like and did not want and was the reason for which we needed a changed voting system, got in under the first past the post system.
Mark my words, when this Prime Minister is gone, and it may not take as long as the Liberals think, and the next right-wing prime minister gets in here in Canada with less than 40% of the vote, that will be on this Prime Minister's head.
Shame on the Liberals. Let us hear the apology.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-02-09 13:09 [p.8727]
Mr. Speaker, in the first referendum in B.C., actually 58% of the people voted for change, but the government had set an artificial supermajority. That is why the first referendum in B.C. failed. The reason P.E.I. had such low thresholds, and the member is quoting people's first preference, was that it had an alternate ballot. The result of that referendum was a call for mixed member proportional representation, which the Liberal government in P.E.I. decided to ignore. There are some similarities. It is not in respect to what people want. It is the behaviour of Liberal governments.
Part of my speech, if the member had been listening, was the idea that somehow we need a unanimous consensus in order to proceed with electoral reform. That was not the promise of the government. The Liberals did not say they were going to get every Canadian to agree on the exact same system and then move forward with change. They said they were trying to build a mandate to change the system. They received it. Over 60% of Canadians voted for a party in the last election that said that we need to change the system.
Enough with the red herrings. Let us get on with the apology.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2017-02-09 13:11 [p.8727]
Mr. Speaker, this has been a tumultuous process since the last election and there have been times when it really did seem like the government was trying to manoeuvre out of its promise early on. Due to the good work of opposition parties who thought that the government should not be able to easily abandon its promises to Canadians, and even though there were some pretty serious disagreements, we were able to work together on a path forward to get a concrete proposal, one that respected what Canadians told the committee they want, one that respected what experts testified was best for Canada, and then we came up with a proposal on how to move forward on a process.
We have a situation here where the opposition parties together have provided far more leadership on the government's campaign promise than the government itself has. If in that context the government cannot find a way to keep its own promise, then I do not know in what context it possibly could.
I am not at liberty to say whether someone lied or not in the House, but Canadians can draw their own conclusions from the facts, and they are compelling.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-11-03 17:08 [p.6573]
Mr. Speaker, it might just help to step back and mention for a minute what it is we are here to talk about. Really, what we are here to talk about is how it is that the government intends to implement and enforce the very same rules that the Prime Minister sent out to his ministers when he appointed cabinet.
We have heard from some Liberal members that somehow they do not think that putting it into law is the best way. If they have an alternative, let us hear it, but right now, we have a situation where ministers of the crown are obviously not following the rules set out by the Prime Minister. If the Liberals have a great idea on how to see that policy actually enforced, let us hear it. In the meantime, writing those rules into the law and allowing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce those rules seems like a pretty good idea, and we certainly have not heard anything better from members opposite today.
To give hon. members a sense of what those rules are, may we step back and say something about the context into which the new government stepped in October? We really just have to name some names in order to get a sense of what Canadians were feeling about the standard of ethics in politics in October 2015, when we were talking about Dean Del Mastro and Mike Duffy. There were a lot of names on the tip of the tongues of Canadians that suggested to them that the ethical standard in Canadian politics was not high enough.
In came the Prime Minister, if we listen to him, on a white horse, and he would make things better. He went so far as to say in his instructions to ministers:
Moreover, [ministers] have an obligation to perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny. This obligation is not fully discharged merely by acting within the law.
He went on in annex B of that same document to flesh out what exactly he meant. He said, “In order to ensure that there is no differential treatment or appearance”, and that is really the crux of the matter, because it is not just whether there is differential treatment.
According to the Prime Minister, the issue is whether there may even be the appearance of differential treatment, and he himself said, as I quoted just now, that merely acting within the law would not be enough to meet the bar he was setting just over a year ago, so he said:
In order to ensure that there is no differential treatment or appearance of differential treatment for individuals, corporations or organizations because of their financial support of politicians or political parties, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should adopt the following best practices
What are those best practices that this motion simply calls on the government to enforce by allowing the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce?
First, it says that “Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should not seek to have departmental stakeholders included on fundraising or campaign teams or on the boards of electoral district associations”, so when we hear that the chair of Apotex is organizing a fundraiser for ministers of the crown, I think that is a pretty obvious contradiction of the guidelines that the Prime Minister set out and that we are simply asking to have enforced.
It says that ”Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should ensure that the solicitation of political contributions on their behalf does not target: departmental stakeholders, or other lobbyists and employees of lobbying firms”. When we find out through The Globe and Mail and others that there have been confidential websites set up and that people are getting access to those websites to buy tickets to those fundraisers by invitation, that is clearly not meeting the standard set out by the Prime Minister in these guidelines.
It makes us wonder. If the Prime Minister is not willing to police his members, who would? The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is an obvious choice, and this motion simply calls on the government to allow the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to go ahead and do that work that the Prime Minister has decided he will not do, because he is not enforcing his own rules.
As I say, any time Liberals want to chime in and say that they have a better mechanism to ensure that this document and instructions on open and accountable government are actually followed by ministers of the crown and not just talked about, let them put them on the table, but we have not heard anything from them, and we have been debating this all day.
The other notorious thing about what is going on, in my view, about these particular fundraisers that we have talked about—because it is a problem—is that they do create the appearance of preferential access when people are paying $1,500 to get into an exclusive night with the Minister of Finance.
Incidentally, there is this idea that somehow a little old lady from Elmwood—Transcona who takes Handi-Transit to sit in the back of an open house, and leaves without talking to the minister, is the same as a high-powered corporate executive paying $1,500 to get into someone's private residence with only 14 other people. That there is no difference between those interactions with the minister is laughable. Shame on the members who have been getting up today to insinuate that somehow those two situations are not significantly different for the purposes of influencing ministers. That is just totally ridiculous.
When they pay that $1,500 to get into that privileged night with the minister, as advertised, then what? Well, at tax time they get about $650 of that back. So that is really nice. If a person has the $1,500 to fork out now—and this is a cash flow issue—then that person gets the preferential access, but the very same people who did not have the $1,500 are the ones who are going to pay almost half of it back to that person later.
Therefore, Canadians perversely are being made to pay for preferential treatment for high-powered corporate executives. I think there is something shameful about that, and it has not gotten enough attention. They are not actually paying $1,500 out of their own pocket. They are paying about $800 out of their own pocket, and the rest is coming out of the pocket of Canadian taxpayers.
I referred earlier to Dean Del Mastro and Mike Duffy. We have heard as kind of a defence from the Liberals that it seems to be that they are not like Dean Del Maestro; they are more of a Mike Duffy. Duffy went through court, and it ended up that he did not break any rules, according to the law. We have that from a judge, and so there was no problem. We know that Dean Del Mastro was bad and he went to jail, but the Liberals do not have a problem as they are really like Mike Duffy. They have this kind of strange Duffy defence.
I can tell members that, given the last five years of Canadian politics, for the government to get up and think that an acceptable defence is to say not to worry, because it is just like Mike Duffy, I think is pretty pathetic. However, that is what we have been hearing all day. I am at a loss on that.
I think there is another elephant in the room here. Actually one of the Liberal members earlier raised it as a bad thing, but I have always believed in a per-vote subsidy for political financing. That came in under the Chrétien Liberals. When they said that corporations and unions would not be able to donate, they recognized that political parties were going to have a harder time raising money.
Therefore, the Liberals brought in public financing so that, based on the support that political parties had, they could expect to have some money to fund their activities, so that parties would not be in a position where they were prostituting their ministers of the crown for money. When we create that kind of imperative to have politicians spending all of their time raising money, certain governments get into political hot water, because they start to use all the tools at their disposal to raise that money, whether it is right or wrong, and that is what we have been watching.
I dare say that, if the Liberals put their focus on bringing back reasonable public support for political party financing, then they may not have to be in the embarrassing position of having to defend ministers who are doing cash for access fundraisers. As far as I am concerned, that is part of the debate and where it ought to go.
I think it is an embarrassment to Canadians that ministers are out parading around asking for money for attention. Frankly, I think that if they are not ashamed of it, it is an embarrassment to the Liberal Party. They should care more, frankly, for their own brand. It is an embarrassment to Canada. It is an embarrassment to the Liberals that they are out doing this. They could bring in a proper political financing regime in Canada like the one we had.
What we are hearing from Liberals when they attack the political financing model is that they think Stephen Harper and the reforms he brought to political financing in Canada were better than Jean Chrétien's. If that is what they think, let us have them get up and say it again, that they are on team Harper when it comes to electoral reform, that they are disowning the actions of previous Liberal governments, and that if they had to choose between Stephen Harper's electoral reforms or the Chrétien Liberal reforms, they would be voting for the Harper reforms. Is that how far we have come? Is that what the last election was about? I do not think so.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-09-22 16:51 [p.5004]
Mr. Speaker, I listened with attention to the speech of the member for Calgary Shepard. I appreciate the contradiction that he has identified between the government members saying on the one hand that they respect the custom, but when pressed, not being willing to guarantee that they will in fact ensure that Atlantic Canada has a seat on the Supreme Court.
One of the reasons for this glaring silence seems to be that all of the members representing Atlantic Canada come from the governing party. I will not speak for other parties, but I am sure that, if we had a New Democrat representing a riding in Atlantic Canada, that member would be standing up and demanding that there be a judge from Atlantic Canada on the Supreme Court. However, through the perversity of the first past the post system, even though the Liberals did not get 100% of the vote in Atlantic Canada, they got 100% of the seats.
I wonder if the member would agree that this very debate is one of the reasons why we need proportional representation in Canada.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-09-22 17:07 [p.5006]
Mr. Speaker, earlier, I mentioned that all of the Atlantic MPs were Liberals and that none of them were prepared to say that we should guarantee that region a seat in the Supreme Court. Perhaps that is because 100% of the members for that region are Liberal, even though they did not receive 100% of the vote. Perhaps we would be hearing something different from the Atlantic members if we had a different voting system.
Does the member for Drummond think that the debate would be different and that the Atlantic provinces would have different representation if we adopted a better voting system?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2016-06-02 13:45 [p.3948]
Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I intend to split my time with the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie.
I am really pleased to rise to speak to this motion. As the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley mentioned earlier today in the House, I had a hand in crafting the proposal. As a new member of Parliament, it was nice to see openness within my party and that member to working with a new MP on an interesting idea on how to move voting reform forward. Today, it is nice to see that same spirit is prevailing in this place.
I have been a long-time advocate for voting reform. It is one of the issues I have held dear through my entire participation in the political process, let us say, and involvement in politics. We have heard partisan illusions about what the government may or may not be intending for a voting reform idea, proposal or initiative. I do not think anyone on this side of the House is naive that this is the beginning of a process. There may yet be many things that go awry in that process. It is up to the government and cabinet to decide whether ultimately they will take the recommendations of this committee seriously, or whether they will do their own proposal. Therefore, I do not think anyone here is naive about where we are at.
This is a very positive first step, but it is just one step. However, it is really important because we need to take that first step if we are to get to any kind of meaningful voting reform. I feel, not just from a partisan perspective, it is important that the government not do this by itself. This is the second reason why I felt this kind of proposal was important. If we really believe in voting reform and if we honestly want to move that forward, whatever proposal comes forward and for it to be legitimate, it cannot be just one party pushing it through. This proposal is a way of building in, at least into the initial stages of that process, that idea that proposals can only move forward with the support of multiple parties instead of just one party.
It is right and good in this case of electoral reform, which I think is different from just about any other issue. This is a place where people come to disagree, or people who already disagree come to work that out. In other places, what happens in Parliament and the differences we see manifest in Parliament, are things that are fought for, not in a chamber but on a battlefield. We do come here and we do disagree, but we do it according to certain rules and on certain terms. By doing that, we ensure we do in a way that does not put people's lives in jeopardy for the values they hold and we have an understanding we will work things out with words. It is not always pretty. It is not always nice. However, it is a far better system than the kinds of ways of resolving conflict in some other parts of the world.
When we talk about voting reform and how people actually get here in order to engage in, if we want to use a militaristic metaphor, that kind of battle or that kind of argument, then it is important people agree on how we get here. Those are the basic rules and it is those rules that ensure that kind of civility.
I personally believe that if members of a party make it part of their electoral platform that they have a particular system, a particular model in mind and they get overwhelming support during an election, they may go ahead with that, but not in a way that people in other parties are not prepared to sign on to. We need at least the support of some other parties.
This is a way of building that into the process to ensure that whatever comes out of this process, at least at that first stage, will be something that a number of members across party lines in this place have agreed on. That is really important because it speaks to the legitimacy of changes. No government should be able to unilaterally change the rules by which people get here and fix the next election.
In that sense, I agree with some of the arguments from other members in this place about the importance of not having a government unilaterally change the rules.
As I have said, I have been a long-time advocate of voting reform. I have also been an advocate of a particular system, although there are a lot of debates to be had about how that may manifest. I have been an advocate for a mixed member proportional system. It is really important that people in particular geographic locations of the country have direct representatives who represent those locations within Canada. It is also important that our parliaments not be composed of false majorities or give a false impression of where Canadians are at.
Recently we have seen governments get 100% of the power with only 39.5% of the vote. That does not work because it does not reflect where Canadians are at. The problem with the first past the post system is that it tends to generate those issues. That is also a problem with the alternative vote method. It does it in a slightly different way, but it still produces parliaments that do not reflect the division of opinion within Canadian society.
Part of the issue is a philosophical one about whether we are busy electing individual representatives for a particular place, and that is certainly part of it, and it is important. In elections, we could have a system that would allow us to elect parliaments better, so we are not just electing individual members but electing a parliament. We want a parliament that represents the diversity of opinion within Canadian society.
This is one of the major virtues of a mixed member proportional system. It allows us to balance out the representation of a party within the chamber so Parliament reflects the division opinion within Canada. Then members are forced to engage meaningfully with members of other parties to try to come to some kind if not consensus at least decision. On some issues, there will be a majority composed of certain members and on other issues there may be a majority composed of other members. There is agreement between some on some things and between others on other things, and that would be fine. This would be a virtue.
I look forward to the day when Canadians can contemplate not just who their local representative will be, but also what their Parliament might look like. I can imagine the situation. Some people may feel strongly about a certain local candidate, but not that candidate's party. Some people may want to vote for an independent candidate, but also want to have a say in what party they want. It is perfectly consistent for Canadians to say that they like a local representative, but they are not big fans of his or her party so they will vote for the representative. However, now, because we have a mixed member proportional system, Canadians would get to vote for a party different than the local rep thereby helping to shape Parliament and making it more about how they think. Canadians do not always agree with one party so a mixed member proportional system gives them a chance to express what may be a division of opinion within themselves, at least with respect to where certain parties are at, and allow them to balance out their own vote in a certain way. I see that as a positive thing.
I came to political consciousness in Canada in the 1990s. It was a time when Canadian politics was seriously regionally divided. Quebec was largely represented by the Bloc Québécois. The Reform Party was really a western Canadian party with hardly any seats outside of western Canada. The Liberal Party was the party of Ontario. It had some seats outside of Ontario, but not many, and it used that to win consecutive majorities.
Having sat in a caucus for just over six months, I can say now how important it is to hear the different regional voices within caucus. A first past the post system or an alternative vote system would not guarantee that a party would get members from all parts of the country within its caucus. Having an element of proportionality allows for that. It would help to quell some of the divisive regional politics that Canada has sometimes seen by having those voices represented in each caucus. That is an important virtue of the mixed member proportional system.
I am really glad we are taking a positive first step toward having a process to get to a proposal that will have to be decided on either here or by some other method. We are not there yet. I look forward to discussing these ideas more during that process.
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2016-06-02 13:56 [p.3950]
Mr. Speaker, I will not prejudge the process by getting right into the substance of the debate. I do have some preferences on that, but I am also not a total expert on the details. That is part of what we have to hammer out.
First, the committee would have to decide that it wants to go to some form of mixed member proportional system. At the end of the day, it would be unfortunate if the list of MPs was just a creature of the leader's decision. It is important for internal party democracy that there be some method, whether through the party or Canadians directly having a say in who gets elected off what list. That is where my sympathies lie. This is one of the issues that merits further study. I look forward to having a committee that can do that and then make a decision, not unilaterally by government members but by members in collaboration.
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